Tuesday 10 December 2013

"In the beginning was the word"

I've spent the last week trying to digest John Milbank's "The Midwinter Sacrifice," found in The Blackwell Companion to Postmodern Theology, ed. Graham Ward, himself one of the names associated with Radical Orthodoxy, the new thinking that has emerged within the Anglican communion. I had read the piece some years ago while preparing for my talk on tradition-innovation dynamics within Christianity, and had come away intrigued by Milbank's reflections on gift. Now I realize that he is trying to reconceive the ethical in terms of gift-exchange, while vigorously opposing what he calls a 'recent consensus' that sees gift as unilateral giving, and that is associated with names like Jan Patocka (who I have never heard of till now), Derrida, Levinas and Jean-Luc Marion. The problem is that the idea of gift as unilateral is easily secularized, and even perhaps finds its best consistency in a secularized horizon, as I remember Sartre saying: the true hero, the true saint, is the atheist, because he does what he does for no reward at all.

Just now I am wondering whether to go on with this rather exciting reflection on gift and sacrifice and ethics, or go on to working out something to meet Gerry Whelan's request for a piece on Lonergan's anthropology. I have begun dipping into the pieces Massimiliano De Luca sent me about Ferdinand Ebner, another philosopher who I had never heard of, but who Massimiliano calls the Philosopher of the Gift. From John D. Caputo's piece in The Blackwell Companion, it is obvious that gift has been one of the themes that Derrida has made popular.

The little I have read about Ebner I find intriguing (see Baccarini, Emilio. “In principio era la parola: La svolta di Ferdinand Ebner.” Dialegesthai: Rivista telematica di filosofia [in linea], anno 1 (1999) [inserito il 10 marzo 1999], disponibile su World Wide Web: , [61 KB], ISSN 1128-5478.) The thought that comes to me is the fecundity of the word, the symbolic word, language that is pregnant: it has the capacity to arouse thought in a way that is so different from theoretical language or even the language of interiority. And I am powerfully drawn to it. That is what, in the end, I find fascinating in the language of the later Heidegger, I suppose. On the other hand, 'free' speculation is always easier.  

Ebner seems to dwell very much on the word, and on the human being as the speaking animal or speaking being, the human being as realized / constituted in the I-thou relationship. This is another revolt against the objectivization of the I in Cartesian philosophy. 

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