Home > Uncategorized > Lacoste on care and restlessness: or, the irreducible difference between phenomenology and theology

Lacoste on care and restlessness: or, the irreducible difference between phenomenology and theology

Jean-Yves Lacoste draws an analogy in several of his works–including both Note sur le temps and Experience and the Absolute–between Heideggerian “care” and Augustinian “restlessness.”  The analogy identifies a similarity located within a greater dissimilarity.  On the one hand, both care and restlessness express the unavoidable unease that comes with living in a temporal world of transience and death (the similarity).  On the other hand, Heidegger’s concept of care presupposes that the meaning of being which is manifest in the structures of human experience is definitive, whereas Augustine’s account of restlessness aims at an ultimate horizon of divine freedom which subverts the hold of any supposedely manifest finality in the here-and-now (the greater dissimilarity). 

This analogy might help to explain the attraction which Christian thinkers have had to Heidegger’s philosophy and other similarly rich descriptions of human-being-in-the-world which have emerged from the phenomenological tradition.  For there is a common concern to acquire a more nuanced understanding of what might loosely be called the “human condition.”  And yet, the analogy also demonstrates why these dialogues, these relationships, will always be strained.  Ultimately, the relation between theology and phenomenology is more dissimilar than it is similar.  The address to God, the hope in God, the existence lived before God–these primary theological practices have their final significance in things not-yet seen, in realities beyond manifestation, in a future without the apparent definitiveness of death.  Theology’s concern are just different. 

I realize that this point may be obvious to some, perhaps to most.  But it is something which occurred to me with a sense of refreshing newness today.

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  1. Adam Morton
    September 7, 2010 at 9:38 am | #1

    Very nice. If we take 1 John 3:14 seriously, we can put the distinction sharply: since we have passed from death into life, the horizons are utterly changed, even reversed. Life towards death has become death into life.

  2. andrewlp
    September 9, 2010 at 12:05 pm | #2

    Thanks for the reference to 1 John–I think that captures exactly the irreducible difference that I’m getting at.

  3. Adam Clark
    September 30, 2010 at 9:32 am | #3

    Based on your comments here, Andrew, I wonder what we should make of Levinas (or Derrida)? In one sense, Levinas endorses a kind of “hyper”-phenomenology in which the anarche of the Other sets up the kind of beyond that moves past a Heideggerian Dasein established in relation to Death. Levinas will even speak of this anarche as the grace and glory of the self, who is summoned by the Other. At the same time, Levinas also equates this glory with (a perhaps more fundamental?) restlessness of the self with regard to its “late” response to the Other. Derrida’s Gift of Death shows particularly well how this tends toward a responsibility for every other that cannot be met. Is this a death that leads to life, such that L/D’s relation to the Other could belong to a christoform teleological path to God (perhaps similar to Eric Gregory’s rendering of Augustine)? Or does this just re-inscribe a “care” that leads us back to our own finitude, rather than into the beyond of the divine life which is already drawing the world and us into God?

  4. andrewlp
    September 30, 2010 at 11:12 am | #4

    Adam, this is a very interesting question. What it shows, I think, is that the very terms “phenomenology” and “theology” are, in some cases, under erasure. For what counts as “phenomenology”? Must one stick to the letter of Husserl, or Heidegger? (early? late?) Does Levinas’ account of the anarchic summons of the self by the Other count? One might suggest that what Levinas offers is more nearly a deconstruction of phenomenology than a strict application of it. And with Derrida, the decisions against phenomenology seem only to multiply. One wonders, however, whether Levinas or Derrida ever reach a perspective which Lacoste, for instance, would consider “theological.” At some level, there are questions here of a difference between Jewish and Christian theology (and the possibilities open to them). But, from a Christian point-of-view, one way of posing the question, as I think your comment suggests, is how Levinas and Derrida stand with respect to Augustine. Lacoste, after all, chooses the Augustinian trope of restlessness as one of his preferred short-hands for the theological perspective which he argues must not only be similar to phenomenology but also definitively transcend it. I also think you hit the nail on the head. What Levinas and Derrida find wanting in earlier forms of phenomenology is an openness to the other which probably bears a greater resemblance to Augustinian restlessness than Heideggerian care ever does. And yet, there is a certain tether which links Levinas and Derrida to Heidegger, Husserl, and Hegel before them, thus to phenomenology or modern philosophical subjectivity more broadly construed. In short, whereas Levinas and Derrida seem to operate anarchically in an ambiguous place between phenomenology and theology, Lacoste seems somewhat more interested in prescribing a hierarchically ordered analogical relationship between the two.

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