Home > Uncategorized > Marion on excess: why we need both saturation and distance

Marion on excess: why we need both saturation and distance

Early in his career (Idol and Distance 1977), Marion speaks of distance as a positively determined (but not predicated) divine excess through and toward which we traverse, but which we never abolish, in our prayer and praise.  God is ever greater as  given but more fundamentally as not given.  The difference between traversing and abolishing distance is precisely the gap between the given and the not given.  It is a gap which is denied by predication but respected by prayer/praise.  This is what Marion learns from the mystical theology of Dionysius the Areopagite, but also from Nietzsche, Hoelderlin, Balthasar, and certain passages of Christian scripture.   

Later in his career (e.g., In Excess 2001), Marion shifts focus toward the eidetic possibility of revelation conceived as the “saturated phenomenon par excellence.”  Again, the Dionysian tradition is recalled, but this time divine excess is thought as saturation: i.e., the surplus of intuition over intentionality.  This is a complete inversion of the Kantian (but also Husserlian) understanding of transcendence, according to which intentionality exceeds intuition, the latter being impoverished.  In saturation, it is not that givenness falls short of our ability to grasp it; it is that givenness wildly oustrips our ability to grasp it.  But what warrants our attention for the moment is this: that which makes God ever greater in this revised phenomenological rubric remains, perplexingly, a kind of immanence: immanence, not in the sphere of intentionality, but in the sphere of givenness (for consciousness), which entails possibility, not actuality.  According to Marion, we can say with phenomenological certainty that already within what is given there is given the essential possibility of much more intuition of God than we are able to organize, interpret, or understand. 

Question: having noted the difference and similarity between the two, should one conclude that saturation (because its theorization comes later) supercedes distance?  No. 

The emphasis has to be placed on distance, though not to the exclusion of saturation.  The earlier formulation must be prioritized.  Why?  Because the claim that God is ever greater cannot be translated adequately by a theory of immanence or givenness, however expansive and inverted.  If one thinks divine excess in terms of saturation alone, this suggests a never realizable potential for full understanding already within our consciousness.  It suggests that God is (qua eidetic possibility) already totally given.  It seems necessary to maintain, on the contrary, that however much the givenness of God already exceeds our ability to grasp it, that which is not given of God exceeds it all the more.  In short, the excess of distance exceeds (but does not render meaningless) the excess of saturation. 

Phenomenology perhaps cannot think this thought.  For this one perhaps needs prayer/praise, which, moreover, makes no pretense of bracketing the actuality of God.

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  1. John McNassor
    March 29, 2011 at 3:41 am

    Andrew: I like this post and it seems to encapsulate the idea of saturation in brief. In my dissertation I draw out the comparrison between Barth and Marion on Revelation, as well as inevitable difference. Barth’s comments on the limits of apophasis in CD 11:1 are especially pertinent (i.e; that even the deniability of the adequacy of language to describe God remains within the confines of human language- the snake eats it’s tail. Like Derrida, but not quite). Marion’s essays on charity help me frame the idea of saturation, because only charity saturates, as it were, without dominating or subsuming- like the God who loves in freedom. Another helpful essay for me is ‘the banality of saturation,’ though I am puzzled that if saturation is banal, how it maintains it’s character as saturation.
    John McNassor

  2. Andrew
    March 29, 2011 at 11:17 am

    Hi John,

    Your dissertation project sounds really fascinating. I was wondering if anyone was going to do some work on Marion and Barth. I haven’t looked into it myself, but I’ve had the sense that there would be some significant common ground. Would you argue that Balthasar is the link between the two?

    I agree with you that there is a danger in emphasizing apophasis, which can also be a kind of immanence, insofar as it depends on our own language (as Derrida shows). I think Marion avoids this danger to some extent: both distance and saturation are positively determined figures of divine excess, which God communicates, not merely the negations of the human intellect. So God is distant, for instance, not primarily because our language breaks down but because God is freely revealed only as ever more concealed.

    I like the connection between saturation and love. Do you think, though, that divine distance also has a role to play in love?

    I take it that the banality of saturation has to do with the everyday excessiveness of life: the degree to which any given experience one might have offers more to intuition than human intentional aims can comprehend. But divine revelation isn’t banal (I don’t think, but I’ll have to look at the essay again).

    In any case, thanks for your comment, and it’d be great to read your thoughts on Marion and Barth some day.

  3. John McNassor
    March 29, 2011 at 9:01 pm

    Thanks for the response, Andrew. I definitely think divine distance plays a role in love, and is the necessary dialectical pole to saturation. The God who loves in freedom loves in such a way that the response of the creature is a ‘free’ response; not compelled by the magnificence of the presentation (so SK in ‘Practice in Christianity). The very nice chapter in ‘Prolegomena to Charity’; ‘The Gift of a Presence’ by Marion deals with this, as well as his article on the Emmaus Road encounter. In my dissertation (on file with ProQuest if you’re a hearty soul!) I pair up Barth and Marion on revelation using both thinkers’ treatments of annunciation and Virgin Birth and Resurrection and Ascension. It’s somewhat daunting, and probably bites off more than it can chew, but such are dissertations. I end up saying Barth needs Marion’s sacramental sensibility which is almost like saying Protestant thought needs Catholic. You’re on to something in Balthasar being a kind of bridge between these thinkers. If I was starting out today I might be tempted to work on the concept og ‘glory’ in the TA series as a corrolary to saturation. Balthasar is under-appreciated, yet his work has a ‘saturation’ of its own that I find absolutely compelling. JOHN

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