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Remarking the Silence: Prayer after the Death of God

  • Theresa Sanders (a1)


The critique of ontotheology undertaken by Heidegger and expended by Derrida calls into question not only the meaning but the possibility of God-language. In response, thinkers such as Kevin Hart have attempted to map out an area of non-metaphysical theology that draws on the resources of negative theology. Hart's work, The Trepass of the Sign, however, contains three significant ambiguities. First, he defines negative theology as a denial that God can be described using predicates, but in his text negative theology has a quasi-positive (rather than merely negative) role. Second, Hart contends that negative theology precedes positive theology, but in fact it seems to depend upon a prior affirmation of God. Third, Hart offers no rationale for negative theologians' use of the word “God.” Derrida writes that the only way out of negative theology's referential vacuity is prayer: which, he continues, mires that theology in metaphysics. However, if prayer is understood as agape rather than knowledge or supplication, a way through Hart's ambiguities might be found.



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1 Thomas, R. S., Counterpoint (Newcastle upon Tyne, UK: Bloodaxe Books, 1990), 45.

2 See, e.g., Taylor's, Mark C. influential work Erring: A Postmodern A/theology (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984) in which Taylor proclaims not only the death of God, but also the disappearance of the Self, the end of History, and the closure of the Book.

3 See Derrida, Jacques, Margins of Philosophy, trans Bass, Alan (ChicagoUniversity of Chicago press, 1982), esp the chapter entitled “Différance”

4 A skeptical assessment of deconstruction can be found in Schmitz, Kenneth L, “Postmodern or Modern-Plus?Communio 17 (Summer 1990) 152–66 More positive engagements include the series of essays collected in Coward, Harold and Foshay, Toby, eds, Derrida and Negative Theology (AlbanyState University of New York Press, 1992), and Winquist, Charles, Desiring Theology (ChicagoUniversity of Chicago Press, 1995)

6 A notable exception is Caputo, John, The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida (Bloomington Indiana University Press, 1997)

7 Hart, Kevin, The Trespass of the Sign: Deconstruction, Theology and Philosophy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 104.

8 Ibid.

9 Ibid., 176.

10 Ibid., 186.

11 Ibid., 193.

12 Ibid., 201.

13 Ibid.

14 Ibid., emphasis added.

15 Derrida, Jacques, “How to Avoid Speaking: Denials” in Coward, and Foshay, , eds., Derrida and Negative Theology, 77.

16 Hart, , The Trespass of the Sign, 202

17 Ibid

18 Ibid, emphasis added See also 104

19 Ibid, 182

20 Ibid, 269

21 Ibid, 268, emphasis added

22 Ibid., 269.

23 Ibid., 181.

24 Ibid., 175.

25 Ibid., 176.

26 Ibid., 177.

27 Ibid., 176.

28 Ibid., 103.

29 Ibid., 177.

30 Derrida, , “How to Avoid Speaking,” 81.

31 Ibid., 110. Emphasis added.

32 Ibid.

33 Ibid.

34 Ibid.

35 Ibid. 111.

36 Marion, Jean-Luc, God without Being, trans. Carlson, Thomas A. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991), 76.

37 Ibid., 106.

38 Ibid.,46.

39 Ibid.,49.

40 Ibid., 107.

41 Ibid., 173.

42 See the poem by R. S. Thomas at the beginning of this article.

43 On the issue of whether or not a gift demands a reciprocal offering, see Milbank's, JohnCan a Gift Be Given?Modern Theology 11 (01 1995): 119–61. Milbank argues, as do I, that Marion has not thought through the implications of the unilateral character of the gift. However, contrary to the argument of the present essay, Milbank sees Derrida's account of the gift as “nihilistic.” He proposes instead that Christian agape should be understood as a “purified gift-exchange” that takes place in a covenant relationship.

44 Hart, , Trespass of the Sign, 103.

45 Marion, , God without Being, 48.

46 Avila, Teresa of, The Interior Castle, trans. Kavanaugh, Kieran and Rodriguez, Otilio (New York: Paulist, 1979), 174.

47 David Thomson comments, “It would be a mistake here to imagine ‘nothing’ as a quasi-presence with some measure of syntactical status, as if that originary nothing/ineffable moment is transcribed by the mystics into writing” (“Deconstruction and Meaning in Medieval Mysticism,” Christianity and Literature 40/2 [Winter 1991]: 112).

48 Johnston, William, ed., The Cloud of Unknowing (New York: Image Books, 1973), 54.

49 Thomson, , “Deconstruction of Meaning,” 119.

50 Johnston, , ed., The Cloud of Unknowing, 102.

51 Ibid., 56. Emphasis added.

52 Ibid.

53 Ibid., 136.

54 Caputo, , Prayers and Tears, 311.

55 Levinas, Emmanuel, The Levinas Reader, ed. Hand, Sean (Oxford: Blackwell, 1989), 177.

56 Ibid., 178.

57 Genoa, Saint Catherine of, “The Spiritual Dialogue” in Catherine of Genoa: Purgation and Purgatory, The Spiritual Dialogue, trans. Hughes, Serge, The Classics of Western Spirituality (New York: Paulist, 1979), 128.

58 Ibid., 131.

58 Ibid., 131.

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Remarking the Silence: Prayer after the Death of God

  • Theresa Sanders (a1)


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