Volume 14, Issue 6: Tohu
Derrida amd Trinity?
Jacques Derrida continued the lines of modern thought founded by Nietzsche, particularly in his invigorating critique
of the very foundations of western thought, and he has left not a few ruffled feathers (and quills) in his wake. He has
attempted to show that whether through Forms, the Prime Mover, Descartes'
cogito, or Rousseau's uncorrupted state of Nature,
philosophy in Europe has constantly sought for the
arche that needs no representations, the knowledge of which is
unmediated. Always present is the assumption that the mind is in touch with something transcendental and true before being corrupted
by the vagaries of language and image: Thus Wittgenstein's quest for the pure language that would provide unmediated
and unrepresented knowledge of the world, and the possibility of a word whose referent is grounded outside of language.
Derrida characterizes the western view of language in this way: "All signifiers . . . are derivative with regard to what would wed
the voice indissolubly to the mind or to the thought of the signified sense, indeed to the thing itself (whether it is done in
the Aristotelian manner . . . or in the manner of medieval theology, determining the
res as a thing created from its
eidos, from its sense thought in the logos or in the infinite understanding of God)"
(Of Grammatology, chap. 1).
Derrida argues that any arche is a myth which is unknowable. He attempts to expose the vanity of the
"logocentrism" that maintains there is a positive reality or Reason or Word (the
logos) in which phenomena (including language) may
cohere and be given meaning. Instead, components of language do not have grounding in reality, but are given meaning by
their mutual differences; Derrida's famous dictum is "there is nothing outside the text." The meaning, then, is constantly
being defined by difference and is constantly being deferred, since each part of language is representative and none ties in
directly with an arche. He encapsulated this double concept of deferral and difference in the French pun and neologism
différance. "For what is put into question is precisely the quest for a rightful beginning, an absolute point of departure, a principal
responsibility. The problem of writing is opened by putting into question the value
arkhe. What I will propose here will not be elaborated simply as a philosophical discourse operating according to principles, postulates, axioms, or definitions
and proceeding along the discursive lines of a linear order of reasons. In the delineation of
différance everything is strategic
and adventurous" (Margins of
Derrida (somewhat to his surprise) thus founded the literary movement of "deconstruction." Any text that purports
to connect with an arche or logos cannot live up to this claim but can be shown to "deconstruct" itselfthat is, the language
it uses does not allow it to arrive at a fixed meaning and, specifically, does not allow it to tap into any sort of
logos. Meaning arises within the bounded "play" of language; there is no fixed meaning, although this does not simplistically imply
that interpretation is completely open-ended (as some critics of Derrida have tried to say). Meaning arises not from
words (which in turn are somehow in direct connection with reality) but from
differences, from the level of syntax all the way up
to entire arguments and movements. "It is therefore only a discourse or rather a writing that can make up for the incapacity
of the word to be equal to a `thought'" ("Letter to a Japanese Friend").
The reactive movement against modernism (dare I call it "postmodernism"?) is one of the most valuable subjects
a Christian can study; in order to eventually establish a definitively Trinitarian mode of thought, we must first learn all of
the blind spots we have inherited from positivism. Only with this in mind can the creativity of philosophers like Nietzsche
and Derrida be appreciated. Perhaps they could even become a means by which we finally purge the last remaining
Hellenism from our theology.
Derrida's argument is justified against a Christian system enervated by the subtle Unitarianism of Greek principles.
The Greek quest for the motionless, unitary, transcendental ground is futile and distorts one's whole approach to the
world. John's naming of Christ as Logos must not be understood as a simple substitution by which Jerusalem takes up the
banner of Athens. Trinitarian theology does not trace all things back to a monistic
arche, but rather to a covenantal relation in
which meaning itself is relational and mediated (not axiomatic) and it resides within an eternal discourse, a bounded play
of mutual deferral and submission, which is only made possible by real difference. There is no thing-in-itself, because there
is no hypostasis-within-itself, no independently existing oneness, of personality or of anything else that is not interpenetrated
by something outside of itself. A person is not more original than a relation.
I do not wish to introduce a Derridean Christianity (in the same sense that Bultmann introduced an existential
Christianity), but I do think that perspectives like his give us valuable insight on the pervasiveness of our own analytical
assumptions. In his critique of the unitary
arche and his emphasis on difference, deferral, and the playfulness of language, he is
more of a practical Trinitarian than most orthodox Christians and, thus, should spur us on to be jealous for the beauty and
truth of our own distinctive faith.