My first, and principal, debt of gratitude is to my wife, Marie, who not only has helped me with advice about some details of the text of this work, but has throughout the long and painfully slow process of its composition selflessly provided me with the kind of support and encouragement without which that process could not have been easily endured. Nor can I imagine ever having completed this book without her having created the sort of personal and domestic circumstances in which alone academic writers can work. Hidden as such support is, none but its recipient can fully appreciate the magnitude of the debt owed.
Other kinds of indebtedness are with similar infrequency acknowledged. All academics know how very great theirs is in the production of a monograph such as this to the daily converse they have enjoyed with colleagues and students. It is normally somewhat more difficult to identify precisely where within those conversations one's own voice is to be distinguished from those of such partners in intellectual enquiry. But in the case of this present work I have been able to identify explicitly the contributions of several scholar colleagues, both senior and junior members of my Faculty of Divinity at Cambridge and elsewhere, who have offered comments on earlier drafts which in some cases caused me to adopt significantly different argument strategies than those I had at first envisaged, and in all cases required of me some important response. I have, in consequence, been able to incorporate some of these comments into the text itself and to acknowledge their authorship in situ, so that in places within the text it has become as palpable as it is invariably true that the final result is the outcome of long-running and many-sided conversations between academics and friends.
If, first, I acknowledge my indebtedness to my colleague Dr Catherine Pickstock, this is because I feel myself singularly privileged to have worked alongside her since I came to Cambridge some four years ago, and to find myself almost continually in a quandary as to whether, and if so how far, we disagree as to many of the issues canvassed in this book -and just as much as to the issues canvassed in her own many writings. For
I have found that quandary to be altogether a matter of creative stimulus. I have had a similar experience in a more recent teaching collaboration with my colleague Dr Anna Williams, and with both colleagues the one thing of which I am certain is that if we do disagree with one another, it is on intellectual ground occupied in common by all three of us in different ways, for, as the reader will find me often asseverating in this book, eadem est scientia oppositorum, or, roughly, worthwhile disagreements are on common terms of dispute. It has been a pleasure and a privilege both to occupy that common ground and to dispute with them.
That said, it is to a cohort of outstanding PhD students at Cambridge that much of the eventual shape of this book can be attributed. Susannah Ticciati had much to do with how I constructed the argument in relation to a 'Barthian' perspective in chapter 1, indeed an almost endless series of emails between us contributed so much to this chapter that in the end I found myself engaging almost more with her views than I do with Barth's own. In that same first chapter, the intervention of Dr Karen Kilby, my former colleague at the University of Birmingham, now of the University of Nottingham, prevented my making at least two foolish errors of interpretation. Fr Christopher Hilton offered a number of helpful and clarifying comments on my exposition of Bonaven-ture in chapter 3. Without my acquaintance with Ferdia Stone-Davis's research on theology and music I should not even have thought of writing as I have, however naively I may have responded to her views, about music in chapter 6, nor, without Vittorio Montemaggi's work on Dante, poetry and theology, should I have understood the importance and relevance to my case of the 'rhetorical' dimension of human rationality discussed in chapter 5 - though here the earlier influence of a former PhD student in the University of Birmingham, Dr Rebecca Stephens, was also of decisive importance to me. It was Rebecca's work on Marguerite Porete which caused me to understand what Eckhart's vernacular sermons 'do' by means of their 'saying'. Mary-Jane Rubenstein, formerly of the Cambridge Divinity Faculty, now a PhD student in Columbia University, offered invaluable assistance with an extensive revision of chapter 8, and Hannah Pauly, then a final-year undergraduate in Cambridge, contributed an important point of clarification in the interpretation of Nietzsche. With Kevin Loughton I engaged in a long-running debate, by no means yet concluded, concerning the argument of chapter 10: his persistence in pressing me to be clear has left us still in disagreement, but little in an academic career can equal the pleasures of such constructive discussions and debates as I have enjoyed with Kevin, as with Susannah, Karen, Chris, Ferdia,
Vittorio, Rebecca, Mary-Jane and Hannah over the time of this book's gestation.
It goes without saying that none of these scholar friends and colleagues may be held responsible for the use I have made of their contributions. Even as I thank them they will observe how often I have stubbornly persisted in views with which I know they disagree. Moreover, since some of their contributions, as I have incorporated them into the text, had their origin in comments made ad hominem on earlier drafts - and often orally or in the transitory medium of electronic mail - they should not necessarily or always be taken to be the final, formed opinions of their authors, even where they are attributed to them by name. I stand by what I have said, but I cannot in the same way expect them to be held to comments made on my text out of views of their own which were and are, obviously, still in the process of formation.
Finally, the person with whom I have most intimately engaged in the conversations out of which this book has emerged, and my longest-standing academic friend and conversation-partner, has been Professor Oliver Davies, of King's College, London. My intellectual and theological debts to Oliver over several decades are more pervasive than apparent, but are in any case profound.
It is, therefore, to this group of friends, and many others not mentioned by name, who have in various ways helped to make this work at least a good deal better than it would otherwise have been, that I dedicate this book, as an expression of my gratitude for the truly exhilarating experience of having worked with them.
The 'shape' of reason
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