In his Twilight of the Idols, Nietzsche tells us of his 'fear [that] we are not getting rid of God because we still believe in grammar',5 thereby expressing, perhaps seminally for much French interpretation of Nietzsche, its logophobia, its fear of language. For all his supreme wordiness, Nietzsche fears language - it torments him with theological paradox. Language, constructed internally from the formal constituents of grammar, divides. Not that language fails merely as expression - because it divides into the artificial units of grammar what were, as if in some way prior
1 Jacques Derrida, On the Name, ed. Thomas Dutoit, trans. David Wood, John P. Leavey and Ian McLeod, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1995.
2 John D. Caputo, 'Mysticism and Transgression: Derrida and Meister Eckhart', in Hugh J. Silverman, ed., Derrida and Deconstruction, London: Routledge, 1989, pp. 24-39.
3 Jean-Luc Marion, God without Being, trans. Thomas A. Carlson, Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1991.
4 In the construction of much of the argument of this chapter I am indebted to Mary-Jane Rubenstein for some important critical comments.
5 Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols iii.5, trans. Duncan Large, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998, p. 19.
to language, the natural and given unities of thought and experience -for language is there from the beginning as structure within thought and experience, which possess in consequence no prior unities for language then to betray.6 Language taints in a manner which is original and originating, and the unities of experience which it fragments have no preexistent 'presence', and are no more than those which language itself provides us with the possibility of envisaging. For that grammar which divides is also that alone which can generate a prospect of unity, a goal of experiential coherence which, nonetheless, can exist only as unachievable. Therefore, the coherences which language alone holds out as promise, language itself denies us. Hence, on the one hand, if language taints us with divisions, there are no unities prior to language which it taints. On the other hand, if the fragmentations of language are to be seen in some way as 'taint', then it is only on account of the expectation of a unity they frustrate that they are so to be seen.
Nor is this 'post-modern' paradox of language confined to its internal structure as, in the narrow sense, 'grammar'. For language holds out 'representational' promise too, the promise of determinable relationships with objects, relationships of truth and falsity with what it describes, only at the same time to deny us any finality in that determination. It is because of language that there are objects; it is within language alone that there can be a distinction between speaker and that which is spoken of. The prospect, therefore, of establishing objects for language to be about is at the same time given by language; hence, access to those objects is denied us by any route independent of language. The dualism of speaker and spoken of, of word and object, is therefore both constructed within language and deconstructed by it. Just that which promises is also that which disappoints. Language is, as it were, a Sisyphean striving, for it generates the very goal which it also frustrates.
'Grammar', therefore, is at once necessary and impossible in any absolute and final way. But it is the fear that language might be possible -might at some point resolve the paradox on the ground of some ultimate, redeeming 'reality', the fear that we are not in fact, and cannot ever be,
6 Of course, as Mary-Jane Rubenstein has pointed out, there are accounts of an 'original condition' of pre-linguistic 'innocence', in which humans 'enjoyed a kind of pre-symbolic immediacy', a condition from which humans 'fell into language', and so into the world of 'binary opposition' - the 'subject-object' division - and so into 're-presentation'. Of such a kind is the account of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, for whom the transition from the 'state of nature' to that of civil society is precisely such a 'fall up' into language, and so, if from isolated individuality to society and from barbarism to civilisation, also from innocence to the possibility of evil. Nietzsche's account seems more drastically ironic in its consequences, less implicated in an essentially 'Romantic' dualism of'innocence' and 'experience'.
'rid of grammar' - which, as God, haunts this Nietzschean mentality.7 For language still holds out the promise of coherence and of fixed reference. And in so far as language can secure its hold on the meanings which it contains, and so be able to make finally 'present' the meanings which it seeks to disclose, to that extent speakers are trapped within their utterances, locked into an utterly deterministic world, a world determined by what can be said, since what can be said remains locked deterministically into its relations with its objects. Total loss of freedom is therefore the price to be paid for any grammar which could be shown to have resolved its own contradictions. And since the possibility of any such 'resolved' speech depends upon the existence of God, then the existence of God can be bought at the price only of a total loss of freedom. For, on Nietzsche's account, the possibility of speech's standing in fully determined relations with its objects requires a guarantee outside it, a 'foundation' of speech which is accessible within speech; and since such a foundation would have to take the form of an absolute presence, a self-confirming presence, itself requiring no further guarantees, that foundation would have to bear the name 'God'. Hence, if grammar then God, and consequent loss of freedom. But freedom, hence no resolved grammar, and no God.
Are we then to say that language has no foundations? Must we accept -because it seems to be entailed - that language could not have any describ-able foundations, since, were the foundations of language to lie within the range of the describable, they would therefore lie within the range of language itself? And how would that be other than to say that language is founded in itself, and so to say that it has no foundations? Or are we to say that language rests on indescribable foundations - to say which would appear to be but an oxymoron, since the word 'indescribable', for all its descriptive form, a fortiori describes nothing? Language can have no describable foundations, for to be founded upon something within itself is not to be founded; nor can it be founded on anything outside itself, since 'outside' language nothing is described as founding it.
If, therefore, we are to accept Nietzsche's proposition, we have got rid of God only in so far as we have got rid of grammar, and Nietzsche's rage against God is the rage of a beast mired in a marsh: language sticks to him and the more he rages against his entrapment the more he is mired. Of
7 I am grateful to Hannah Pauly, an undergraduate student in the Faculty of Divinity in Cambridge, for reminding me of the significance of Nietzsche's 'fear': what troubles Nietzsche is not that we have 'got rid of God', but, on the contrary, that we have not, or, as Rubenstein puts it, that we have not got rid of God's 'shadow'. Zarathustra's proclamation of the death of God is a premature act of defiance. God, as it were, haunts the Nietzschean atheist still, for he fears that we have not 'got rid of grammar' (and perhaps cannot).
course, disconcerting and radical as this conclusion may appear to be -and it appeared so to Nietzsche - our culture in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries is largely unperturbed and has found it, as conclusions go, quite tolerable, even acceptably bourgeois.8 It does not seem to follow, if language is foundationless, that we cannot speak, that because there is no finality to grammar there is no grammar at all, and that we human beings are therefore thrown as jetsam on some tossing sea of meaninglessness. As it turns out, the denial of God seems in our times unalarming; it seems only that we float without excessive anxiety on a surface, normally placid enough, on which the possibility of navigation is not removed for want of a determinate shore-line. For if there is no absolute positioning, we can at least establish relative position in reference to other boats. That there is no ultimate meaning does not entail that there is no meaning at all, since for the most part things can go on as if there were some ultimate meaning, our relative positions not being any different for not being absolute, just harder to calculate. All that follows from the absence of a shore-line - and all we need for the maintenance of a decent life - is to agree on a prescription: that if in one sense everything is arbitrary because nothing is absolute, then the only truly destructive arbitrariness is any claim to absoluteness made in the name of a particular, relative, position. Today, it is absolute claims which appear arbitrary and dangerous, intellectually, morally and politically. To acknowledge the arbitrariness of all positions seems the safer, more democratic, and more just, practical mentality, for which nothing is required except that nothing is required. For the rest, in any sense in which we need to know, we know where we are.
And so it is that in the late twentieth century, other ways were found in which to articulate these Nietzschean concatenations, which link the essential indeterminacies of language with human freedom, democracy, and the denial of God, and they draw the issues in more closely - indeed explicitly - with our own late antique and medieval sources. In much the same way as on Nietzsche's account, post-modernists link the deter-minacy of speech and the denial of freedom to God through the consequence that determinacy of grammar and reference would require that God is some absolute, self-confirming 'presence'; such a 'presence' would crush out and obliterate human freedom. And Jacques Derrida's philosophy of 'difference' is linked through a logophobia every bit as intense as Nietzsche's. As such, of course, Derrida's version of Nietzsche's concatenations is thus far also as theologically ambiguous as Nietzsche's are
8 Such bourgeois complacency is exactly what Nietzsche feared would be the consequence derived by the 'moralistic' English, who would concede anything philosophically so long as they could keep their English morality intact. See Nietzsche, Twilight IX, 12, p. 49.
between an admirable scotching of idolatry, which attracts the theologians, and an outright denial of God, which of course worries them. Which way one reads it depends much on how one reads the complex and ever-modified story of his dialogue with 'negative theology'.9
And on the score of that dialogue, Derrida of course delights in a philosophy of ambiguity. Yet a philosophy of ambiguity is no excuse for an ambiguous philosophy. 'Tout autre est tout autre,'10 he says, as if signifying some important truth: 'every other is totally other'. But it is hard to know what he could possibly mean, at any rate when construed as a general statement about the logic of'otherness' as such.11 And, surprisingly, too many critics and commentators have let him get away with it. 'Every other is wholly other' could perhaps mean that every case of otherness - of 'this' rather than 'that' - is a case of complete otherness, so that there are no differences within the logic of difference, no kinds of difference, and that all difference is univocal, whatever substantives one substitutes for the pronouns 'this' and 'that'. But that seems too obviously false. Or it could mean the opposite, namely that there are kinds of otherness, but that all othernesses are of completely different kinds from one another, and all difference is equivocal; which seems no more true, and for the same reason, namely that either way 'complete otherness' is an unintelligible notion. At any rate, so we shall see in due course. In the meantime, it would seem that if any sort of sense is to be attached to this oracular gesture, it is intended as a kind of 'deconstruc-tionist' flag-waving: 'otherness' defeats all grammar, or, which is to say the same, there is no 'grammar' of 'difference' - indeterminacy rules. And, as we shall see, it is on account of this prioritisation of 'difference' that Derrida finds so much to fascinate him in the medieval traditions of negative theology.
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