‘Prayerful Dispossession and the Grammar of Thinking Theologically: Sarah Coakley and Gillian Rose’ (New Blackfriars)

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  Gillian Rose’s re-thinking of Hegel in the wake of twentieth century ‘right’ and ‘left’ wing Hegelianisms has offered occasion for a recovery of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit as more than simply the narration of the way consciousness absorbs its
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  DOI:10.1111/nbfr.12085 Prayerful Dispossession and the Grammarof Thinking Theologically: Sarah Coakleyand Gillian Rose * Scott A. Kirkland Abstract Gillian Rose’s re-thinking of Hegel in the wake of twentieth cen-tury ‘right’ and ‘left’ wing Hegelianisms has offered occasion for arecovery of Hegel’s  Phenomenology of Spirit   as more than simplythe narration of the way consciousness absorbs its objects, as text-book accounts often suggest. Rose’s suggestion is that Hegel offersa program of radical criticism that destabilises the modern ego inspeculative thought itself. Sarah Coakley’s recent first volume, of aproposed four, of her systematic theology triangulating Trinity, prayerand dispossessive spiritual practices provides a fruitful dialogue part-ner for Rose’s project in that Coakley offers a mode of thinkingabout prayer deeply attentive to the shape of spiritual discipline andit’s relation to theological grammar. This paper contests that it is pre-cisely in the non-objectivity of divine being, as thought by Rose andCoakley, that we find resources for conceptualising thinking itself asa dispossessive spiritual act. The theological and the spiritual (the-ory and praxis) cannot, therefore, be partitioned out without violencebeing done to the act of thinking itself. Keywords Sarah Coakley, Gillian Rose, Prayer, Thinking, Neo-Kantianism 1. Introduction This is a paper in exploration of a theo-logic of prayer. The suspi-cion I have is that there is a convergence between the work of GillianRose and Sarah Coakley in the way both come to think about therelationship between practices of prayer and patterns of thought. One * I would like to thank Sarah Coakley for her helpful and constructive feedback on thispiece. C  2014 The Dominican Council. Published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd. 2014, 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK, and 350Main Street, Malden MA 02148, USA  2 Prayerful Dispossession and the Grammar of Thinking Theologically of the often lamented problems of ‘modern’ theology is the seem-ing dislocation of the academic discipline of theological reflectionfrom contemplative practices. This, I want to suggest with Rose, isa result of a certain kind of neo-Kantianism that enters theologi-cal discourse at a critical moment driving a wedge between theoryand praxis by placing certain concepts in a ‘transcendental register’,so determining the relationship between subject and object  a priori .These neo-Kantianisms of different forms preclude learning as some-thing immanent to the consciousness itself by supplying a certainmythology, “the myth of the subject in possession.” 1 Vincent Lloydsummarises this well, One of Gillian Rose’s insights was that philosophy, since Kant (andbefore Kant), has most often conducted its investigation by placingcertain privileged concepts in a transcendental register. These conceptsdetermine the conditions of possibility for the empirical world. Thecontent of the transcendental register is immune from criticism; nothingin the empirical world can affect it. But where does the content of thetranscendental register come from? What is the source of its authority?Perhaps it seems self-evident, perhaps it seems god-given, or perhapsit seems the result of exhaustive reflection.In fact, any content of the transcendental register is merely an el-evated, sanctified aspect of the ordinary world. Any content of thetranscendental register is rhetoric usurping the place of philosophy. 2 The convergence with Coakley’s project comes when we begin toconsider the careful ways in which she comes to think the re-orderingof desire in contemplative participation in the Spirit. Improvising onher work we might say, contemplative practices foster forms of self-dispossession that enlarge and simultaneously re-order the possibili-ties of thought, speech and silence available to us as we participatein the Son’s prayer to the Father in the Spirit. There is an epistemicenlargement and slippage that takes place precisely in an ordereddispossession. The life of God is no static moment that can be com-municated in conceptual refinement, but is a participative event inwhich we re-learn thought again and again as we are given to ap-proach God in prayer. As we ascend into divine darkness we find,paradoxically, that we are opened up in new ways to ever richerepistemic possibilities. 1 Rowan Williams, ‘Between Politics and Metaphysics: Reflections in the Wake of Gillian Rose’ in  Modern Theology  11:1 (1995), pp. 3–22. 2 Lloyd,  Law and Transcendence: On the Unfinished Project of Gillian Rose  (London:Palgrave MacMillan, 2009), p. 97. Lloyd’s argument goes on to suggest that there islittle space for transcendence in Rose. However, following Andrew Shanks, I want tosuggest that there is a latent form of transcendence in Rose’s thought. Andrew Shanks,  Against Innocence: Gillian Rose’s Reception and Gift of Faith  (London: SCM Press, 2008)p. 41–97. C  2014 The Dominican Council  Prayerful Dispossession and the Grammar of Thinking Theologically 3 However, this implies a radical discomfort, which does not allowfor the refuge of the transcendental register. It implies we need tolearn how to speak of   loss  and of   error   in ways that are theologicallysignificant not simply as moments of epistemic negation, but as aradical dislocation of the moral subject – Gethsemane – thus movingus beyond the evocation of a transcendent noetic register. The Son’scry, ‘  Abba,  Father ’,  which we are given to echo in the Spirit (Rom8:15), is a cry from a moment of incomprehension and loss, but alsoof obedience and renewed comprehension of the ethical task. Rose’sproject then becomes important at the moment we find the need tothink a kind of phenomenology of consciousness’ recovery of itself in loss, of the theological importance of error, misrecognition and si-lence. The two projects intersect as we think prayer as a participationin a divine knowing, as the progressive  re-ordering  of our  disordered  perceptions in a movement of dispossession. 2. ‘The Transcendental Register’: Kant and Modernity ‘Neo-Kantianism’ becomes identified, for Rose, with a number of diverse philosophical projects that ‘dirempt’ law from ethics, theuniversal from the particular. “‘Diremption’ draws attention to thetrauma of separation of that which was, however, as in marriage, not   srcinally united”. 3 Diremptions, politically, indicate the ways inwhich modern philosophy, in the wake of neo-Kantianism, becomesuneasy with the relationship between a discourse of human rightsand the actualities of power mediated to us in political institutions.The corruption in Kant’s project is then read as lying in his distinc-tion between the knowable realm of experience and the unknowablerealm of things in themselves and the moral law. This then worksto distinguish the ‘question of fact’ from the ‘question of law’; thatis, in the former, the acquisition of concepts in experience, and, inthe later, the establishment of an  a priori  relationship with objects.In turn, this enables a mode of thinking law that is detached fromthe  difficulty  of the negotiations of experience, for the establishmentof the possibility of the apprehension of experience is not derivedfrom reflection upon experience.  Reason  and  actuality  are held at adistance by ‘general logics’ (Hermann Cohen); logics that functionin a linear fashion starting from an abstract proposition. 4 This leadsto the “debasement of experience” and “excludes any inquiry intoempirical reality”. 5 3 Rose,  The Broken Middle: Out of Our Ancient Society  (Cambridge: Blackwell, 1992),p. 236. 4 See Rose,  Hegel Contra Sociology  (London: Verso, 2009), p. 2–14. 5 Rose,  Hegel Contra Sociology,  9. Cited in, Vincent Lloyd,  Law and Transcendence, p. 17. C  2014 The Dominican Council  4 Prayerful Dispossession and the Grammar of Thinking Theologically At this point we need to drive back into the way Rose seesthis form of neo-Kantianism shaping the subject. She rehearses aneo-Kantian criticism of Kant: a transcendental approach to knowl-edge functions in such a way that knowledge “is the synthesis of themanifold of perception into appearances. These appearances do notexist in themselves, but only relative to the subject in which theyinhere.” 6 Appearances are not, then, things in themselves, but arecontingent upon the subject’s apprehension. Because of this, objec-tive validity belongs to “the synthesis of experience, but not to anythings in themselves.” 7 So, then, “if the idea that the mind synthe-sises the objects of knowledge is accepted, then it can be arguedthat it makes no sense to retain ‘reality’ for something beyond ourknowledge.” 8 The (Marburg) neo-Kantian criticism of Kant, then, isin that the ‘unity of consciousness’ does not refer to the oppositionbetween subject and object but, “to unity based on the principle of pure logic, the logic of scientific consciousness. Scientific thought isthe unity of the creating and its creations and its activities of unifyingand diversifying are a never-ending, infinite task.” 9 It is important that we take this back into the way the subject isbeing construed because it is the “subject in possession” of her intel-lectual faculties that is able to do this. This is seen as being a productof the Enlightenment search for ‘authority’, which is read, in turn,as a continuation of the crisis of the reformation. So, Rose boldlyclaims, “Modernity is Protestant, not humanistic”. 10 The problem is“Kant in all his pietism.” 11 The Kantian subject becomes “divinelyconfident that no work needs to be done for his salvation” 12 be-cause “ignorance is the only fallen condition, not sin”, 13 which isindeed the Gnostic condition with which Rose diagnoses modernity and   postmodernity. Kant, then, ... knew that, since Luther, authority and scepticism keep changingplaces: one person’s authority is another’s scepticism. ...When Scrip-ture was substituted for sacerdotalism by the Protestant Reformation, itwas claimed that reason had replaced superstition and worldly author-ity. “Subjective whim has replaced the apostolic tradition,” ripostes thecounter-claim. Once this exchange had been launched, all authority isrelativised, because both sides are ultimately sceptical... 14 6 Rose,  Hegel Contra Sociology,  p. 4. 7 Rose,  Hegel Contra Sociology,  p. 5. 8 Rose,  Hegel Contra Sociology,  p. 5. 9 Rose,  Hegel Contra Sociology,  p. 12. 10 Rose,  Paradiso  (London: Menard Press, 1999), p. 20. 11 Rose,  Paradiso,  p. 20. 12 Rose,  Mourning Becomes the Law: Philosophy and Representation  (Cambridge:Cambridge University Press, 1997), p. 127. 13 Rose,  Paradiso,  p. 26. 14 Gillian Rose,  Love’s Work   (New York: New York Review of Books, 2011), p. 127. C  2014 The Dominican Council  Prayerful Dispossession and the Grammar of Thinking Theologically 5 Kantian logic functions in binary oppositions grounded in the sub- ject’s difficulties apprehending the object. The  ding an sich  [thing initself], hidden from view as we only apprehend through the sensesmediated by  a priori  categories of judgement, precludes the subjectfrom ever really apprehending the object, and so isolates us fromever engaging the world in any generative or creative way, henceneo-Kantianism’s radicalising of Kant’s subject. Because God is onlyapprehended in reason, we are equally unable to apprehend God ashe does not present himself to us in the world of sensory experi-ence thereby engaging the faculties of judgement, and so suspendingand reframing our action.  God has nothing to do with thought it-self.  These binaries are set, never to be overcome, and it is this thatis deeply problematic (particularly as it radicalises itself in Fichte’sself-positing subject). 15 3. Overcoming Kantian Oppositions: Rose’s Hegel Against neo-Kantianism, Rose’s project is interested in the shape of error, of misrecognition, in the process of knowing. The retreat of post-modernity into “a playful Sophistry, replacing knowledge with‘discourses’, critique with ‘plurality’, conceptuality with ‘the Other’,renouncing in general any association with law or with mediation” 16 is the result of a retreat from the supposed totalising ideologiesof modernity. Yet, this retreat is seen simply as the flip side of atotalitarian epistemology. For, as she identifies in postmodern ‘newethics’, “‘The Other’ is misrepresented as sheer alterity, for ‘theOther’ is equally distraught subject searching for its substance, itsethical life. . .  New ethics  would transcend the autonomy of thesubject by commanding that I substitute myself for ‘the Other’(heteronomy) or by commending attention to ‘the Other’.” 17 Thisheteronomous substitution of myself for ‘the Other’, Rose contends,denies the “immanence of the self-relation of ‘the Other’ to myown self-relation” 18 thus denying the  pathos  of the process of coming to know, the  broken middle  out of which we come both 15 See Rose,  Hegel Contra Sociology,  p. 98–107. 16 Rose,  The Broken Middle,  p. xii. 17 Rose,  Judaism and Modernity: Philosophical Essays  (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell,1993), p. 8. Again Rose notes, “Post-modernism is submodern: these holy middles of ecstatic divine-milieu, irenic other city, holy community – face to face or Halachic – andthe unholy one of the perpetual carnival market, bear the marks of their unexplored precon-dition: the diremption between the moral discourse of rights and the systematic actualityof power, within and between modern states.” p. 47–48. 18 Rose,  Judaism and Modernity,  p. 8. C  2014 The Dominican Council
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