Thursday, May 24, 2007

Fear and Trembling: "Problema I"

[This post will briefly discuss some of my thoughts from reading "Problema I"; sometime this weekend I plan to write something on "Problema II" so that we can take up "Problema III" next week, as per the schedule.]

I think this issue of the individual vs. the universal is a very rich idea for Mormons to take up, because of our emphasis on individual exaltation (becoming as God is!?) as well as our emphasis on "personal revelation." Also, I think this is a good opportunity to try to take up again the discussion of One vs. infinity that Adam and Joe were discussing at length earlier. In particular, Adam said here,

"[T]ruths then must be produced rather than deduced because they are grounded in the procession of the infinite rather than in the givenness of the One."

This idea about "producing truths" rather than deducing them is endlessly fascinating to me, esp. in how it relates to the Mormon notion of eternal increase. I hope I am not alone in not quite understanding what Adam means by "the procession of the infinite." In fact, I think this might be an interesting way to approach Mormon theology, as an attempt to think about how this procession of the infinite takes place. Or, as JdS might put it, how does the individual become greater than the universal?

I think that what I will term hierarchy plays an important role in understanding this production of truths. In Abraham 3, we saw a very interesting hierarchical formulation of infinity (v. 16, "if two things exist, and there be one above another, there shall be greater things above them"). I wonder how this might relate to the modern LDS notion of priesthood jurisdiction (i.e. one can receive revelation for one's family, but not for one's ward, except for the bishop). I'm not claiming this is a true or even useful way to think about hierarchy (esp. as it relates to the procession of the infinite), but I think it's an interesting way to at least begin thinking about the issue. Another way to formulate this same question is in terms of the Third: if I am torn between two conflicting obligations, how can I decide between them? I'm suggesting that we consider an answer that takes some notion of hierarchy quite seriously.

When Abraham was caught between Sarah and Hagar, God, as a higher authority, mediated for Him (telling him to grant Sarah's request). Faith, then, might be taken as an affirmation of higher authority, an authority that worldly societies do not see or recognize (which leads JdS to the conclusion that faith is absurd). And so, although I think Ralph rightly points out that liberal democracy offers a promising way to construct worldly societies, I'm inclined to see liberal democracy as lacking an important kind of grounding that I think is more readily found in, say, hierarchical theocracy (however such might be structured...). The Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith both seem to say interesting things about democracy, but I'm not sure how this relates to the more hierarchical structure that seems so pervasive in Church examples (like obedience to God's authority).

But if the procession of the infinite takes place hierarchically, what is the nature and structure of this hierarchy? Here, I think D&C 121:34ff is justified in being as popular as it is because it seems to imply that every hierarchical relationship is conditionally established. If God's kingdom (a term with important hierarchical connotations, I think...) can be established "only upon the principles of righteousness" (121:36), then I think we should consider a hierarchical production of truth that does not reduce to authority which is merely given (I'm referring back to Adam's phrase "rather than the givenness of the One" which I quoted above). That is, no authority is absolutely given, but all authority is contingent on these "principles of righteousness" (though this suggests to me that these "principles" might be viewed as given...) which grant each intelligence, no matter how lowly, a voice. It is this check on absolute authority, this 'giving of a voice to all subjects of authority,' that I think opens the possibility for each subject to become himself/herself a truth that can eternally increase.

Well, this is but one strain of thought this reading elicited in me. If I have time perhaps I'll raise other thoughts below. I'd be very interested in hearing others' feedback and thoughts on my comments and/or the reading itself.


Blogger Adam S. Miller said...

What interests me especially in Problema I - and it is closely connected with Robert's interests - is the way in which Kierkegaard wants to differentiate the absolute (the religious) from the universal (the ethical). To relate this to Robert's concerns: the absolute would be the production of truths and the universal would be the deduction of truths.

In one sense, this difference may also mark where Ralph and I appear to be working from different perspectives. For K, the only way to differentiate the absolute from the universal is via the absurd. If faith is not provoked essentially by a relation to the absurd, then the substance of religion (for K) would only be the deduction of ethical actions from pre-existing (natural) laws and criteria. The fact that faith is tied to the absurd is what fractures the hegemony of the universal and necessitates something other than faithful deduction - faithful invention.

Now, whenever I read K, I find myself thinking that I'd be extremely grateful were I able to simply accomplish the "movements" of the knight of infinite resignation and, in a sense, it would be no shame if this were all that there were. But K is looking for something else. He's looking for a way to bring the infinite back into the finite, a way to make the philistine appear as a grace. Such an effort, requiring as it does a kind of oxymoronic conjunction of opposites, appears to K to be necessarily absurd. In this sense, of course an "universal singularity" or an "actual infinity" is absurd (at least after a fashion).

Something like a "universal singularity" appears to me to be exactly what K is aiming at with a notion of the absolute that must be differentiated from the universal.

I don't know how useful all the above is but - c'est la vie!

8:13 AM  
Blogger Joe Spencer said...

Most likely because I've been spending so much time with Lacan lately, Kierkegaard's Repetition has been more on my thoughts than anything in Fear and Trembling, perhaps because the former spells out the failures while the latter spells out the successes, and I can only interpret the successes against the failures... or some such thing.

Moreover, because I've assembled something like an outline of the paper I'd like to write in response to our discussions, and because it is broken into three successive approaches to the Abraham text, I'm struck by the three-fold structuration of... relationality?... in Kierkegaard's work (the aesthetic, the ethical, and the religious). And my musings (due mostly to a regular study group with which I'm involved) on faith, hope, and charity are driving this three-fold structuration home more and more.

Since Robert has raised in this discussion again the question of Abraham's "mathematical" generation of infinity in Abraham 3, let me ponder out loud here for at least a couple of minutes on the meaning of the number 3....

Of course the Trinity comes first to mind, and I'm reminded of Joseph's statement about three beings making eternal covenant before the foundation of the world, "God the First, the Creator, God the Second, the Redeemer, and God the Third, the Witness or Testator." If that can be drawn into the Latin sacramentum (as I've suggested before in a post to LDS-PHIL), can we recognize the relation of Father to Son as a covenant that is bound up or sealed by the Holy Ghost/Spirit of Promise? The Holy Ghost, as the tertium quid, marks the binding up of the Two, stands as the unsubstantial "outside" that binds up the structure of the binary Father-Son. This seems remarkably similar to the "if there are two in a hierarchically arranged relation, then there may be a third above them" argument: their relation is implied by---even as it implies---a third that confirms the structurality of their structured relation.

In light of all of this, can we say quite simply that 3 is the sign at once of structure and deconstruction: it is the third that at once unites and ruptures the structuration of the two in its confirming and yet disconfirming testimony.

I'm beginning to think that this implied decon/structuration implied in the number 3 can provide a kind of framework for thinking about faith, hope, and charity, not to mention the three ways of relating Kierkegaard lays out for us (the aesthetic, the ethical, and the religious). A word or two on it....

Faith and hope are structured together (isn't this the implication of, say, Hebrews 11:1?), but precisely by charity, which also undoes the structuration of faith and hope. If faith implies a trust---a "hermeneutics of retrieval"---then we might say that hope implies radical doubt---a "hermeneutics of suspicion": and so faith and hope together amount to Ricoeur's "vow of rigor, vow of obedience." That this is his wording from Freud and Philosophy is especially animating for me: this double hermeneutics, this double vow, seems geared by the structuration of the psyche (caught between the Id and the Superego). It might just as well be said to be geared by the structuration of Being (Nietzsche/Heidegger) or of the economy (Marx). And so Lacan (following Paul in 1 Corinthians 15, though not explicitly) thematizes the beyond of Freud's psyche, as Marion does for Nietzsche/Heidegger's Being: charity/Spirit.

Too many thoughts are crowding in on me. Let me wrap things up with two final points, one trying to trace this trajectory back to my own previous thinking, and one trying to trace this trajectory back to the discussion I'm supposed to be contributing to.

First, the paper I've outlined takes up three passages from the Genesis text up as they are transfigured in Joseph's several translations. Since Joseph had three translation projects, each receives its due attention. The translation projects, in chronological order, work backwards through the Abraham story: the Book of Mormon takes up the Akedah (Jacob 4); the JST takes up the Sodom and Gomorrah story (JST Gen 18, primarily); and the Book of Abraham takes up the lie concerning Sarah (Abraham 2). This reversal is curious in itself, and it is curiouser still that each textual transfiguration grows richer. But where will all of this lead? At the very least, it makes me want to approach the question of Joseph Smith and the Bible: how did he---and how do we---interpret?

Second, Adam's responses to Ralph regarding the "Preliminary Expectoration" point again and again to the impossibility of "going back." But I suppose I'm still unsure as to whether or not Kierkegaard thinks he is going back. That he thinks faith as the climax would suggest it, but it is clear that faith has, to use Robert's term, "matured." Might it be that faith and hope are together recast by charity, rendered absurd? Thus one does not return, but one repeats: one gets faith and hope all over again, but having passed through the absurd final chapters of Job?

Or something... Sorry for the jumble of thoughts.

10:16 AM  

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