Analogical Expansion and Differential Space: Thoughts on Michael Naas’ Miracle and Machine

One cannot affirm difference without affirming the differential undecidability (Derrida), or crack (Deleuze), or nonidentity (Adorno), of / between affirmation and its failure. This is a thought that has possessed me for awhile now, and has sent me in a number of directions. What I took to be a kind of protectionism, in Derrida, against the productive character of alterity pushed me in a more Deleuzian direction. Such, it seemed, was what the affirmation of difference demanded, and yet to make difference into an affirmation seemed, simultaneously, to subsume difference under a new identity. Thus it was important for me to articulate that the same affirmation was nonidentical with senselessness and melancholy. This, it became clear, was a question of political ontology—namely, one of the relation between political potentiality and ontological difference. But what, many have asked, about political theology? An insidious question, perhaps, as this allows us to skirt the notion of “religion.” And so religion appeared as the vanishing mediator of differential ontology and political creativity.

The way in which all of these concerns are superimposed on one another struck me in reading Michael Naas’ excellent book, which I have tended to treat as an extended commentary on difference (as expressed via Derrida) and religion. We ought to praise Derrida for his insistence on religion, as opposed to theology as such. This became evident to me in reading Naas, as did the fact that we ought to praise Derrida, furthermore, for his ability to connect religion to the act of philosophy without thereby falling into “philosophy of religion.” Too often philosophy of religion amounts to philosophy about religion, or even about ideas found in religion, which is a dead end move precisely because it presumes that philosophy and religion are discretely differentiated things. No doubt philosophy of religion brings them together, but the need to do so emerges only because they have first—and wrongly—been presumed to be substantively distinct.

Derrida, Naas lucidly shows, cuts right to the heart of the entanglement that undercuts any presumed distinction. He tells us that “Derrida would in essence be asking ‘What is religion?’ which is to say, religion in general, religion in the abstract, religion as a concept, idea, essence, or form abstracted from all particular or determined religions” (48). Yet this is not the end of it, for Derrida remains “circumspect” about this classically philosophical move and concomitantly asks other questions, for instance: “Is it really possible to think religion itself or a general religiosity apart from particular or determinate religions? Which comes first, revelation or revealability?” (48-9) So Derrida insists on the oscillation intrinsic to religion, the supplementarity of abstract essence and its determinate particularities. It should be noted that this oscillation, when it is articulated via the relative priority of revelation and revealability, was at the heart of continental philosophy of religion for quite awhile, at least as it was framed by Caputo and discussions of the “theological turn” in French phenomenology.

What Naas makes clear, however, is that this oscillation, while no doubt central to Derrida’s thought on religion, remains only partially present within the continental philosophical frame I just mentioned. The difficulty there, to be specific, is that the “revelation vs. revealability” debate still frames the matter in an abstract manner—that is, it treats the question as if it’s a sort of eternal aporia. It asks the “revelation vs. revealability” question in the same kind of voice that it asks the “what is” question. Left out of this frame, then, is the question of how “religion” was generated, or at least the question of how “religion” functions equivocally across its determinate instances. These questions are, it would seem, extraphilosophical, as philosophy limits itself to the still abstract aporia of revelation and revealability. What is not asked is why we are asking the question in this way. What is left out of the philosopher’s frame is the genesis of this frame—and not just the genesis of any frame whatever, but more precisely of this singular frame, which oscillates between the particular (revelation) and the universal (revealability). Philosophy of religion fails right in this moment, for it addresses religion as a distinct object of a distinct practice called philosophy.

I would say (to echo my argument in On Diaspora) that there is an answer to the question that philosophy of religion fails to ask, i.e. the question of why religion appears as an oscillation between particular and universal. The answer is Christianity, which has made itself thinkable through and as a mediatic supersession of the particular by the universal, and which has installed this mediatic structure into the European and eventually global brain (“globalatinization”). Christianity made religion, and it made religion in its image, and so it’s no surprise that when we look, “philosophically,” at the structure of religion, we find an oscillation that resembles Christian mediation. “Proper” philosophy, however, does not address its Christian origins, preferring instead to talk (analytically) about the existence of God or (continentally) about structures and phenomenologies of prayer, messianicity, etc.

What Naas makes clear is that Derrida would at this point, once again, gladly put himself outside of proper philosophy, for Derrida sees the question of religion as inevitably entangled with the question of Christianity, if not as origin then at the very least as primary analogate of religion. Naas comments on Derrida’s argument as follows: “in the end, one religion alone, Christianity, would seem to define the very essence of religion. For the essence of religion, that which all religions have in common, would be precisely the ability of a religion to represent or present itself in a global fashion as a religion—something Christianity does in an exemplary fashion” (132). I absolutely agree with this point not only regarding the Christian essence of religion, but also regarding its implications for and necessary connection to spatialization. As Naas puts it further on: “There are thus multiple religions only to the extent that they can present themselves in a space that is essentially Christian” (133). In short, our space is a globalized space, which is to say it is a religious space, which is to say it is a Christian space.

In what sense is it possible to resist, or crack up, this space? Or what would we need to imagine and think? I have said a lot along these lines in On Diaspora, and so I won’t repeat them here but will instead propose several theses that are more obviously proximate to Naas’ commentary on Derrida and religion.

(1) What ultimately distinguishes Christianity, on one hand, from Judaism and Islam, on the other, is the former’s insistence on analogy. This insistence, it is fair to say, stems from a certain Christological orientation. Christ as mediator gives rise to a relation between the creaturely and the divine that must be simultaneously continuous and discontinuous. Hence analogy. Whereas, for the latter two Abrahamic religions, either (both) univocity or (and) equivocity can be affirmed, such that the creaturely and the divine are variously distinct and identical. This too can lead to a kind of mediation, but it will not be an analogical mediation. (And let us leave open the possibility that Christianity, by way of heresy, might depart from analogy.)

(2) Analogy amounts to glut. Everything is incorporated into its mediatic body. Put this way, we can understand globalization and colonization as part and parcel of analogical Christology. Go forth… The expansion is ever increasing, both extensively and intensively, because nothing can stop analogy, or put otherwise, because analogy stops at nothing, or yet again, because analogy knows nothing about nothing and thus doesn’t even stop there (sovereignty). It does not stop to talk, much less to listen, because it is too busy eating. (It’s not hard to imagine this as the precondition for capitalist “growth.”) What Derrida never stops doing, on the other hand, is showing how relations are never analogical, for they are always differential. Relations are bound up in a simultaneous faith and risk, affects of a gap, affects that analogical security cannot think and thus must deny.

(3) Christianity’s analogical icons lack this gap, but this lack is not essential to the icon itself. There may, in other words, be icons without analogy. Such icons would not refuse, but on the contrary would be conditioned by, this gap. They would be, from one point of view, manifestly false, but this would not count against them, it would just foreground the constructive capacity of faith. This, I take it, is precisely the point of the example from DeLillo, narrated to us by Naas, in which one believes in the icon of Esmerelda even as one knows it is a visual effect produced by the passing train. In my mind, this is an instance of fabulation, which creates icons, but which can do so only utopically, in the nowhere where it is said “Space Available” (283).

(4) When there is no space available, it will not do to go looking for it. Somebody will always already be there, and then you’ll have to give up your search anyway. Or, even worse, you will deny that anyone’s there and proceed with your settlement. Space is not something you convert to, nor is it something that needs to be converted. Not that you should try to go back to the space before it was converted—that too makes you go looking. Space is available only insofar as space is split, which is at least a gap. And you will find this, Marrano, only insofar as you stop trying to convert.

9 thoughts on “Analogical Expansion and Differential Space: Thoughts on Michael Naas’ Miracle and Machine

  1. Dan, do you think this gap in Derrida is similar to the gap in Zizek’s philosophy, or fundamentally different?

  2. I think it’s ultimately different. … If you were to read it along structural lines, then you could maybe make Derrida analogous to Zizek on this point. That is, you could say that what i’m calling the oscillation in Derrida is analogous, but that would be to read Derrida in a way that i’m claiming is wrong. What Derrida has, and what I think Zizek does not, is a more “genetic,” if not “genealogical,” emphasis on this oscillation. Derrida thus ends up with a critical posture towards Christianity, whereas Zizek ends up with a redemptive posture towards Christianity.

    (Something of a total aside, but i wonder if you could say a similar opposition occurs between Freud and Lacan w/r/t the Father — with Freud being similar to Derrida, and Lacan to Zizek. And by the way, i think the religious difference in each of these opposed pairs is really important!)

  3. I think that they are structurally similar, but they get operationalized in very different ways, as you say. And I think that Badiou’s cut between being and event is redemptive as well, even if Badiou doesn’t want to redeem Christianity as such.

    I like the application to distinguishing Freud and Lacan, and there’s definitely these religious resonances in Lacan, but I read him as much more critical and less redemptive than Zizek, especially in his later seminars.

  4. I meant the Jewish v. Christian religious difference — it seems that in the case of both Freud and Derrida, there’s a refusal to “a priori-ize” the structural oscillation / gap, for that structure had to have been produced. Whereas the structure in Lacan and Zizke (and especially Badiou!) is treated a priori, as if it fell from the sky.

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