Friday, February 11, 2005

From Derrida, "Faith and Knowledge: The Two Sources of 'Religion' at the Limits of Reason Alone"

(3) To play the card of abstraction, and the aporia of the no-way-out, perhaps one must first withdraw to a desert, or even to isolate oneself on an island. And tell a short story that would not be a myth. Genre: "Once upon a time," just once, one day, on an island or in the desert, imagine, in order to "talk religion," several men, philosophers, professors, hermeneuticians, hermits or anchorites, took the time to mimic a small, esoteric and egalitarian, friendly and fraternal community. Perhaps it would be necessary in addition to situate such arguments, limit them in time and space, speak of the place and the setting, the moment past, one day, date the fugitive and the ephemeral, singularize, act as though one were keeping a diary out of which one were going to tear a few pages. Law of the genre: the ephemeris (and already you are speaking inexhaustibly of the day). Date: 28 February 1994. Place: an island, the isle of Capri. A hotel, a table around which we speak among friends, almost without any order, without agenda, without order of the day, no watchword (mot d'ordre) save for a single word, the clearest and most obscure: religion. We believe we can pretend to believe--fiduciary act--that we share in some pre-understanding. We act as though we had some common sense of what "religion" means through the languages that we believe (how much belief already, to this moment, to this very day!) we know how to speak. We believe in the minimal trustworthiness of this word. Like Heidegger, concerning what he calls the Faktum of the vocabulary of being (at the beginning of Sein und Zeit), we believe (or believe it is obligatory that) we pre-understand the meaning of this word, if only to be able to question and in order to interrogate ourselves on this subject. Well--we will have to return to this much later--nothing is less pre-assured than such a Faktum (in both of these cases, precisely) and the entire question of religion comes down, perhaps, to this lack of assurance. (Acts of Religion, 43-44)


But Heidegger still extends with force and radicality the assertion that belief in general has no place in the experience or the act of thinking in general. And there we would have difficulty following him. First along his own path. Even if one succeeds in averting, in as rigorous a manner as possible, the risk of confusing modalities, levels, contexts, it still seems difficult to dissociate faith in general (Glaube) from what Heidegger himself, under the name of Zusage ("accord, acquiescing, trust or confidence"), designates as that which is most irriducible, indeed most originary in thought, prior even to that questioning said by him to constitute the piety (Frommigkeit) of thinking.....We cannot address here the immense question of the ontological repetition, in all these concepts, of a so markedly Christian tradition. Let us therefore limit ourselves to a principle of reading. Like the experience of authentic attestation (Bezeugung) and like everything that depends upon it, the point of departure of Sein und Zeit resides in a situation that cannot be radically alien to what is called faith. Not religion, to be sure, nor theology, but that which in faith acquiesces before or beyond all questioning, in the already common experience of a language and of a "we." The reader of Sein und Zeit and the signatory who takes him as witness are to justify the choice of the "exemplary" being that is Dasein, the questioning being that must be interrogated as an examplary witness. And what renders possible, for this "we," the positing and elaboration of the question of being, the unfolding and determining of its "formal structure" (das Gefragte, das Erfagte, das Befragte), prior to all questioning--is it not what Heidegger then calls a Factum, that is, the vague and ordinary pre-comprehension of the meaning of being, and first of all of the words "is" or "be" in language or in a language? This Factum is not an empirical fact. Each time Heidegger employs this word, we are necessarily led back to a zone where acquiescence is de rigueur. Whether this is formulated or not, it remains a requirement prior to and in view of every possible question, hence prior to all philosophy, all theology, all science, all critique, all reason, etc. This zone is that of a faith incessantly reaffirmed throughout an open chain of concepts, beginning with those that we have already cited (Bezeugung, Zesage, etc.), but it also communicates with everything in Heidegger's way of thinking that marks the reserved holding-back of restraint (Verhaltenheit) or the sojourn (Aufenthalt) in modesty (Scheu) in the vicinity of the unscathed, the scared, the safe and sound (das Heilige), the passage or the coming of the last god that man is doubtless not yet ready to receive. That the movement proper to this faith does not constitute a religion is all too evident. Is it, however, untouched (indemne) by all religiosity? Perhaps. But by all "belief," by that "belief" that wouold have "no place in thinking"? This seems less certain. Since the major question remains, in our eyes, albeit in a form that is still quite new: "What does it mean to believe?" we will ask (elsewhere) how and why Heidegger can at the same time affirm one of the possibilities of the "religious," of which we have just schematically recalled the signs (Faktum, Bezeugung, Zusage, Verhaltenheit, Heilige, etc.) and reject so energetically "belief" or "faith" (Glaube). Our hypothesis again refers back to the two sources or two strata of religion which we distinguished above: the experience of sacredness and the experience of belief. (Acts of Religion, 95-97)

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