Archive for April, 2012

April 29, 2012

(More) Thoughts on Graduate Studies

Recently I have had the opportunity to go back to my old readings and books, and in so doing, I have rediscovered Aristotle and this contemporary political thinker named Chantal Mouffe. Of some of the benefits of going back to one’s old readings is the privilege of reading them with new eyes, with novel conceptual tools, borne out of lively discussions not only with professors but also with friends. In short: it is indeed a privilege to see the old as new.

During the course of reading Aristotle, I realized that I resonated more with his style and his thought than with his also-famous “contemporary” (if one may call it at that), Plato. Despite his rather dry and unentertaining prose, I found him to be more precise and more organized, as opposed to Plato’s dialectical method, rooted in the dialogue between Socrates and, well, the lot of Athens. There was something peculiar with his style that makes me want to read him more, and now, I am re-reading Metaphysics (oh how I love that reading) and Categories, after which I will hopefully move on to De Interpretatione, , and then Poetics, and then the Politics, and finally, Nicomachaean Ethics. It might even be nice to do this “Aristotle month” annually, that I may forever be grounded in his thought.

Going back to these texts have also indeed informed my ideas for my planned research for graduate studies (the results of which are about to be revealed, by the way. Woohoo!), especially with Mouffe’s idea of “agonistic pluralism.” I was thinking of using Mouffe’s paradigm of agonistic pluralism – democracy rooted not only in difference but, in conflict, not in the sense of being an enemy to one another, but by being adversaries (co-equal interlocutors) – as a framework to inquire into the possibility of interreligious dialogue. I say “into the possibility” since it seems fitting to suspend my own predisposed assumptions on its possibility and, in the process of bracketing, arrive at critical points for discussion, such as, say, the presuppositions of absolutes and universals, the tenability of policy-making in lieu of religious dogma, the possibility of understanding cultural difference through the “margins” of religion, so to speak, and a whole lot more. I also thought that it would be fitting since Mouffe herself bases her theory on Wittgenstein’s language-games, something I am really interested in studying in a more in-depth manner.

We can ask a number of interesting questions once we look at the whole question of interreligious dialogue from the viewpoint of Mouffe’s democratic theory: (1) how does religious language figure in the debate, or, is language a condition of possibility for being adversaries, in the Mouffian sense of the word? (2) Can agonistic pluralism in fact jive well with religious thinking? – It presupposes that the ground is conflict, i.e., being adversaries, and isn’t this a contradiction in the realm of religious language? (3) what role does cultural rootedness play in the whole question of dialogue-through-difference? (4) What of the presuppositions of universals and absolutes – isn’t this the very possibility of an agonistic pluralism, for the fact that it is impossible to attain consensus between religions? – Is the very impossibility for dialogue the very possibility for true dialogue? (5) Is the Mouffian framework an adequate response to current strands of interfaith dialogue, as opposed to the centrality of reason in discourse? – Is the horizon for interfaith dialogue culture and language, not reason alone?

To these questions I most definitely have no answer. But I would gladly wrestle with them when the time comes.

April 22, 2012

Reflections on Time and Death

I’ll be turning 21 in a few hours from now, and it has suddenly dawned upon me: the greatest reality of life is death. By “greatest” we could mean it in the sense of Saint Anselm as than that which nothing greater can be thought of. If there is one certainty, it is this: we will die; or more properly, I will die. It is “beyond” precisely because we do not have an experience of it. Not one human being that existed – as far as we know – has ever experienced death. As Wittgenstein says, we do not live life to experience death.

Such a morbid thought, especially during a time where it is generally acceptable to celebrate and be glad. The thought came to mind after a conversation with my father: it suddenly popped up in my head – one day, he will die, and yet another day still, I will die. And as I grow older, it has become more real, more near, and more imminent.

What of the sublime feeling you get at every gaze into beauty? What about the friends you’ve learned to love (you don’t have to do anything! You just have to accept them), and what of the experience of being loved? What about the sheer volume of the stories you’ve learned to tell to other people, in the hopes of not forgetting these stories? What of the simple feeling of being-with, of knowing for certain that there is someone in your midst?

I guess the older you get, the clearer it gets. I guess it takes age to realize that time will not end once I die; it will move on, like the things one leaves when one dies. Everything and everyone will move on; they must move on. And yet I am here, stuck in the thought of the impendingness of mortality.

Both time and death baffle me; they seem to me the two things man will never understand.

Time is so strange; where did it come from? What is it? How do we know it to be such? What can we be sure of in our experience of time? Is it merely perception, or does it contain the unwritten code of our universe? Does the fabric of time make our world possible, or is the sensibility of time, lodged within our heads, making our experience intelligible? Does time pass, or do we pass by time? Such is the paradox of time.

We all but notice time; it is always locked between the struggle to change and the struggle to stay the same. It is always within the consideration of “there is but a limited time,” as if time can run out, as if time can be measured in its fullness, as if we own time.

Time is neither here nor there; time is not ours, nor is it not not ours; I’m afraid we can never know the essence of time, for it escapes every possible form of totalizing and generalization. But what we are sure of, however, is our experience of it: it passes.

It passes; it presupposes that time is the subject, the one being spoken about, the one that determines what its movement should be. Thus, “it passes” is merely a description, but not really a description: it is not merely an “it” but what “it” is constitutes our experience of experience: “it” gives a structure to our experience – that of a narrative. Can one think of an experience outside time? Can one really fathom what is not timely?

For all things are not timely; we place them under our aegis of time, as if we have the full right, by virtue of our reason, to do this to the things we experience. Between contingency and necessity, it is time that finally places them in the dialectic of life. Quite strange, actually: we are under time, and yet we are the only ones, at least to the extent of our knowledge of the world, that can perceive narrative time.

And what determines a narrative, one might say? – It is made intelligible because of it’s beginning and it’s ending: thus, time is measured against life and against death. How are we to ascertain that “we do not have enough time” when we do not know, even in the back of our heads, that we, too, shall pass away? Time and life make sense because of what is beyond them – death.

And when we realize that we have been defining ourselves based on our idea of the world, based on our time, based on our values and priorities, based on ourselves, have we then not been too kind on what is otherwise than our own? For we do not own time, as we do not own our lives. There is but one proof that we do not own anything (existentially speaking): everything passes away.

Passes away to what? From what? I guess we can never know, and we can only know that which is closest to the point of passing: death, or at least the experience of the death of another. Death intrigues me. We look at death as a present absence, as an absence of one’s presence. We always look at death from the point of view of the living – can we ever have knowledge of death and dying?

The problem of time breaks down in the face of death; how can we ask ourselves that we have but a limited time, if there is no time after death? What conditions do we set for ourselves when we say that time is set out against its end, that is, death? Here we are enlightened: something not of ourselves is set out against something that no one but myself will ever have: time is measured against death, and yet time will always remain. Thus, two conceptions of time: (1) narrative time, and (2) absolute time.

Isn’t it strange? – The moment of passing is the moment of the absolute self, the moment where one realizes: this is my death. When we finally experiences our selves, it slips away, just like the steady march of absolute time.

I look back into my own self, and ask myself: have I the strength to say that my death is mine alone? I am turning 21, and yet I have yet to learn to accept the simplest reality of the world: everything passes away.

Perhaps, I have yet to fully trust what is otherwise than myself, of what is absent from my senses. Perhaps, it is time to truly believe. What does it mean to believe, that is, to trust myself completely to what is otherwise than me? I guess in this context, to believe is to respect the rhythm of time and passing, to realize that everything passes away. And more importantly, to believe is to realize that one’s preoccupation with death is at most an imagined preoccupation – we have never known death, and we will never know it. It is completely Other – it is absolutely without any human category, except for the very word. To believe, in the context of death, is then to respect its otherness, to see it as something that is no-thing, to be open to it.

Such a difficult point for reflection, especially on my birthday, but I guess sometimes, one just has to get slapped by one’s reality. It has, ultimately, told me one thing: to never forget that in time, I will die, and I do not have to fear it.

On a religious note: it is time to truly believe.

April 20, 2012

Where is our Church of the Poor?

Footnote: This is not at all a generalization, but more of a reflection, regarding the perceived lack of presence of the so-called “Church of the Poor” especially (and ironically) in urban-poor communities that I have been to.

A while ago I had the chance to do some “field work” in Barangay Payatas, home of the infamous Payatas dumpsite, for a fact-finding project by the World Bank in relation to how it could address the pressing needs of the state’s constituents, in order for it to know where the money the Bank is going to, and to assure that wherever the money is going to must be relevant to the communities that need it.

After doing the required work – I had to take down minutes during the Focused Group Discussion and point out certain reactions or what my companion would say “intangible data” such as facial expressions and cues and whatnot – I had took the liberty to ask more questions to some of the participants of the Focused Group Discussion. Among one of my questions was the social involvement of the Church in the area.

I couldn’t say that I was surprised, but it was surprising nonetheless that the Church, according to the participants of the Group, was not making Herself present in terms of social justice. It went even as far as Ate Cristina leaving the Church and moving to another Parish to pray and attend religious services because the parish in the Payatas area was not at all accommodating to the marginalized. Ate Virginia, one of the participants in the Group Discussion, also said that the Parish was no more than a play of power – of whether who had the largest donation, or whether who has an elevated social status, or even, and it is sad, because they were leaders in the community. It is the very lack of representation that prevents them from actually worshipping.

This was not far off from another depressed community. My foster community in Depensa in Barangay Capunitan in Bataan virtually has no “Church” if we take the term to mean “the house of God” and not merely the physical structure. We had no data precisely because there was nothing to record in the community regarding the presence of the Church and its social justice component.

Having taken some theology courses on the social commitment of the Christian, it cannot but be a stark negative experience of contrast to see other people suffer because of the structural injustice that is perpetuated by our sinful state, and it depresses me even more to see the Church I belong to having no response to this particular reality. All public talk of religion nowadays seems to be the contradistinction with the secular, with how “reason” is supposed to be contrary to the self-incurred minority of belonging to such an institution, with how the “scientific mind” has revealed truths that religion for ages hasn’t had any answer with.

As with the other functions of religiosity, certainly the social commitment aspect cannot be below other functions, such as liturgical worship, nurturing a balanced spirituality, and, well, striving to understand the dogmatics of faith. I do not understand the discrepancy that is – all too prevalent with Philippine Society – present in the lack of social action by the Church, as evidenced by the large number of people living in poverty. And we’re not just talking about them being materially and economically poor; they are subject to the Church’s oppression by discrimination. This is a different kind of poverty that in the end still causes death to those who experience it – a death of representation, of voices. If the Church is committed to the social transformation of the world through the living example of Christ’s hope and ministry in our works in the public sphere, why isn’t anything happening?

Sure, one might say that poverty in itself is a very difficult and, well almost impossible problem to solve. But one might look at the poor communities of Latin America and how the Church has organized the communities to realize that they too have voices in society, that they can dare to speak, even if they are perpetually silenced by the elite. One might assert that we do in fact have Base Ecclesial Communities (BECs) whose function is to empower the disempowered. But why is it not visible? Granted, there are existing BECs in the country today, but why haven’t these reached the public sphere? Why, instead of looking into the grassroots-level of capabilities development, have we focused our attention to the national-level, policy making problems? Why generalize that the most basic problem of the Filipino people is overpopulation, instead of actually going to these communities and actually realizing that it is more than overpopulation; it is also the lack of representation, the lack of choices due to the domination of certain rationalities and identities, and ultimately, the lack of confidence and trust in oneself and one’s neighbor, preventing us from truly becoming a just society. How are we to become a just society if we ourselves do not know how to become a society?

I guess it is symptomatic of the faith of the Filipino; to gaze at the macroscopic level, to a point of forgetting the essential components of the microscopic level, as with our die-hard belief in the Passion and death of Jesus, and yet the forgottenness of the Easter Morn, and in this light, the reason for the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. Large scale is essential, but without the “little dots” that connect each element to form the conglomerate, nothing would remain.

On a more personal level, how am I to believe in the hope of the resurrection of there are people who strive to stifle that belief from within the Church, or more hauntingly, what if the Church itself – how it is today – is the very structure preventing us from seeing the hope of the resurrection in the ministry of Jesus? How can I proclaim the unfailing love of God when those very people who claim to be God’s messengers are the ones who deny other people the love of Christ? Can I even face the altar in humble reverence, knowing at the back of my head that there are those who think they are above the dominion of love?

Up until now I still believe in the hope of the integral social transformation of the whole world, from one of sin, to one of gratitude and peace. But until we learn to look into how things start out small, and until we realize that we should stand up as a community of believers – rich and poor alike – to confront the ugly head of sin and death, we will never learn what it means to be poor. Until there is division and dismay – and true enough, Satan means the accuser and the divider – sin will reign, and we will not even notice it.

April 20, 2012

On Graduate Studies

Only a few steps to go and I (hopefully) will be a graduate student and an assistant to the chairperson of the Department of Philosophy in the Ateneo. Lately, thoughts of graduate school life has preoccupied me, and it really got me thinking of the possibility of actually publishing in articles, co-authoring with my once-teachers-now-hopefully-colleagues on topics that have long fascinated me, like say the concept of social memory. It also dawned upon me that I could also pursue a collaborative effort with fellow graduate students in organizing and helping out in conferences and the like.

It was never a big thing in the Philippines, or at least to the extent of my knowledge. Focusing on the academic side of, well, the academe seemed to me a long shot of what the academe is here in the country. For one, teaching (as it is always meant to be) is a vocation, and sometimes, the vocational aspect of teaching somehow presents itself as something that is contrary to university-level research. Apart from the required quota of professors to have research, it never goes beyond that point. There seems to be two sides of the same coin: on one hand, the rigor of research and publication; on the other hand, the unparalleled joy of teaching (and in turn, be taught by one’s own students). This becomes a problem when we realize that the coin cannot fall on both sides at the same time; it has to be one over the other.

Being this naive and yet giddy fresh graduate about to enter the graduate studies realm, it seems to me that what the academic community needs (or at least within my known academic world, i.e., Ateneo) to also look into the research aspect of the academe, and I would confess that I’m really excited to go into the research aspect of graduate studies. Perhaps, and most probably, I’m just naive about these things; for one, I have never experienced teaching in the university level, and I do not know of the joy that my teachers frequently profess in reflecting on their vocation. Secondly, perhaps it just is my ideal self speaking, in front of this unknown world of graduate studies. Third, it has yet to come to me that I’d be tired of picking up books and reading them from end to end. Perhaps I’m just a little bit naive. Perhaps I have yet to see the bigger picture, but I think it is worth postulating.

But on the other hand, I still think it is worth pursuing. So now, I’ve talked to a lot of people regarding publishing previous works and/or initiating new research projects that could help in this “academic” aspect. One very interesting (and I think promising) area that my friend and I would like to look into is the concept of social memory and how historical contingencies here in the country might be understood. We thought of the Manila Massacre (which started at around the tenth of February, 1945, all the way to March) and why it was (and it is up until now) absent in the collective memory of the Filipino people. We would have liked to question the very significance of the event as it relates to the society today, and why it occupies no place in our collective identity, of why the state handles this historical event in this particular way (i.e., almost nonexistent), and why the victimization of the Filipino people did not emerge considering the gravity of the event, which can be comparable to, say, the Warsaw uprising, or even the Babi Yar massacre.

Perhaps because we (i.e., the Americans) were the “victors” in the war? Perhaps the state (and consequently the society) had no need of the image of the victim because it was a time of merriment? Perhaps this is precisely why we Filipinos have been criticized for forgetting too much and too fast?

This is but some of the conversations that I have had in the past days. Hopefully, these would push through in the future. Indeed, it is a long way to go, but given the energy (or what’s left of it), we might just push this to its very limits.

I’m excited for graduate studies.

April 12, 2012

Wittgenstein’s Paradoxes: A Longer Excursus

I haven’t posted for two days, so I think that it would be good to catch up, especially regarding Wittgenstein, by having a longer discussion, this time from his late work Philosophical Investigations. I’m generally more interested in his later work, so with the lack of posts and my more giddy disposition because this is of the late Wittgenstein, I guess it only merits a longer discussion and a more focused close reading (as if close reading isn’t focused itself).

I had the chance to go back to my old academic papers, and I found one precisely on the late Wittgenstein. So I guess it would not be bad to share it here. The very short paper is entitled The Notion of Arbitrariness in Wittgenstein’s Language-Games.


One would be tempted to say that Wittgenstein attempts to define language in terms of its arbitrary character, i.e., conventionalism, with regard to its use or function, but might we suspend our preconditioned ideas regarding the arbitrariness of language and uncover what Wittgenstein was really trying to say in the Philosophical Investigations.

Wittgenstein opens up with a quotation from Augustine’s Confessions, to which he interprets: “Every word has meaning. This meaning is correlated with the word. It is the object for which the word stands.”[1] One of the more important characteristics of Augustine’s treatment of language is the fact that there is another person that teaches to the language learner that this object is particularly linked to this particular word. Wittgenstein dissociates from the Augustinian notion by claiming that it is not the only form of communication we are exposed to.[2] And indeed, in the world of experience we are immersed in, language, if we consider it to be the system of grammatical and syntactical utterances only, is not the only form of communication we use; we use a form of communication according to the context with which that system of communication is used in, as with the different meaning for the word “induction” in the organizational sense (a form of membership in some organizations) from the scientific sense (the inductive method). We can also liken this characteristic, as with Wittgenstein, with a game: “You seem to be thinking of board-games, but they are not all the games there are.”[3]

We eventually reach a point where Wittgenstein says that these forms of communications are taught not by explaining, as with pointing out an object and identifying its corresponding word, but by training.[4] There is then in language a characteristic of inheritance, that is, that the meaning of a particular word is passed on within the community and in turn enriches the community in which it gains a meaning. This also reveals to us the fact that these systems of communication are not eidetic, that is, a priori, but that it relies heavily on the affirming community for its meaning and use. This – using words within a certain context – is what Wittgenstein would call the “language game,” or Sprachspiel.[5] Wittgenstein claims that whenever these words are used in its lexical form, i.e., writing, the meaning inherent in the use of that particular word is obscured from the reader.[6] It is thus necessary that, if we were to follow this argumentation, we must know the use of a particular word in a particular context in order to know what was meant by the utterance of the word.

One would immediately contest that this view of language may be construed as a form of conventionalism, which considers the dangerous position of relativism. Thus, the question of language’s arbitrariness comes to the fore. What is really meant by the word “arbitrary” in the context of Wittgenstein’s system? For surely, the idea that the use of words depends in the context in which it is used can be seen as advocating a position where anyone can create meaning out of words as long as they are used. But perhaps this was not the point of the arbitrariness of language, much less Wittgenstein’s point: the fact that there is a system that is agreed upon by a particular community means that it can never be possible for language to be simply whimsical and uncritically relative. In fact, to advocate this particular conventionalism is already to constrict oneself with only one understanding of language, well in fact Wittgenstein’s point was to show that our experience of communicating with another person or entity always involves words that bear meaning within a given context.

So we must understand the word “arbitrary” not in the sense of whimsical use; arbitrary in Wittgenstein’s sense could mean the fact that meaning is not determined per se, but that it depends in what context one is immersed in. This also destroys the argument that anyone can just create language for himself or herself, because it remains the fact of language that it must be determined and enriched by the community in which it belongs to – thus, all language is public, and never private. This adequately sums up the arbitrariness of Wittgenstein’s idea of language games.

[1] Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, 4th ed., trans. Anscombe, Hacker, Schulte (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), 5.

[2] Ibid., 6.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., 7.

[5] Ibid., 8.

[6] Ibid., 10.

April 10, 2012

Wittgenstein’s Paradoxes

How things are in the world is a matter of complete indifference for what is higher. God does not reveal himself in the world.

– Wittgenstein

Another of Tractatus’ rather esoteric claims, also known as proposition 6.432. The quote above would throw a theologian in a fit. But perhaps before exploding in anger and claiming that Wittgenstein didn’t understand what he said, we could contextualize it in his own language (we’re too arrogant, we tend to interpret things according to our language).

So here it is: the key to understanding that passage is the usage of the word “world,” which has a specific meaning in the Wittgensteinian corpus. The first proposition of the Tractatus states that “The world is all that is the case,” that is, that the world is the sum totality of all the states of affairs, and “states of affairs” for Wittgenstein means a connexion of things in a determinate relation to form facts. The world, thus, is the totality of all facts, which are empirical in nature.

Thus, we realize that Wittgenstein was merely stating a simple theological truth: that God, i.e., the transcendent, cannot be “seen,” properly speaking, in the world because it is only facts – things in determinate relations to each other – that we can comprehend. In short, one can say that Wittgenstein was trying to tell us that we can only comprehend what is comprehensible as real, i.e. factual, and thus, limited. The mind can only picture out what is in determinate relations to each other, and God transcends any possible empirical connexion.

There you go, Wittgenstein for theology isn’t such a bad idea after all.

April 9, 2012

Wittgenstein’s Paradoxes

The procedure of induction consists in accepting as true the simplest law that can be reconciled with our experiences.

This procedure, however, has no logical justification but only a psychological one.
It is clear that there are no grounds in believing that the simplest eventuality will in fact be realized.

– Wittgenstein

Taken from TLP 6.363-6.3631, Wittgenstein perfectly encapsulates the scientific problem of induction first posed by Hume, which stated that there are no grounds in believing with certitude that an event will occur again, given the frequency of the event. Unfortunately, science, it seems, hasn’t listened to the criticism, which to this day hasn’t had an adequate answer to Hume and Wittgenstein (consequently, Russell).

I love the use of the category of psychology in describing the process in arriving at a justified belief borne out of induction – perfect, Mr. Ludwig!

April 8, 2012

Sunday Reflections with Jean-Luc Marion: Happy Easter!

For the night mass during the Easter Festivities, we will be hearing the Gospel of Luke, more particularly, the Emmaus event. I feel so incompetent in reflecting on the richness of the Scripture; I therefore feel obliged to share the reflection of Jean-Luc Marion on the Emmaus Event entitled They Recognized Him, and He Became Invisible to Them. This is a long reading, but I think it is definitely worth it. The work appeared in the journal Modern Theology (18) published last 2 April 2002, translated by Stephen E. Lewis. Here it is:

Why do we believe so badly in God, and so little in Christ? First of all (and doesn’t it go without saying?), we are indeed reduced, in their regard, to believing, since knowledge of them escapes us. We believe (and believe badly, miscreants that we are) precisely because we cannot enter into a scientific certainty, composed of clear and distinct ideas about God and Christ. What exactly, then, do we lack that prevents us from attaining such a scientific knowledge? The answer seems obvious: we believe, or at least we are reduced to having to believe (or not) because, while we have at our disposal many statements and concepts having to do with God (existence, properties, Trinity, creation, etc.) and with Christ (historical reality, death, resurrection, etc.), elaborated to high degrees of subtlety by centuries of tradition and theology, we decidedly lack intuitions that would allow us to validate some, and risk rejecting others. Only by recourse to faith can we fill this deficit of intuition with regard to the proliferation of concepts, unless we bury it in refusing such recourse. Faith, according to this way of thinking, would serve, for better or worse, to compensate faulty intuition, almost as a means to verify the concepts experimentally. I believe because, in spite of everything, I want to hold as true that which does not offer intuitive data sufficient to impose itself by itself. I believe in order to recapture the intuition, which God and Christ cannot or will not give to me, of their presence. Thus argues the majority of the credulous—by which I mean experts, scholars, philosophers, and even some theologians.

This argument nevertheless results in a blasphemy: first of all because it makes me, and only me, a “knight of the faith”—the singular actor, within the supposed “night” of the intelligence, of a faith without reason, who decides, by himself, on the existence of God and the truth of Christ, like a god deciding on God. Secondly, it is blasphemous because God and Christ become in this context either impotent (incapable in fact of fulfilling the Revelation that they promise), or perverse judges (who, in masking themselves, expose me to unbelief by condemning me to a faith without reason). These consequences alone should suffice to convince us of the inanity of such a definition of faith. It might be that faith does not consist in the compensation of a shortage—or, perhaps, that the shortage is an entirely differ- ent one from that of the intuition, one that would instead locate deficiency in the conceptual statements. It might be that we should believe not in order to recapture a lack in intuition, but rather to confront its excess in relation to a deficiency of statements and a dearth of concepts.

An episode from the Gospel of Luke (Luke 24:13–25) illustrates this paradox. Let us attempt a reading. On the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus, two disciples, or rather two former disciples of Jesus are walking and discussing together (in a word, homiloun v. 14); they chat in a desultory manner, they “exchange” (v. 17) conversation about everything that comes to mind, just to soothe their sadness. In fact, they chat about a specific, obsessive subject, “about all that has happened—peri pantôn tôn sumbêbêkotôn toutôn” (v. 14), about incidents that occurred just like that, without any apparent reason, without any foreseeable cause—what we sometimes call “the events” because we cannot or dare not say more. For it is a matter of pure facts, incontestable and confirmed without a doubt, known by all. Won’t they, in a moment, express astonishment, with involuntary comedy given the circumstances, that one could be ignorant of what everyone (everybody and anybody) knows—“Are you the only pilgrim to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” (v. 18). Not know what? “What things (poia)?” (v. 19). Their response sounds like a police report: that Jesus of Nazareth, “a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people” was condemned to death, then crucified by the authorities. Here is the accident, the incident, the “event”, in short the fact guaranteed by an intuition offered to all, to the public, and to which an entire city (and what a city!) can testify. Here is the intuition that they do not understand, that is to say, that they cannot contain, or take back [reprendre] into their concepts— whence the feeling of absurdity due to a deficit of concepts: “O foolish (anoetoi, without spirit) [men], slow to understand!” (v. 25).

Let us consider these two men and their obtuseness, for we are their counterparts, their brothers [leurs semblables, leurs frères—see the final line of Charles Baudelaire’s “Au Lecteur”]. We too walk and chat like them, rehash- ing and reconsidering confirmed facts from every angle (who today would contest the crucifixion of Jesus, especially if he could draw from it an argument for the end of his Revelation?), arriving, like them, only at absurdities (or bankrupt theologies, which attenuate the absurdities).

Like us, it is thus not the intuition of facts that they lack, but rather the intelligence (the concepts), as do we, today: well do they know, as do we, with scientific certainty, that Jesus died, and that one does not come back from the dead; we can deplore this fact, especially in this case, but in the end that’s how it is; we must stay reasonable and not lose our heads. They stick by this evidence no less than do we, to the point of no longer envisaging that the question might even be worth discussing. An unlikely paradox follows: Christ overtakes them on the road (“… drawing near, he began to travel with them”, v. 15); without any doubt, he walks faster than do they (he would have been able to continue on when they ask to stop, v. 29). Soon, we suppose, after some silence, he has them speak of their conversation, of their logoi without rational logos. And, walking along the same path, hearing the sound of his voice, nevertheless “their eyes were kept from recognizing him” (v. 16). By what, exactly? What concrete sign, what sensible perception, what intuition was lacking? None whatsoever, clearly. In fact, they kept them- selves from recognizing him. Why were they denying the evidence? Not because it was deficient—it wasn’t lacking in the slightest—but because it contradicts their entire comprehension (their miscomprehension, or at the least, their pre-comprehension) of a phenomenon that is nevertheless patently beneath their eyes, and in their ears. They do not recognize him because they cannot even imagine that this is really him, Him, who has rejoined them, so far do their poor, cobbled-together, honest-to-goodness concepts find themselves outstripped by “events” that leave them petrified within a matrix of irrefutable prejudices. Not that they would not want to believe: they simply do not even imagine the other hypothesis, it never crosses their minds, even for an instant. The dead man is dead, period. Every other possibility finds itself completely excluded, not even considerable. They see nothing—in the sense that one sees nothing in a game of chess if one does not know how to play; they hear nothing—in the sense that one hears nothing (except noise) in a conversation if one does not know the language in which it is being conducted. They don’t see anything happening on the field. Nothing knocks them out (unlike the brutes who come to arrest Christ at Gethsemani, John 18:6), because nothing strikes them—they don’t go off. Every intuition gives itself to them, but their concepts catch nothing of this. Indeed, “how true that it is not the eyes alone that are useful for recognizing Jesus Christ” (Claudel).

This situation—a phenomenon intuitively certified, yet missed conceptually —was already known to the disciples. On Mount Tabor, at the time of the Transfiguration, where the evidence of Christ’s divine glory shone forth so much that his clothes became “intensely white, as no fuller on earth could bleach them”, when, that is, the intuition surpassed what the world permits and tolerates, they all “became exceedingly afraid”, so much so that Peter could only chatter about three booths, because “he did not know what to say” (Mark 9:3–4,7). Standing before the crucified, too, the intuition, this time without glory, but sinister and prosaic, nevertheless allowed no one to say anything appropriate—no one understood what they were nevertheless all seeing, to the point that, at the cry, “Elie, why have you abandoned me?” they recognized neither “my God!” nor the words of Psalm 22, but heard only the name of the prophet Elijah (Matthew 27:46sq., Mark 15:34sq., Luke 23:44sq.). But this nearly insurmountable difficulty of fixing in an appropriate concept the nevertheless patent intuition of the person of Christ already constituted the entire stake of Peter’s confession: “He asked his disciples, ‘Who do men say that the Son of Man is?’ They said, ‘For some, he is John the Baptist, for others Elijah, and for yet others Jeremiah, or one of the prophets’ ” (Matthew 16:13–14; see Mark 8:27–28, Luke 9:18–19). And, when Peter finally gives him the name (the concept) of Christ, Son of God, Jesus immediately points out to him that such a word, name and concept could come to him neither by “flesh, nor by blood”, but only by “revelation” from the Father himself (Matthew 16:17)—so much does man lack the ability to produce, from himself, the concept adequate to what the intuition nevertheless unceasingly gives him to see—precisely, the Christ. Standing before the Christ in glory, in agony, or resurrected, it is always words (and thus concepts) that we lack in order to say what we see, in short to see that with which intuition floods our eyes. When he comes among us—though he comes, or rather precisely because he comes—, we, who are his own people, cannot “grasp him, understand him” (John 1:11). God does not measure out stingily his intuitive manifestation, as if he wanted to mask himself at the moment of showing himself. But we do not offer concepts capable of handling a gift without measure and, overwhelmed, dazzled, and submerged by his glory, we no longer see anything. The light plunges us into blackness—with a luminous darkness. What is more, the miscomprehension even appears inevitable—so much does the inadequacy of our concepts to the factual intuition of Christ result directly from the incommensurability of the gift of God to the expectation of men. What is there to say?

So the Christ becomes a teacher. Since they lack concepts, he trains them to a concept. First he lets them again have their fill of chatting without saying anything: the powerful prophet, who was to restore Israel, but who was scandalously put to death on a cross by the leaders of the people and the priests, by his people. And all this talk remains, in a sense, true—at least, would remain true if they understood what they were saying. Why do they not understand? Because they do not recompose the significations from the starting point of the Passion as revelation of the charity of God, and thus also of the Resurrection as the fulfillment of this very charity. And yet, they had indeed received, even if only verbally, the key to such a hermeneutic. They avow this clearly, rendering even more patent their incomprehension: “Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since this happened” (v. 21)— without for a moment thinking of the announcement of his resurrection after three days (Luke 9:22)! And there is no lack of intuitive indices to call to mind this announcement: “Moreover, some women of our company” (v. 22) went to the tomb and did not find the body; they even brought back the message of angels reporting him living; and some men “who were with us” (v. 24) have confirmed it. And nobody “has seen anything” (v. 25). No one sees anything, because no one understands the meaning of the intuitions— “these words seemed to them an idle tale” (v. 11). They cannot, and they decidedly do not want to, understand; thus, while having intuitions, they see nothing.

So the Christ, at last, takes his turn to speak. He delivers the proper meanings and orders the intuitions according to the concepts missing up to this point. Which ones? Precisely those very concepts that the disciples stammered, stumbled over, and pulled to pieces without hearing anything— “beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he made the hermeneutic for them of everything, which concerned him, in the Scriptures (diermeneusen ta peri autou)” (v. 27). Not that which concerned him, but all the Scriptures as they refer to Him alone—for everything in the Scriptures, absolutely every- thing without the exception of a single iota, concerns only him.7 Some will ask, by what right can he deliver to them such an absolute hermeneutic—the only true, absolute knowledge that we ought to desire, which makes that of our philosophy appear as nothing more than a destitute man’s phantasm? By right of the Logos, sole “exegete of God (ékeinos exêgêsato)” (John 1:18) to interpret the Scriptures that God inspired in order to announce Him to humans as the fulfillment of all his promises. We detect here, in a silence within this unheard of text (which doubtless protects us from that which we would be unable to bear hearing openly), the unsurpassable lesson of all exegesis and of every hermeneutic that wants to constitute itself truly as the science that would treat of the literal incarnation of the Word of life. The text will tell us nothing more of this exegesis, other than that it made the disciples understand that “it was fitting that the Christ should suffer in order to enter into his glory” (v. 26). For this fitness [convenance] (stronger even than a necessity) appears, in effect, to give by virtue of itself alone a meaning (its concept)—up to that point missing—to the superabundant, but still blind, intuition. And when the concept at last matches the intuition, the phenomenon bursts forth with its superabundant glory: “Did not our hearts [and thus our minds] burn within us while he talked to us on the road in such a way as to open to us the [concepts of the] Scriptures?” (v. 32). This fervor comes neither from the bare texts, nor from the obscured ideas of men, but from the perfect adaptation of the thoughts of God (recorded in the Scriptures) to the acts of God (gesta Christi offered to our intuition), which manifest in a perfect phenomenon “the mystery hidden for ages in God […] the manifold wisdom of God” (Ephesians 3:9–10).

From this moment on the teaching can fulfill itself by proposing the requisite significations, no longer only in words, but even in actions. Though they are already approaching their stopping place, the disciples do not yet dare to say anything; Christ waits for them to respond to him or to ask him something of themselves, the truth, for example. To provoke their decision, “he looked to be going further” (v. 28); caught unawares, at the first pretext (“ ‘it is towards evening and the day is now far spent’ ”) they at last dare to beg: “Stay with us” (v. 28). To stay with him—this is what the Samaritans (John 4:40) and the first future disciples (John 1:38sq.) had asked (and obtained) of Christ. This is above all what Christ had asked (and obtained) of Zacheus, but also what the disciples had denied Christ at Gethsemani (Matthew 26:38: “Stay here and watch with me”). In effect, the whole ques- tion of the coming of Christ and of faith in him comes down to this: “to have his logos abiding in us (menonta), or not” (John 5:38). For the first time since “the events”, the disciples ask Christ, and thus in fact the Logos himself and in person, to stay with them and they with him—that is, they ask to receive his logos, his interpretation of what has happened in the intuition and which they have nevertheless neither seen, nor caught, nor understood. They at last ask him his meaning, his concept, his interpretation of the public, yet unintelligible to spectators, intuition of Easter. So “he went in to stay with them” (v. 29), in order to give them, as a sign that cannot be missed, the signification that will at long last give meaning to all the intuitions that up to then had remained scattered and absurd. What signification? No word, no dis- course, no sound—except that of the blessing: “taking the bread, he said the blessing, broke it and gave it to them.” At once “their eyes were opened and they recognized him” (v. 30)—because the signification was making visible its phenomenon. In other words, they saw that “this is my body which is given for you” and “in memory of me”, and that therefore, since he had promised not to “eat [this Passover], until it is fulfilled in the Kingdom of God” (Luke 22:19 and 15), precisely that very evening, in which he is again eating it, is already part of the Kingdom of God fulfilled in spirit and truth, the Resurrection. At once, “rising (anastantes)” (v. 31)—literally: reviving, they acknowledge their burning hearts, go back up to Jerusalem, and again do for the disciples the “exegesis” (êxegounto, v. 35) that they had received (v. 27)—the recognition in the sign (in the signification in action) of the breaking of the bread. Which the disciples accept as the strict equivalent of their own phenomenal experience: “the Lord has truly come back to life and has shown himself (ôphtê) to Simon” (v. 34). The phenomenalisation to Simon and the breaking of the bread with the two disciples amount to the same certitude—the Resurrection.

What we lack in order to believe is quite simply one with what we lack in order to see. Faith does not compensate, either here or anywhere else, for a defect of visibility: on the contrary, it allows reception of the intelligence of the phenomenon and the strength to bear the glare of its brilliance. Faith does not manage the deficit of evidence—it alone renders the gaze apt to see the excess of the pre-eminent saturated phenomenon, the Revelation. Thus we must not oppose the episode of the two disciples on the way to Emmaus to that of Christ’s manifestation to the Apostles, which immediately follows it. For, here again, the difficulty in believing is explicitly equivalent to a difficulty in believing what one sees already but does not admit (and it is not in the least a difficulty in imagining what one does not see): the disciples were “startled and frightened” by what they were seeing or “believed they were seeing (theôrein)” (v. 37); was it a “spirit”, a demon, an illusion? As to the easiest hypothesis, the most reasonable, indeed, the most evident—that it is Him—, it remained the most incredible, the most unthinkable, the only one inaccessible to their state of mind. The obstacle, then, is found here, too, in the deficiency of concepts and significations: they do not have the rational means to think that of which they have sensible intuition. Consequently Christ questions them on their thoughts: “what concepts (dialogismoi) rise in your hearts?” He thus does not undertake to give them a greater intuition of his corporeality, but to have them admit that this body, these hands, these feet and this pierced side are indeed his (“… mine”), that it is indeed “I who am the same” (v. 39). The very gesture of eating before their eyes aims, certainly, to give them proof of his flesh, but also to repeat the multiplication of the fish: for, here too, “… he gave them the remainder” (v. 43, variant), just as previously, “having taken the five loaves and two fish, raising his eyes to heaven, he blessed them, broke them and gave them to the disciples” (Luke 9:16). The goal is simply to have himself recognized as the one who he was among them, first of all through gestures, and then through words: “These are the [same] words (concepts, logoi) which I spoke to you while I was still with you” (v. 44). Indeed, they will not truly recognize him until his “words”, and thus his own significations and concepts allow them at last to constitute the intuition, maddening for as long as it remained bare, into a complete phenomenon. And here, as on the road to Emmaus, the point is to re-place all the intuitions into the significations of God; for all the intuitions that we receive from the gesta Christi can only be understood according to their final intention—“… it is fitting to fulfill [plêrôthênai, to fill, to saturate] everything that is written in the Law of Moses, in the Prophets and in the Psalms—[all of this having been written solely in view] of me” (v. 44 = v. 27). The opening of the meaning, and thus of the mind (for noûs, v. 46, expresses both) is decided in and by “the Scriptures”, taken not as pure letters, but as the recording of significations established by God in order to constitute the intuitions of his incarnation in a full and wholly complete phenomenon of Revelation.

But if all of this is so, why does this phenomenon disappear at the very instant in which it finally becomes visible—visible because believable? First, because the issue now is not, or is not only, to see him, but to show him “to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (v. 47). In other words, to make it so that all receive the significations that allow them to see that which the intuition offers, without rendering it manifest again. Second, because such a phenomenon, pre-eminently saturated, cannot be touched (John 20:17), nor even contemplated in this world which, in this time, does not “have the space” to contain the significations that would have to be “written” (John 21:25).

April 8, 2012

Wittgenstein’s Paradoxes

The philosophical problem has the form: I do not know my way about.

– Wittgenstein

Found in the Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein strives to disabuse us of the sublime order of understanding that traditional philosophy for all this time has encouraged us to do so. Wittgenstein tries to get us into the notion of the aporia as the starting point of any form of philosophical inquiry. As with life (at least I think), it should also be the case that we let go (or suspend) our predispositions to truly start questioning. Mr. Ludwig gives us the cue: we do not know our way about.

April 7, 2012

Of the Marginalized: Lenten Reflections for Holy Saturday

For this day we could stray away from our habitual reliance on Scripture and focus on what is not in Scripture. But first, a short background as to how I thought about the reflection point for today.

Last year I had the privilege and the honor of attending a Lenten retreat of th Catholic Order Notre Dame de Vie in Angat. Mr. Eddieboy Calasanz invited me to his order for the retreat. I had met a multitude of wonderful people who shared their faith as a community, from former professors, to a lawyer of KFC, to foreigners, and simple lay from all across the Philippines. On the Easter Vigil, a lay person shared a reflection piece from their founder Fr. marie-Eugene of the Child Jesus on the Mary during the darkness of the transition between Jesus’ death and His resurrection. These are not exactly the same reflection piece, but I guess the gist will do. So here it goes.

One looks into the passion narratives of the four Gospels and in not one of them do we find any mention of Jesus’ mother, Mary. For sure, Mary holds an important role in the life (and death) of Jesus Christ; she was there at the foot of the cross as Jesus uttered the words: it is finished. Mel Gibson portrays Mary rather brilliantly in his film The Passion of the Christ by interspersing Mary’s memory of Jesus in His childhood with every stab of suffering Mary witnesses of Jesus in the hands of his torturers.

What was Mary doing after the death of Jesus, just before His resurrection? One imagines the anguish of a mother as she imagines the silent and lifeless body of Jesus in her memory, that she has not been able to prevent the death of her own son. What sorrow and pain must it have been for her to be absolutely powerless against the forces of sin and death – as if she descended with Jesus “to the dead.” The night must have been unbearable for her, knowing that it seemed as if what she has said yes to thirty-three years ago has not fulfilled its purpose, as if the whole life of Mary has failed in the death of Jesus. As if.

As if she hasn’t believed in the word of hope that Jesus, her son, preached to the sick and the dying, as if her love hasn’t held her together in her “dark night of her soul,” as if the story of Jesus has ended with his death, as if there was no tomorrow. As if.

Certainly, the night will end. As if it was always night. If there is one thing that I think Mary held on to in those dark nights, it was her love of her Son’s faith in hope. It was ultimately the word of the Other that held her together, in joyful anticipation to His eternal triumph. It will be fulfilled that she become the true theotokos, the God-bearer – the image of a mother cradling her child:


This is the Black Madonna of Czestochowa, the Marian icon I find to be truly terribly fascinating.

One certainly dies of oneself, but it is the Other, through the power of the Other, that one is resurrected. One of the novel insights Kyoto School philosopher Hajime Tanabe tells us is that the dialectic of death and resurrection is the paradoxical relationship between our reliance to our self-power (jiriki) and our ultimate ground in the Other-power (tariki): that we will always be our selves in trying to transcend ourselves, but that it is through the Other than we are lifted up – our selves – to transcendence.

It is this hope that Mary sustained to herself and to her friends – the apostles – in waiting for the night to finally end.

We go back to the fact that Mary has not been mentioned in the passion narratives: perhaps the absence is telling of the state of hope that the marginalized experience in waiting for the eternal promise of the Father to reconcile everyone to Himself; it is there, but not yet. We can thus open up a more nuanced liberation theology reading of Mary, but none of that for now. In our reflection for today, let us be content of the fact that Mary can represent the poor, the suffering, and those who love tenderly because of (1) the absence of her narrative in the Gospel narratives, and (2) her very characteristic of “mother” makes it possible for us to reflect on her waiting, despite the said absence. In other words, her absence makes it possible for us to talk about her, as with our experience of the poor in our time: that their “absence” has caused us to rethink our categories, and that this “absence” is finally realized by the poor, thus opening up history for the irruption of the poor, as Gustavo Gutierrez would say.

So two reflection points for today: (1) can we be truly like Mary (and consequently, like the poor) in her (or their) very fragile hope that the promise might be fulfilled? And (2) can we truly speak of the poor in the context of the resurrection of Jesus, in the person of Mary?

A blessed and hopeful Holy Saturday! 🙂