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Französische Religionsphilosophie und -phänomenologie der Gegenwart. Metaphysische und post-metaphysische Positionen zur Erfahrungs(un)möglichkeit Gottes.
Freiburg i. Br.: Verlag Herder 2013. VI, 501 S. = Forschungen zur europäischen Geistesgeschichte, 15. Geb. EUR 60,00. ISBN 978-3-451-34167-0.
What makes religious experience (im-)possible? This is the guiding question of German philosopher Rolf Kühn’s latest book. He de-velops his answer by way of critical analyses of leading French metaphysical and post-metaphysical philosophies ranging from the early 19th century until today. It is of course impossible, within the limits of a book-review, to offer a detailed rendering, or in-depth evaluation, of K.s critical analyses. I will restrict myself to a few general comments.
The material analyzed is comprehensive, yet K. should be complimented for not limiting his focus to the post-metaphysical philosophical current as is perhaps most common these days. By taking the reader on a journey from the spiritual-metaphysical philosophies of life (Blondel, Bergson, and Brunschvicg), through reflexive philosophies (de Biran, Lagneau, Alain, and Nabert), the neoplatonism of Simone Weil, philosophies of the spirit (Lavelle, Le Senne, Berger, Marcel), and the metaphysics of Claude Bruaire and Jean-Louis Chrétien, the post-metaphysical positions of Heidegger, Levinas, Derrida, Marion and Nancy are thrown into a sharper relief than is often the case.
But how, one might ask, could he possibly ignore renowned names such as Sartre, Camus, Foucault, Lacan, or Deleuze? K. defends his selection by referring to the fact that these authors are already quite familiar to German readers (19). Whether the readers find this reason sufficient depends on what they take to be the aim of the book. If it is understood as introducing German-speaking readers to less familiar French philosophers of religion, the choice may seem reasonable. Yet if the aim is to develop an optimal sys-tematic answer to the main question posed, then K. has not offered a sufficient reason for excluding the previously mentioned philosophers of religion from his critical consideration. To my mind the aim of the book is a bit ambiguous from the outset, and this impression is upheld by the manner in which K. arranges his material. The presentation follows the chronology of the thinkers in-volved, and takes shape more as a steady stream of reasoning that accumulates perspectives on the given theme than a systematic discussion of the main question. Nevertheless, K. undoubtedly offers an evocative panoramic view of French philosophers of religion.
A more pressing challenge with reading the book is the richness of its philosophical vocabulary. K. does not meet the didactic challenge raised by the somewhat esoteric style of writing characteristic of many French philosophers (of religion). Readers not already intimately familiar with it will find this book a very hard read. Thus it seems more intended on experienced readers of French philosophy of religion than on those looking for an introductory overview of selected philosophical answers to its main question.
What I find even more problematic with the conceptual outlook of the book, however, is the lack of clear definitions of some of its organizing concepts, a problem reinforced by the lack of a clear distinction between the analytical apparatus of K. and the conceptual framework of the philosophers analyzed. Aside from a few scattered indications, the term »metaphysics« is, for instance, left quite underdetermined throughout the book. It is not clear to me how K. himself, nor the philosophers scrutinized, exactly understand it. K. seems to presuppose that the readers have a clear notion of what the term refers to, or that the Heideggerian interpretation of me-taphysics as onto-theology is the common, self-evident, point of reference for the various voices. The former presupposition is problematic because of the notorious ambiguity of the concept throughout the history of philosophy, a problem intensified by the recent emergence of so-called »post-metaphysical philosophies«. This conceptual ambiguity makes it difficult for the reader to discern whether K.’s critical readings constitute a reaction to metaphysical philosophy of religion in toto or just to onto-theological metaphysics.
Throughout the book K. employs the phenomenology of life developed by Michel Henry as his critical lens. A comprehensive systematic presentation of this philosophical framework is not developed, so what follows is a reconstruction based on the indications of this framework scattered in the text, and a rudimentary critique that is limited by the perspective of this reconstruction.
According to Henry, the root of religious experience manifests itself as human thinking suspends itself from thematic knowledge of the world and falls back into an original, immediate, material and purely immanent experience of being affected in an absolute sense (14). In other words, through philosophical reflection human beings are capable of developing an after-awareness of an affective living presence that is literally radical, i. e. the root of any act of (religious) living. K. describes this mode of experience as absolute life giving/receiving itself in and through feeling itself (312.426 ff., passim). It is not given in the active mode of »I«, but in the passive (or passible) mode of »me«, and is fundamentally different from the mode in which Being comes to expression. According to K., the possibility of developing a post-metaphysical philosophy of religion depends on the distinction between living and Being being philosophically tenable.
Two critical questions thus announce themselves. First, is the mode of manifestation constitutive of K.’s phenomenology of life coherent? Secondly, if it is coherent, does it make metaphysical philosophy of religion superfluous, i. e. is it a question of either-or or both-and? I will conclude this review by briefly discussing these two questions in relation to K.’s text.
While the dimension of Being comes to expression in the mode of indicative (theoretical) sentences, the immediacy of absolute life is experienced in a purely practical mode, i. e. as giving and re-ceiving itself in and through feeling itself (264 ff.290.372.429 ff., passim). I see no problem with accepting the claim that the theo-retical and the practical (-affective) are two distinct modes of religious experience that cannot be reduced to one another. It neither implies that the practical mode cannot be theoretically ex-plicated, nor that the theoretical mode cannot be pragmatically determined: absolute living can be explicated as Being, and vice versa. Yet referring to Henry, K. claims that »Das Sein ist vielmehr ›lebendige‹ Anwesenheit in seiner ganzen Unmittelbarkeit, ohne dass es sich übersteigen, vorstellen, oder verstehen müsste, um zu ›sein‹« (256). I find this claim problematic: from a philosophical perspective, to say that absolute living is immediately becoming itself through giving/receiving itself in affectivity determines it in relation to the dimension of Being. It is this way only when understood this way.
As noted, K. determines the purely practical mode of religious experience as immediate (441 ff., passim). What does this mean? First it means that it is pre-discursive (246.256.308.311.436.449), i. e. it has no determinate (propositional) content. If this means that religious experience is possible only insofar as absolute living affects me in me as I act, then I agree with K. I am only capable of acting religiously insofar as practicability is an immanent characteristic of the absolute living that gives me itself in and through feeling itself. Yet for absolute life to affectively experience itselfin and through me, I must be capable of bringing it to expression. This means that the experience of absolute life as affectively giving/receiving itself through itself cannot be purely immediate. Absolute living cannot be immediate to any particular me, because the experience of the particular »me« as such requires a genuine Other, i. e. it requires discourse. Although the mode of manifesta-tion of affective absolute living has a pre- or non-linguistic dimension, it is necessarily language-dependent. If this was not the case, then it would not be determinable (as immediacy, absolute life, revelation etc.), and as such not even an empty X. The relation be-tween the being affected and affective absolute life is internally necessary, i. e. the one cannot be thought without the other, nei-ther can they be reduced to one another. This precludes that absolute life in giving and receiving itself through feeling itself is ab-solute immediacy (or immanence).