Learned ignorance

The apophatic tradition of cultivating the virtue of unknowing

Authored by: William Franke

Routledge International Handbook of Ignorance Studies

Print publication date:  May  2015
Online publication date:  May  2015

Print ISBN: 9780415718967
eBook ISBN: 9781315867762
Adobe ISBN: 9781317964674

10.4324/9781315867762.ch3

 

Abstract

Although ignorance has often been considered to be merely negative and indeed the root of all vice, there is also a very long counter-tradition within Western intellectual and cultural history that reverses this valence and appreciates ignorance as the necessary ground for all genuine knowledge and even as the indispensable starting point for any meaningful and productive orientation to the world as a whole. Ignorance has been consciously cultivated as the most fecund moment in the whole process of encountering and relating to an order of beings that transcends the instrumental order of objects known only in terms of their usefulness for human purposes and projects. This valorization of ignorance is found in a particularly radical form in thinkers and writers who can be characterized as “apophatic” and as participating in an internal critique of the mainstream of Western philosophical thought based on knowledge by means of the word or logos. “Apophasis” means literally negation and refers etymologically to the negation specifically of speech (phasis, “assertion,” in Greek, from phemi, I “assert” or “say”). What is negated thereby is logos, the word or reason, and therewith knowledge in the sense of discourse based on logical reasoning and verbal expression. This counter-tradition of apophasis has run parallel to the mainstream thinking of the logos, often intersecting and overlapping with it, all through the broader philosophical tradition of the West: it appears often in underground and subversive channels, but also as the deepest, most paradoxical and challenging stratum of thought in many of the most canonical thinkers.

 Add to shortlist  Cite

Learned ignorance

Although ignorance has often been considered to be merely negative and indeed the root of all vice, there is also a very long counter-tradition within Western intellectual and cultural history that reverses this valence and appreciates ignorance as the necessary ground for all genuine knowledge and even as the indispensable starting point for any meaningful and productive orientation to the world as a whole. Ignorance has been consciously cultivated as the most fecund moment in the whole process of encountering and relating to an order of beings that transcends the instrumental order of objects known only in terms of their usefulness for human purposes and projects. This valorization of ignorance is found in a particularly radical form in thinkers and writers who can be characterized as “apophatic” and as participating in an internal critique of the mainstream of Western philosophical thought based on knowledge by means of the word or logos. “Apophasis” means literally negation and refers etymologically to the negation specifically of speech (phasis, “assertion,” in Greek, from phemi, I “assert” or “say”). What is negated thereby is logos, the word or reason, and therewith knowledge in the sense of discourse based on logical reasoning and verbal expression. This counter-tradition of apophasis has run parallel to the mainstream thinking of the logos, often intersecting and overlapping with it, all through the broader philosophical tradition of the West: it appears often in underground and subversive channels, but also as the deepest, most paradoxical and challenging stratum of thought in many of the most canonical thinkers.

A crucial source can be found in Plato and particularly in the paradoxes of his Parmenides, according to which it is impossible to say the ultimate principle of things, the One, without inadvertently making it into two: itself and its name. On the basis of the interpretive tradition surrounding this dialogue, especially among the Neoplatonist philosophers, ignorance in the form of apophasis or the inability to say and to think conceptually or logically became a leading theme of speculation: it passed from Plotinus, Porphyry, Proclus, and Iamblichus, to Damascius (458–538 AD), whose Dubitationes et solutiones de primis principiis represents its most radical treatment and in crucial ways the culmination of ancient Neoplatonism. Thereafter apophatic ignorance departed in new directions and took on some new dimensions with the direct heirs of the Neoplatonists in the monotheistic traditions. It found magisterial expositions in the Christian speculative mysticism of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite (De divinis nominibus) and of John Scotus Eriugena (De divisione naturae). It continued to be crucial to medieval philosopher-theologians such as Maimonides and Meister Eckhart and remained at the source of inspiration in the Kabbalah (notably the Zohar) as well as influential in the Sufism of Ibn al Arabi and its poetic elaboration by Jalal al-Din Rumi. Baroque mystics like John of the Cross, Jakob Böhme, and Silesius Angelus share this same obsession for what evades speech with Romantic thinkers like Kierkegaard and the late Schelling. In different ways, in all these epoch-making apophatic writers, ignorance has been consciously cultivated as the most fertile moment in any authentic awareness of reality as a whole and in its deepest grounds.

In the midst of this history, a central and exemplary paradigm of the apophatic mode of thought and discourse is the “learned ignorance” that Nicolaus of Cusa (1401–1464) brought to focus and rendered famous in his epoch-making De docta ignorantia (1440). Building on certain key insights of Meister Eckhart, and carrying forward the most paradoxical and penetrating teachings of Neoplatonism culled from assiduous frequentation especially of Proclus and Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, “Cusanus” consistently leads all knowledge back to its inescapable origins in unknowing. All genuine knowledge can only be from God, who is infinite and therefore unknowable. Yet the infinite bears no proportion to the finite: the latter therefore can afford no knowledge of the former. And since knowledge in its deepest sources must be based on God, it cannot but be an unknowing. Book 1 of Cusanus’s treatise on learned ignorance ends in the aporias and impossibilities not only of knowing but even of the naming of God (Chapters 2224). Book 2, however, considers God as the “maximum” contracted into the form of the universe, while Book 3 considers God’s further contraction into Jesus Christ. Of these contracted forms there is a kind of knowledge, even though, more deeply considered, in relation to the absolute maximum it still remains a form of ignorance.

The huge tradition of speculation on this head both before and after Cusanus can be traced from (and aligns itself with) the Socratic wisdom which lay precisely in Socrates’s knowing that he did not know—in his declaring that he knew nothing. Socratic ignorance serves as the obligatory point of departure for vast and varied currents comprising not only forms of skeptical and critical philosophy, but also several different types of mysticism that flourished in antiquity and the Middle Ages. To the speculative apophatic ignorance of Neaplatonists, we must add the more affective styles of mysticism in which apophasis opens a vast field for knowing-by-not-knowing in various registers of feeling that draw on the so-called “spiritual senses.” This new mysticism flourishes in the fourteenth century with The Cloud of Unknowing and with the female mysticism of the beguines and particularly of Marguerite Porete (1250–1310). It is given programmatically apophatic accents especially by Dante in his Paradiso. Further techniques of exploiting emotional resources of ignorance matured through the Baroque and Romantic periods. Along the more speculative line of this historical trajectory are situated modern philosophical monuments of apophatic thought on the limits of language, including figures such as Ludwig Wittgenstein, Simone Weil, Martin Heidegger, Franz Rosenzweig, and Emmanuel Levinas, whose ethical reflection focuses on traumatic and silent “Saying” as a mode of relating wordlessly to the unknowable alterity of the Other.

For all of these epoch-making authors, an insuperable but self-conscious ignorance is in crucial ways more important and fundamental than any positive kind of knowing, for it remains in touch with the grounds of knowing and unknowing in the infinite and incomprehensible abyss of human understanding and intellect. Expressions of this predicament can easily be broadened to imaginative literature by including writers such as Friedrich Hölderlin, Emily Dickinson, Hugo von Hofmannstahl (specifically his “Letter of Lord Chandos”), Rainer Maria Rilke, Franz Kafka, and Samuel Beckett. Such expressions can be extended even further to the arts generally so as to include radical modern aesthetic encounters with the inexpressible, for example, in Abstract Expressionism (Barnett Newman, Ad Reinhart) or in the music and music theory of Arthur Schoenberg, John Cage, and Vladimir Jankélévitch, with their fixation on Nothing, silence, and “l’indicible.”

Once this continuity from the ancient Neoplatonic matrices to the modern predicament expressed still today by avant-garde artists is discerned, it becomes possible, even if inevitably something of a provocation, to form a kind of canon of apophatic thinkers by bringing into comparison some of the most enduringly significant attempts within Western culture to probe the limits of language—and perhaps to exceed them. All tend to delineate regions of inviolable silence and therefore of ignorance, at least so far as articulated, rational knowledge is concerned. A certain core of such discourses is made up of classic expressions of “negative theology,” which, most simply, is the denial of all descriptions and attributes as predicated of God. For negative theologies, it is possible to say only what God is not. These attempts to devise and, at the same time, to disqualify ways of talking about God as an ultimate reality, or rather ultra-reality, beyond the reach of language, can be juxtaposed to and in any case interpenetrate with philosophical meditations that exhibit infirmities endemic to language in its endeavor to comprehend and express the ultimately real. Such philosophical reflections expose necessary failures of Logos that leave it gaping open towards what it cannot say. Likewise, poetry and poetics and aesthetics of the ineffable drive language into impasses, pressing its expressive powers to their furthest limits—and sometimes even beyond those limits.

All of these discourses are in various ways languages for what cannot be said—languages that cancel, interrupt, or undo discourse, languages that operate, paradoxically, by annulling or unsaying themselves. 1 They manage to intimate or enact, by stumbling, stuttering, and becoming dumb—sometimes with uncanny eloquence—what they cannot as such say. The traditional term for this sort of self-negating discourse—as well as for the condition of no more discourse at all, upon which it converges—is “apophasis.” In fact, total privation of discourse may be considered the pure, proper meaning of the term, but in practice this state is approachable only through some deficient mode of discourse that attenuates and takes itself back or cancels itself out. Thus apophasis can actually be apprehended only in discourse (we must remember that painting and music, too, are their own kind of “discourse”), but in discourse only insofar as it negates itself and tends to disappear as discourse—sometimes being sublated into non-verbal media. The many different sorts of discourses that do this may be considered together generically as “apophatic discourse.”

The exigency of bringing out what all discourse leaves unsaid—what, nevertheless, by its very elusiveness, teases or disturbs speech, and tends therefore systematically to be covered over or suppressed, so as to be rendered almost completely imperceptible—features conspicuously and more or less consciously in this loosely-defined lineage of writers (in various media) stretching across the entire history of Western intellectual tradition. All produce distinctive languages which, in various ways, withdraw and efface themselves. On this basis, it is possible to define attempts to deal with the unsayable as a sort of cross-disciplinary genre spanning a great variety of periods and regions even just within Western culture, though of course this, like all genre definitions, and perhaps more so than others, can be no more than heuristic.

Whereas Plato and Aristotle use “apophasis” simply to mean a negative proposition, a denial, Neoplatonists, followed by monotheistic writers, extend the term to mean the negation of speech vis-à-vis what exceeds all possibilities of expression whatsoever: for them, apophatic discourses consist in words that negate themselves in order to evoke what is beyond words and indeed beyond the limits of language altogether. The word “apophasis” thus eventually takes on a stronger sense of negation, not just of the content of specific propositions, but of language and expression per se. Since ancient times, therefore, and again as revived in contemporary discourse, the tag “apophasis,” beyond signifying logical negation, carries also a more potent, theological sense of negation informed ultimately by the divine transcendence: it indicates an utter incapacity of language to grasp what infinitely transcends it, a predicament of being surpassed irremediably by what it cannot say. “Apophasis” in its further etymological meaning, moreover, as “away from speech” or “saying away” (apo, “from” or “away from”) points in the direction of unsaying and ultimately of silence as virtualities of language that tend to underlie and subvert any discursively articulable meaning.

The ultimate apophatic expression is silence—a silence that is stretched tensely toward . . . what cannot be said. Only this negation of saying by silence “says” . . . what cannot be said. Nevertheless, apophasis constitutes a paradoxically rich and various genre of discourse. The methods and modes of silence are legion, and numerous new forms of expression of it burst forth in every new period of cultural history. The irrepressible impulse to speak essential silence is a constant (or close to it) of human experience confronted ever anew with what surpasses saying. While what is experienced remains inaccessible to speech, there is no limit to what can be said about—or rather from within and as a testimonial to—this experience which cannot be described except as experience of . . . what cannot be said.

For apophatic thinking, before and behind anything that language is saying, there is something that it is not saying and perhaps cannot say, something that nevertheless bears decisively on any possibilities whatsoever of saying and of making sense. In fact, only linguistically is this “beyond” of language discernible at all. Language must unsay or annul itself in order to let this unsayable something, which is nothing, no thing at any rate, somehow register in its very evasion of all attempts to say it. Only the unsaying of language can say . . . what cannot be said. This predicament is commonly encountered at the limits of linguistic expression, but certain interpretations emphasize, or at least illuminate, these limits as operative in the form of enabling conditions throughout the whole range of linguistic expression. In this way, the encounter with apophasis becomes pervasive and ineluctable. We begin to perceive the ubiquitous presence of the unsayable in all our saying. All that is said, at least indirectly and implicitly, testifies to something else that is not said and perhaps cannot be said.

This may sometimes seem to be an exercise in emptiness and futility, but some of the newer angles of approach to the topic of apophasis are bringing out its incarnate and excessively concrete nature, which is just as essential as the Neoplatonic, Plotinian path of abstraction, the so-called via remotionis. Much attention is being turned today towards apophatic bodies (Boesel and Keller 2010) and to apophatic erotics (Marion 2003), as well as to apophatic aesthetics (Vega 2005). Excess is as crucial a mode as privation in communicating what escapes speech. The flesh was recognized as being in excess of logical comprehension already in ancient patristic tradition by Tertullian (160-230) in De carne Christi, as well as by Athanasius and Augustine. This is the orientation of the tradition in Pseudo-Dionysius, for instance, as expounded by Turner (1995), and of apophasis in the Kabbalah as read especially by Wolfson (2005). It is also at the basis of a new approach to phenomenology in the wake of the so-called “theological turn” among especially French thinkers such as Michel Henry Jean-Luc Marion, and Jean-Louis Chrétien (Janicaud 2000). This line of investigation is now being developed vigorously in relation to Christian theological tradition from patristics through medieval Scholasticism by Emmanuel Falque (2008), among others.

The discovery of unsayability and of its correlative languages of “unsaying”—leading to appreciation of gaps, glitches, and impasses as constitutive of the sense of texts—is part and parcel of a major intellectual revolution that has been underway now for several decades and, in fact, if only somewhat more diffusely, for at least a century. 2 Not only modern but especially postmodern writers have been prolific in this genre. French writers, including Georges Bataille, Emmanuel Levinas, Jacques Derrida, and Edmond Jabès Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Michel Foucault (1963 and 1966), have been particularly fertile in exploring apophatic modes. 3 Perhaps most conspicuously, Jacques Lacan’s linguistic formulations constantly strain beyond their own words towards something that withdraws from articulation, as Lacan himself is well aware: “There is nowhere any last word unless in the sense in which word is not a word . . . . Meaning indicates the direction in which it fails.” 4 Also powerfully expressing these currents in French thought and criticism are Luce Irigaray, Hélène Cixous, and Julia Kristeva, especially in her analysis of the unspeakably abject in Pouvoirs de l’horreur.

Feminist discourse has been exceptionally fecund in reflection about silence and its untold significances. Early on, these reflections tended to revolve around the silencing of female voices. Such discussions focused sharply on class, color, and sex as motives for the silencing of women writers. Tillie Olsen’s Silences, for example, stated emphatically that it was not about the natural silences intrinsic to the creative process but rather about “the unnatural thwarting of what struggles to come into being, but cannot” (1978, 6). There was frequently a determined effort to divorce enforced silences of women from every sort of empty, abstract, metaphysical, Romantic ineffable. Recently, however, there has been growing interest among feminists in silence as more than just negative and a lack due to externally imposed interdictions. Apophasis is being discovered in its multivalent potency as gendered in complex ways. Feminine discourse has become sensitive and attentive not only to the silencing of female voices but also to the subversive strategies that cultivate and exploit silence. 5 Silence plays an ambiguous role as an imposed restriction but also an elected source of unlimited power, for example, in the creative silences of a poet like Emily Dickinson. There has of late been a plethora of creative works by and on women and the paradoxical poverty/power of their silences. M. Nourbese Philip, Looking for Livingstone: An Odyssey of Silence and Monica Ochtrup, What I Cannot Say / I Will Say have begun turning this predicament into the empowering premise of a highly potent new poetry. 6

Although apophatic tradition is not necessarily felt as their own tradition and is rarely cited, except for Wittgenstein, it is doubtful that this literature would be possible in the state in which we find it without apophasis as an element diffusely present in postmodern culture. Clearly this literature is propelled by a sense of the crisis of language. Its denial and even defiance of Logos, interpreted, at least implicitly, as patriarchal authority par excellence, cannot help but resonate, whether deliberately so or not, with the apophatic in its millenary manifestations. In theology itself, particular attention is now being devoted to how women’s voices in the pulpit can find the most effective registers for letting silence speak. 7

Social sciences, too, are producing a daunting bibliography on the subject of silence. The topic is approached out of the most varied disciplines such as psychology, linguistics and pragmatics, anthropology and ethnography, discourse and narrative analysis, systems and communications theory focusing on all manner of media, as well as on “natural” human conversation and interaction. 8 While not usually interrogating the apophatic directly in its fundamental motivations, these discourses nevertheless reflect upon and illuminate it. They belong to the explosion of new, broadly or tendentially apophatic approaches in every sector throughout contemporary culture.

As a newly emerging logic, or rather a/logic, of language in the humanities, this new (though also very old) quasi-epistemic paradigm for criticism, as well as for language-based disciplines and practices in general, can help us today, as late-modern readers, learn to read in hitherto unsuspectedly limber and sensitive ways. It can sharpen our critical awareness of what we are already doing even without fully understanding how and why. For we have become increasingly attuned to unsaying and the unsayable within discourse covertly undoing its own purported purposes and programs. To this extent, we are reading differently than in the past, yet this very difference has been bequeathed by the past, if we care to know about it, and we can learn to know our own minds and their mysterious ways much better if we do. For what present generations are experiencing characterizes also a recurrent, cyclical movement of culture, spirit, and intellect from time immemorial. Most immediately and directly, certain modern and contemporary models have shaped our sensibility for deciphering in discourse these limits of language and this indication of what it cannot say.

Apophasis is not itself, after all, any traditional genre or mode or discipline. It has by its elusive nature remained hitherto marginal to all systematic rhetorics of the human sciences. Only the obsessions of our contemporary culture have produced the need—until quite recently mostly latent—to delineate apophasis as a distinct corpus of literature. Indeed apophasis has become—and is still becoming—a major topic in all the disciplines of the humanities, with philosophy, religion, literature, and criticism of various arts in the lead. The impressive range of contemporary thinkers, authors, and artists who distinguish themselves as drawing from and transforming traditional apophatic currents in remarkable new ways renders imperative the attempt to understand apophasis as some kind of genre writings drawn from widely divergent cultural and historical contexts and from different disciplines, but all bearing fundamentally upon, and originating in, the experience of the unsayable, of what resists every effort of speech to articulate it.

I endeavor to identify some seminal texts and to sketch some historical parameters, and so to give a certain contour to a topic which all too easily can become nebulous and diffuse for lack of any general map of the field such as On What Cannot Be Said (Franke 2007) attempts to provide. Such an attempt is made imperative by the overwhelming perennial interest of this topic and the still pioneering status of attempts to try and fathom its length, breadth, and depth. Until recently, we have had only the vaguest idea of how these various discourses of apophasis fit together and little conception of the historical parabola of this problematic as a whole, even just in the West. And of course Eastern forms of apophasis, such as the Advaita Vedanta, the Madhyamaka school of Mahayana Buddhism, Zen, Taoism, etc., afford perhaps an even vaster and richer territory to be explored for the same type of treasure. We are now in the throes of an explosive proliferation of studies in all areas based on variously apophatic paradigms of production and interpretation of texts. Although we may fail to realize it, due to the widely disparate provenance of discussions of what cannot be said, the most evasive of all topics, its ineluctable and ubiquitous presence at the heart of our creative and critical endeavors across disciplines is breaking ever more conspicuously into evidence.

Just as language is fundamental to all possibilities of experience, therewith also the limits of language, where the unsayable is encountered, are implicit in and impinge upon every utterance in its very possibility of being uttered. I privilege discourses that concentrate on the unsayable and generate discourse deliberately out of this experience rather than simply those discourses (really all discourses) that in effect are touched and structured by what cannot be said. There is in each instance of programmatically apophatic discourse some more or less explicit meditation on impasses to articulation as the generative source of the discourse itself.

Great writers or artists, in whatever genre or discipline or form, are distinguished in that at some point they push to the limits the possibilities of expression in their respective linguistic means or medium. However, an apophatic border or lining can be discerned, even if it is not rendered explicit, in perhaps any significant discourse, in any expressive language whatever. If, indeed, all discourses, at least covertly, pivot on what they cannot say, in the end no author could be absolutely excluded from such a genre. One can always find an unexpressed negation, a recursive self-questioning, lurking in every expressed affirmation, so whether any given discourse is adjudged apophatic or not depends on how it is read. Consequently, the question becomes one of which discourses most directly and provocatively avow, or illuminate, this inescapable predicament of speech and script. Widely divergent discourses all approach, from various angles, what cannot be said and demand to be viewed in a common focus and as reflecting on one another in revealing ways. Bringing them together out of their different disciplinary and cultural backgrounds is part of a design to catalyze open dialogue on “what cannot be said” lurking as an ineluctable provocation perhaps in all discourses.

As a discursive mode, apophasis arises in the face of what cannot be said. It bespeaks an experience of being left speechless. There are no words for what is experienced in this form of experience, no possibility of a positive description of it. One falls back on saying what it is not, since whatever can be said is not it. By their very failure, conspicuously faltering and foundering attempts at saying can hint at what they inevitably fail to express, at what cannot be said at all. In this way, the unsayable and discourse about it turn out to be inseparable. Indeed, according to at least one view, what cannot be said can only (not) be said: apart from this failure, it would be altogether nought (Certeau 1973, 153). Certainly, it has no objective content or definition, for that could be said. Nevertheless, it can be discerned in perhaps all that is said as what unsays saying, as what troubles or discomfits discourse.

By reading for what cannot be said, we look past expressions themselves to their limits and even beyond, and thereby cull intimations of what they do not and cannot express. The unsayable is inaccessible to direct apprehension, but it can be read in everything that is said, if reading means a sort of interpretive engagement that coaxes the text to betray secrets it cannot as such say. The unsayable shows up in texts as their limit of opacity. Everything said, however clear and transparent, is said from somewhere which is indirectly intimated, yet cannot itself be fully divulged or exhaustively illuminated in and by its own saying. It necessarily remains opaque and off-limits. Rather than discarding this as the inevitable part of non-intelligibility that is best neglected in whatever is said, certain new methods of reading have been bent upon recognizing this unsayable instance within discourse as essential to the meaning of everything that is said. I have aimed here to suggest how such methods are illuminated by apophatic tradition reaching all the way back to its ancient theological matrices, for they are in an at least indirect line of descent from these sources.

Claims concerning the inadequacy of language to describe experience are, of course, encountered in all different kinds of discourse, literary, religious, artistic, and philosophical alike. But the mode of apophasis need be invoked only where precisely this struggle with language in the encounter with what it cannot say demonstrably engenders the experience in question. The experience of apophasis, as an experience of not being able to say, is quintessentially linguistic: the experience itself is intrinsically an experience of the failure of language. It is not an experience that is otherwise given and secured and perhaps even approximately conveyed—with provisos regarding the accuracy of the description and apologies for the results actually achieved. In apophasis, strictly construed, unsayability or the failure of language is itself the basic experience—and indeed the only one that admits of description or objectification at all.

And yet the experience in question is not fundamentally experience of language or of any other determinate object, for this could be adequately expressed. The experiencing subject is affected by “something” beyond all that it can objectively comprehend, something engendering affects that it cannot account for nor even be sure are its own. 9 This entails a sort of belief in, or an openness to, something—that is, to something or other that is surely no thing—that cannot be said and that refuses itself to every desire for articulation. There is not even any “what” to believe in, but there is passion—for nothing, perhaps, certainly for nothing that can be said: and yet that passion itself is not just nothing. 10 The apophatic allows for belief before any determinate belief, passion before any object of passion can be individuated: all definitions are only relative, approximate delimitations of what is not as such any object that can be defined. Apophatic thought thus relativizes every verbal-conceptual formulation and orients us towards the unformulated non-concept or no-word that is always already believed in with in(de)finite passion in every defined or finite confession of belief.

Thus apophaticism is not nihilism. Apophatic authors may sometimes embrace an agnosticism as to whether language has any meaning at all, but their apophaticism is not nihilistic, if that means somehow concluding all under Nothing rather than making the admission of the inadequacy of all our names and saying an overture opening towards . . . what cannot be said. This is typically an opening towards immeasurably more (and less) than can be said. I generally privilege believers in apophasis as some kind of extra-logical, supra-rational revelation or liberation—though this deliverance may be of the most minimalist, desolate sort. There is, strictly speaking, no saying what the apophatic writer believes in, but there clearly is a passion of belief—or unbelief: indeed, every formulated, expressed belief must be disbelieved and abjured in order to keep the faith in what cannot be said.

Acknowledgment

This essay is adapted from the prefaces to volumes 1 and 2 of Franke (2007) by kind permission of the University of Notre Dame Press.

Notes

Budick and Iser (1989) effectively formulated this topic for contemporary criticism.

Hass’s (2013) intellectual history of Nothing makes the twentieth century the site of the revolution that overthrows the sovereignty of One (1 or I) and opens into an age of Nothing (0), without unilateral hegemony.

For madness as a silence within the discourse of rationality, see Foucault (1971) and Bernauer (1987). Other texts are treated by Bernard P. Dauenhauer (1979), 115–126.

Lacan 1982, 150. Cited in Sells and Webb (1995), 199. See, further, Wyschogrod et al. (1989).

See Kammer (1979), 153–164, as well as essays in Keller and Miller (1994) and Hedges and Fishkin (1994).

On these writers, see Miller (1996) and Steiner (1996).

See Walter and Durber (1994). Provocative new voices of feminist theologians who are keenly alive to the apophatic include Keller (2007), McFague (2007), and Schüssler Fiorenza (1999). See, further, Johnson (1992).

Representatives of a much larger field can be found in Jaworski (1997). Also contributing to these directions of research are Tannen and Saville-Troike (1985), Ciani (1987), and Clair (1998).

This is where apophaticism clearly connects with trauma theory. See Caruth (1996).

See Salminen and Sjöberg (2012) and, in a more popular vein, Green (2011).

References

Bernauer, James (1987) “The Prisons of Man: An Introduction to Foucault’s Negative Theology,” International Philosophical Quarterly 27/4, 365–380.
Boesel, Chris , and Keller, Catherine (eds) (2010) Apophatic Bodies: Negative Theology, Incarnation, and Relationality. New York: Fordham University Press.
Budick, Sanford , and Iser, Wolfgang (eds) (1989) Languages of the Unsayable: The Play of Negativity in Literature and Literary Theory. New York: Columbia University Press.
Cage, John (1961) “Lecture on Nothing.” In Silence. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press.
Caputo, J. , and Scanlon, M. J. (eds) (2007) Transcendence and Beyond: A Postmodern Inquiry. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.
Caruth, Cathy (1996) Unclaimed Experience: Trauma, Narrative and History. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press.
Certeau, Michel de . (1973) L’absent de l’histoire. Mame, Liège.
Ciani, Maria Grazia (ed) (1987) The Regions of Silence: Studies on the Difficulty of Communicating. Amsterdam: Brill.
Clair, Robin Patric (1998) Organizing Silence. A World of Possibilities. New York: SUNY Press.
Dauenhauer, Bernard P. (1979) “Merleau-Ponty’s Elucidation of Silence,” in Silence: The Phenomenon and its Ontological Significance. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.
Falque, Emmanuel (2008) Dieu, la chair et l’autre: d’Irénée à Duns Scot. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.
Foucault, Michel (1963) “Le langage à l’infini,” Tel Quel 15, 44–53.
Foucault, Michel (1963) “Préface à la transgression,” Critique 195, 751–769.
Foucault, Michel (1966) “La pensée du Dehors” Critique 229, 523–546.
Foucault, Michel (1971) Folie et déraison. Paris: Plon.
Franke, W. (2007) On What Cannot Be Said: Apophatic Discourses in Philosophy, Religion, Literature, and the Arts (2 vols: Volume 1: Classical Formulations; Volume 2: Modern and Contemporary Transformations). Edited with Theoretical and Critical Essays by William Franke . Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press.
Gilbert, Sandra , and Guber, Susan (eds) (1979) Shakespeare’s Sisters: Feminist Essays on Women Poets. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.
Green, Ronald (2011) Nothing Matters: A Book about Nothing. Alresford: John Hunt.
Hass, Andrew W. (2013) Auden’s O: The Loss of One’s Sovereignty in the Making of Nothing. Albany: State University of New York Press.
Hedges, Elaine , and Fishkin, Shelley Fisher (eds) (1994) Listening to Silences: New Essays in Feminist Criticism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Janicaud, Dominique (2000) Phenomenology and the “Theological Turn”: The French Debate. New York: Fordham University Press.
Jaworski, Adam (ed) 1997) Silence: Interdisciplinary Perspectives, Studies in Anthropological Linguistics 10. Berlin-New York: Mouton de Gruyter.
Johnson, Elizabeth (1992) She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theology. New York: Crossroad.
Kammer, Jeanne (1979) “The Art of Silence and the Forms of Women’s Poetry.” In S. Gilbert and S. Guber (eds) Shakespeare’s Sisters: Feminist Essays on Women Poets (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, pp. 153–164).
Keller, Catherine (2007) “Rumors of Transcendence: The Movement, State, and Sex of ‘Beyond.’” In J. Caputo and M. J. Scanlon (eds) Transcendence and Beyond: A Postmodern Inquiry (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press).
Keller, Lynn , and Miller, Cristanne (eds) (1994) Feminist Measures: Soundings in Poetry and Theory. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Lacan, Jacques “A love letter” (1982 [1966]). In J. Mitchell and J. Rose (eds) Feminine Sexuality: Jacques Lacan and the École Freudienne (New York: Norton).
Marion, Jean-Luc (2003) Le phénomène érotique. Paris: Grasset.
McFague, Sallie (2007) “Intimations of Transcendence: Praise and Compassion.” In J. Caputo and M. J. Scanlon (eds) Transcendence and Beyond: A Postmodern Inquiry (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press).
Merleau-Ponty, Maurice (1960) “Le langage indirect et les voix du silence.” Signes. Paris: Gallimard, pp. 49–104.
Miller, Cristanne (1996) “M. Nourbese Philip and the Poetics/Politics of Silence.” In Gudren M. Grabher and Ulrike Jessner (eds) Semantics of Silence in Linguistics and Literature (Heidelberg: Winter, pp. 139–160).
Ochtrup, Monica (1986) What I Cannot Say, I Will Say. Moorhead, MN: New Rivers Press.
Olsen, Tillie (1978) Silences. New York: Dell.
Philip, Marlene Nourbese (1991) Looking for Livingstone: An Odyssey of Silence. Toronto: The Mercury Press.
Salminen, Antti , and Sjöberg, Sami (eds) (2012) Angelaki: Journal of the Theoretical Humanities 17/3. Special Issue: “Nothing.”
Schüssler Fiorenza, Elizabeth (1999) “God the Many-Named: Without Place and Proper Name.” In J. Caputo and M. J. Scanlon (eds) Transcendence and Beyond: A Postmodern Inquiry (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press).
Sells, Michael A. , and Webb, Richard E. (1995) “Psychoanlysis and the Mystical Language of ‘Unsaying.’” Theory & Psychology 5/2, 195–215.
Steiner, Dorothea (1996) “Silence Pretended, Silence Defended: A Look at Monica Ochtrup’s Poetry.” In Gudren M. Grabher and Ulrike Jessner (eds) Semantics of Silence in Linguistics and Literature (Heidelberg: Winter, pp. 309–327).
Tannen, Deborah , and Saville-Troike, Muriel (eds) (1985) Perspectives on Silence. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.
Turner, Denys (1995) The Darkness of God: Negativity in Christian Mysticism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Vega, Amador (2005) Arte y santidad. Cuatro lecciones de estética apofática. Pamplona: Universidad Pública de Navarra.
Walter, H. , and Durber, S. (eds) (1994) Silence in Heaven: A Book of Women’s Preaching. London: SCM.
Wolfson, Elliot (2005) Language, Eros, Being: Kabbalistic Hermeneutics and Poetic Imagination. New York: Fordham University Press.
Wyschogrod, Edith , Crownfield, David , and Raschke, Carl A. (eds) (1989) Lacan and Theological Discourse. Albany: SUNY Press.
Search for more...
Back to top

Use of cookies on this website

We are using cookies to provide statistics that help us give you the best experience of our site. You can find out more in our Privacy Policy. By continuing to use the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies.