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Postscript on Method: From Genealogy to Apophatics

The Table of Contents furnishes a mirror of the book’s arguments and structure, not merely an index to them. Hence its language-laden, thick descriptions, which reflect the book’s own lyrical texture. The Contents reflect also the book’s method of constant reprise and further elaboration of previous motifs in a spiraling dialectical movement. As a “genealogy,” the work proceeds simultaneously backward and forward in uncovering its own origins in future possibility, as much as in past fact.

Recent critique of genealogy, especially from analytic philosophers, concerns its legitimacy as scientific methodology. I do not engage in these debates but deploy, instead, a hermeneutic conception of truth and knowing appropriate to the humanities. This kind of knowing opens a dimension of truth in experience beyond the reach of factual, objective, scientific analysis. The book does not ascribe to or defend genealogy as a (scientific) method so much as open the poetic space and visionary perspective in which it arises as a necessary complement to more narrowly focused methods aiming at strict objectivity.

There have also been questionings of genealogy that do not posit analytic but rather dialectical reason capable of “immanent critique.” My apophatic method embraces and encompasses such forms of critique. Hegelian phenomenological critique and Lacanian psychoanalysis reflecting on the Real have their place here as much as Radical Orthodoxy and its theological genealogy. Being unreservedly self-critical, apophatics moves fluidly between such alternatives and illuminates how genealogy can communicate with and inflect critical theory and phenomenology.

Most importantly, as inclusive of theology, particularly negative theology, my apophatic method turns precisely on “transgression of the discursive.”[1] It deploys both “vindicatory” and “unmasking” styles of

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genealogy, both justifying and exposing myths of origins.[2] The apo-phatic remains receptive to all express positions by (un)positioning itself upstream from them, tapping into their common source. This move through unlimited self-critique makes continually possible a new setting into perspective of competing alternatives.

  • [1] Ragnar M. Bergem, “On the Persistence of the Genealogical in Contemporary Theology,” Modern Theology 33/3 (2017): 434-52. Citation 445.
  • [2] David Couzens Hoy, “Postscript on Method” to The Time of Our Lives: A Critical History of Temporality (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2009), 223-42.

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