Transcendence, Taxis, Trust: Richard Kearney and Jacques Derrida
1. The Diacritical Taxi Driver
2. The Deconstructive Taxi Driver
[S]uspension must take place in order for prayer to be authentic. If I...were simply expecting an answer, that would be the end of prayer. That would be an order—just as though I were ordering a pizza! (Laughter). No, I expect nothing like that. I assume that I must give up any expectation, any certainty, as the one, or the more than one, to whom I address my prayer, if this is still a prayer.(, p. 31)
3. Transcendence and Trust in the Taxi
Conflicts of Interest
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- 1I am grateful to all the students who participated in my seminar on “Religion and Critiques of Religion” at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München in 2016/17. The questions and quandaries we discussed there made their way into this article—sometimes more explicitly and sometimes more implicitly.
- 4, concludes that Kearney’s wager is “quasi-confessional.”
- 5Of course, Kearney is inspired by Emmanuel Levinas, especially Levinas’s account of ethics. See . Although it would be exciting to explore the immense impact of Levinas, it is not essential to my argument about Kearney’s critique of Derrida (and Derrida’s critique of Kearney). Accordingly, I can only offer pointers to Levinas where his oeuvre is of special significance for my discussion.
- 6Both philosophically and theologically, the discussion of Kearney’s disagreement with Derrida (and Derrida’s disagreement with Kearney) has been depicted as a disagreement about the notoriously nebulous notion of “khora.” See esp. (, pp. 191–212). Turning to phenomenology, I will introduce theories of trust into the depiction of the disagreement in order to tease out where the two philosophers can learn from each other.
- 8Arguably, the history of hermeneutics—both in its romantic and in its radical manifestations—is more subtle and more sophisticated than Kearney’s account suggests. However, he points to the extreme cases on both sides of the hermeneutical spectrum.
- 12For Kearney’s theological turn, see (, pp. 253–54).
- 14I borrow the distinction between functional and substantial approaches to definitions from the controversial conversations about the concept of religion in sociology: the functional approach focuses on what religion does, while the substantial approach focuses on what religion declares. For a short summary, see .
- 15For a metaphysical critique of Kearney, see .
- 17Throughout his trilogy, Kearney theorizes what I would call a sacramental account of the other. However, the terminology of sacramentality is articulated and applied only in Anatheism, where Kearney explains that “[s]acramental return is a retrieval of the extraordinary in the ordinary” (, p. 86). Although sacramentality is not restricted to Christianity, Jesus is crucial for Kearney’s account. See (, p. 40).
- 20(, p. 3). Kearney portrays the encounter with the immanent-transcendent other as follows: “what happens in the decisive instant when the sacred stranger appears: do we respond with hostility or hospitality?” Here, Kearney introduces “trust” as a crucial component of the hospitable in contrast to the hostile response .
- 21(, p. 16). Throughout, Kearney applies openness to the concept of God, advocating for “possibility” as a mode of God. Accordingly, he accounts for the “God of Exodus 3 neither as ‘I who am’ nor as ‘I who am not’ but rather as ‘I am who may be’—that is, as the possibility to be, which obviates the extremes of being and non-being” (, p. 22). See also . For a succinct summary, see .
- 24See (, p. 22), where Kearney insists that hospitality is not a given. It requires trust.
- 25(, p. 9). “Undecidability” is one of the core concepts of deconstruction. John D. Caputo , however, argues that Kearney misinterpreted what the deconstructive “devil of undecidability” (, p. 88), is about: “He has confused undecidability with indecision, instead of recognizing that undecidability is not indecision but the condition of possibility of a decision. The opposite of undecidability is not a decision or decisiveness but rather “programmability” (, p. 90).
- 27Gerasimos Kakoloris  arrives at the same conclusion as Kearney. However, he is puzzled that Derrida, the critic of binaries, concurs with the binary of impure conditional hospitality and pure unconditional hospitality. While he accepts that, for Derrida, both concepts of hospitality condition and crisscross each other, he is critical of Derrida’s conclusion that “this asymmetry between conditional and unconditional hospitality maintains an endless demand, since each event of welcoming the other can only fall short” (, p. 149), because it renders ethical responsibility impossible.
- 29According to Kearney, for Derrida impossibility becomes the condition of possibility. See (, pp. 96–98).
- 31For a short summary of Kearney’s account of Derrida, see also (, pp. 169–71).
- 34Kearney , with reference to . In his reflections on religion, Immanuel Kant is one of Derrida’s indispensable interlocutors. It is noteworthy that Derrida’s distinction between messianicity and messianism comes close to what Kant writes in The Conflict of the Faculties, where he distinguishes between “pure” faith, not tainted by ecclesiastical rules, and impure faith, tainted by ecclesiastical rules. For Kant—and for Derrida—the impure “ecclesiastical faith” is the “vehicle” of the “pure” non-ecclesiastical faith .
- 36(, pp. 107–8). Elsewhere, however, Kearney writes that “Derrida’s identification of a contradictory logic at the heart of the concept of cosmopolitanism is not staged in order to paralyse political action, but, on the contrary, in order to enable it.” See . Since the contradictory logic of cosmopolitanism also applies to Derrida’s account of hospitality, it is not clear how the contradictory logic can have paralyzing consequences, on the one hand, and practical consequences, on the other hand.
- 41Kearney agrees with Derrida (and Derrida agrees with Kearney) that trust is crucial for the encounter with the other. Both of them use trust for faith and faith for trust, but for Derrida trust is blind and for Kearney trust is anything but blind. See (, p. 76) However, neither of them offers an in-depth and in-detail account of trust.
- 42In . Derrida takes his animal as absolute alterity (, p. 11). However, here he argues that his cat—“this irreplaceable living being”—is acute rather than abstract, but nonetheless other (, p. 9)—emphasis in the original). Derrida’s account for the “unsubstitutional singularity”  of his cat arguably allows for a Derridean critique of absolute alterity.
- 44See also (, p. 98): “Derrida sees in the play of impossible-possible a structure of ‘experience in general.’ … By contrast, I would want to claim it marks a specifically religious experience of God. And I would suggest that this is a difference not only of language games but also of ‘reference’.” See also Kearney’s engagement with Derrida in “Deconstruction, God, and the Possible,” in (, pp. 297–308).
- 46Boeve points out that it is ultimately unclear in what Kearney’s claim to knowledge is anchored. (, pp. 320–21). The critique is repeated in: [57,58]. Accordingly, Boeve argues that the hermeneutics of religion—diacritical or not diacritical—cannot but come back to its own particularity. However, Boeve’s (re)turn to particularity ignores the critique or the self-critique of particularity so crucial to the diacritical (or indeed the deconstructive) hermeneutics. Kearney wants to portray uncertainty as advantageous rather than disadvantageous for faith—the advantage would be lost in the turn or re-turn to particularity proposed by Boeve. See also .
- 47Joshua Mills-Knutsen (, p. 526) argues that Derrida’s concept of hospitality “is more than one proposal among others on how judgments should be rendered. It is instead the very questioning of the right to Kearney’s (even tentative) judgements.” Considering trust, I would argue that the point is not whether judgments are allowed but when judgements are allowed—namely, not in advance.
- 48Incidentally, the analogical logic is already apparent in Friedrich D. E. Schleiermacher, who argued that the unlimited dependence which denotes the relation to the creator is analogically related to the limited dependence which denotes the relation to the creature. See .
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Schmiedel, U. Transcendence, Taxis, Trust: Richard Kearney and Jacques Derrida. Religions 2017, 8, 37. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel8030037
Schmiedel U. Transcendence, Taxis, Trust: Richard Kearney and Jacques Derrida. Religions. 2017; 8(3):37. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel8030037Chicago/Turabian Style
Schmiedel, Ulrich. 2017. "Transcendence, Taxis, Trust: Richard Kearney and Jacques Derrida" Religions 8, no. 3: 37. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel8030037