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Beyond the Limits of Language

Apophasis and Transgression in Contemporary Theoretical Discourse


Agata Wilczek

The book explores the way in which apophatic discourse of negative theology has illuminated contemporary critical theory. It demonstrates the significance of apophasis both in Jacques Derrida’s search for a «new language», responsive to singularity and alterity, and in the analyses of the experience of transgression, developed by Maurice Blanchot, George Bataille and Michel Foucault. Following Derrida’s understanding of negative theology as a transgressive concept that transcends the linguistic, historical and religious contexts from which it arises, the book proves that apophasis is not merely a discourse on language restricted to one theological tradition, but should be viewed as a mode of dialogue and openness, essential to all responsible thinking.


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How would what still comes to us under the domestic, European, Greek, and Christian term of negative theology, of negative way, of apophat- ic discourse, be the chance of an incomparable translability in principle without limit? Not of a universal tongue, of an ecumenism or of some consensus, but of a tongue to come that can be shared more than ever? Jacques Derrida, Sauf le nom In his 1971 landmark essay, “Irony as a Principle of Structure,” Cleanth Brooks identifies irony as a crucial trope of his age, arguing that as “an acknowledgment of the pressures of context” it best reflects a host of historical circumstances: [I]n the poetry of our time, this pressure reveals itself strikingly. A great deal of modern poetry does use irony as its special and perhaps its characteristic strategy. For this there are reasons, and compelling reasons. To cite only a few of these reasons: there is the breakdown of a common symbolism; there is the general scepticism as to universals; not at least important, there is the depletion and corruption of the very language itself, by advertising and by the mass-produced arts of radio, the moving picture and pulp fiction.1 While Brooks’s diagnosis of his historical era and the state of literature and culture in the second half of the twentieth century has reverberated in the sub- sequent decades, yet, at the same time the vision of irony being the final word of Western culture has not been so eagerly embraced. A decade...

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