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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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Part One: (Un)saying God: Jacques Derrida’s Dream of “New Language”


If I do not invent a new language (through sim- plicity rediscovered) another fluid, a new SEN- TENCE, I will have failed in this book, which does not mean that that’s the place to start, on the contrary, you have to drag on in the old syn- tax, train oneself with you, dear reader, toward an idiom which in the end would be untranslat- able in return into the language of beginnings, learn an unknown language. Jacques Derrida “Circumfession” … the name of God is a way to keep things open, to open them up to what eye hath not seen nor ear heard, to hope for and believe impossible things… John D. Caputo “The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida” Already in the first out of fifty-nine periods (each designating one year of life) which form the self-consciously autobiographical “Circumfession,” a highly per- sonal text, Jacques Derrida speaks of his lifelong dream of “another language”1 that will flow like blood from a vein. Later, in an entry dated 1976 he seems to have a faint glimpse or maybe an intuitive insight into this medium, “a new language (through simplicity rediscovered) another fluid, a new SENTENCE,” but predicts that the path toward the desired destination will be fraught with difficulties as it will have to pass through the old language of logocentrism: “[one must] drag on in the old syntax, train oneself with you, dear reader, toward an idiom which in the end would be untranslatable in return into the...

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