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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 Two: Language and Beyond: Apophatic Transgression


Transgression deranges the promise of a beyond or the promise of an otherwise: it is an act, always active and for that reason unassignable, ungraspable otherwise than by that which it opposes. Making the immoveable squeak and upsetting the state of things, transgression never rests. That is why it needs to maintain that which it annuls, and why it aims not at annihilation of its limit, but at rerouting it in other forms to another place. Transgressing is always exceeding but never achieving. It is bending without breaking, biting without consuming.

Georges Bataille, 1958 interview

We are accustomed to viewing transgression as simply a going against established law or order. However, in this traditional sense, which implies a clear opposition between those who obey and those who oppose authority, it turns out that transgression inevitably recognizes or even seems to reassert the order it strives to undermine. For it may be argued that while being publicly punished in the name of the law, transgressors in fact confirm and reinforce it. While following the main line of investigation of the whole work, this Part intends to take up the challenge of rethinking the notion of transgression through reading apophatic mystical writing while at the same time taking cues from the remarkable insights provided by contemporary French theorists, eminently Maurice Blanchot and Georges Bataille. It will be demonstrated that within the postmodern reconceptualisation, transgression becomes reconceived as not oppositional at all. This type of transgression belongs...

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