Theology at the limit? : an investigation of Richard Kearney’s philosophical hermeneutics in search of a responsible theological hermeneutic

Pretorius, Helgard Meyer (2015-01)

Thesis (MTh)--Stellenbosch University, 2015.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: Is theology at the limit possible? This study explores the question of the limits and possibilities of doing theology “at the limit” through the hermeneutic philosophy of Richard Kearney, author of the trilogy, “Philosophy at the Limit.” It tries to understand Kearney’s attempt to think at the limit through three focal points. Each focal point illuminates a different aspect of his thought and sheds light on the dialogical detours through which Kearney’s own position takes shape. Chapter One, Facing the Limit: Kearney’s phenomenological-existential heritage, investigates how Kearney’s phenomenological heritage, inaugurated by Edmund Husserl and developed by Martin Heidegger, facilitates a decisive turn to “face the limit.” In doing so, it gives an account of how Kearney appropriates some of the tradition’s central insights in his own thought. These include: a high regard for human freedom and responsibility, a privileged appreciation for possibility over actuality, and a desire to situate philosophical reflection in the life world of human existence as a “being interpreted.” Following this, the discussion extends to Kearney’s phenomenological account of the persona to reveal how he extends a logic of relatedness, thus stretching phenomenology to confront its own limits. The result is a more personal, embodied and relational sense of what it means to “face” the limit. Chapter Two, Transfiguring at the Limit: Kearney’s hermeneutic imagination, shows how phenomenology undergoes a decisive transformation via the work of Paul Ricoeur to become a hermeneutic phenomenology. It explores how Ricoeur’s work informed Kearney’s “hermeneutic imagination” which can be understood as a proposal for rediscovering and reviving the creative potential of the human imagination – at the limit – as fragile, fallible, finite beings, “resolving to recover, in spite of the odds, the yes in the sorrow of the finite” (Kearney, 2003a: 231). This is done in three parts: the first of these (Transfiguring Imagination) offers a reflection of Kearney’s hermeneutic approach to human creativity at the linguistic level of symbol, metaphor and narrative, while the second (Transfiguring the Social Imaginary) situates this creative capacity, and its tendency to serve ideological interests, in the world of culture and politics. The third part (Transfiguring God) explores how Kearney’s hermeneutic imagination interprets the sacred by retracing his readings of a number of biblical texts (for e.g. Exodus 3; Luke 9; Mark 10). Chapter Three, The Limit as Threshold? The stranger and Kearney’s diacritical hermeneutics, narrows the focus somewhat to consider how Kearney’s hermeneutic imagination deals with the challenges posed by alterity or strangeness and more specifically how this manifests in our dealings with strangers in interpersonal and broader political contexts. It reflects on Kearney’s engagement with other continental philosophical accounts of the stranger (Levinas, Derrida, Kristeva) and presents his own diacritical hermeneutic response as a way of becoming more hospitable to strangers and more capable of critical (self)discernment. Thus, Kearney steers a way between transcendent and immanent extremes to transfigure the limit into a threshold where strangers may be encountered. Finally, the concluding chapter sketches a number of hermeneutic lines, internally, between the various focal points and then externally, to the question of theology at the limit. It enters the dialogue about the basic options, conditions and tasks of a theology at the limit, by rephrasing the question in a more personal key: who is a theologian at the limit? Drawing from the preceding discussions a description of a “theologian at the limit” is then tendered in three complementary images: the theologian i) as a dialogical, yet critically involved interpreter, ii) as a translator serving authentic encounters at the threshold, and iii) as a poet who “gently shifts the potency” of God-talk “from the propositional to the imaginal” (Keller, 2004: 890) – serving greater nuance, mystery, freedom and responsibility, catholicity and “the other”.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Kan ’n mens van teologie op die grens praat? In Theology at the Limit? word die moontlikhede en grense van ’n teologie “op die grens” ondersoek deur middel van die hermeneutiese filosofie van Richard Kearney, outeur van die trilogie, “Philosophy at the Limit.” Dit verstaan Kearney se poging tot “filosofie op die grens” met behulp van drie hermeneutiese sleutels. Elkeen van hierdie sleutels werp lig op ’n aspek van Kearney se denke en elkeen breek ’n ander gesprek oop waardeur Kearney se eie posisie tot stand kom. Hoofstuk Een, Facing the Limit: Kearney’s phenomenological-existential heritage, ondersoek Kearney se fenomenologies-eksistensiële erfenis soos dit deur Edmund Husserl tot stand gekom het en deur Martin Heidegger verder ontwikkel en verdiep is. Dit argumenteer dat Kearney se omgang met hiérdie fenomenologiese tradisie ’n toetrede van die grens fasiliteer. Sodoende wend Kearney ook van die tradisie se kern insigte in sy eie denke aan – insigte soos: ’n hoe agting vir menslike vryheid en verantwoordelikheid, ’n besonderse waardering vir die moontlike bo die werklike en ’n soeke na filosofiese nadenke binne die menslike bestaanswereld. Maar Kearney onthul ook die grense van die fenomenologiese tradisie self deur ’n logika van “in-verhouding-wees” te bevorder en deur sodoende “die grens” in meer persoonlike, beliggaamde en relasionele terme te omskryf. Hoofstuk Twee, Transfiguring at the Limit: Kearney’s hermeneutic imagination, voer die argument verder deur aan te toon hoe fenomenologie deur die denke van Paul Ricoeur ’n gedaanteverwisseling ondergaan om as ’n hermeneutiese fenomenologie na vore te tree. Dit verken die reuse invloed van Ricoeur op Kearney se sogenaamde “hermeneutiese verbeelding.” Laasgenoemde kan gesien word as ’n voorstel vir die herontdekking and oplewing van die mens se potensiaal tot kreatiwiteit – op die grens – juis ás weerlose, feilbare, nietige wesens wat verlang, soek en uitsien na ’n “ja” in die hartseer van die eindigheid (Kearney, 2003a: 231). Hierdie verkenning word in drie dele bewerkstellig: Eers, deur ’n refleksie op Kearney se hermeneutiese benadering tot menslike verbeelding op die semantiese vlak van simboliek, metafoor en narratief (Transfiguring Imagination). Tweedens word aangetoon hoe Kearney die menslike verbeeldingskrag vanuit ’n kulturele en politieke oogpunt benader om sodoende ook die neiging tot ideologiese misbruike te ontmasker (Transfiguring the Social Imaginary). Laastens, word ’n oorsig gebied van hoe Kearney se hermeneutiese verbeelding die heilige in ’n aantal Bybelse geskrifte interpreteer (soos byvoorbeeld, Eksodus 3; Lukas 9 en Markus 10). Hoofstuk Drie, Transfiguring at the Limit: Kearney’s hermeneutic imagination, le die klem op hoe Kearney se hermeneutiese verbeelding omgaan met die filosofiese (asook maatskaplike en politieke) uitdagings wat deur “die vreemde,” “die ander” of “die vreemdeling” opgeroep word. Dit reflekteer op Kearney se debatte met ander kontinentale benaderings tot die kwessie (soos die van Levinas, Derrida en Kristeva), om uiteindelik by sy eie bydrae tot die debat uit te kom, by name: ’n dia-kritiese hermeneutiek wat gasvryheid aan die vreemdeling én ’n vermoe tot kritiese (self)onderskeiding bevorder. Uiteindelik baan Kearney ’n middelweg tussen transendente en immanente ekstreme om absolute én skynbare grense as ’n drempel te herontdek – ’n drempel waarby vreemdelinge mekaar mag en kan ontmoet. Ten slotte word ’n aantal hermeneutiese lyne geskets, eers na binne, om die verskeie sleutels met mekaar te verbind en dan na buite, met die oog op die openingsvraag na die moontlikheid van ’n teologie op die grens. Om die dialoog te betree oor die basiese opsies, kondisies en take van ’n teologie op die grens, word die vraag op die volgende, persoonlike manier nuut gestel: wié is ’n teoloog op die grens? In reaksie hierop word ’n voorstel in drie komplementêre beelde aangebied wat elkeen op sy beurt inspirasie trek van die voorgaande gesprekke: die teoloog i) as ’n dialogiese, dog krities-betrokke hermeneut; ii) as ’n vertaler wat – oor die drempel heen – in diens staan van egte ontmoetings tussen vreemdelinge; en iii) as ’n digter wat versigtig die klem van ons God-spraak aanpas om reg te laat geskied aan die rol van die verbeelding, om sodoende ook beter in diens te staan van fyner nuanse, misterie, vryheid en verantwoordelikheid, katolisiteit en “die ander”.

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