Expressing the Inexpressible in Lyotard and Pseudo-Dionysius: Bearing Witness as Spiritual Exercise

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9780739183410: Expressing the Inexpressible in Lyotard and Pseudo-Dionysius: Bearing Witness as Spiritual Exercise

The event happens. To it, you bear witness; to it, you are commanded to testify; and yet, by the command and by the event, you are unable to speak. Testimony demands the witness to demonstrate her knowledge—that knowledge that she must have by the fact of being a witness to something. And, yet, this something exceeds the possibility of its grasp by any manner that could yield its expression amenable to verification. One example is the Holocaust survivor silenced by the odious logic of the historical revisionist who forbids the living to evidence death camps. The horror of the example is not just the difficulty of actually undoing such a foul bind that masks hatred with sophistic flourish; it is the realization that the bind’s power is fueled by the true inexpressibility of the Holocaust itself. A second example is the religious faithful called to testify to that superessentiality who supremely exceeds every capacity to know Him. While heterogeneous in time, place, and philosophical situation, the contemporary French father of postmodernism, Jean-François Lyotard, and the late antique, presumably Syrian father of Neoplatonist Christian mysticism, Pseudo-Dionysius, both do justice to their witnesses by endeavoring under this weight of impossibility to express the inexpressible. Lyotard rigorously analyzes every aspect of the differend and explores a plethora of attempts to lift the silence, and finds each to fail. Pseudo-Dionysius founds a radical, stuttering method of speaking and unspeaking the names of God to give forth this inconceivable testimony. Expressing the Inexpressible undertakes a critical reading of each individually and then brings their distinct methods to bear on their shared problem of that which resists its articulation. Their conjunction finds its voice in a reading of silence and eros as forging a new idiom by which the witness may do the impossible: express the inexpressible.

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Testimony demands the witness to demonstrate her knowledge—that knowledge that she must have by the fact of being a witness to something, even if this something exceeds the possibility of expression by any means amenable to verification. Expressing the Inexpressible in Lyotard and Pseudo-Dionysius: Bearing Witness as Spiritual Exercise rigorously studies the inexpressible expression provoked by two illustrative examples: the silenced testimony of the Holocaust survivor, in Jean-François Lyotard’s The Differend, and the religious faithful, in Pseudo-Dionysius’ The Divine Names. Though coming from vastly different philosophical moments, the methods used by Lyotard and Dionysius prove to dissolve the apparent heterogeneity of postmodernism and Neoplatonist Christian mysticism and open radical new lines of dialogue. Mélanie Victoria Walton critically evaluates each thinker and tradition, rethinks witnessing, testimony, sublimity, and apophaticism, and then engages them together to forge a new reading of silence and eros. The resulting insights will be especially valuable to students and scholars of Continental philosophy, philosophy of religion, theology and religious studies, medieval studies, and Holocaust studies.

About the Author:

Mélanie Victoria Walton joined the faculty at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee in 2011 as an assistant professor of philosophy. She currently teaches an array of classes in medieval philosophy, the philosophy of religion, the inexpressible, ethics, gender, aesthetics, and introductory classes exploring the dichotomies of the self and other, theory and practice, good and evil, and life and suffering. Her area of specialization is historically focused on questions linking contemporary Continental philosophy with the Neoplatonist mysticism of late antiquity and the early middle ages. Her recent scholarship includes chapters in edited volumes on phenomenology and guerilla gardening, racism and sexual stereotypes in contemporary films, and Lyotard on love.

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