Friday, 14 December 2012

Interpretation, violence and gift

Heidegger's phrase keeps coming to mind this morning: "Man is the violent in the midst of the overpowering." I think the phrase is from What is Metaphysics? and the context is interpretation. Interpretation - or understanding - is an act of violence, and the Overpowering here is Being. There seems to be a double violence here, or at the very least, Being does not seem benevolent.

Lonergan would, of course, think of the event of understanding as a happening, a pati, something not completely under our control, something that cannot be commanded by an act of will, though it can certainly be made more or less probable by what we do or fail to do. Understanding and interpretation here is, therefore, something that we are gifted with, something we receive, something that we are not masters of. A quite different approach, though one that certainly finds echoes in Heidegger's lifelong efforts to decentre the subject and to pinpoint or evoke the complex way in which the human being exists and acts.

Gift is emerging as a great theme in the contemporary West, thanks to the work of Marcel Mauss, but also thanks to John Paul II's stress on oblative self-sacrificing love. If life is gift, then the deepest meaning of being is self-giving. (I need to check the Blackwell Companion to Postmodern Theology for other echoes.)

But is there a streak of violence in proportionate being at least? Nature red in tooth and claw, as someone has said?

And is there a way of connecting gift with freedom, the type of freedom that John of the Cross talks about when he says, Ni temer las fieras, ni coher las flores? The freedom that characterizes Jesus, walking tall in the midst of the pains and the joys of human life? 

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