Since the early days of my concentrated theological study and reflection I’ve been trying to feel my way through the different school’s of theological reflection. In the beginning I was still sort of constrained by this loose, generic evangelicalism with which I was extremely disillusioned. Thanks to some folks like Hauerwas and Barth and an early foray into Postructuralism through Derrida, DeSausure and Foucault I was un-tethered pretty early in the process. Once I became free of a school to which I would hold firm allegiance it became possible to try to read and discover without feeling a bunch of pressure to pick a school. I’m really not yet smart enough to pick a school. But, I’ve come across a new school lately called Radical Orthodoxy. I’m going to blog about it a little bit just in order to try and get my mind around what these guys are saying. I’m a neophyte, so I’m sure there are significant issues with my understanding. Nevertheless…
I’m going to interact with an article written by Conor Cunningham called “Nothing Is, Something Must Be: Lacan and Creation from No One.” This article is from a book called Theology and the Political: The New Debate, (Durham/London: Duke University Press, 2005). He deals with a concept he calls the “impossible monism.” Cunningham’s notion of the impossible monism is in that non-Platonic philosophy always ends up generating dualisms which are “concomitantly monist.” He uses as an example Jastrow’s figure of the duck-rabbit, which is a simple black and white drawing that can be seen as a rabbit and a duck, but not at the same time exactly. So when one looks at the picture one can either conjure the image of the duck or the rabbit but the actual “one upon which they are made manifest remains forever beyond our attention.” The impossible monism summed is “nothing is, so something must be, for only if nothing is as something, will an impoverished immediacy be avoided, one that would require the thought of transcendence for it to be otherwise.” The Monism is “a One that expresses itself as two.”
He then turns to Plotinus’ Metaphysics which posits “the One” as Plato’s “the good,” or the ineffable, transcendent, perfect, knowable only through what is not. It also posits the Intellect as the realm of being; the realm of the Forms and ideas. This concept is based upon the idea that what grounds an explanation of any phenomenon must be simpler relative to the observed phenomenon. Thus, what grounds an explanation must be different from the sorts of things it explains. Explanations (words) are complex but are not the rudimentary or ultimate. Thus, Cunningham says that Lacan and Badiou insist that “l’un n’est pas,” yet “il y a de l’un,”
What Cunningham is playing with here is the concept of Difference. He says Difference arises from a negation – it comes only after a certain destruction. Even positive projects such as philosophy are rudimentarily destructive. This is his thesis one: “all, non-Platonic philosophical construction follows after a foundational destruction.” Following Hegel: “The world is nullified;” following Eugen Fink: “deworlding,;” following Sartre’s notion of “anneantisant;” Cunningham says the argument basically goes like this: there exists a preceding unity “devoid of intelligence as it is before the presence of any ‘Text,’” such that there is a separation between being and thought. Quoting Lacan, “The Discordance between knowledge and being is my subject.” Thus we view a text of some sort, say the bible, but there is also a text which is animated by my language. Cunningham uses Lacan, Sartre, Heidegger and Hegel to show that “all intelligibility will be born from some sort of negation, or violence, as thought will have to impose itself.” Thus these philosophers see the world as not coming to us in any articulated form (what Lacan calls “dumb reality”) He sees Lacan as saying that being lacks a logos. The “thing” [the One] does not create Difference because it is “full positivity,” Only by negating the One can Difference (or thought) be possible. “By murdering the Thing, things can exist, as it were; here we have the strict opposition between being and thought.” Consequently, as Valery puts it, “I think, therefore, I am not.”
Lacan, Cunningham says, tells us that “the being of language is the non-being of objects.” Being does not speak, it comes before language. When a signifier is used to symbolize Being, it doesn’t describe the thing itself. The thing itself is lost in our symbolic representation of it. So if I look at a tree and say “tree” there is not a one to one correspondence between actual tree and the words I use to say “tree.” When this happens, “the signifier, must step in and become that about which it means to speak, and this is possible only if the signified is absent.” Thus, unless we wish to say that the only thing our language can tell us is what is not, then we have to discern that our intelligibility requires a “gap, a space of difference so that noesis is possible.” This gap is the place of knowing, as Lacan says, “the reality of our words serves only to let the silence of the real appear.” This, Cunningham says, is Lacan’s doctrine of ex nihilo. There is no need for God in his system of thought because creation “is from nothing to such a degree that it exceeds the need for a creator.” Being comes from nothing and remains nothing, which is to say, the negated fabrication of the signifier. Hence we exist without an ontology in what Lacan calls a “lack of being.” We now understand thesis two which states that “philosophy generally has a nothing outside its text, (italics mine) one that allows for the formation of that text.” This concept leads to what Badiou calls “the desubstantialization of truth.”
Truth is found in the text so completely so as to lead Lacan to say “I always speak the truth.” There is no objective criteria for truth and thus a sort of pragmatism rules as all knowledge is essentially man-made. We do exist, but only by lacking ontology or lacking being. Since the “word murders the thing,” and only by this act does the thing exist, then as Bourdieu says “the sign creates the thing signified.” Slightly more complexly stated, the non-existent or “No” to Being affords us the being of non-being. For, as Cunningham writes, “For it is our language, our nomination, which Lacan says makes a hole [gap], and it is this hole, this hollowing out, that generates difference.” This is thesis three: “transcendental nothing renders all identities real.”
“To repeat: being and thought are in opposition; thought then negates being, but then we find that being is but a moment of the absolute which is nonbeing, so being is twice negated. Consequently, thought now stands in for being, tempting us into existence by conjuring up signifiers “thick” enough to make idealized moments, which subsist for a time: such “thick” signifiers are akin to what Lacan calls point de caption. We now can see that the real and reality, being and though, infinite and finite…are but aspects of the absolute, namely, “non-being,” and the movement we see is but the self-movement of this meontic One.” 85
This is the impossible monism. Not only that, but Cunningham shows via the syllogisms of the man before the law, they eye ripped form the face and the cake consumed, what Lacan and Badiou hold to as a monism is ever only a negative monism. Here Cunningham sees the first five of his eight thesis, the only one not explicitly mentioned thus far being the positing of a basic element, or a “stuff.”
What Cunningham draws this to is the idea that the impossible monism “ceases, as equivocity is all that is forthcoming. This is a univocity of nonbeing.” Thus, these philosophies in effect, say that “I am,” providing consistency, and “I am not,” (just as the sign cannot be what it signifies, yet only refers to what it is not). It is here that Cunningham draws together his assertions:
“Nothing is, so something must be, and this something must signify the nothing; the no-thing of the text. Here then, is the impossible desire of the impossible One – who can construct difference only by ontological misrecognition. This leaves difference as the violent fruit of a perpetual dialectic between narcissism and self-loathing…As Baudelaire puts it, ‘I am the wound and the knife.’”93
It is here that Cunningham turns the heat up on Badiou, criticizing his philosophy for failing to be the guarding of the void. He says that his mistake is to consider infinity central to theology, and that this is the same mistake as Scotus, Suarez and Wolff, which can only be the ground for a purely secular state. He asserts that the crucial point is that “the more is less… something we maybe should have suspected when we realized that sanity requires insanity, the law lawlessness, and so on.” The idea that difference comes from violent cutting, slicing, etc., can only be the outcome of pure immanence – nihilism.
 Ibid., 74.
 Lloyd, Gerson, “Plotinus,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2003 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/plotinus/.
 Ibid., 73. Meaning “there is not, there is one.”
 Ibid., 72.
 Ibid., 73.
 Ibid., 74.
 Ibid. 75
 Ibid., 76.
 Ibid., 72.
 Ibid., 77.
 Ibid., 78.
 Ibid., 79.
 Ibid., 81.
 Ibid. 72.
 Ibid. 83.
 Ibid., 90.
 Ibid. 90.
 Ibid. 91.
 Ibid., 92.
 Ibid., 94.
 Ibid., 95.
 Ibid., 96.