Darrida’s Paul Problem

Darrida’s Paul Problem November 12, 2014

Ward Blanton’s Materialism for the Masses provides a rebuttal to Nietzsche’s claim that Christianity was nothing but pop-Platonism. On the contrary: Paul can be read as offering a “materialist spirituality” that has never been more needed than it is today. 

There’s something in that, though Blanton’s meandering book makes it difficult to see exactly what. The book would have been stronger if Blanton had been able to concentrate his attention on Paul for more than a paragraph or two, before wandering off into Deleuze, Zizek, Agamben, or Taubes.

But he scores some points against Nietzsche and Nietzschean readers of Paul, especially Derrida. He is bewildered: “Why is it that Derrida deconstructs – or reads in what he calls a ‘materialist’ mode – Platonic assumptions about intentionality in craft production or authorship in text production . . . even as Derrida simply rejects and lampoons what he perceives to be the retrograde dualistic metaphysics of the apostle? The difference in treatment here is stunning and not without profound implications for the ongoing discursive life of cultural power: Plato’s dualistic metaphysic is worked into a model of complex material immanence, whereas Paul is simply expelled as a purveyor of a Platonism for the masses, a thinker of ‘the veil,’ and therefore left undeconstructed. Derrida shows how Plato is, despite himself . . . a kind of secret anti-Platonist, indeed a king of Derridean. But Paul never gets the same treatment, is never invited to be otherwise than what he seems to want to be.” Paul remains “unanalyzed and unthought” (11-12).

This despite what a number of writers (Theodore Jennings, for instance) have recognized as deep affinities between Paul and Derrida. What, after all, could be more deconstructive than this toppling of a founding binary: “Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love”? 

That Derrida could not see that says something interesting about Derrida, perhaps also about Paul. Perhaps Derrida saw that Paul resists immanentization, that Paul’s “deconstructive” project only works if it undertaken as an unveiling of the justice of God.

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