Monday, June 06, 2005

Writing, Logos, Truth and Faith

I am rereading Derrida's Dissemination. I am nearing the end of the section of the text "Plato's Pharmacy". On my first reading of the text I knew what Derrida was talking about in Plato touched on elements in Christian theology but what if anything Derrida might have to say to theology was unclear to me. I am still not clear on this. However, I have found in Derrida's treatment of the dispute between Plato and the sophists around writing and memory and living speech, and interesting contrast between platonic and Sophists relationship to this terrain and the Christian habitation. Derrida is beginning with negative presentation of writing in the Phaedrus in Plato's recounting of the myth of Theuth the god who invented writing. Writing in this myth is presented by the god to the king of the Gods as an aid to memory, but the king of the God's declares writing to be not an aid but the impairing of memory. That is Theuth presents writing as a drug (pharmakon) as a remedy for memory, and the king of the God's declares it to be a drug (pharmakon) that impairs memory.
I will not attempt to reconstruct Derrida's argument here, but he shows that the context of this negative appraisal of writing is in the context of a dispute with the sophists over memory and memorization, that is Logos truth and repetition. It is in this reconstruction of this dispute between Plato and sophists, that I see a difference emerging between the way in which philosophy (sophist or platonic, ie the western tradition) and theology approach this terrain and live within it. The themes that Derrida sees in Western Philosophy and in Plato, memory, writing, Logos, truth, Father etc. also play themselves out in Christianity at times in philosophical ways. Christian faith sees the terrain differently, beginning with knowing the Logos as a person. This transforms the understanding of rationality, and makes nonses of either the sophist or platonic comprehension of logos/rationality/speach/word. When John declares that the Logos was not only with God from the beginning but is God, and that this Logos became flesh, and that all of this was done for love, we have a radically differing comprehension of the fundamental rationality of the cosmos. Truth is personal but not in the way postmodern relativists wish to understand personal as hyper-individualistic, but that the Truth is faithful not because it is abstractly absolute but because Truth is a person. "I am the Way the Truth and the Life." Truth is neither static (as the Platonic eidos) nor unpredictable and ever changing (as with the Sophist), rather truth is dynamic and relational because the Logos, the Truth is the Son of the Father, Jesus Christ. One then unlike in Greek thought (or for that matter Eastern thought) that which underlies our reality is not abstract and impersonal reality, some principle that can be comprehended through "objectivity" and distance, rather we encounter the truth through proper relationship because the rationality of the world the source and being of all that is, is relational and personal, the Trinity. Writing and textuality, repetition are not then places of random play of traces and signs, but these traces and signs become the place of dynamic encounter, that allow for repetition with a difference, rather than the repetition of the same, sought after by Plato (assuming Derrida is correct in his representation). Truth in the Johanine corpus of the New Testament is known in doing, it is active. This makes sense not within a philosophical system either in which Truth is abstract and static, nor of a system that reduces truth to truth value of statements. Christianity says truth is about who you know, and with whom you have a relationship. One is in the truth and doing the truth only if one knows and follows Christ, only if we enter into relationship with the divine community of the Trinity. This is so because the Logos the Truth is a person, understanding and knowledge is personal, and about relationship with the source of all that is. Ultimately the truth of the cosmos is this; God so Loved the World. Any other beginning is false no matter how factual it might be. Thus true faith is not blind adherence to propositions, but a trust in the source of all that is which then leads to certain affirmations, and finally is about having been given the name of the source of all that is; Father Son and Holy Spirit.