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American Academy of Religion

To Create the Absolute Edge


Author(s): D. G. Leahy and Thomas J. J. Altizer
Source: Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Vol. 57, No. 4 (Winter, 1989), pp. 773-
789
Published by: Oxford University Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1464177 .
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Journalof the AmericanAcademyof Religion.LVII/4

To Create the Absolute Edge


D.G.Leahy
with an Introductionby Thomasj.j. Altizer

A profoundchallengeis presentedto us in the thinkingofD. G. Leahy,a truly


new thinkingwhichis nevertheless in continuitywiththe thinkingof ourpast,
and a thinkingexpressingitselfin a languagewhichis intrinsically moredffi-
cultand complexthanthatgiven us by anypreviousAmericanthinker.Nev-
ertheless,Leahyis an Americanthinker,a deeplyAmericanthinker,and one
who is now engagedin integrallyrelatinghis thinkingto the philosophical
traditionof Americanpragmatism.Previously, Leahyhas contendedwiththe
Westernphilosophicaltraditionfrom Aristotle throughDerrida, and in
Novitas Mundihe hasgivenus a re-thinking and re-conceptualization of the
a
historyof Being, historyculminating in a purely apocalypticthinking,a
thinking whichis a new
itself radically conceptualization of the ChristianGod.
BothLeahy'sthinkingand Leahy'slanguagehavedeeplybaffledall whohave
encountered them,for that languageand that thinkingare not onlyincredibly
denseand abstract,but theydemandof the readera re-thinkingof thinking
itself a re-thinkingwhichis inseparablefrom a new languageand conscious-
ness, a consciousness whichis nothing than a reflectionof a new world.
less
Thisis perhapsthe crucialpointat whichLeahyis so deeplyan American
thinker,a thinkeracceptingthe orginalAmericanchallengeof creatinga new
worldand newcreation,and a newcreationwhichis afinal realizationof the
primordialcreationitself Whilealphaand omegaare theprimalcategoriesof
the Biblicaldramaas a whole,and aboveall so for the Christianvision,as
witnessPauland theFourthGospel,theywerenotonlydissociatedand dissev-
eredin the Christiantheologicaltradition,but so brokenasunderthat in the
orthodoxand dominantexpressionsof that traditionBeginningsimplyannuls
or replacesthe End. Perhapsthe last chapterin thishistorywaswrittenwhen
Barthwas unableto completehis dogmaticswithafinal volumeon eschatol-
ogy,evenas a reversalof thathistorywas realizedin a newapocalyptic think-
ing,a thinkinginaugurated byjoachimandDanteand culminating in thefully
modemandpost-modernapocalypticthinkingof Hegeland Nietzsche.Leahy
standswithinthistraditionof apocalyptic thinking,a thinkingwhichis invaria-

Thomas J.J. Altizer is Professorof Religion at the State Universityof New York at Stony Brook,
Stony Brook,NY 11794-3725.
D. G. Leahyis the authorof NovitasMundi:Perception of theHistoryof Being. His addressis P.O. Box
467, Canadensis,PA 18325.

773
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bly both mysteriousand subversivewhenitfirst appears,andyet a thinking


whichis manifestlya recoveryof a lost andforgottenrevelation,a revelation
now occurringonce again in a radicallynew thinkingand vision.
We will not be open to such thinkingunlesswe are open to a new lan-
guageand consciousness, for evenas the languageofJoachimremainsbaffling
to this day, so it is that the languageof Dante createda radicallynew epic
language,a languagerealizingits own resolutionin the apocalypticlanguage
of Finnegans Wake. If the languageof Finnegans Wake appearsto be
unintelligibleto us all, we neverthelessknowit as a languagewhichis ourown,
for it embodies us an
with apocalyptic finality, a finality whichno serious
thinkerhasyet succeededin challenging.Somethingverylikethisis presentin
the languageof D.G. Leahy,for even if the transcendental abstractnessof
Leahy'slanguageis at an oppositepolefrom the immanentand immediate
languageofJoyce,bothembodyan apocalyptic powerwhichis overwhelming,
and overwhelmingbecause it speaks and embodiesa new world which
promisesto be our own. One may resistpropheticlanguageand vision,but
neverresistit successfully if its prophecyis real, a realitywhichis inevitably
determinedby thefuture, but a realitywhichnevertheless is presentfor those
who can and do respond.
Leahyisfar and awaythe mostambitiousthinkeramongus, and he has
no real counterparteven in France,but he is also our most isolatedand
unknownmajorthinker,the veryepitomeof the radicalthinkerwhois unem-
ployablein ouracademicworld.Suchhas alwaysbeenthe wayformostof our
radicalAmericanthinkersand visionaries,and surely nowhereelse in the
industrialworldis pure thinkingso little valued,and only in Americahave
mass religiousmovementssucceededby annullingthe verypresenceof think-
ing. Leahyis a deeplyreligiousthinker,as noneof hisAmericanpredecessors
havebeensinceJonathanEdwards, yet he has had virtuallyno impactupon
his own Catholicworld,and his thinkingis knownonly to a veryfew in the
AmericanAcademyof Religion.Theobviousreasonwhyhe has thusfar had
so littleimpactis that his languageis so extraordinarily
difficult,a difficulty
whichwouldappear to be an inevitableconsequenceof the radicallynew
thinkingwhichhere claimsto be present,and this is a deep challengewhich
we are calleduponto accept. Let usfirst acknowledge that if this is a truly
new thinkingthen it will not be understandable unlesswe learnto readand
thinkanew. Thishas alwaysbeentrueof newthinkingand vision,and unless
and untilwe are preparedto go beyondourpresentlanguageand conscious-
ness we will simplybe closedto the radicallynew.
"ToCreatetheAbsoluteEdge"is Leahy'smostrecentwriting,and it was
writtenfor an international conferenceon "Frontiers in AmericanPhilosophy"
and addressedto listenerswho had neverpreviouslyencounteredLeahy.
Leahy:AbsoluteEdge 775

Accordingly, it is an appropriateessay with whichto introduceLeahyto the


AmericanAcademyof Religion,forevenif it embodiesmostof the dfficul-
tiesof his earlierwriting,it nevertheless doesnotpresupposean understanding
of that writing.At oncewe areplungedinto the centerof Americanpragma-
tism,butnowa pragmatismunveiledas a religiousthinkingand voyage,anda
voyagedivorcedfrom its own beginningor origin. Leahywould take that
beginningbackto its absoluteorgin as recountedin the openingwordsof the
Torah,wordswhichspeakof the "perfect" beginningof an absolutelyhistorical
universe.Nowthereactuallyoccursa perfectenvelopment of thatbeginningof
whichthe Torahspeaksessentially,and nowfor thefirst time the apocalyptic
visionis conceivedessentially.Butthisconceptionis conceivedonlyas a conse-
quenceof the Death of Godin the modemworld,evenif the adventof a new
consciousness and a new worldis the beginningof an absoluteeliminationof
the Death of God.
Thateliminationis a deepgoal of Leahy'sthinking,andperhapsthe most
radicalclaimin thisessayis that the "nothing" unveiledby the Deathof God
nowis no more,and is no morein the newuniversenowtraversedforthefirst
time. TheDeath of God is an actualdeath in Leahy'sthinking,and in the
wakeof thatactualdeathessenceitselfcan nowbe understood to be existence
'hereand now, whentime is now the absolutetotalityof being. Thetempo-
ralityof timeitselfisfor thefirst time "ThePlace,"theplace in whichwe live
and moveand exist,and theplace in whichwe havenot 'ourbeing'but rather
the beingof the other. Timeafter "nothing" is nowthe timethatcallsus, but
that time is not our time,it is ratherafar time in whichour actualselfhood
has disappeared.Thisis the new worldnow not only makingpossiblebut
actuallyembodyingthe creationof theabsoluteedge,a creationwhichis alpha
and omegaat once,a creationin whichfor thefirsttimethe transcendental is
absolutelyseparatefrom the edgeless. If this is the explosionof the universe
itself and the explosionof an absolutelyhistoricaluniverse,it is also a resur-
rectionof the Bodyof the IncarnateGod,a resurrection whichis a universal
and historicalconsequence of the actualDeathof God. So it is thatthe death
of God is the resurrection of God,an identityfirst understoodby Paul, then
systematically conceptualized by Hegel,only to be ecstaticallyproclaimedby
Nietzsche,and nowapocalyptically conceivedby Leahy.
Leahy would resistan understanding of his thinkingwhichwouldsee it as
being in such continuity withthe historyof apocalypticthinking,but neverthe-
less it is dfficultto see wherelies thegulf betweenHegeland Nietzscheand
Leahy'sthinking,unlessit is in a newand radicalCatholiccelebrationof the
Bodyof God. Or,perhaps,it is Leahy'sAmericanidentitywhichis an essen-
tialkeyto thisproblem,and an Americanthinkingventuringuponan absolute
orgin, and an orgin whichis a newbeginningof the universeitself If the true
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Americais a newworld,and thatworldis a universalworld,thenan authenti-


callyAmericanthinkingwouldnot only be a trulynew thinking,but also a
thinkingwhichis the thinkingof all and everyone.Thisis surelyone crucial
pointwherethereis a deepdifferencebetweenAmericanand Europeanthink-
ing, and it is not untilLeahythat we havehad a genuinelyAmericanthinker
whodid not employa commonlanguageas the languageof thinking
Britishempiricalthinkinghas beena deepgroundof the Americantradition, itself. If
suchempiricalthinkingis absentin Leahy,and thismightpossiblyaccount for
the densityof his language.Butit does not whollyaccountfor it, and thereis
an historical philosophicalthinkingin Leahythatis a counterpart to empirical
and is
thinking, Leahy's thinking a that takeswritingand texts with an abso-
lute seriousnessthat is absent in empiricalthinking.Indeed,Leahyhas a
devotionto and an absoluteattentionto texts that is whollyabsentin his
Americanpredecessors,and I must confessthat no one has understoodmy
writingwithsuch depthandpoweras has Leahy.
Now,if Leahy'sthinkingis profoundlyrootedin textsand writing,thenit
is not an arbitraryor idiosyncratic thinking,but rathera thinkingwith an
historicaland thereforeempiricalground. Nor can we ignoreor minimizethe
fact thatamongthe textswhichhavemostdeeplyshapedLeahy'sthinkingare
those of the New Testament,Augustine,Aquinas,and Kierkegaard, and he
has reconceived thosetextsso as tofully integratethemwithhis ownthinking.
Indeed,it wouldbe dfficultif not impossibleto name a thinkerof our time
who has effectedsuch an integration.Thisgives a religiousauthorityto
Leahy'swritingthatis commonlyabsenttoday,and it is the conjunction of this
authoritywith the radical his and
originalityof thinking writing that creates a
genuine "offense" or scandal in the Pauline and Kierkegaardian sense. Per-
haps such a scandalis a primarysourceof the intrinsicdifficultyof his lan-
guage,an offensethatcan occurin abstractphilosophical language,as witness
Hegel,and an offensethatis inseparable from a conceptualrecovery of revela-
torylanguage. This,too, is a crucialpoint that distinguishes Leahyfrom his
Americanpredecessors, just as it has thusfar made it impossible for him to
writein the 'plainstyle"of theAmericantradition.Leahywouldalso appear
to bepossessedby his language,andpossessedwithall thepowerof madness,
a possessiondefringeveryintentionof the self-conscious ego,for it is a posses-
sion transcending everypowerthatis onlyourown. Suchpossessionis also an
Americantradition,even if absentfrom Americanpragmatism,and it is a
possessionthat religiouslyhas alwaysbeen knownas inspiration.
This,I believe,is the realscandaland the realchallengeposedby Leahy's
writing.Is a genuinelyrevelatory languagepresenthere?Andis a contempo-
raryrevelatorylanguageby necessitya new language?Is a new worldnow
aborningwhichintrinsically embodiesitselfin a new languageand conscious-
Leahy:AbsoluteEdge 777

ness? Manyifnot mostof us knowthatan old worldis deador dying,and,if


so, our choicewouldappear to be either dissolutionor a radicalrebirth.
Surelytestingnew worldsshould be a primaryvocationof our profession
today,and whilenewworldsto us can be as ancientas TibetanBuddhismor
Sufi Islam, new worldscan also be new worldsof our Westernpast, new
worldsshiningwhollyahead of us whichare neverthelessresurrections of a
deeplyforgottenpast. Barth'sdeep turn to the establishedauthorityof the
Churchin writinghis dogmaticsshouldbe a paradigmatic modelfor us, and a
modelof the consequences intendantupona resoluteand impassionedresist-
ance to thefuture and the new,for it inevitablyled to a virtualdissolutionof
theologyitself. YetBarthremainsperhapsour greatestmodem theologian,
andpossiblyhis deepestgift wasa dissolutionof the old theology,a dissolution
essentialtogenuinerebirth.Sucha rebirthmayor maynotnowbe occurring,
andpossiblywe are at mostsimplywitnessingthe birthpangs of a newworldof
thinking and consciousness that lies far in ourfuture, but it nonetheless
remainsan all too realpossibilitythatsuchafuture liesalreadydeeplyhidden
in our midst.
Religiousstudieswouldseem to be the one disciplinein our worldthat is
deeplygroundedin the assumptionthatan authenticexpressionof its subject
mattercouldnot possiblyappearto be real in that whichis genuinelynew.
Ironicallyenough,it is the Catholicworld today which is religiouslyand
humanlymostopento the new,an opennesswhichwouldappearto be absent
from the academicworldof religiousstudies. Perhapsthis was an inevitable
pricethathad to bepaidforestablishing ouracademicworld,a worldthathas
banishedthe Leahy'samongus, and a worldwithan orthodoxyrivallingthat
of ourfundamentalistbrethren.But is it necessary for us to refuseeven to
read the deep hereticsamong us? And couldone imaginea deeperheresy
thana trulyreligiousthinkingpresentingand embodyingitselfin a trulynew
languageand texts? Historicalthinkingitselfnow threatensto disappearin
ourworld,and withit an historicalunderstanding thatknowsall too wellthat
a deeplyauthenticreligiousthinkinghas oftenif not invariablyappearedin
trulynew writingand texts,texts whichwerebothmysteriousand subversive
in theirown worlds. Can this not happentoday? Or is the academicworld
dependentuponanothersocialworldto sanctionand establishthat whichis
trulyand deeplynew? Theseare questionswhichare inescapablein thepres-
enceof Leahy'swriting,and if a Leahycannotgain a hearingamongus, then
one can be confidentthatthereare innumerable otherswhohavesufferedand
will suffera comparablefate.
Let us thenattendto Leahyand strugglewithevenhis mostdifficultlan-
guage, a strugglethat cannotfail to challengeour mindsand, one hopesto
drivethemout of our commonturpitude.His languagemaywellbe the most
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difficultlanguagethatis beingwrittentoday,but thatdifficulty doesnot derive


from a lack but
of discipline, ratherfrom the contrary,an intensity of discipline
that is virtuallyeverywhere absenttoday. Thisis a languagestrivingfor the
heights,heightswhichmay well be unrealizablein our world,but heights
whichare thereforeall the moreprecious,and preciousnot least becauseof
the strugglewhichthey demand. At bottomsuch a struggleis a contention
with the promiseof a new consciousness, a consciousness presentingitselfas
the creativeedge,and an edgeexistingex nihilo. If the totalityof beingafter
nothingis nowaborning,thenwe mustvoyagethrougha nothingor an abyss
to becomeopen to such birth, a voyagerealizinga new responsibility, a
responsibility which Leahy claims is the absolute responsibility of creatinga
new world. Sucha responsibility was acceptedby our Puritanancestors,and
acceptedas the manifestdestinyof America,an Americawhichtheyknewas
the NewJerusalem.Theactualand historicalAmericamaywellbe a reversal
of thatdestiny,a reversalwhichseeminglydominatesour world,but Leahyis
not thefirstAmericanto envisionan inversionof ourgivenidentity,an inver-
sion whichis the adventof a new world.
Our most distinctivelyAmericanreligiousmovementshave again and
againenvisionedthe actualadventof a newworld,and so muchso thatnoth-
ing wouldseem to be morecharacteristic of a religiousAmerica,an America
that is seeminglymaddenedby apocalypticism. Butapocalypticism has domi-
nated modernityitself as witnessMarxismand scientism,and nothingmore
distinguishes a uniquelymodemimaginationthandoesits apocalypticvisions.
If thegreatbodyof modemtheologyis closedto apocalyptic vision,thenthisis
trueof modemconservative thinkingin all itsforms,a thinkingwhichis reso-
lutelyanti-apocalyptic, and aboveall anti-apocalyptic in its refusalof the very
possibilityof a new world. an
Anti-apocalypticism essentialgroundof all
is
truly modem conservative thinking,a thinkingrefusingall visionsof trulynew
worlds,and aboveall of suchworldspresentingthemselvesas actuallypresent
worlds.Leahy'snewconsciousness is sucha world,and whenhe conceivesthe
absoluteedgeas "thetotalityof Identityafternothing," he is infull continuity
withmodemapocalypticvisionaries from NietzschethroughBeckett,and it is
just this modem apocalyptic tradition that is afundamentalsourceof Leahy's
power and authority. But that powerand authorityis real, and evenif it is
hiddenand obscuredby the densityand complexityof the languagein whichit
is embodied,thishas beentrueof modemapocalypticthinkersand visionaries
sinceHegelandBlake,and surelynowhereelse in ourhistorycan one discover
such an explosiveembodimentof revolutionary power. Sucha revolutionary
powermay mayor not be in
fully present Leahy'slanguageand thinking,but
thereis a possibilityof thatpresence,and that is a possibilitythat only the
actual readerof Leahycan explore.
Leahy:AbsoluteEdge 779

Thomas
J.J.Altizer

LikeWilliamJames,I too believethatexperiencegrowsby its edges.


Bynature,thechildcomesintotheworldon edge,on thequivive,witha
penchantfor makingrelations.
JohnJ. Mc Dermott
Streamsof Experience
Beginningitselfis becominga surdin ourconsciousness, a cipherwith-
out a code,the only code readyto handbeingone whichreversesour
givenidentityof beginningby apprehending it as the beginningof the
end.
ThomasJ.J.Altizer
Historyas Apocalypse

THE THING EMBODIEDin the essentially Americanphilosophy of


Peirce, James, and Dewey-the thing which is reallywhere it's at, but
does not sharethe edge of where it's at-this thing is more or less where
it's at: at a definiteplace indefinitely,or definitelyat an indefiniteplace.
This alternativeis in fact the structureof the actual phenomenologyof
quantummechanics in which Heisenberg's'principleof indeterminacy'
says the observermay choose to know preciselyeitherthe position or the
velocity of a particlebut not both at once. Dewey welcomed the discov-
ery of this principle as "the acknowledgment,within scientific proce-
dure itself" (1929[1984]: 163), of pragmatism'sunderstandingof the
essential finitude of the intellectual organization of experience, an
acknowledgment"of the fact that knowing is one kind of interaction
which goes on within the world." The emergence of the principle of
indeterminacywas for him the "final step in the dislodgmentof the old
spectatortheory of knowledge" (163), in effect, the recognitionof the
inseparabilityof synthetica priorijudgments from active methodology,
and the acknowledgementthat universal laws are but instrumentalities
directed toward the "observationof a new phenomenon, toward an
object actuallyexperienced by way of perception,"which is always an
individual (165). Dewey instantiatesthe philosophic understandingof
the scientific enterprise as that which is ordered to the production of
new individuals. The un-Aristotelianconflationof intellect with reason
in Europeanthought had beenformallypreparedin Aquinas'notion of
the human intellect as 'defective'(SummaTheologica1,1,5 ad 2; Leahy:
57ff), and essentially carried through in Descartes' Meditations
(Descartes1641[1984]:16ff;Leahy:76ff). When Jamesinsisted on sub-
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stituting thingsfor 'ideas' in the psychological doctrine of association


(James, 1890 [1981]: 522-3), and, analogously,when he translatedthe
'meaning'of pragmatismfrom the realm of Peirce'stranscendentalhab-
its to the world of percepts(Peirce 1934: 343), he, in an un-Aristotelian
direction,restoredqua species, as Peircehad qua universal,the Aristote-
lian irreducibilityof intelligence to reason (Leahy:41ff). In his Logic,
Dewey completed this restorationqua individual (Dewey, 1938 [1986]:
125ff,et passim),producingin Americanthoughta scientificAristotelian
realism without the latter'stranscendent intuitionism: a new perception
is essentiallya constructionof the acting mind within the actualworld.
There remains,however,in Dewey, for whom 'mind' is the activeback-
groundabidingchange (1934[1987]:270), an immanentintuitionism,the
reversalof Aquinas'negative'defect'of intellect (the fact that it "is more
easily led by what is known throughnaturalreason"[S.T., ibid.]) to the
mind's positive abilityto undergird'consciousness'(here in the place of
'natural reason'). 'Mind' is to the incessantly changing foreground
which is 'consciousness' as the Aristotelianactive intellect was to rea-
son, or, in Hegelianterms, as a 'highercontinuity'of self is to the point
of contactwhere self and world interact,but this 'mind', unlike its pred-
ecessors, is a thoroughlynaturalizedproduct of "priorinteractions"of
the self "with environment" (Dewey, 1934[1987]: 269; 1925[1981]:
229ff). The implicit indefinitenessof origins in this account is funda-
mental to pragmatism. Pragmaticobjectivity first had been Peirce's
divine analogueof mind (1935: 338-53), the operationalunderstanding
of which we do not possess, a matterof instinctualbelief, althoughwe
can "catch a fragment"of its thought in science; then it was James'
pluralisticuniverseof intelligentexistents, constituting"thewider life of
things" to which we are "tangent,"a matterof the "proofsof religious
experience" (1907[1975]: 143-44); but finally it became Dewey's syn-
thesis of Peirce and James: the ideal/instinctual and the particu-
lar/emotional realms embodied in the "mysterioustotalityof being," a
matter of constructiveimagination,the "matrix"of "ideal aspirations"
and the "source"of "moralvalues," "the encompassingscope of exist-
ence the intellect cannot grasp," the mysteryof existence in which we
are "enmeshed" (1934[1987]: 56). As Dewey says, the fact that "the
objectof knowledgeis a constructed,existentiallyproduced,object"is a
"tremendous" "shock" to traditional notions, which fact, however,
clearly and effectively "installs man, thinking man, within nature"
(1929[1984]: 168). But not only is 'thinking man' comprehended in
Dewey's pragmaticobjectivity:the 'Almighty',the 'Creator',is installed
analogously,by way of Dewey's synthesis of Peirce and James, in the
Leahy:AbsoluteEdge 781

existentialmysteryof the 'totalityof being' as, in effect, the imagination's


symbolic of themindofthefinite'creator'.Wherethe Torahsays
analogue
"Inthebeginning
Godcreatedtheheavenandtheearth,"Dewey,in Artas
Experience(1934[1987]:71), takes the creationof heaven and earthto be
an act of self-expression
on the part of the Creator:
Eventhe Almightytooksevendaysto createthe heavenand the earth,
and,if therecordwerecomplete,we shouldalsolearnthatit wasonlyat
the end of thatperiodthathe was awareof justwhatHe set out to do
with the rawmaterialof chaosthatconfrontedHim. Onlyan emascu-
latedsubjectivemetaphysicshas transformedthe eloquentmythof Gen-
esis into the conceptionof a Creatorcreatingwithoutany unformed
matterto workupon.
But the textualepitome,bereshith
bara''elohim'ethhashamayim
we'eth
ha'aretz,relates the beginning of the totalityof the universe to divine
creating. The 'seven days' of creatingare comprisedin this beginning of
'heaven and earth'. Indeed, bara', 'to create', is spoken exclusively of
divine creation(NJB:17, n b) exactly to distinguish it from the human
making which is "the prolonged interactionof something issuing from
the self with objective conditions, a process in which both of them
acquirea form and orderthey did not at firstpossess" (Dewey:ibid). It
is not that the Creatorcreates 'without any unformed matter to work
upon', but, more precisely,that the Creatorcreatingtranscendsthe mat-
ter/form distinction, that the distinctionmatter/formis created. The
notion of the 'mysterioustotalityof being' supportsthe otherwiseclearly
unwarrantedprojectiononto the creationof the universeas a whole, of a
process of subjective-objective identificationactuallyexperiencedonly as
interactionwith a universewhich by its very natureis partial. The 'mys-
terious totality of being' is the cosmic counterpartto pragmatism's
essential way of havingand not-havingthe individuality which for Dewey
is the necessity. The 'mysterious'is the soft underbellyof a thinkingthat
essentially,if not formally,continues to take seriouslythe a prioriother,
and, therefore,will have, but notfinally have, the existence of the indi-
vidual. Dewey's objective subjectivity,essentially a form of pragma-
tism's infinite self-postponementof consciousness, confrontsthe divine
with chaos. 'Chaos'is the 'raw material',the 'objectivecondition' con-
fronting 'a self not consciously known', a self itself--since chaos is
inexhaustable-inexhaustably not-consciousness. But 'to create',bara',
is objectivityitself: to createis the absolute edge upon which cannot be
projectedanya priorithing, (any)thingfrombefore the edge of 'the total-
ity of being', (any)thingof mystery,(any)thingof that most subtle resi-
due of Europeansubjectivityin Americanthought,the a prioriother, the
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mattermattera priori,the unformedmatternot in fact experiencedbut


afrmed to be, self-projectedly,present at the edge of the totality. But
strike out pragmatism'sprojective'nature',the a prioriother, strike out
the 'mystery'of pragmatism,strike out the dogmatic assumption of a
postponed realityfinallyintelligible self-referentially,jettison at last that
last remnant of Cartesiandualism, the "functional"self (McDermott:
53-4); then the edge of totality is necessarilythe edge of creation, the
edge of existence ex nihilo. In the 13th century Thomas Aquinas
(SummaTheologica1,45, 1 ad 3) distinguishedthe meanings of ex nihilo
in a way ignoredfor the most part until now: on the one hand, that the
universehad a beginning (where ex nihilomeans afternothing), and, on
the other hand, that the universewas not made out of anything(where
ex nihilomeans out of nothing). Aquinasdeniedthat when the world is
said to be made from nothing this signifies the materialcause. Dewey
with 'chaos', like Heideggerwith 'nothing'(1929[1949]:345), is caught
up in an argumentabsent both from Aquinas and the Torah, an argu-
ment projected indirectly or directly from the essentially unhistorical
self-reception by consciousness of the fundamentalhistorical facts of
faith, Creationand Incarnation(Leahy,passim). Indeed, Aquinas'own
historicallyconditioned share in the essentially reactiveself-conscious-
ness prevented him from being able to understand the 'species' or
essence except as "abstractedfrom here and now" (SummaTheologica
1,46,2), so that he was not able to thinkwhat now begins essentiallyto
be conceivedin the wakeof the actualDeathof God-when the essence is
now understoodto be existence'here and now', when time is now the
absolute totalityof being-namely, that the Torah speaks with perfect
intelligibilityof the perfectbeginningof the universeas "an integralpart
of history"(NJB:ibid), in effect, speaks essentiallyof an absolutelyhis-
torical universe.
But where is the point of contact with the world within the world?
The meshing takes place at the edge. The mesh is the place where we
tangle with the world. But we are 'on edge' 'enmeshed' in the world.
What of the edge? The edge is not before the thing. The edge is not
afterthe thing. The edge of a definite thing is an indefinite thing. But
the edge of an indefinitething is a definitething. Definition: the edgeis
the essentiallynarrowpart of the thing(as the surfaceis the essentiallythin
part of the thing [but see Stroll (1988: 204ff). The edge separatesthe
greaterpart of the thing from not-the-thing. The edge of a thing is not
to be confused with what is at the edge of the thing. The bank of a
stream is not the edge of the flow. The edge of the stream is precisely
that essential narrownessof the streamby which it separatesitself from
Leahy: AbsoluteEdge 783

the emptiness-of-the-flowthat is the land. The edge of the land inter-


acting with the edge of the stream is the real indefiniteness of the
respectiveedges of definite streamand definite land, reflectingthe func-
tionally irreducibledistinction of perception and conception (the latter,
in turn, a function of an irreducibly'functional'self), respectively,the
indefinite edges of two definite things at the point of contact supported
by their infinitely indefinite separation (= almost nothing between),
and, conversely,the definiteedges of two indefinitethings at the point of
contact supported by their absolute separation (= nothing between).
But now for the first time 'nothing' is no more. Now for the first time
'almost nothing' is no more. Now in history the beginning of the con-
ceptionof resistanceis identicalwiththe zero-resistanceof the medium to
the flow. What now actuallyexists is the eliminationof the necessity of
reducingthe motion of the world to 'nothing'or to 'almost nothing' in
order to defeat the consequences of an inertial framework. The con-
structionof the frameof referenceis the essence of motion ex nihilo,that
is, followingnothing, not 'not made out of anything', not made out of
nothing (European consciousness), but also not made doubly redun-
dantly of matter,not 'not made out of almost nothing', i.e. not 'not cre-
ated but fashioned' (American consciousness), but the unprecedented
constructionof the frameof referencemade out of actualexistentialmat-
ter: motion beginning to be constructed(New World consciousness).
Now conceived for the first time: the reductionto 'nothing' or 'almost
nothing' of the elimination of motion identicallythe perfectorderingof
motion: neither the ideal definite, 'nothing', nor the real indefinite,
'almost nothing', at the vanishingof the points between edges, respec-
tively, of two indefinite and two definite things, but the infinitelyshared
edge, the existence itself of order. The threshold of a new universe is
traversedfor the first time.
But the final frontierof Americanthought is the bifurcation: either
'almost nothing' or 'nothing': the polarity of subjective edge and
edgeless subjectivity,the polarity,at once, of consciousness and mind.
In McDermott,Americanthought experiences the Death of God as the
death of an emptybelief in the Finite God, i.e., experiencesthe Death of
God as the disappearanceof an Emptiness, a leaving behind of the
divine symbol, Dewey's 'eloquentmyth' relegatedto the past. In Altizer,
Americanthought transcendsthe disbelievingbelief of McDermott(the
mere belief in the realityof Death of God), experiencesthe Deathof God
as the reality,experiences the total collapse of the ungraspableenviron-
ment, the collapse of the 'mysterioustotalityof being' into emptiness in
the wake of the divine disappearance,and, believing belief that it is,
784 Journalof theAmerican
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experiences the unrealityof the emptiness,the presence of the totalityof


the body remainingafter the disappearanceof divinity. The American
theologyof the Death of God takes the form of the self-separationof the
edge from the thing for the first time, or, the actual elimination of the
edge of the self of the thing, but not for the firsttime. In the form of the
inversion of the abyss itself, the edge is not the abyss. Beforenow the
realizationof the Death of God is the edge of not-the-abyss,the furthest
possible extension of modemity, at once the impossible of pragmatism
made possible. The residueof the disappearance,at once the disappear-
ance of thepossibilityof reconstructing the world. It turns out, in the final
extremity of modemity, in the American death, that the existential
embodiment of the 'principle of indeterminacy'is existenceor a begin-
ning,but not bothat once. Altizer chooses beginning without existence,
substitutingfor the latter precisely the unknown 'presence'. Beginning
itself is 'apprehended'as the beginningof the end: not as the beginning
of the other at the point of contact,but as the beginning of the other at
the edge itself of our separation from self, which, because it is at a
beginning that cannot be our own beginning, inessentiallyis our begin-
ning: the beginning in reserve,the beginning as the beginning appre-
hended. Altizer writes in TotalPresence(1980: 106-7).
Genuinesolitudeis a voyageinto the interior,but it is a voyagewhich
culminatesin a loss of our interior,a loss reversingeverymanifestor
establishedcenterof ourinteriorso as to makepossiblethe adventof a
whollynewbuttotallyimmediateworld. Thejoy of solitudecomesonly
out of a breakthrough releasingus from our own interior,a break-
throughandajoywhichis clearlypresentwhenwe fullylistento music,
andit is no less presentin the presenceof another,but onlywhenthat
otherhas no pointof contactwith ourown within.
'Absolute solitude' embodies the pragmaticextreme of modem scepti-
cism (Leahy:340ff) in the paradoxicalform of an Epicureanrationalism
which actuallyexperiencesa new universal humanity in the only way
open to it in its perfectwithdrawalas "a humanitywhich we can neither
conceive nor define" (Altizer 1980: 106): this is the oxymoronicdepth
of the immediate world: the essentially mute acknowledgmentof a
newly intelligible universality:the purely materialelimination of the a
prioriother in the form of 'our own'.
In McDermottthe other extreme of the modem disbelievingreason
reduced to belief is embodied in a sensibleStoicism(McDermott:198),
which, facing Altizer's 'eternaldeath of Jesus' (Altizer 1970 [19791),or
absolute death, seizes upon "the joumey itself" as the embodiment of
the perpetualchallenge of experience. Faced with the necessity of exis-
Leahy:AbsoluteEdge 785

tentiallyembodyingthe 'principleof indeterminacy'McDermottchooses


existencewithout a beginning, substitutingfor the latter'transience'. He
writes in Streamsof Experience(165):
We arethespeciesHomoviator,personson ajourney,humantravel-
ers in a cosmicabyss. Actually,in myjudgment,transientsis a better
wordthantravelers, forthe latteroftenconnotesa definitegoal,an end
in view, or at leasta returnhome. A transienthoweveris one who is
passingthrough.Themeaningof a transient's journeyis preciselythat:
the journeyitself.. . . We shouldmakeourjourneyeveralertto our
surroundings andto everyperceivable sensorialnuance.Ourjourneyis
a kaleidoscope of alternatingexperiences,mishap,setback,celebrations,
and eye-openers,all undergoneon the quivive.
For the radical experience of the Death of God, the inversion of the
rationalabyss wherein is glimpsed "a new world in the very adventof a
new and universalhumanity,"the only possible questionis "whetheror
not that humanityis our own" (Altizer 1980: 89). The ultimateanswer
embodied in this reversalof 'our given identityof beginning' is that our
own humanityis not our own. The alternativeto this absoluteadventof
a new humanity, the alternativeto the interiorarrivalof the Death of
God, the alternativeto the arrivalof an actuallynovel reality,the altema-
tive to the owningseparatingitself from the novelty of the world in the
form of 'total presence', is McDermott'sabsolutejourneying: non-arri-
val absolutely prescinding arrival. While denying the world's novelty
(McDermott:168), it prescinds the adventof an abysmalreason,inverts
the 'cosmic'abyss to the ideal of making ours what is originallynot ours,
inverts the exteriorabyss to the ideal of making ours 'everyperceivable
sensorialnuance',invertsthe nothingnessof experience,the inevitability
of our death, to our ideal "capacity""to eat experience": invertsthe fact
of death to "personalgrowth"as "the only sure sign that we are not yet
dead" (166), believesin Altizer's'absolutesolitude'but experiencesit as
notyet. For McDermottthe perpetualchallenge of life certifieswe are
notyet absolutelyalone. In the returnto an originalprimitivityin a new
situationis embodied the attemptat the self-postponementof self-post-
ponement, indeed, the reduplicationof the very essence of pragmatism:
at once afterDewey a returnto James: precisely, a Deweyan retreatto
James which identifies mind with consciousness, the aestheticwith the
rhythmic"run"of things (McDermott:138ff), Dewey's "orderedmove-
ment of the matterof ... experienceto a fulfillment"(1934[1987]:334)
with the essentialforsakingof fulfillment: a post-Deweyanpragmatism
reducingthe meaningfulto the searchfor meaning: indeed, purelytheo-
reticalexistence:beyond Dewey thefinal existence of the individualin
786 Journalof theAmerican
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of Religion

the form of the pre-Deweyanuntheoreticalexistence of the a prioriother,


in the form of the purely theoreticalelimination of the a priori other.
Thus, the final extremityof European-Americanconsciousness, the total
undergoingof the 'immediateworld', is split down the middle: either
the appetite for the satiable experience of relational,i.e., human-made,
novelty, the 'passing through' on the edge of the same, the relation-
making prehensionof the same, the perpetuallynew seizing of the same
old world, the perpetuallyformalfulfillment,or the insatiable satiety of
the experience of a new humanity in the depths of the individual,the
perpetualarrivalof the totality,the seizing upon, the securingof same-
ness, takingpossession of the new in the name of the same: the material
fulfillmentprescindingthe matter/formdistinctionin the form of unre-
served anticipation.
But for the first time, just in time, the edge of mind is a conscious-
ness the edge of which is absolute. The edge is essentially perfect as
never before. For the first time in history the fact is perceivedthat the
essentially narrow part of mind is the edge of consciousness now after
nothing. Mind is absolutely edged out of the edge after nothing. The
edge is actuallythe totalityof Identityafternothing. As never before the
edge of the ocean is the edge of an absolutestream: the explosion of the
universe itself, the advent of genetic engineering,the beginnings of the
practicabilityof superconductivity,the incipient technologyof thinking:
there is no land the streampasses through,no same, neitherin imitation
of the streamto 'pass through',nor to occupy in refusingto imitate the
stream,neither to seize upon nor to seize: the banks are identical with
the streamfor the first time: in the cosmologicalflood of the streamof
consciousness both banks flow as the stream itself flows: there is
neither the possibilityof an absolutehangingback from a sameness, the
same 'hanging back from', nor the possibility of "participatingin the
flow" which possibility is already too much of a "hanging back"
(McDermott:166-7), a hanging backfrom the flow in the relationshipto
the flow, the same 'taking part'. Now for the first time in history the
Christis the god of the stream: thoughtin essence for the firsttime, the
Christof the streameliminates the 'eternaldeath of Jesus': not the god
of this or that streambut the god of the streamof existence itself begin-
ning the absolute elimination of the Death of God. As never before the
divine flows absolutely. In this flow every notion of self is completely
dissolved. The nakednessof the species is essentiallyeliminated. There
remains neither the 'almost nothing' enveloped in the pure 'nothing',
nor the pure 'nothing' enveloped in 'almost nothing'. The conscious-
ness of man is the creatingedge. The essentially narrow part of man,
Leahy:AbsoluteEdge 787

the narrowitself of man-the edge by which man grows is existing ex


nihilo. What now actually occurs is the perfect envelopment of the
beginning of which the Torah speaks essentially. The totalityof being
afternothing, the totalitynot after(either) being (or) nothing (the totality
of being not after 'either nothing or .. .'), i.e., notfrom nothing, is the
absolutelyexisting edge, the edge every part of which is identical with
the edge itself.
What now for the first time is conceived essentiallyis the Apocalyp-
tic vision: there is no temple in the city (Rev.21:22), nothing whatso-
ever is hidden, the body itself is clothing itself, clothes do not cover the
body but revealthe essence of the body, manifest the essentiallyartifac-
tual structureof the body, revealthe world to be such a noveltythat man
cannot stand even so much apartas to be a participant,so as to (merely)
take part in the creation of the world, avoiding thereby the absolute
responsibilityof creatinga new world. The literal truth of the fact that
the body is the temple of the divine spirit now begins to be understood:
since the divine spirit,qua first-timeexperienceof the perfectedge of the
other, takes up no room whatsoever,there is no end to the artifactual
surface of the body in the so-called 'interiordepths'. The essentially
thin part of the artifactualbody (surface) is its essentially narrow part
(edge) infinitely afternothing. The realityof the body is the absolutely
unconditionedexteriorityof the world. Humanitycan hide no longer in
its clothes, nor in its nakedness: everythingbegins to be fabricated. For
the first time the network is absolute. The essentially narrow part of
existence ex nihiloexists everywhere. The edge of consciousness begins
to be an essential objectivity,not the edge of mind, but the edge sharing
the edge of the other for the first time, the edge of the mind of the other,
transcending the 'functionally' self-referential polarity of the defi-
nite/indefinite vanishing of separationat the point of contact, eliminat-
ing for the first time this vanishing of separationby sharing the edge
afternothing of the essentiallydifferentrealityof the other, experiencing
the other as identicalwith the novelty of everypart of the edge. Forthe
first time the transcendentalis absolutely separate from the edgeless.
Thought is the edge of the thing. Consciousness, at once absolute,
begins to share the edge of the mind of another consciousness. After
nothing the absolutelyfrom-less totality: for the first time the perfect
elimination of the space of time (Hegel, 1842[1970]:236-7): no possi-
bility of the essential redundancyof placing time: whetherinside an
exterior space ("a totally present objectivity""dissociatedfrom all ...
interior identity" [Altizer 1980: 91ff]), or outside an "interiorspace"
which has been made "our place" (Mc Dermott:132ff). Time is abso-
788 Journalof theAmerican
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of Religion

lutelythe place. For the first time the Ego, minus the a priori,transcen-
dentalother, is absolute act. To create the absolute edge is to begin to
operateessentiallywithout referenceto self: time afternothing is neither
not 'our'now, nor 'our'place. The infinitelysharededge has no within
to be eternallyoutwardized,and afortiori no within to transformexist-
ence into a body in the absence of the divine spirit ideally interiorizing
the world. The absolute exteriorityof time-consciousnessis the resur-
rection itself of the Body of the Finite God absolutelyat the disposal of
another(Leahy:341-96). For the first time the clearlyperceivedreality
is that objectivityis to create objectivityitself. Time itself for the first
time is hamaqom,The Place, in which we live and move and exist (Acts
17:28: en autdigdr zimen kat kinodimetha kai esmen), in which we have
not 'our being', but the being of the other being at the disposal of
another. The temporalityof time is The Place which we, embodying,
intimatelycomprehendas the pure 'at the disposal of another'. Quivive?
The person who begins to fabricatean essentiallynew world.

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