Saturday, July 4, 2015

Loving the Manifold (REVIEW: The Divine Manifold, by Roland Faber)

For the last nine months or so, I have been reading Roland Faber's The Divine Manifold. When I first noticed that it was being released last summer, I thought that I would never get around to reading this nearly 600 page text - or at least not anytime soon. But then my advisor at Drew encouraged me to spend some time with the book and review it for a theology journal. Having just finished the text, my project next week will be to write the review and submit it for publication. This is not the first time that I have reviewed books written by former professors (Faber was my professor at Claremont), but this task is uniquely challenging. Faber is a deeply complex, intimidatingly brilliant thinker. He knows the process theo-philosophical tradition just as well as he knows poststructuralism, which is quite rare. And he is not just a theo-philosopher, but also a true mystic. This makes for challenging (but rewarding) reading, indeed. In this post, I just want to offer a relatively brief overview of the book and some comments about a few of its highlights. I will eventually post a more in-depth review when I get around to it.

The first thing to note is that this text constantly swings between rigorous philosophical engagements with virtually every major continental/poststructuralist/postmodern theorist (Derrida, Foucault, Deleuze, Zizek, Butler, Vattimo, Bataille, Badiou, etc) and mystical-poetic statements and reflections (inspired by Eckhart, Cusa, Bruno, and Buddhism) that one must take in very slowly to comprehend. As such, there is a kind of rhythm within this text that can take some time to get used to - not to mention all of the neologisms and novel concepts that can be quite difficult to grasp at first. These include: polyphilia, theoplicity, chaosmetics, transpantheism, transunification, in/difference, plurivocity, ecotheosis, substractive affirmation, polypoetics, divine diffusion, perikhora, in/finite interpretation, subtractive affirmation, and so on. For some readers, this style might be initially irritating, but I do think that it is worth the effort. The concepts and arguments demand one's time and consideration. 

In my view, Faber's reading of Whitehead - and the process tradition more generally - is often startlingly novel, largely because he does so through a poststructuralist (mostly Deleuzian) lens. In fact, a majority of this text involves his negotiation between Whitehead and Deleuze. He appears to have mastered both of these difficult thinkers, citing frequently from most of their publications, and offering close comparisons of their interrelated conceptual creations. Faber also challenges those Deleuzians who think that Deleuze superseded Whitehead in certain ways (e.g., by dispensing with the latter's deity and eternal objects - both of which Faber defends, largely on Deleuzian grounds), but he also challenges process thinkers to take Whitehead's post-rational, anti-foundational constructivism more seriously than they have in the past. He differentiates his process theopoetics from process theology at the very beginning of the book, not by dismissing the latter, of course, but by respectfully showing where he parts company with most of that tradition. The two process thinkers that he has the most in common with - and cites most frequently - is Bernard Loomer (the great process empiricist) and Catherine Keller (who has pioneered the process-poststructuralist conversation alongside Faber). 

While there is so much ground covered in the book - comparative theology, hermeneutics, cosmology, religious pluralism, politics, ethics, gender, and sexuality - what particularly stands out is Faber's unique reading/defense of Whitehead's divine "poet of the world" - here rendered as the "divine manifold." His interpretation of this controversial concept in Whitehead's philosophy is extremely subtle. He does not offer arguments for the existence of God. In fact, his argument for Whitehead's divine manifold resonates very strongly with radical theologians like John Caputo, who argues for God's "insistence" rather than "existence." Indeed, Faber concludes the book with a long discussion and sympathetic critique of Caputo's post-theism. But Faber reads Whitehead's God along similar lines (especially emphasizing Whitehead's early idea of God as "principle of concretion"): as the impossible event of love, or the pure love of multiplicity (polyphilia), which affirms and insists in, on, and as multiplicity.

In the epilogue, Faber quotes constructive theologian Laurel Schneider to define love as "letting go (of the One)." As such, Faber argues that God's loving "agency" is that which releases the world's multiplicities to themselves by destabilizing unities and imperial hierarchies of all kinds. God does not "create" the world (in any traditional sense), but rather "saves" it from the violence of the One by insisting on divergences and passing through them (readers of Deleuze and Whitehead will notice the embedded synthesis of their claims here). But this multiple divine does not in any simple sense "exist" (as entity, object, substance, subject) but "in-sists" (as "superject", "event", pure Idea of multiplicity, etc). It is not "ultimate," or "ground of being" either, for there is no single, all-encompassing ultimate in this chaosmos (so this is not panentheism!). Rather, there is a multipliticity of ultimates in mutual (groundless) suspension. And with his key concept of in/difference, Faber means to blur any clear distinction between the divine manifold and the world: they are always already folded together, so neither simply identical nor different. At different points in the text, Faber even labels his process theopoetic approach in ways that resonates with radical theology: post-theism, a/theism, post-theological, etc. But if this is radical theology, it is a new strand, in my view. Here is Faber's concluding paragraph, which nicely illustrates his radical "transpantheistic" approach:

"The Divine Manifold is only 'present' as it touches or releases the entirely living things. Without any preservation, but abundant in intensities of mutual perception, the 'divine game' of love 'neither rules nor is it unmoved.' It 'does not look to the future' nor the past 'for it finds its own reward in the immediate present'. It insists in impermanent events. As they reverberate in its diffusion, they become singularities of love. Shining in their disappearance, they save its universal relevance for another and the lost ones." (507)

1 comment:

  1. Great review Austin. Thanks for writing it. I'm curious if you're aware of any criticism of Faber's "transpantheistic" approach coming from more panentheistic process thinkers? Links? Papers? Send 'em my way!