The Gospel of Saint John begins: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God … The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1). Throughout the long period of the Church, the Word has been the principle of a cold Christian rationalism. The early Christian apologist Justin Martyr writes,
“I shall give you another testimony, my friends, from the Scriptures, that God begot before all creatures a Beginning, [who was] a certain rational power [proceeding] from Himself, who is called by the Holy Spirit, now the Glory of the Lord, now the Son, again Wisdom, again an Angel, then God, and then Lord and Logos.”
It must be noticed that for one such as Justin Martyr, whose task it was to make the Christian gospel un-biblically intelligible to the Greeks, the Logos is not a certain creative power, but a “certain rational power.” The rest, we might say, was history. It was the long history of the Christian tradition which strove in vain to articulate a philosophy out of something that was essentially non-philosophical. What we call the tradition of Christian thought is really, in its formulation, in its articulation the tradition of Christian philosophy. The problem which presents itself to such a system of thought is immediately apparent: Christianity is in principle opposed to philosophy.
Saint Paul writes in his letter to the Church at Corinth: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” (1 Corinthians 1) In a letter to the Church at Colossus, Paul (or pseudo-Paul) writes, “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy.”
At this point, it should be made clear that what is being called philosophy here refers to a very specific kind of philosophy, namely, Hellenistic speculative metaphysics. It is only in recognition of this fact that the contempt for philosophy that Paul harbors becomes intelligible, for this philosophy must be understood as somehow violating the grain and texture of what the gospel stands for in principle.
It was an irony that apparently escaped Justin Martyr: the very “Logos” which he uses to make Christianity intelligible to the Greeks is a Logos which became flesh and dwelt among us. It is a Logos which moves from the transcendental realm into history, incarnating into the Kantian universal forms of time and space, a Logos which is in this way inherently anti-metaphysical, and insofar as it is anti-metaphysical, anti-Greek. In short, the opposite of what Justin Martyr was suggesting.
The Logos is not only anti-metaphysical, but insofar as it is incarnate, sensate, tangible, this worldly. It cannot be insignificant that the Logos in its incarnation chose to incarnate not randomly, but in the body of a peasant. This already betrays something, or at the very least, leads us to question—whether not there is some connection between the ontological anti-metaphysic of the Logos and the dwelling among the poor. For this, Marx’s analysis has proven most instructive, for it was Marx who crucially rendered visible the link between speculative metaphysical philosophy and the ruling classes. In other words, it is unlikely coincidental that the anti-metaphysic coincides with an economic situation of particular poverty. These relations Marx makes sufficiently clear, so I shall not dwell on the subject. In short, the bourgeoisie can dabble all they want with speculative metaphysics because they are not tied to material conditions in the way that the working classes are. The workers have no time for metaphysical speculations when they are thinking about whether they will have food to provide their families. The workers, moreover, have no need to dabble in some “greater” reality: they have had enough an experience of reality small-r in this world; they don’t need any more “reality.”
Furthermore, it may be hypothetically hypothesized that if the Logos represents a certain ontological principle asserted and articulated in an implied anti-metaphysic is the sense that it is antithetical to a speculative metaphysics the sort which was practiced by the Greek philosophers for whom those such as Martyr were trying to render the gospels intelligible—if the Logos is in this sense anti-metaphysical, then we must not be so rash, though we have explicated part of the meaning of this anti-metaphysic, to leave the explication at that, to assume fallaciously, as it certainly would be fallacious, to an explication fait accompli, for such indeed would be of the greatest error. This is quite simply to say that if the metaphysical principle of the Greeks is denied in one of its particular manifestations, namely specualative metaphysics, it is by no means denied in toto. Indeed, the Logos does posit a certain type of metaphysics, but as would be perfectly commensurate with—compatible though not necessitated by—Marx’s own thoughts on the matter, it is a metaphysics nevertheless which owes its full allegiance to the masses and not to the coterie of elites, who in any case are busy flattering themselves with their own metaphysical genius. It is an imaginative metaphysics. It is a metaphysics which imagines something other, and this metaphysics, by no poverty of irony, finds its grounding in the very Logos appropriated to the Greeks, that is to say, to the ruling classes. If it has not been made clear by way of the references to Marx, then perhaps it should be explicated here, without however being too prolix about it, that in following Marx’s postulation that “The ideas of the ruling class are, in every age, the ruling ideas” an implied argument this discourse is covertly generating is one which postulates likewise a certain ideological battle not only over the material apparatuses of the system of class domination, but also that very system’s cultural and ideological apparatuses. In more explicitly Marxist terminology, we might hereby say that the perpetual revolution of the lower strata must be a revolutionary struggle to attain in Gramsci’s terms “hegemony” over not only the base consisting in the material conditions itself consisting in the means of production, etc. but also the superstructure consisting primarily the ideological constructions and systems of thought which at present maintain and in their own way perpetuate the status quo. To avoid the excessive prolixity which one almost inevitably encounters in dealing with Marxist theory and Christian theology, no less the two of these in conversation, it should suffice to say that the competition to define the principle of “Logos” here is an example of such a battle as is suggested by Marx, a battle over concepts.
The question which presents itself to us here is one which now asks: if the battle over the “Logos” is a battle to define it conceptually, and if the definition ascribed to it by the ruling classes is one which asserts it as a divine principle of rationality, then in what does the definition consist which the lower strata assert in this ideological battle? The methodological challenge also presents itself in lucid articulation: the first task will be to discover what principle of Logos is capable of subverting, or has within itself the capacity to subvert, the Logos of the ruling classes; the second will be to ascertain whether not this new articulation is consistent with the object of hermeneutical attention, namely the scriptures, and if so, whether not it is more consistent with the object. Let us proceed then with the first part of this task, move to define a principle of Logos in contradistinction to the traditional Logos. Because a contradistinction is ipso facto a negation, it is a defining in relation to something, for the very concept of negation presupposes a negation of something; indeed, it would make little sense to speak of a negation which was not a negation of any particular thing and such talk would be rightly considered senseless, appropriate perhaps for the metaphysicians, but not for anyone with concern for the truth or for the masses. Ergo, the task of a negation suggests to us first the definition to be negated: Logos as a philosophical principle. However, here we run into a further methodological difficulty, namely that a negation of a concept requires, nay even presupposes, an explication of the concept, which has not yet been carried out. So let us proceed to ask: what does it mean for the Logos to be a divine principle of rationalism, for it to be a philosophical concept? What tendencies define a philosophical principle as such?
Here I shall run the risk of dilettantism, as I know close to nothing about philosophy, but nevertheless, given that philosophers who know more of philosophy thereby understand less because of the very nature of what it is they study, and given that it is always better to be provincial than presumptuous, it is a risk one can conjecture, not unreasonably, to be worth the taking, so to speak. What is philosophy? Unfortunately, given that we are asking this of philosophy, the answer is of course debatable, indeed debated by philosophers. We shall require in our search here grounding assumptions, which if the reader is repulsed and abhorred by, may leave this discourse, may throw it in the fire, though I should like to think the assumption to be relatively uncontroversial, namely a Wittgensteinian one which posits a basic anti-essentialist approach to definitional discourses and posits in their stead a definition which defines a term by the family traits it embodies, however imperfectly, across its particular manifestations. If you have not yet thrown this discourse in the flames because of the affront caused by the Wittgensteinian supposition, then we shall continue with your good company and here it may be instructive to turn to a historical example. Many would concede that there is no figure larger in western philosophy than Plato, and some extremists even go so far as to say, perhaps hyperbolically, that all of western philosophy is but footnotes to this great man, this Plato, pupil of Socrates, teacher of Artistotle, founder of western philosophy proper. Whether or not you agree with this characterization, nevertheless it shall be hoped that you agree with the basic sentiment enough to agree to a concordant usage of Plato as a mere starting point for our meta-philosophical investigation. If you are still with us at this point, as I hope you are, for as they say, “the more, the merrier,” especially so when going to encounter Plato, then let us observe Plato in a time far-removed, going down to the Piraeus, asking his fellow citizens the question, “what is justice?” and let us follow him as he goes from one citizen to another only to debunk their logically-unsound answers by way of counter-example after counter-example and let us ask, what is at work here in the business of philosophy? Our observations have already, albeit covertly, established a crucial point: philosophy is an activity, and this observation rescues it from the myth of philosophy as a detached form of knowledge, a myth which only its most fundamentalist adherents abide by, for indeed, it should be rather clear from an observation of any philosophy, be it Plato or Richard Rorty, is a mode of inquiry, which is to say, it is an activity. This should be made clear by the fact that there can be no such thing as philosophy without philosophers, as indeed there can be for such pure modes of detached forms of knowledge as—do not exist, for there is no knowledge without knowers: was this not implied in Descartes sublime though-project “cogito, ergo sum,” insofar as there can be no doubt without a doubter, no knowledge without a knower, no philosophy without a philosopher? The question begged asks us then, what are the qualities of this activity, what tendencies does it betray?, etc. and here it is useful to take once more recourse in the Platonic example, for is it not reasonable that the philosopher of the ideal should—lest he be a hypocrite of epic proportions—present something of the ideal form of philosophy itself; that is to say, should not Plato himself, by his own principles, embody philosopher-ness, and might we not by extension gain limpid insight into what philosophical-ness consists in? So let us post these questions to Plato: what are the tendencies of this activity? Ironically, despite the great deal of prolixity required to get us to this point—and I do apologize for what must be considered the necessary labours—the answer is remarkably simple, if we follow the simple path of sublime and virtuous logic. The philosophical activity is a mode of inquiry. What characterizes inquiry, or this mode of inquiry in particular, for that matter? Inquiry is characterized by the asking of questions. What is the aim of the asking of questions here? Here the aim of the asking of questions is to discover answers; thus we might say that question asking is an implicit manifestation of answer-seeking; they represent opposite sides of a basically identical duality. What is the ultimate reduction in essence of answer-seeking? The ultimate reduction in principle of answer-seeking is what we might call a closing down on meaning. This, I say is simple because it is intuitive: the practice of philosophy is the practice of closing down on meanings. We have established the philosophical essence. Even Plato would be proud.
Now that we have established the essence of philosophical-ness, we may establish, as it was our goal along to establish, its antithesis so that we might, if you recall, define a principle of Logos in contradistinction to the philosophical Logos. Let us proceed. If philosophical Logos is the principle of reduction, that is to say, a closing down on meaning, then the antithesis of such a Logos is a principle of augmentation, that is to say, an opening up of meaning. What does opening up meaning consist in? Opening up meaning, so long as we are defining this opening up as a negation of a closing down, must therefore take into account what the closing down on meaning entails, if it can be restated in different words. Fortunately for us, it can, and can be restated as such: a closing down on meaning is an asserting of what-is, but only as reduction, as we established earlier. By contrast then, an opening up of meaning is an asserting of what-is in augmentation, which is to say, what-can: an opening up of meaning is an opening up of possibilities. The Logos as a principle of augmentation is, insofar as it is related to praxis as was philosophy, also related to consciousness, since philosophical praxis requires, and to some extent is philosophical consciousness, so the mode of consciousness of this sort may be called augmented consciousness, as opposed to the philosophical consciousness, but just as “reduction” is a marker for philosophical consciousness, “augmentation” is merely a marker for imaginative consciousness. Ergo, the antithetical Logos (antithetical to the philosophical Logos) is the imaginative Logos.
As was established earlier, defining the antithesis of the rational-philosophic Logos was only half of the task, from the methodological consideration of the ideological struggle of superstructural hegemony; the other half consisted in determining whether not this antithetical principle of Logos is consistent with the hermeneutical object of contention, and if so, whether not this antithetical principle is more consistent with it than the philosophic Logos, for if so, this would suggest a primary misappropriation, or as they say in the study of religion, “transculturation,” the hegemonic co-opting of symbolic systems to achieve superstructural hegemony for its own ends. So let us proceed with the question: is the antithetical Logos consistent with the hermeneutical object of contention, scripture? Indeed, it is. Let us visit John 1 once again: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God … The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1). Scholars, however much they are to be viewed with skepticism, with a jar of salt as they say, read John 1 as making reference to Genesis 1, in which God creates the heavens and the earth at the utterance of the word. This factoid is more evident if we cite the text of Saint John’s Gospel more fully: “
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind … The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.
It is evident here that in the first chapter of his gospel, John is positing the Logos as a creative principle (though him, all things were made), the link to the imaginative Logos established thereby, for does not ever act of creation, whether in art or in divine creation if we are willing to force such a distinction, presuppose an imaginative act; is not every creative act imaginative?—even if not every imaginative act is creative, for though creation presupposes imagination, imagination does not presuppose creation, but contains within itself destructive possibilities as well, and possibilities which are neither creative nor destructive but what we might call insipid. Nevertheless, insofar as creation is imaginative, the antithetical Logos we have established in contradistinction to the philosophic Logos is a feasible possibility hermeneutically.
One of the weaknesses of our approach thus has been that in establishing the Logos antithetically, we have only defined it antithetically, that is to say, diametrically, as opposed to a mere negation: we have defined the anti-philosophic as opposed to the non-philosophic, but surely the anti-philosophic as such subsumes the non-philosophic, possibly, and it may be possible to test them hermeneutically as was done with the antithesis. Specifically what I have in mind is “negative capability” which the poet John Keats coined in his letter to his brothers:
“…at once it struck me, what quality it went to form a Man of Achievement especially in Literature & which Shakespeare posessed so enormously — I mean Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason…” (Keats, Complete Poems, Ed. John Barnard, Penguin Classics, 3rd ed., Pg. 539)
If we recall that one of the definitional reductions we ascribed to the philosophical was a seeking of answers, then Keatsian negative capability remains an eminent possibility as an alternative to the philosophic, so we might at this point inquire as to possible scriptural recourse. The scriptural recourse is found, in the first place, by the complete absence of the philosophic-as-such in the principal center of the christological religion, Christ himself: we was a peasant, not a philosopher, by no means a philosopher in the sense in which Plato was one: Christ not once deals with questions of speculative metaphysics, nor does Yahweh. In Genesis, God does not create the world and then contemplate its metaphysical attributes; indeed virtually everything he creates is phenomenal rather than noumenal or unconditioned in the Kantian sense; God is more concerned with action than with speculative contemplation, be it Yahweh or Jesus. If we add to this the observation made earlier that Jesus himself is the embodiment—or “incarnation” as we say—of the Logos, that this incarnation suggests an anti-metaphysical directionality, then all basis for a philosophical Logos vanishes, the house of cards collapses. But this is only a negation: what Jesus did not
He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18)
Does a child engage in the fatuity of speculative metaphysics? Surely not. Surely children are too wise for such a grand waste of time.
The philosopher—if we should sully such a great man by such a derogatory title—Ralph Waldo Emerson, intellectual and spiritual father of the American prophets, was the one who went most in the direction of articulating an imaginative Logos. Emerson writes, “Every verse or sentence, possessing [virtue] will take care of its own immortality. The religions of the world are the ejaculations of a few imaginative men. But the quality of the imagination is to flow not freeze … that thought may be ejaculated as Logos, or Word” (Emerson, Selected Writings, Signet Classics, Ed. Charles Johnson. 344-347) Emerson reclaims for the imagination the Logos as the imaginative, no coincidence given that Emerson is the least philosophical of all American “philosophers,” for it was Emerson who proclaimed unapologetically, “I have no system” (Selected Writings 63). Emerson needs no system because he has no neurotic striving for answers.
If Emerson was the Baptist of the American prophetic tradition, he was merely pointing to one grater than himself: Walt Whitman, the greatest poet of the American soil. Whitman likewise despised systems, Whitman who writes, “With the twirl of my tongue I encompass worlds and volumes of worlds,” Whitman who writes, “I have no chair, nor church nor philosophy,” Whitman who writes, “Do I contradict myself? Very well then … I contradict myself; I am large … I contain multitudes.” Indeed, who more than Whitman perpetuates the Yahwist’s demiurge, Whitman who writes:
Urge and urge and urge,
Always the procreant urge of the world.
Out of dimness opposite equals advance … Always substance and increase,
Always a knit of identity … always distinction … always a breed of life
Though Emerson prefugred largely, he was still only a voice in the wilderness of Concord, calling forth the one greater than himself who would unbind the spirit congealed, ossified and chained by centuries of philosophy and theology into dogmas and creeds and doctrines. It is Whitman more than any other who perpetuates the spirit of God in Genesis 1. ”I dilate you with tremendous breath … I buoy you up.” It is Whitman more than any other who has recaptured the prophetic voice of old whose soul has breathed new life into the crusted lungs of religion: “I too, following many and follow’d by many, inaugurate a religion … I say the whole earth and all the stars in the sky are for religion’s sake. I say no man has ever yet been half devout enough.”