MEMOIR 9
 
 
 
 

 At no point are the catastrophic consequences of the modern realization of the death of God more openly manifest than they are in our ethical life and thinking, only in late modernity is ethics itself deeply in crisis, now the very possibility of ethical thinking and ethical action is deeply in question, and far more so than it has ever previously been.  All genuine theologians are deeply aware of this crisis, and so much so that in our world theology would appear to be alive only in the ethical arena, and only here is the contemporary secular mind open to the challenge of theology.  Is this a challenge that can be met?  Of course, overwhelming problems are posed by Christian ethics itself, and most dramatically for me by Albert Schweitzer, our only twentieth century theologian who can be known as a saint, but it was Schweitzer far more than any other New Testament scholar who demonstrated the total irrelevance of the ethics of Jesus, decisively calling them forth as an interim ethics only real by way of the immediate advent of the Kingdom of God, and yet it was in obedience to the purely apocalyptic Jesus that Schweitzer accepted his missionary calling.  Schweitzer also demonstrated, and most deeply in his great book on Paul, that Christian ethics loses its authentic and radical foundation when it is divorced from apocalypticism, this is just what occurs in ancient Christianity, and already so in the New Testament itself, as above all manifest in the Fourth Gospel.  Now even if it is true that Christianity again and again recovered a radical ethical ground, it did so only in its most radical expressions, all of which were directed against the very power of the world, a power here manifest as the very opposite of the power of Christ.

 It would be difficult to deny that it is Marxism which has released the deepest ethical passion in the modern world, and even if this is fully capable of being transformed into its very opposite, this had occurred continually in Christianity, and most so in those very periods when Christianity was most powerful and most unchallengeable.  Marxism has commonly been theologically identified as a Christian heresy, and above all so in its apocalypticism,  but Marxism arose at the very time of the ending of Christendom, leading many Christians to choose Marxism or Communism as the new Church, and a universal Church which is the destiny of all humanity.  Marxism most effected theology in its purely negative thinking, a thinking thinking against all established or “given” reality, but this is a dialectical thinking intending an absolute reversal of the given, and so it could be understood theologically as being in genuine continuity with authentic Christian thinking.  Certainly Marxism is a profoundly subversive thinking, but so, too, is theological thinking in its deepest expressions, and no one assaulted or subverted the ancient world more deeply than did Augustine.  Marxism is perhaps most ambivalent in its relation to Hegelianism, for it is at once a deep expression of Hegelianism and yet the deepest subversion of Hegelianism apart from Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, and it is the truly non-Hegelian expressions of Marxism such as Stalinism and Maoism which have been its most demonic and totalitarian expressions.

 One deep ethical problem which Marxism exposes is antinomianism, and an historical antinomianism, an antinomianism deeply directed against every historical law and authority, one echoing both the prophets of Israel and the prophets of Taoism, for antinomianism is inseparable from every genuine prophetic revolution, and it is reborn in every truly prophetic enactment, as we can see most clearly in modernity in the prophetic vision of Blake.  So, too, we encounter a profound antinomianism in Nietzsche, nowhere else are Blake and Nietzsche so deeply united, but this is a union which they also share with Marx, and it is only Marxism which has embodied a universal antinomianism, one posing the greatest revolutionary challenge which has ever occurred historically.  Or does such a challenge occur in the very advent of Christianity, and is this the challenge which historical Christianity has most deeply subverted or reversed, Nietzsche and Kierkegaard could share a deep understanding of such a subversion, so is it possible that subversion itself is a deep key unlocking the mystery of the genesis of Christianity?  Blake, Kierkegaard, and Nietzsche could all understand historical Christianity as becoming the very opposite of Jesus or the incarnate Christ, obviously this could only occur by way of a deep subversion, but is that subversion manifest in Christian ethics, or in our dominant Christian ethics, or in our ethical consciousness itself?

 Theologians have been most effective in the ethical arena in drawing forth the deeply destructive consequences of every pure imperative, or every imperative wholly divorced from the indicative, or every imperative which is “law” and law alone.  A Bultmannian demythologizing is perhaps most powerful in its demonstration of the identity of the imperative and the indicative in the deeper expressions of the New Testament, and such an identity is already present in post-exilic prophecy, as most fully manifest in Second Isaiah.  This is surely a deep ground of prophetic antinomianism, one which is shared by both Paul and the Fourth Gospel, and if only here the Fourth Gospel can be known as an apocalyptic gospel.  How could this be?  Is it possible that a deep subversion of apocalypticism could be a deep expression of apocalypticism?  And could this be said of historical Christianity itself?  Christianity is deeply paradoxical in so fully embodying an absolute negation of the world with an absolute affirmation of the world, and if this is most true theologically in ancient Christianity in Augustine himself, it nowhere occurs more concretely than in the ethical arena, for Christianity has simultaneously been a profound challenge to the world and a profound submission to the world, at once the most worldly major religion and yet the most other-worldly religion, and nowhere more so than in its ethical thinking and praxis.

 One has only to read the fourth volume of Barth’s Church Dogmatics to realize how deeply worldly even the deepest Christian ethics can be, yet this is clearly an “other-worldly” ethics, and even if it embodies the deepest affirmations of an ancient and paternalistic authority, it nevertheless subverts that authority, and most subverts it insofar as it calls forth an ethics whose first principle is that there is no humanity outside the humanity of Jesus Christ.  Our contemporary historical understanding of Jesus is centered upon Jesus the revolutionary, and just as this understanding has been deeply even if only indirectly affected by Marxism, we find it virtually impossible to understand a genuinely revolutionary thinking which is not in some deep sense a Marxist thinking, and while this no doubt played a crucial role in the genesis of the most conservative society in late modernity, this is a society which genuinely can be known as a truly “aethical” society, and the first such society in history.  Already a truly aethical or trans-ethical world was manifest when I was a young theologian, this alone appeared to make ethical thinking either unreal or utopian, then as now Buddhist ethics could be manifest as a real ethics precisely in its very “unreality,” and so, too, apocalyptic ethics can then be called forth as a real ethics, and most real in its very grounding in the end of the world.  Schweitzer is not alone in deeply understanding this, he could rather be thought of as belonging to a deep company of modern apocalyptic thinkers, thinkers and visionaries who have simultaneously deeply unthought and deeply rethought ethics itself.

 How does one find a way into this ethics?  First, it is clearly vastly distant from all of our established ethics, and so much so that it can only be an antinomian ethics, an ethics subverting every established ethical principle, and subverting it even by reversing it, as can concretely be observed in both Blake’s and Nietzsche’s reversal of the Decalogue.   It is very odd, indeed, that the Decalogue could have become known as a universal ethical law, a Decalogue originating in a unique covenant of Yahweh with Israel, and a Decalogue inseparable in the Bible from Torah, a uniquely Israelitic “law,” and so much so that Jewish scholars can truly demonstrate that such a law is unknown in Christianity.  But it is only the Christian form of the Decalogue that Blake and Nietzsche can so deeply attack, a Decalogue or “thou shalt” and “thou shalt not” which is and only is a pure and absolute imperative, hence a Decalogue truly absent from Judaism, but also absent from both Hinduism and Islam, so perhaps this is a uniquely Christian “Law.”   Such an understanding of the law can be known as having a deep source in Paul, and while absent in Augustine it certainly occurs or recurs in Luther, and is given its purest philosophical expression in Kant, and if this was a deep philosophical innovation, this is a reflection of a deep historical transformation, an historical transformation in which the indicative and the imperative become deeply divorced and deeply alienated and estranged from each other.

 Such a condition can be understood as a deep condition of the late ancient world, just as it can be understood as a condition making possible the genesis of apocalypticism itself, but the apparent ending of apocalypticism in both rabbinic Judaism and the Catholic Church does not finally end this condition, for it is reborn again and again in both Islamic and Christian apocalypticism, and we must never forget Luther's deep apocalyptic ground.  Only that ground makes possible Luther’s understanding of the dominance of Satan in our world, an understanding that had already occurred in Dante, and would be reborn in both Milton and Blake, and if this is a dominant motif in a uniquely Christian epic, that is an epic calling forth a profound ethical transformation, and one only possible by way of the deepest negation.  It fascinates me that Christian ethical thinkers can be so indifferent to the Christian epic, is there anywhere else where we can discover such a pure vision of an ultimate ethical transformation, or even discover an ethics so deeply engaged with its own world, my Stony Brook colleague, David Erdman, demonstrated in his marvelous book, Blake: Prophet Against Empire, that virtually every one of Blake’s images was directed to and against a deep historical actuality of his world, and just as this is also true of both Dante and Milton, it fully makes manifest an ethical language which is a truly embodied language, and embodied in the full actualities of history itself, as is no philosophical or theological language, or none apart from Nietzsche.

 But the Christian epic is also a deeply apocalyptic ethic, here ethical enactment and apocalyptic enactment are inseparable, and if this makes possible the deepest negation, this is a deeply ethical negation, one releasing a profound ethical affirmation, an affirmation only possible in the depths of the world itself, and in the depths of that world which is actually at hand.  Antinomianism is also powerful in the Christian epic, and as that epic evolves, so, too, does its antinomianism, while it is minimal in Dante, it is major in Milton, who deeply believed that Christ had ended the authority of the moral law, and then it is overwhelming in Blake, who could envision every law as the Law of Urizen or Satan.  Yet for both Blake and Milton it is the very ending or transcendence of all moral law which releases the deepest ethical engagement, or the deepest ethical action, only that ending makes possible what Blake knows as “self-annihilation,” and only that ending makes possible what Milton knows as a true and truly individual obedience to Christ.  Long before Nietzsche and Freud, Milton and Blake know law as the source of repression, and the deeper the law the deeper the repression, hence the necessity of the reversal of the “Decalogue,” or a uniquely Christian Decalogue, a Decalogue whose pure imperative is an absolute authority, and the absolute authority of God.  That authority is first imaginatively reversed in Paradise Lost, a reversal most deeply occurring here in the very kenotic movement of the Son of God, that movement has a full parallel in the ultimately downward movement of Satan, and it is the absolute opposition between Satan and the Messiah which is here the very arena of ethical engagement and life.

 What is most missing from modern theological ethics, and perhaps modern philosophical ethics as well, is any real opening to our historical world, a world in which ethics is seemingly impossible, but Max Weber established an ethical thinking seemingly the opposite of this, Weber had a deep impact upon my thinking, and most so in his unique understanding of Calvinism and an “inner-worldly” asceticism.  Thereby Calvinism can be understood to have truly transcended its origin in Calvin and a theocratic Geneva, but as Weber knew so deeply it never loses its ground in an absolute predestination, yet here predestination is embodied in historical actuality itself, and even embodied in the deepest secularization of Christianity.  Only Weber in the twentieth century has given us a deep understanding of secularization, here, as elsewhere, Weber is a deep Hegelian and a deep Marxist at once, and here, too, we discover an ultimate “cunning of reason,” and even if the culmination of this process is truly an “iron cage,” it is Weber above all others who has given us an ethical understanding of our historical prisonhouse, and just as Weber stands alone as a sociologist of the world religions, he stands alone in giving us a genuinely ethical understanding of our actual historical world.  Indeed, Weber could understand that a truly inner-worldly asceticism is a deep expression of faith, one releasing a full and pure action in the world, and a truly pragmatic action, just as he could understand that the prophetic revolution was made possible by what he termed the “psychic economy” of the prophets, wherein all the energy of the prophet is directed to a demand for action rather than mythical vision or understanding, a pure action that is total obedience to Yahweh.

 While Weber himself was broken by his own work, thereby allowing us a glimpse of its deep power, and even demonic power, his work does give us something like a sanctification of the forbidden, a theological justification of secularization, and one occurring in the realization that it is precisely a deep and pure secularization that releases the deepest energy, and one occurring not only in modern Calvinism but in ancient Confucianism, thereby we can see that these are the driving forces in  modernity, and forces which are most powerful when they are most theologically disguised.  Genuine Calvinism, in this sense, is truly an invisible religion, or a profoundly secularized faith, and it is precisely as such that it is most powerful, but here is a power inseparable from an ultimate confidence, and one only possible as a consequence of the terrible threat of damnation or an eternal darkness, and while no one can know whether he or she is saved, the very impossibility of this knowledge releases pure action itself, for this is an impossibility of knowledge inseparable from a certainty of deep providence, a deep providence which is predestination, and precisely thereby an absolute and total providence.

 Even the Marxist knows such a providence, and could not be a Marxist apart from the absolute providence or the absolute necessity of history itself, yet this is an absolute necessity impelling an absolute action, as Spinoza already knew, and while many can know our world as a totally pragmatic world, it is certainly not pragmatic in either Marx’s or Weber’s sense, for theirs is a pragmatism that can act only by turning the world upside down.  Is this a truly new ethics?  Or is it the renewal of an ancient prophetic ethics?  Both could be true, of course, if an ancient prophetic ethics had truly been forgotten in full modernity, and why is there so little awareness of the forgetting of ethics, have we not forgotten ethics more deeply than we have forgotten Being?  Yes, Levinas knows this, and Kafka, too, even as Spinoza knew it at the very beginning of modern metaphysics, but these are thinkers who think within the horizon of the Torah, is such thinking possible for the Christian theologian?  Can we understand deep action itself as an antinomian action, one released from every obedience to the law, or released from everything historically knowable as “law,” and if the Torah of Israel is a profoundly aniconic Law, it, too, could have been reborn in our history, but only insofar as it is open to a total secularization, but can that secularization in its very religious or ultimate antinomianism be a genuine rebirth of the Bible?

 Here, as elsewhere, the Christian subverts the Torah of Israel, but here a Christian subversion is most deeply a subversion of a uniquely Christian Law, just as it is the subversion of an absolute and total authority whose only full epiphany is in the uniquely Christian God, yet this is a subversion releasing a new life, and while this new life is inseparable from a new death, the death which it most decisively knows is the death of authority itself.  Such a death is inescapable in every full antinomianism, but is it inescapable in the fullest expressions of our ethical life and engagement, or in our fullest openings to humanity and the world?  Are such openings possible apart from a deep sense of providence or necessity, or apart from what theologically can be known as predestination, a predestination which is the consequence of a free grace and a free grace alone, and thus is absolutely independent of our choice or power?  In this perspective, it is moral discipline which most turns one away from grace, just as it is moral judgment which most disengages us from every actual opening to another, and “morality” itself which is a deep prison, and a prison in which the “law” itself is our warden, as Kafka so deeply knew.  Then the absolute authority of the pure imperative is an absolutely enclosing authority, one imprisoning us in its iron cage, then all deep assurance vanishes, and we can only say No.  Yet predestination can know even the most terrible judgment as a liberating judgment, one liberating in its total disenactment of everything that we can know as law, but one assuring us that even the deepest horror of an absolute No is finally an absolute and total Yes, and in hearing that Yes we are released into pure action or pure engagement itself.

 It is seldom understood that a pure predestination is an ultimate shattering of every possible law, or of everything that we can know or understand as law, hence predestination is profoundly antinomian, and most antinomian when it speaks in the name of an absolute Law.  Then the Law is totally shattered as “law,” but that shattering releases us from every legal authority, so that the royalist enemies of the Puritans could know predestination as the most ultimate assault upon all constituted or legal authority, and upon all human or historical authority as well, only here does an absolute assault upon all legal and historical authority occur, so that predestination is an absolute antinomianism, and one that Weber could understand as the driving force of modernity itself.  While Dante, Milton, and Blake all assaulted predestination, they nevertheless enacted it in their revolutionary epics, and most openly enacted it in their assaults upon the Church, a Church that has reversed predestination in its absolute laws, and most openly so in its absolute claims to temporal power and authority, claims which Dante was the first to profoundly assault, and he could understand these claims as the very voice of Satan.  In Paradise Lost the only absolute law is the Law of the Father, but the Son breaks or transcends that Law in the atonement, and only in His response to the Son’s announcement of his decision to effect that atonement does the Father recognize the majesty of the Son to be equal to His own.  This antinomianism becomes total in Blake, and it becomes total in an apocalyptic history that is a totally lawless and therefore chaotic history, but that is precisely the history in which an ultimate necessity or predestination is enacted.

 Every full philosophy of history is a theology of predestination, a predestination which is an absolute historical necessity, so that to understand that necessity is to understand predestination, and so likewise to enact that necessity is to enact predestination, so that not only are Hegel and Marx both philosophers of predestination, but here Marx is the deeper philosopher of predestination, for he can know genuine understanding as being inseparable from praxis, and thus can know a true understanding of history as an enactment of history, and as an enactment of that absolute necessity which is absolute predestination.  Only by deeply conjoining Marx and Hegel could Weber reach his revolutionary understanding of secularization, a secularization in which predestination becomes an inner-worldly and not an other-worldly predestination, and only thereby making possible that truly new assurance or truly new certainty which alone makes possible a total action in the world.

 Here, it is pure action itself which is a truly ethical engagement, but an action only possible on the foundation of the deepest assurance, an assurance wholly independent of every possible moral character or will, and it is only the deepest disengagement or disenactment of the moral will which releases pure action, a disenactment and disengagement which is a pure antinomianism, and hence an assault upon every possible moral action or response.  Consequently, in this perspective the “moral” and the “ethical” are truly in contradiction with each other, but here language fails us, for we have no words in any of our languages to express this meaning of the “moral” and the “ethical,” yet this lacuna is not a meaningless surd, for it is called forth again and again in our history, and for the Christian it concretely calls forth our forgetting of Jesus.  Have we truly forgotten that overwhelming offense which Jesus certainly evoked, and an offense most deeply occurring in those who most deeply know the “Law” of God, hence an offense most ultimately occurring in and to faith itself?  Is the way for which Jesus calls truly separable from that offense, or is the “ethics” of Jesus possible apart from the deepest offense, an offense to everything which we can possibly understand as "“ethics," yet also an offense to everything which we can understand as “morality” itself?

 While the form of the Sermon of the Mount is a construct of the Gospel of Mathew, it can nonetheless be accepted as the clearest and most decisive New Testament articulation of the ethics of Jesus, and it has been accepted as such throughout Christian history, but this is a truly radical ethics, indeed, one seemingly impossible to enact, and yet its language clearly calls for an actual obedience.  Only Schweitzer’s interpretation of this ethics makes it resolutely clear, but then it becomes impossible for all save the original Christians, for then it is absolutely inseparable from the immediate advent of the Kingdom of God.  But this interpretation does give us an ethics ending every distinction between the imperative and the indicative, for then the revolutionary words of Jesus, “be perfect,” are inseparable from their horizon in the immediate advent of the Kingdom of God, an advent that will give us that “perfection,” and if we follow more recent interpretations of the eschatological language of Jesus, wherein the Kingdom even now is dawning, this ultimate obedience so far from being a response to an absolute imperative, is a response to that indicative which even now is overwhelmingly present.  Thus the imperative is the indicative even as the indicative is the imperative, and if this ends everything which we can understand as ethics, it gives us a way which is actuality itself, an actuality which is the advent or dawning of the Kingdom of God.

 Here, too, we can see how absurd are all those interpretations which understand the Kingdom of God as the Rule or Reign of God, and even if these dominate New Testament scholarship, at no other point is our New Testament scholarship more deeply non-theological.  But is a theological ethics actually possible?  Or actually possible as an ethics which is in genuine continuity with the ethics of Jesus?  First, we can see that it is deeply problematic if this has ever occurred in the Church, or occurred therein apart from its most radical circles, and if we can understand movements such as the radical or “spiritual” Franciscans as recovering the ethics of Jesus, these are the very movements which are judged to be deeply heretical by the Church.  Second, we can see that the ethics of Jesus is profoundly alien to all of our established philosophical ethics, and if Kant seemingly most purely recovered this ethics in his understanding of the categorical imperative, that is an understanding which we can apprehend as being most distant from the ethics of Jesus.  Third, we are coming to understand that the ethics of Jesus is far closer to Buddhist ethics than to any established form of Western ethics, and if only thereby we can realize that a radical re-thinking of ethics itself is now inescapable.  But that re-thinking is clearly inseparable from a re-thinking of theology itself, and above all a re-thinking of “God,” and here a re-thinking of what Jesus could possible have meant in his seemingly spontaneous evocations of God.

 Is it possible that those evocations are always and at bottom evocations of the Kingdom of God?  Unfortunately, New Testament scholars can give us little assistance here if only because they are now so indifferent to all such questions, but if it is possible to answer this question affirmatively, or, to the extent that it is possible to answer it affirmatively, then theological ethics itself acquires a truly new meaning, and although one deeply known to Schweitzer, it is wholly absent from our theological ethics, and from our systematic theology as well, and absent because both this ethics and this theology are deeply non-apocalyptic, or even deeply anti-apocalyptic.  Throughout my theological work I have known theological ethics as a deep enemy, often thinking that professional ethicists are either fools or knaves, certainly real thinking is absent from our theological ethics, or, when it occurs, as in Barth, it is deeply conservative or reactionary, and despite its intentions therein allied with the most reactionary forces in our society, as is clearly manifest in the role of religion in reactionary movements throughout the world.  Surely our political pragmatists are wise in hoping to keep religion asleep or withdrawn in our world, and it is significant that ethicists are only actually heard when they speak in the most technical fields such as medical ethics, and virtually never heard when they speak in the human arena itself.

 We can understand that a deep assurance is wholly embodied in the Buddhist way, and even if this is an assurance inseparable from a dissolution or inactivation of all selfhood, it is nevertheless an ultimate assurance, and here it does parallel the way of Jesus.  There is an ultimate confidence present in what we can understand as the most authentic words and acts of Jesus, and if these are inseparable from the dawning of the Kingdom of God, that Kingdom is not only a source of deep hope, but of a deep assurance, and an assurance which is certainty itself.  And this is a certainty releasing the deepest engagement, an engagement which is a reversal of the values and laws of its own world, but that very reversal is an expression of certainty itself, a certainty which is the deepest possible assurance, and an assurance which is a response to or a reflection of that Kingdom of God which Paul could know as even now becoming all in all.  Schweitzer’s great book on Paul ends every real distinction between the ethics of Jesus and the ethics of Paul, and this is most clearly true inasmuch as each is a purely and fully apocalyptic ethics, hence an ethics inseparable from an apocalyptic and total Yes, and that is a Yes being enacted even now, so that we are not called upon to "“obey" this Yes, but rather to enact it, and to enact it as that which is most immediately and actually at hand.  Only a deep assurance and a deep certainty makes this possible, and a certainty not in “God,” but rather in that Kingdom of God which now and only now is actuality itself.

 As always, our most meaningful theology is a negative theology, and a purely negative theology, one here assaulting every manifest meaning of ethics itself, hence here a genuinely theological ethics could only be an antinomian ethics, yet it is precisely the deepest antinomianism which releases the purest assurance.  But if we can understand such assurance as being absolutely necessary to real action or real engagement, then we can understand it as a reflection of that indicative which is indistinguishable from the true imperative, an imperative not coming from the beyond, not coming from “God,” but arising from immediate actuality itself, so that genuine assurance or genuine certainty is in no sense either hope or “faith,” it is far rather an ultimate acceptance or an ultimate Yes-saying to that which is most immediately and actually real.  Thereby we can understand how this is a Yes-saying that not only can but must undergo an ultimate and comprehensive secularization, a secularization which theologically can be understood as an incarnational movement, and precisely thereby a movement reversing “God,” or reversing that God who is pure transcendence and pure transcendence alone.  Can we assert that the ethics of Jesus is one making impossible that God, and that we most deeply forget the ethics of Jesus by remembering or recalling or renewing God?

 This does make manifest the deep question of whether or not it is possible to know God in enactment itself, or in pure action or pure act, is that an act ending every apprehension of God, and doing so in the pure immediacy of pure act itself?  This does bring a new meaning to a purely ethical engagement or ethical act, one which Weber surely understood in his radical understanding of secularization, but thereby Weber joins hands with Nietzsche, too, for it is Nietzsche who most deeply understood how pure enactment could only be an enactment of the death of God.  Yet this is an enactment only historically possible within a Christian horizon, an horizon not only knowing the Crucifixion as the one source of redemption, but knowing a repetition or renewal of the Crucifixion as the deepest possible praxis, the deepest possible act or enactment.  Is that an enactment already present in Jesus’ ethical call, a call to self-negation or self-emptying, and one which is not simply a response to but an embodiment of that Kingdom of God which even now is dawning?  This could not possibly be understood as obedience, and certainly not as an obedience to any possible law, for here the imperative wholly disappears, or is manifest only as an imperative which is indistinguishable from the indicative itself, and therefore an imperative which is the very opposite of “law,” and hence the very opposite of the Law of God.  Paul profoundly understood this, and if Paul created Christian theology, it is precisely at this point that our theology has most deeply reversed Paul, and done so most deeply in its very knowledge of God.

 This is a knowledge which must be reversed in any genuinely Christian theological ethics today, Barth understood this in his own way by understanding the deep theological necessity of the dissolution of every possible philosophical theology, but that theology is manifest in Barth’s explicitly ethical writing, a writing evoking the absolute authority of God, and the absolute authority of that God who is the absolute or categorical imperative, so that the older Barth reminds one of the Plato of the Laws and of the Hegel of the Philosophy of Right.  Must theological ethics of necessity be a deeply conservative ethics in our world, but surely such conservatism is a universe removed from Jesus himself, hence here we must forget Jesus if we are to be capable of an ethical theology, and that forgetting of Jesus is not new, it is in deep continuity with the overwhelming body of Christian tradition, therefore such ethics is truly orthodox, and most orthodox in its very forgetting of Jesus.  Nietzsche was not alone in regarding the theologian as the purest enemy of any possible act or enactment, and if he could know theology as being capable of No-saying and of No-saying alone, this is a No-saying which is the source of the deepest possible “other,” hence it is the source of ressentiment, and of that ressentiment which is the ultimate source of all repression.  Hence it is the source of the deepest barriers between us, barriers which can never be crossed apart from its dissolution, but barriers which are dissolved in pure act or pure enactment itself.

 Yet pure act is a wholly spontaneous and immediate act, one wholly without an intention or goal, a truly purposeless act, and only thereby can it be a truly immediate enactment.  If the Kingdom of God is absolutely other than everything that is given or manifest as world, the enactment of the Kingdom of God nevertheless does not occur in heaven or the beyond, it occurs here and now, so that the ancient Church, and most purely Augustine himself, in understanding the Kingdom of God as a purely spiritual and purely heavenly kingdom, profoundly subverted and reversed Jesus’ own enactment of the Kingdom of God.  Then ethics can only be a “spiritual” or other-worldly ethics, one confined to the City of God as opposed to the City of Man, and if Dante revolutionized Augustinian thinking in his vision of the equality of the Empire and the Church, that is a truly apocalyptic vision as Augustine’s is not, and one calling forth an ultimate action in the world itself, so that in Book III of De Monarchia Dante formulates two ultimate goals (in duo ultima), goals corresponding to two forms of beatitude, as opposed to the one and only eternal beatitude which is the orthodox doctrine of the Church.  Nothing was a deeper ground of Augustine’s thinking than an eternal beatitude, he could even most deeply oppose an ancient cyclical thinking because it  threatens the eternity of this beatitude, but this is the very beatitude which is ever more deeply reversed in the history of modernity, and yet that history does ever more fully release an ultimate action, even if that action culminates in an iron cage.

 The decisive question for us is how to act in our iron cage, or is genuine action possible for us, is our final destiny only a deep and pure passivity?  The very words “thou shalt” evoke for us a call to such a passivity, and Nietzsche was not alone in responding to the ethical language of his world as a truly demonic or self-lacerating language, a deep motif virtually universal in late modern literature, so that at least in our world an ethical language can be known as a Satanic language, and Satanic in its very repressive power.  A shattering of that language could open a way to liberation, yet now a liberation only possible in the darkest of all worlds, and therefore a darkness which is truly a repetition of an ancient apocalyptic darkness, but that darkness is precisely the arena of an apocalyptic enactment, and one releasing the depths of action in the depths of darkness itself.  One must never forget that a tiny Jewish apocalyptic sect did transform the world, and even if it transformed the world only by transforming itself, nevertheless apocalypticism here and elsewhere demonstrates its enormous power, even its absolute power, one which is truly understood by both Marx and Hegel, both of whom could know an apocalyptic negativity as a revolutionary negativity, and most openly revolutionary in its absolute acts or enactments.

 So that if absolute acts which are apocalyptic acts are the source of our iron cage, does not the recognition of such an apocalyptic ground of our imprisonment imprison us all the more, or does it open the possibility of genuine action within our cage?  Here, we are offered little if any guidance by our philosophers, who have realized a vacuum for us that is entered only by our great artists, and here the most obvious challenge is the challenge of Finnegans Wake itself, our final epic and our final wake, and if this work is the deepest realization of our unconscious which has ever occurred in any work, its dreamers are vibrantly awake, and most awake in the pure immediacy of their language, a language calling forth not only a universal humanity, but a humanity that is overwhelming in its language, and here pure language is pure act.  But it is so only when we can least understand it, only when it is most distant from our minds, hence the necessity of this radically new language, yet even if we cannot understand it, we truly hear it, and hear it above all as enactment, a purely immediate enactment ending every barrier which is present upon its horizon, and only thereby can it culminate in its ecstatic Yes.  Written at the time of our final ending, within the shadow of the Holocaust itself, and both recording and enacting a darkness more comprehensive than any other which has been called forth, the Wake is nevertheless a joyous wake, and most manifestly joyous in its very language and speech, as for the first time text is inseparable from speech itself, and if that speech continually speaks an absolute assault and No, it nonetheless evokes a deep Yes in that No, and its final word is Yes and only Yes, and even a Yes in and to this very No.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 

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