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Journal of the American Academy of Religion

Paul Binski has written an imaginative and thorough survey of the systematization of Christian death and burial and its impact on the formation of medieval Europe. This essay burgeons with poignant and humorous anecdotes and contains dozens of elegant pictures and images which he skillfully interprets. His engaging prose glides the reader through complicated art-historical and theological concepts and hitherto obscure visual and literary medieval representations of death and the afterlife. This work not only helps unveil the profound significance of the visual and literary culture of medieval death but projects it richly onto a host of political, social, and theological matters. Students of medieval religion, medieval art, and medieval architecture will be delighted with this work. Yet several puzzling problems mar the essay and invite comment. Binski, an art historian who is expert and at ease with appraisal and discussion of fellow art historians and medievalists, forces his reader into unnecessary and bewildering encounters with an array of prominent social scientists. He peppers his own interpretations and conclusions with numerous catch phrases and abridged theoretical models taken from the works of anthropologists and sociologists such as Durkheim, Van Gennep, Levi-Strauss, Turner, and Douglas. Their presence, perhaps a holdover from the essay's naissance as a series of undergraduate lectures, seems superficial and lead the reader from contemplating Binski's aima study and interpretation of the literary, architectural, artistic, and archaeological texts of medieval death culture. The arguments would be no less persuasive if these excursions and references were left out, and the work is not strengthened by their inclusion. Perhaps a disservice is rendered to highly articulated theoretical models by swiftly introducing them and then proceeding on with little discussion. What may be most disturbing of all is the incorporation of Michel Foucault. Binski relates Foucault's writing on crime and punishment and the disappearance of public execution in the modern period to the "quandary and the dynamic of Purgatory as a collective representation" (199). Perhaps so. Yet Binski provides no elaboration and seems to assume that his reader grasps the complex and intriguing connection. The author weakens this well-crafted, creative, and fascinating work by attempting to thicken his description with many inefficacious interdisciplinary links. Brian Repsher Le Moyne College The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida: Religion without Religion. By John D. Caputo. Indiana University Press, 1997.416 pages. $19.95. Deconstruction has long been understood to be a critical discipline. Can "critical" be read as "prophetic" and thus in some sense religious? John D. Caputo makes the case for such an interpretation with erudition and dan. As critical, deconstruction has often seemed to contradict religious claims. Its distrust of immediacy or "presence" would seem to apply preeminently to claims of revelation; and its disassembling of all notions of a unifying center to reality

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appears to be an updating of the death of God. Over the past decade, however, Derrida's writings have become increasingly explicit in their engagement with religion. Caputo links the critical enterprise to what Derrida himself has called a "passion for the impossible." Attending to the traces of such a passion in Derrida (a task which is far more textual than psychological) leads Caputo to the notion of elements of a "religion without religion." Following Derrida, Caputo cautions that the "sans," the "without," is not simply negative. But there is a range of things which a passion for the impossible does seem to exclude, namely, anything predictable, programmable, anything which might be regarded as foreordained. This becomes an important point of negative orientation throughout the exposition. Beyond prizing imagination, this religion holds out for the unimaginable. Here, as at many points, the book engages fundamental issues in the understanding of deconstruction. For it is a common complaint that the operations of deconstruction itself are all too foreseeablea priori confinement to the prisonhouse of language, relentiess application of a predefined method with uniformly negative results. Contra this view, Caputo argues, rightly in my opinion, that in principle deconstruction does not and cannot preordain, because it is never in the "pre-" position. The act of deconstruction is always (or "always already") a response. A response to what? A response to "something calling from afar that calls it beyond itself, outside itself" (xix), outside the supposed prisonhouse of language. Caputo is reticent about naming the "something" God; with Derrida, he prefers Augustine's openended question, "What do I love when I love my God?" (Once again the way into the discussion is cherchez la passion.) What does indeed happen to "God" when linked to "the impossible"? Is affirmation of God then in any way possible? Caputo finds merit in allowing this question to hang fire in the realm of "undecidability." As regards religion, however, Caputo is far less reticient. To quote Derrida: "Religion is response" (156); and the response that constitutes (Derridean) deconstruction is religious. But religious in what sense? This is where the issue of preordination really kicks in. On the one hand, there are "the 'determinable' faiths," in effect, the positive religions, which have historically displayed an inveterate penchant toward triumphalism and oppression, toward seeing reality as preordained and completing the matter with the sword. On the other hand, there is what Caputo ventures to call "faith 'itself,' the indeterminate faith and openended hope in what is coming, in the coming of the tout autre, the passion for which is what deconstruction is all about..." (47-48). Armed with this distinction, Caputo makes a strong claim. "Deconstruction regularly, rhythmically, repeats this religiousness, sans the concrete historical religions; it repeats nondogmatically the religious structure of experience, the category of the religious. It repeats the passion of the messianic promise and messianic expectations, sans the concrete messianisms of the positive religions that wage endless war . . ." (xxi). In postulating a "category of the religious," the author himself may lean toward foreordaining. But this is Caputo at his most declamatory; his actual practice is highly nuanced. The book consists of six chapters treating negative theology, apocalyptic, messianism, gift, circumcision, and confession. The exposition is to some extent cumulative, but themes constantly recur, and each chapter is sufficiently self-

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contained that the reader may begin with whatever topic is of greatest interest. Interspersed among the six parts are an equal number of interludes or "edifying divertissements" in which Caputo, never entirely absent from a text, which he calls at one point "a game of Jacks" (xxix), steps forward a little more explicitly. Caputo speaks of these as moments of deconstructionist pietya little organ music, a collection platebut irony and all, they offer some of his richest reflection. Advocacy of the indeterminable is a guiding thread throughout. As regards apocalyptic, that which is to come is not "some determinable, forseeable object," for "every determinable telos is still 'present,' has already been anticipated within the horizon of what presently prevails ..." (73). The apocalyptic secret is that there is no secret, "that nobody has a revelation" (71). And yet Caputo would have us understand that the logic is such that this state of affairs only intensifies the passion. Indeed, it is what accounts for the passionas a passion for "the tout autre, the impossible, the . . . ab-solute surprise, which is ab-solved from the same" (73). But, it might be objected, is not the effect of such assertions to condemn the notion of the "to come" to utter vacuity? The chapter entitled "The Messianic," which treats Derrida's The Spectres of Marx, responds to such an objection initially by embracing it. Derrida does indeed ally deconstruction with a certain vacuity, with an "indeterminate, abstract, desert-like experience" (131). But such experience, it would seem, is not an end in itself. It is rather a necessary discipline, required if one is to gain critical distance upon the "assured set of distinctionsbetween fact and essence, example and exemplar, real and ideal, particular and universalwhich it is the whole point of deconstruction to disturb" (138). Significantly, such disengagement is of social, ethical importance. For it is precisely the ploy of the (determinate) established orders to distinguish between present reality and an ideal future, and to justify the present as moving toward the ideal. In the Marx book, Derrida is openly political in thus critiquing Frances Fukuyama, a recent apologist for the "new world order." What is to save the messianic from vacuity, it would seem, is a certain notion of "singularity." Derrida speaks of "the to-come of an event and of a singularity" (129). Supplementing Derrida with Heidegger, Caputo invokes a way of thinking for which "the individual, the singularity, is not taken as an instance or example of the universal ... Rather, the singular is affirmed in all of its singularity, respected in all of the richness of its idiosyncratic haecceitas, this-ness" (140). This then becomes a link to the ethical; it becomes possible to speak, however tentatively, of a "kingdom of singularities" (155). (Indeed Derrida's "religion" seems at times to consist of faith, hope, and democracy.) The matter is developed further in the chapter on "The Gift," in connection with Derrida's dictum," tout autre esttout autre"one translation of which is "every other is wholly other" (204). Quoting from Derrida's The Gift ofDeath, "God, as the wholly other, is to be found everywhere there is something of the wholly other," most particularly in "my relation to my neighbor or my loved ones who are as inaccessible to me, as secret and transcendent as Yahweh" (Caputo:208). From the first, Caputo's reading of deconstruction has taken its bearings from the elusive singularity named Jacques Derrida. It is for this reason that the religion

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that emerged has proved "more prophetic than apophatic, more in touch with Jewish prophets than with Christian Neoplatonists, more messianic and more eschatological than mystical" (xxiv; cf. 187). In a recent essay, this singularity is tested by a remarkable attempt at foreordination. In a jointly authored book entitled simply Jacques Derrida, Derrida's contribution, entitled Circumfession, runs across the lower portion of the pages. In the larger, upper portion a highly competent commentator, Geoffrey Bennington, attempts to set forth a sort of code for generating deconstruction, a series of concepts, a "Derridabase," which would lay bare the logic of all that Derrida has, and in principle ever will, produce. The wrench that Derrida throws into Bennington's conceptual machine is the singularity of what Derrida calls "my religion." Circumfession is a confession, doubling upon the work of his North African "compatriot," St. Augustine. But it is a "circumfession," attesting a cut that constantly shuttles, in the writing of it, between the autobiographical and the structural. Drawing upon the Memoirs of the Blind, Caputo helpfully comments, "Faith is structurally inhabited by blindness, which is its quasi-transcendental condition" (312; cf. 269). "Derrida has found it necessary to delimit knowledge in order to make room for faith . .." (103). If faith were constative, it could not be a passion; as a passion it is "a matter for performatives, not constatives, of invocation not declaration" (299). The "prayers and tears," vocative, and performative, may elude preprogrammed deconstruction. John Caputo's knowledge of the Derridean archive is truly impressive; not only does he hear resonances that move across the various texts, he creates them as well. The book is a feast of wordplay, but it is wordplay the mind can feed on. If the exact range of the book's polemic is at times uncertain, that too, with some justice, may be offered as an instance of indeterminacy. What is dear is that for anyone concerned with the interplay of deconstruction and religion, this is a landmark publication. Walter Lowe Emory University Language, Charisma and Creativity: The Ritual Life of a Religious Movement. ByThomas J.Csordas. University of California Press, 1997.342 pages. $40.00. This is Thomas J. Csordas's second monograph devoted to the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, a Catholic religious phenomenon dating from the late 1960s. This monograph complements Csordas's The Sacred Self: A Cultural Phenomenology of Charismatic Healing (California, 1994) by moving beyond healing to present a case study of how the Word of God/Sword of the Spirit group in Ann Arbor, Michigan understands and uses ritual language, particularly the concept of ritual "prophecy." Like the subjects in this study, Csordas clearly and appropriately takes "prophecy quite seriously" (17).

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