Against Appropriation

Almost done with Crystal Downing’s book. I’ve slowed down because I’m not entirely satisfied with some of her scholarship in this last half. She seems strong on Derrida and deconstruction; weak on Rorty and irony. She also seems to believe (mistakenly, imo) that C.S. Lewis would support a lot of postmodern epistemology. James K.A. Smith tried something similiar in the beginning of Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism? in a discussion of Francis Schaeffer. I think technically Smith’s point stands (re: appropriating non-Christian thinkers) but I don’t think you can use Schaeffer without heavily qualifying that Schaeffer would probably disagree very strongly with most of Smith’s project. He alludes to this early on but it’s a little mis-leading to the uninformed…

Which brings me to another great Percesepe article. In Postmodern Philosophy and Christian Thought (1999) he has an essay entitled “Against Appropriation: Postmodern Programs, Claimants, Contests, Conversations.” It’s a challenging piece to be sure, especially appearing as it does in a book essentially devoted to appropriating atheists and agnostics. Percesepe argues that all appropriation is violence by definition; yet avoiding appropriation is impossible (it’s essentially the history of philosophy after all). What to take away then? For one, it’s the idea of trace, the hidden voice of the author still lingering in the appropriated. More on the taking and being taken:

There is the matter of the apparition appearing at the inheritance, and one never inhabits, one never appropriates, one never recontextualizes, without coming to terms with some specter, and therefore with more than on spector. “Whose grave’s this, sir?” Nothing could be worse, for the work of mourning, than confusion or doubt: One has to know who is buried where.

We take from the dead, and even from the living, whatever we determine we need; but can we take without being taken? …Claimants who are not laid claim to, takers who are not taken, are claimants and takers to be feared, resisted, and ultimately, haunted.

No appropriation in the singular is possible; no appropriation is simple; no appropriation escapes the burden of the debt or gets out of committee without one; no appropriation ultimately evades the work of mourning, the specters of the future.

Philosophy haunts its own places as well as inhabits them. And philosophy is always more than philosophy if it is truly philosophy.

Appropriation is like the Eucharist: you take at your own risk, but not apart from self-examination, and mind the holy ghost of the Other… Before you take, consider also that you too are taken, blessed, broken, and ultimately given to the world. The best interpreters are broken, grieving, haunted, humbled, errant… At twilight, before or after a night of bad dreams the specter finds us, and no academic conjuring — by forgetfulness, by foreclosure, or by murder — will release us from the price of our appropriations, which bring into the world new ghosts, untimely ones.

Note too that the editor of this book is Merold Westphal, who even has an introductory essays entitled “Appropriating Postmodernism.” See now how subversive Percesepe’s article is? But nevermind, onto Westphal… for I’ve uploaded another essay:
“Postmodern and religious reflection” (1995) by Merold Westphal. Modern Theology (April 2007) has a Westphal article I haven’t read but looks very good: “The Importance of Overcoming Metaphysics For the Life of Faith.”