“The Strange Contagion of Creation: A Writing on Love” (Part One)

When thinking about creativity – how it emerges and is sustained in living discourse – we must I think begin with a question: what is the character of creativity? This question, however, is itself riddled by its own obvious equivocality. Is it the question asked of creativity; or is it the constitutive question of creativity? When we dare to think about the character of creativity theologically, a ‘transcendental’ analysis in so far as we are thinking about the beginnings and endings that condition our understanding, how do we begin at all, i.e., when the questions we ask in and of our own creative enquiry proliferate beyond the tether of their original intention. Divorced as it is from any traditional metaphysical verity, the (theological) question of creativity I wish to explore here, in both philosophical and narrative prose, can but beg that we always begin again, as a cathartic consideration of our creation’s problematic beginning.

As such, a theological assessment of creativity is an engagement — a violent battle as much as it is a formal promise. But with or to whom? Charles Winquest’s description of theology as a ‘lover’s discourse’ is especially apt:

Love is an intense valuation of specificities in the finite display of experience. It is precisely because finite experience is highly variegated that the ‘yes’ to the importance of any specific person or object is meaningful. In Love, we are making life meaningful, but it is a meaning that can be neither contained nor controlled. Love makes life unsafe. This is its frightening and wonderful transformational power (1995: 149-50).

Clearly, this question of love – i.e., of theology’s identity or character, beginnings and endings – is not an easy one. It is, nevertheless, the one that will also most concern me here, this most characteristic question of creativity. Too often confused as an irrational discourse of mystical silence or an irrelevant discord of ecclesiological excess, the creative character of theology / the theological character of creativity must be given voice, even if we must begin with the echo of a god who may or may not be dead.
* * *
‘Are you listening? You never listen.’

You never talk —

‘You’re never here.’

You never look —

‘I love you, you know that? Are you listening to me right now? Do I have your attention? Do these words make sense? How can they when you don’t listen? You don’t see what you ought, what you must. ‘I am not unclear: I am to the point. Are you so blind as not to know? How could you not? Do you need me to rip open my chest — do you need to peek inside? Am I not transparent enough already? You look through me so well, can you not also see inside?

‘Look at me!’

It’s all the same —

* * *

‘Why might God be laughing?’ Milan Kundera wonders, as he reflects on the Jewish proverb, ‘Man thinks, God laughs’. He concludes that it is because ‘man thinks and the truth escapes him. Because the more men think, the more one man’s thought diverges from another’s. And finally, because man is never what he thinks he is’ (1988: 158). The joke is on humanity, he concludes, in its expectations of structure, of beginnings and endings that stabilise and congeal meaning and significance, that seek to fill an absence. The laugh, in other words, is on humanity insofar as it continues to think, thus missing the joke — i.e., the ‘sudden transformation of a strained expectation into nothing’ that Kant ascribes to laughter (1951: 177). As we will see, though, this excessive ‘nothing’ is a joke that quickly gets out of hand. The punch line of reality is simply too much, leaving us in stitches with our most insane of laughs, in which we snort inappropriately as though an animal, or weep in spite of ourselves, screaming ‘Stop! No more!’ — unsure if we mean it or not.

The comedy, as I see it, emerges from the peculiarity of God’s primal desire for a voice. Namely, that in finding his voice, i.e., in the Word, from which the whole of Creation is made real, God is not completely Himself. In fact, in even more scandalously theological terms, it is only in ‘original sin’ — the Fall of God from God, as it were — that God is at all.

Though his later thinking is riddled with ambivalence, to the extent that even Tillich could appeal to him as faithfully as I am now, in Philosophical Inquiries Into the Nature of Human Freedom and Ages of the World, Friedrich Schelling is particularly unambiguous on this point. The God that makes reality intelligible in the decisive act of love, i.e., in speaking himself into existence, must also relate to the Ground of his own existence. The God of Creation, therefore, ‘is not God viewed as absolute’ (1936: 32). The Creator-God, rather, the God of the Word, is God only insofar as He speaks. For Schelling, this explains ‘the veil of sadness spread over all of nature, the deep, unappeasable melancholy of all life’ (ibid: 79) — when the eternal-divine sine qua non of God only is inasmuch as, in the decisive act of divine creativity, it ‘contracts’ its (finite) existence, in the decisive act of its speaking, its self-creative Word.

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4 Responses to ““The Strange Contagion of Creation: A Writing on Love” (Part One)”

  1. Thomas Bridges Says:

    Brad, is this part of a larger essay?

    “The Creator-God, rather, the God of the Word, is God only insofar as He speaks. ”

    Is this something similar, for Schelling or you, to God as actus purus (pure act)?

  2. Brad Johnson Says:

    Yes, it is a part of a larger essay. I’ve just not had time to extract a second bit from it.

    Schelling is responding to the notion of God as actus purus, but I’m really interested in the ways that he deviates from the concept. Or, if he doesn’t deviate, runs with it in radical directions — at least as far as he is willing, which is not always too far.

  3. Thomas Bridges Says:

    I see. I suppose I might have known that if I had read Schelling. I look forward to Part 2.

  4. Brad Johnson Says:

    I’ll elaborate on this.


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