[The following is a guest post by frequent commenter Andy, who regularly blogs at ad absurdum.]
Schneider is really laying her cards on the table in this chapter, which provides a happy philosophical release from the anticipation built up by all the necessary but preliminary historical work in the first part of the book. Here she weighs in with appraisals, assessments, and expressions of solidarity. The basic question of the chapter is: how to think multiplicity and so work our way out of theology’s dead end?
I think some of Schneider’s greatness is revealed in this chapter, and it is a greatness of compilation. She puts together series of formulations that change the way theology is thought, and draws insights from a variety of backgrounds in order to apply them to old questions. She also takes steps towards putting together some canons of thinkers that we might not have put together otherwise. These tools of thought help us to see similarities and so new interpretations of their work.
And the first way in which we may think a logic of multiplicity in theology is to take the incarnation seriously (and the failure to do so are is apparently initiated by Pelagius and broken by Ruether). This means not just reflecting on what it was that took flesh, but also examining the implications of the fleshiness that became divinised. Schneider claims that the recent return of the body to theology allows us to see other sexualities as divine, God as in solidarity with the tortured, enslaved and oppressed, and the goodness of divine development (over against stasis). All these moves may awake in us an awe regarding the unprescribed mystery and potential of the body (and here she perhaps surprisingly draws in Spinoza to provide the conclusion of these developments within liberation, process and feminist theology).
One major problem with the bodiless God is its lack of particularity. God becomes the fulfilment of everything in the abstract, but nothing in particular. As such the word God loses its power of reference to reality. It becomes removed and powerless. I found Schneider’s understanding of the body helpful here insofar as it did not fall into a dualism (as often) as other ‘body theology’ does: ‘divinity conceived as a primordial principle or a completion – even as a transcendent lure – can easily remain aloof to what makes particular bodies particular, namely their utter unrepeatability. With this avoidance of particularity by virtue of a summation of all particularities, the logic of the One remains intact and satisfied, if somewhat humbled.’ (pp140-1)
At the same time, the effort to think particularity is forever frustrated by the fact that in order to attain to particular people, events, characteristics (this dog, that day, this colour), you have to use general concepts that are shared with the rest of the world (this small brown dog, that day in September, this light blue). Schneider falls, with the early modern philosophers, on the problem of general ideas. But this very implication of the general in the particular leads us to an understanding of multiplicity. When we describe something particular, it is as if we wish to attain to a logical atom (and here her work does smack of Wittgenstein’s early desctruction of Russell’s misunderstood logical atomism), but the more detailed our analysis, the less we are able to distinguish between predicates and substantives.
Schneider follows this up with a brief (oh, so brief!) discussion of multiplicity among her continental canonical philosophers, Braidotti, Irigaray, Derrida, Deleuze and Guattari, Nancy, Badiou, and Baudrillard. Here she makes important elucidations of her thesis of multiplicity, whereby one is not subordinate to the many, the notion of number is necessary but not necessarily as built on the number one. She also aspires to write a logic of multiplicity, unwilling as she is to be marginalised to a dialect or idiom. This of course parallels her concern for ontology, and the last chapter’s resistance to leaving established ontologies in place.
The final section of the chapter sketches out a history of ways in which theology can and has thought ontologies of multiplicity, together with the accusations directed at the logic of the One since theology’s withdrawal from ontological debate with Kierkegaard and in response to Heidegger. The list of positive responses (which also act as motivations for thinking multiplicity) is a curious bag: firstly, physicists working after Einstein’s theory of relativity and Gödel’s incompleteness theory; secondly, thinkers reacting to the Eurocentric (and Pythagorean-inspired) tradition; thirdly, existentialist and phenomenologist theory who think ‘Multiplicity as the simultaneity and presence of unique becomings and passings away’ (p149); and fourthly, black, postcolonial, and white feminist psychoanalytic thinkers responding to the oppression of dark-skinned and female bodies.
Schneider closes by asking what ’embodied thought’ might mean. One constructive suggestion is the non-demythologising interpretation of parallels. Instead of abstracting from Jesus’ vision of the Kingdom of God in order to ascertain some abstract lesson, she wants to take these life-stories as direct stories of what it actually is. To resist transferring the stories to some metaphysical context of bodiless bliss and to see the divine in life stories.
Thoughts for reflection: No doubt others are able to assess Schneider’s interpretation of Deleuze, Nancy and Badiou better than I. I found her attempts at getting beyond the dualisms of the logic of the One either only partially successful or over-ambitious. They were partially successful when she asks to focus on the “carnation” rather than the “in”, which of course re-instates the distinction. And this is one of the problems of any discussion of the body. Perhaps it is a merely pedagogical problem. They were over-ambitious when trying to retain a logic, but discard the true/false dualism and embrace ‘meaningful contradiction.’ It is certainly unclear what logic can be without those. However, her work on locally circumscribing theological characteristics and the ontology of the multiple was excellent.