Schneider articulates straightaway one of the main concerns of the chapter: “A logic of multiplicity is not opposed to unity (the inclusive sense of One) or oneness (the exclusive sense of One), which means that divine multiplicity does not exclude either unity or oneness except in their absolute or eternal sense” (198). The fact that multiplicity opposes the One does not mean that it abandons any account of unity (or to use a more DeleuzoGuattarian term, “consistency”)—it is simply that multiplicity refuses to absolutize unity, to make it something that transcends and pre-exists the flux of existence. Thus oneness and unity “are proximal and partial aspects of the divine,” but never “the ‘whole’ story of reality” (198). They are, one might say, the effect rather than the cause of reality.
To think in terms of unity or oneness is helpful and necessary, for when we fail to do so the world becomes senseless and overwhelming. Furthermore, a failure to think in terms of unity and oneness renders us incapable of appreciating individuals—each individual, while specific and contextual, is nonetheless “a kind of One-itself” (198). Schneider recognizes a certain tension here, given that she has constantly polemicized against the logic of the One, often in the name of the particular, inexchangeable individual, and that she now advocates the logic of the One as a condition of possibility for an inexchangeable individual. She thus makes clear that the object of critique is not a contingent form of unity, but rather the tendency to move from unity-within-fluidity to originary unity, a move that is occasioned when “the logic of the One mistakes the nominal, sanity-producing value of oneness and unity for ontology, for reality” (199).
She continues on in this direction, showing from a number of angles how oneness and unity can be helpful—for instance, the importance of “functional unities” (200) in peacebuilding efforts, the way that humans filter out certain smells, and the moment of recognition between Mary Magdalene and the post-resurrection Jesus in the garden outside the tomb. In short, a practical, as opposed to a metaphysically reified, account of unity and oneness is necessary, and in many ways helpful, and thus should not be precluded from an account of divine multiplicity.
The chapter, having accounted for the relevance of practical unities (at least when set against/within a background fluidity), then shifts rather noticeably to a call for an ethics that is “capable of navigating a shifting surface without collapse, capable of responding to the velocity and gush of the embodied, real world” (202). Anticipating, perhaps, that some might discern an ineluctably antinomical structure within a call for promiscuity from within Abrahamic traditions—how can a God that stands against idols (recall Barth, in the last chapter, as an extreme version of this) achieve consistency with an ethics of plurivocal encounters?—Schneider contends that divine jealousy comes from humans rather than from the divine. After all, she notes, the command, “You shall have no other gods before me,” implies monolatry rather than monotheism. There are other Gods in play.
So she imagines it the other way around, in an intriguingly perverse Feuerbachianism: “What if the commandment, from within monotheism reflects not the jealousy of the Divine, but the jealousy of the people, a jealousy that naturally follows in the wake of the logic of the One?” (203) Here we should recall the very early chapters, where Schneider argued that the emergence of the logic of the One arises in light of traumatic experience and the need for security and/or certainty. Here we can see one of the payoffs of such a tale of origins. The same anxiety that engenders the logic of the One also makes us jealous of God. After all, God does not cease being multiple just because humans imagine God as One, so it makes sense to understand “divine jealousy” as in fact humans’ jealousy of God for being multiple. As Schneider says, “the people wish to control God’s promiscuous pursuit of lovers—of the world itself—and to somehow contain the very heart of God” (203).
The ethics Schneider suggests is one whereby people learn to imitate God’s promiscuous pursuit of lovers. Love means “being present” (204) to/in the multiplicity that is the world. She makes clear, following Bonhoeffer and Levinas, that such love “is grown-up, and it is not cheap” (205). It is a kind of differential repetition of incarnation, for what love demands is a being present to the world in its excesses, making divinity inseparable from the contours of the world. I will leave the final word (at least the final word prior to my “relections/questions”!) to Schneider, whose expression is quite elegant:
“As the conceptual shape of divinity, multiplicity is therefore the embodiment of love. And love is what divinity is because love cannot be One, as Augustine realized. Love, necessitating the existence of others, of difference, gravity, and encounter, is the divine reality of heterogeneity even among those usually classed as ‘same.’ And love is the only commandment that is possible in a logic of multiplicity, because at its simplest level, ethical ‘love’ is the actualized recognition of the presence of others, acceptance of the dangerous gift of the world itself” (205).
Reflections/Questions: I love the love. That said, how does the discourse of intrinsically excessive love intertwine with the apparent impossibility of such love? (Schneider mentions Derrida, but does not engage the relevant paradox that Derrida saw in the impossible possibility of hospitality.) And how does an ethics of being present cohere with the constant making-absent that is necessitated by a logic of difference?
Also, while I appreciate Schneider’s desire to provide an alternative account of oneness, I think it remains inchoate as it stands (which may of course be fine given the already wide-ranging—and successfully effected—aims of the book). Is oneness a pragmatic necessity that evades the reality of difference? Or is it somehow one aspect of reality? Is the goal to license a Kantian account of the phenomenal and noumenal, or a Deleuzian account of the actual and virtual, or (less likely) a Thomist account of the analogy of identity and difference, or something else?