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Cross and KhoraReview - Cross and Khora
Deconstruction and Christianity in the Work of John D. Caputo
by Marko Zlomislic and Neal DeRoo (Editors)
Pickwick, 2010
Review by Beatrice Boatto
May 18th 2011 (Volume 15, Issue 20)

The seemingly dialogical structure of Cross and Khora is one of the most appealing aspects of this book: centered on the philosophical work of John D. Caputo, it manages not only to highlight the basic outlines of his thought, but also to provide a fruitful confrontation with other thinkers on a number of interesting subjects for the postmodern reader, especially if already familiar with the main themes of Jacques Derrida's deconstructionism.

The major question lying behind this volume could be summed up as such: is there really a way to analyze Christian theology through a deconstructive lens?

Can we use the apparently aporetic results of Derrida's deconstruction to open our religious belief to a whole new perspective, where our deepest doubts and questioning of faith itself can challenge the radical assumptions of contemporary philosophy and be strengthened by them?

Cross and Khora addresses the central themes of Derrida's research and Continental theology alike, offering an insightful perspective on both of them. Nonetheless, it pays detailed attention to the ultimately Christian nature of Caputo's work in order to combine the peculiar vocabulary of metaphysics with traditional escathological terms.

The book consists of 13 different essays (and a conclusive interview), each one focused on a specific theme of Caputo's thought: from negative theology to the undecidibility of faith, from the use of the concept of khora as a form of radical difference (or différance, to be more derridean) to the reciprocity and undiconditionality of love between God and the believer.

Each chapter also provides a detailed response from Caputo himself, whose incisiveness tends to slightly belittle the philosophical impact of the other contributors.

However, we must see this as an homage to a very significant figure within North-American philosophy and approach the book without any prejudice against a reasonably non-orthodox treatment of Christian dogmas.

The dominant role of the practice of deconstruction is drawn clear from the very beginning: it enables us to face the contradictory aspect of any theory that posits itself as definitive and claims to offer conclusive evidence of a certain supposed "truth".

In this specific case, the figure of the cross, regarded as the most powerful emblem of Christianity itself, is called into question in order to approach not only deconstruction as an essentially practical knowledge, but also Christianity as a rich source for contemporary philosophical enquiry.

According to Caputo, it is essential to understand that the apparent weakness of the crucified Christ is not to be perceived as the ultimate sacrifice, or the final (and failed) attempt at redeeming humanity from sin.

Philosophically speaking, the cross is to be seen as a cry for human responsibility, beyond all metaphysical claims, that somehow manages to emphasize the strictly contingent, yet extremely complex, essence and destination of human nature.

"Religion without religion": this is the paradoxical leit motiv this book aims at underlining; as we proceed through its pages, we might end up wondering whether Caputo is trying to convince us that ethics can successfully replace religious belief when it comes to decide which role faith plays in our lives, and I believe this can be an engaging issue for any reader.

It would be impossible to account for all the conceptual entries in the book, but there are undoubtedly some contributions that I have found particularly compelling.

David Goicoechea, for instance, is extremely sharp in his attempt at raising the question of alterity by quoting the parable of the Prodigal Son: which son is to be considered the good one? How can we practice forgiveness in the most conscientious way as religious (and perhaps Christian) human beings?

Another essay I would like to mention in this brief review is Thomas Carlson's "Negative Theology and Deconstructive Ethics: Caputo's reading of the Mystical": it effectively combines two key elements to understand this deconstruction of Christianity, namely the idea of a crossing of the limits of mystical theology and the emerging of the khora as a new way to retrace of our relationship with transcendency.

Philosophy is not the negation of faith, and it is not the most enduring demonstration that reason is an infallible means to analyze reality, as well as religion or any other essential matter. What Cross and Khora suggests us is that the apparent aporetic crossroads conceptual thought makes us face must not be perceived as terminal defeats in our investigation of life, and Christian religion is undoubtedly a case in which such a things often occurs.

I am convinced that such an assumption can be a good starting point from which to pursue an initial analysis of Caputo's thought, and this volume will certainly provide a fruitful path to follow in such a direction.

For those accustomed with the thought of Jacques Derrida, the book will represent a valid source for meditation and a re-thinking of his philosophical inheritance in a truly experimental way, that has never developed so radically within contemporary European thought.

In conclusion, Cross and Khora is well-edited, accessible collection that manages to provide a rich collection of essays as well as a compendium to John D. Caputo's remarkable work, and I would highly recommend it.


© 2011 Beatrice Boatto



Beatrice Boatto is currently a PhD candidate in Theoretical Philosophy at Ca' Foscari University, Venice, Italy. Her research is focused on the role of the aporia and metaphorical language within Jacques Derrida's thought, with particular attention to its declinations in contemporary literature.



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