Miracle and Machine: Jacques Derrida and the Two Sources of Religion, Science, and the Media

Miracle and Machine: Jacques Derrida and the Two Sources of Religion, Science, and the Media

Miracle and Machine: Jacques Derrida and the Two Sources of Religion, Science, and the Media

Miracle and Machine: Jacques Derrida and the Two Sources of Religion, Science, and the Media

Synopsis

Miracle and Machine is a sort of "reader's guide" to Jacques Derrida's 1994 essay "faith and knowledge," his most important work on the nature of religion in general and on the unprecedented forms it is taking today through science and the media. It provides essential background for understanding Derrida's essay, commentary on its unique style and its central figures (e.g., Kant, Hegel, Bergson, and Heidegger), and assessment of its principal philosophical claims about the fundamental duplicity of religion and the ineluctably autoimmune relationship among religion, science, and the media. Along the way it offers in-depth analysis of Derrida's treatment of everything from the nature of religious revelation, faith, prayer, sacrifice, testimony, messianicity, fundamentalism, and secularism to the way religion is today being transformed by globalization, techno-science, and worldwide telecommunications networks. But Miracle and Machine is much more than a commentary on a single Derrida text. Through references to scores of other works by Derrida, both early and late, it also provides a unique introduction to Derrida's work in general. It demonstrates that one of the very best ways to understand the terms, themes, claims, strategies, and motivations of Derridean deconstruction from the early 1960s through 2004 is to read critically and patiently, in its spirit and in its letter, an exemplary text such as "Faith and Knowledge." Finally, Miracle and Machine attempts to put Derrida's ideas about religion to the test by reading alongside "Faith and Knowledge" an already classic work of American fiction that is more or less contemporaneous with it, Don DeLillo's 1997 Underworld, a novel that explores the same relationship between faith and knowledge, religion and science, religious revelation and the World Wide Web, messianicity, and weapons of mass destruction in a word, in two words, miracles and machines.

Excerpt

In February 1994, Jacques Derrida participated in a small conference on the island of Capri devoted to the question of the nature and role of religion in the world today. Derrida’s essay “Faith and Knowledge: the Two Sources of ‘Religion’ at the Limits of Reason Alone,” first published in French in 1996 and then in English translation in 1998, is a revised and expanded version of the reflections Derrida offered on that occasion. It is a dense and difficult, highly synthetic and sometimes elliptical essay, in which Derrida gives us his most sustained engagement with the question of the nature of religion in general, the two “sources” of religion, as his subtitle puts it, as well as his most provocative and speculative interrogation of the forms religion is taking today. It thus includes themes we would expect to find in a work on religion (e.g., the nature of revelation, faith, prayer, sacrifice, testimony, messianicity, secularism, and so on) as well as themes that are a little more surprising and that Derrida will have treated elsewhere (e.g., teletechnology, telecommunications, globalization, media, sexual difference, sovereignty, democracy, literature, specters, and so on). What began, then, as an informal discussion with a small group of scholars, including Gianni Vattimo, Hans-Georg Gadamer, and Maurizio Ferraris, would thus become a seventy-eight-page essay that condenses a great deal of Derrida’s prior work and anticipates much of his work in the decade to follow. in other words, what began as a series of more or less improvised remarks on religion would become, as I will try to demonstrate in what follows, an absolutely crucial essay, a text . . .

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