The Call and the Response

The Call and the Response

The Call and the Response

The Call and the Response

Synopsis

In the aptly titled The Call and the Response, renowned philosopher and theologian Jean-Louis Chrtien revisits a favorite theme: how human life is shaped by the experience of call and response, explored using art as a context. For Chrtien, art is about acts in response to what the artist sees or hears and how these acts provoke responses from viewers. Deeply spiritual and intellectual without being academic, his arguments are unique, in both style and content.

Excerpt

Joseph Joubert used to say: “In order for a voice to be beautiful, it must have in it many voices together.” Each time a voice initiates speech for the sake of saying what is, there is at its core, like a force of momentum carrying it forth or like a promise keeping it, the whole sonorous profusion of all that it answers. We speak only for having been called, called by what there is to say, and yet we learn and hear what there is to say only in speech itself. We shatter silence only along its own hidden fault lines, or rather silence shatters of its own accord and resonates in our voice, since what makes us depart from silence must already inhabit silence, even though silence shines forth only in the voice’s light, since voice alone hears silence and knows how to keep it. A man must briefly stand up alone in the night if “the eternal silence of those infinite spaces” is to appear indeed as silence and be gathered up in the voice that reveals it. The voice that gives a voice even to silence has not, however, given voice to itself. We speak for having heard. Every voice, hearing without cease, bears many voices within itself because there is no first voice. We always speak to the world, we are always already in the act of speaking, always in the world still, so that the initiative to speak always comes calibrated with past speech, with a charge to speak, which it accepts and takes on without having given rise to it. Between my voice as it speaks and my voice as I hear it vibrates the whole thickness of the world whose meaning my voice attempts to say, meaning that has gripped it and swallowed it up, as it were, from time immemorial.

How must we think the call that makes us speak? How must we think the speech that responds and hears only by responding? How must we think the voice in which, and through which, alone both call and response become incarnate? How must we think this fleshly voice

[The citation, so familiar to a French audience as to have no need of a reference, is from Pascal. See Pensées, in Oeuvres complètes, ed. Jacques Chevalier, Bibliothèque de la Pléiade (Paris: Gallimard, 1954), 1113. Trans.]

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