Words Fail: Theology, Poetry, and the Challenge of Representation

Words Fail: Theology, Poetry, and the Challenge of Representation

Words Fail: Theology, Poetry, and the Challenge of Representation

Words Fail: Theology, Poetry, and the Challenge of Representation

Synopsis

There has been much philosophical speculation on the potential failure of language as well as the search for a presentation of the "thing itself" beyond representation. Words Fail pursues the writings of a trio of philosophers--Jacques Derrida, Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, and Giorgio Agamben--as prime examples of how modern poetry presents us with a profitable vantage point from which to survey the ongoing struggle of living in a highly fragmented world.

Alongside these thinkers, this book looks specifically at the form of spirituality that is given shape by this intersection of poetics and theological-philosophical reflection--all of which offer rich suggestions about our spiritual nature.

Excerpt

Go blind now, today:
eternity also is full of eyes—
in them
drowns what helped images down
the way they came,
in them
fades what took you out of language,
lifted you out with a gesture
which you allowed to happen like
the dance of the words made of
autumn and silk and nothingness.

—Paul Celan, from Atemwende

In the Paul Celan poem that opens this Introduction, we witness the perpetual and yet creative tension between sight and blindness, images and darkness, gesture and language—between being removed altogether from language and being confined to its interminable oppressions. in Celan’s poetry, as in so many other great poets, we enter into the ephemeral “dance of the words” that undulates like silk, but also contains the nothingness (“Nichts”) that permeates our being. the initial command to “go blind” may strike us as a bit nihilistic, but it also speaks directly to the futility of using these eyes, which eternity too has in abundance, when they have witnessed an overabundance of images—including many horrific ones— passed down over the ages.

What Celan reminds us of in this haunting poem, is what his work often draws us to contemplate through his meditations on the nature of language, of the word itself and its harrowing passage through eternity. It is as if Celan’s poetry invites us time and again to look toward the nature of language and our confinement within it in order to push its boundaries, perhaps, from time to time, to consider the possibility of a gesture beyond . . .

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