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After Writing: On The Liturgical Consummation of Philosophy (Challenges in Contemporary Theology) [Paperback]

Catherine Pickstock
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

20 Nov 1997 0631206728 978-0631206729 0
After Writing provides a significant contribution to the growing genre of works which offers a challenge to modern and postmodern accounts of Christianity.


Product details

  • Paperback: 312 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell (20 Nov 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0631206728
  • ISBN-13: 978-0631206729
  • Product Dimensions: 2.2 x 15.1 x 22.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 822,466 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Review

"Highly recommended." Fergus Kerr, Blackfriars, Edinburgh " After Writing establishes Catherine Pickstock as one of the most promising young theologians in the English–speaking world. The book is insightful, provocative, and of consistently high scholarly quality." L. Gregory Jones, Duke University "I applaud the thesis of this impressive work." Paul Avis, Center for the study of the Christian Church Exeter "One could in conscience recommended this volume only to the ambitious and determined, but they will find it rich, and Pickstock is a name to be watching for." William C. Placher, Christian Century "Catherine Pickstock, has perhaps written the best riposte yet to the archbishop′s request for a ′spiritual space′ within the Millennium Dome." C. W. Kemp "Pickstock′s discussion of Derrida is sophisticated." Bryan D. Spinks, Yale University "Lightning may now be said to have struck in the form of Catherine Pickstock′s After Writing , a bright flash in the sometimes murky world of religion and Postmodernism." David Williams, Religion & Literature "its theses are destined to be the subject of much discussion." Tracey Rowland, Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge "Her argument deserves to be widely discussed: it is genuine theology, an example of what might be done were Christian theologians to abandon idolatry and take seriously the reality of the triune God to whom their work is supposed to be subject." Paul Griffiths, University of Chicago "The proposal of a radical self–surpassing giftedness in the eucharist invites the possibility of future conversations with other hermeneutical positions." David Livingston, Mercyhurst College "This a book of real originality, and in its finest moments it achieves an almost visionary intensity ... She is extraordinarily gifted, and I suspect that in this book we have merely glimpsed her portent." Pro Ecclesia

From the Back Cover

After Writing provides a significant contribution to the growing genre of works which offers a challenge to modern and postmodern accounts of Christianity. Catherine Pickstock shows how Platonic philosophy did not assume a primacy of metaphysical presence, as had previously been thought, but a primacy of liturgical theory and practice. The author also provides a significant rethinking of Christian understandings of language, temporal and bodily life, and notions of the presence of God by discussing the Christian understandings of the liturgical practice, especially in the Medieval and pre–Enlightenment era. Through a detailed reading of Plato′s Phaedrus, the medieval Roman Rite, and a discussion of the theology of the Eucharist, the book indicates directions for the restoration of the liturgical order. This book will be required reading for all systematic and philosophical theologians and their students, besides being of great interest to liturgists, historians and linguists. The ideas presented in the book are both significant in themselves and of great use at a teaching level.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
In this first Part of this essay, I trace the emergence of the unliturgical world, the lineaments of whose struggle to quell the agonies of obsolescence and desire can be seen in the lateral consolations of universalized strongholds, cities whose citizens are regulated either visibly via military force or written contract, or invisibly, via the dissemination of unquestioned assumptions regarding the nature of reality and the human subject. Read the first page
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Undeniably brilliant 27 Aug 2002
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
There is no doubt about it: this is a brilliant book, and one which it will be hard for anyone engaged in serious theological reflection to ignore. Pickstock opens up liturgy as a way of engaging with time, and of critiquing much contemporary thought. Her analysis is far-reaching - it ranges from Plato to Derrida - and invariably insightful.
As with any brilliant book, however, there are problems. The book's ambition is so great that at times it covers ground too quickly. For instance, there is a discussion of Italian Futurism which seems out of place and is too rapid. Moreover, the historical sweep of Pickstock's argument will be off-putting to many readers. It is philosophically sophisticated, but historically simplistic.
However, such annoyances merely encouraged me to engage with the book more profoundly. It is hard to imagine reading this book without thereby feeling enriched.
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Amazon.com: 3.9 out of 5 stars  7 reviews
64 of 66 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A treatise of startling intellectual power 1 Mar 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This is a remarkable treatise, and I can do no better than to quote what Latin Mass Magazine (Winter 1998) had to say:
"Dr. Catherine Pickstock of Cambridge University is an unusual philosopher: she has an ear for liturgy and, though a member of the Church of England, she has studied and is deeply inspired by the traditional Roman Rite of the Catholic Church.
"At first glance, her book After Writing: On The Liturgical Consummation of Philosophy (Malden Mass.: Blackwell, 1998), which develops her doctoral dissertation, appears to be an abstract and extremely difficult work of politico-literary criticism, intended only for specialists. But what actually emerges in her defense of 'radical orthodoxy' is quite possibly the most poetically powerful defense of the Mass, and its place in culture, in a generation.
"Her thesis: outside liturgy, as embodied in the traditional Mass, there can be no meaning. The first half of her book examines the crucial role of praise of the divine, or 'doxology,' in the philosophy and culture of the ancient world. She explains how, with the coming of Christendom, the doxological dimension of antique thought was brought to a fuller realization in early liturgical texts, and thereby shaped the culture and politics of civilization of the pre-modern era.
"The second half subjects the entire Mass text to a remarkably close, phrase-by-phrase, philosophical and theological analysis that turns the method of postmodern literary criticism in on itself. She concludes that the old Catholic liturgy is the 'culmination' of philosophy, art, literature, and life itself, and defends that position in a treatise that has astonished reviewers with its brilliance, erudition, and sheer intellectual rigor."
48 of 58 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant, but sometimes shockingly deficient. 21 Nov 2002
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
There are some really fantastic elements in this book. But let me tell you first that I am a Catholic associated with the movement to restore the Tridentine Rite, and I can legitimately call myself a Thomist as far as my metaphysics and theology go. And so my criticisms of the work do not flow from a rejection of either of these.
Pickstock's reading of Plato's Phaedrus and her refutation of Derrida are a cut above. Because Derrida is so obscure in style and terminology, Pickstock's refutation necessarily comes off a bit obscure itself. But she also seems very comfortable with that sort of discourse and makes little effort to speak to those who are untouched by post-modernist drivel. Still, it is a very rich and incisive critique of Derrida, the best I have read.
Many of Pickstock's criticisms of modern philosophy and the evolution of modern languages seem to me to be very original, very accurate, and very important. Unfortunately, she has some gross misunderstandings of medieval philosophy, in particular Duns Scotus and Thomas Aquinas.
For Aquinas, body and soul are *really* distinct. The fact that the two are inseparable in material beings has no bearing on the issue. Wherever there is composition, potency and act must be really distinct. This applies both to the essence/act-of-being distinction and the matter/form distinction. The distinction of matter and form is therefore not a logical one as she claims. This error is astounding in one who claims to follow Thomas.
Her portrayal of Scotus is so flawed that it would take a short book to refute it. But let me get at least to the root of her difficulties, namely the "univocity of being". There is a great danger in learning your Scotism from thomists, because they are so intent on proselytizing Thomas that they rarely make an honest effort to understand alternative formulations. There is a common myth, no doubt reassuring to these thomists, that the golden age of medieval philosophy ended with the death of Aquinas in 1274. (Rather than actually argue the philosophical facts, everyone today seems content with telling these rhetorically charged "histories" of philosophy. They are in fact quite useless.) Everyone before Aquinas is his precursor or opponent. Everyone after him represents a deviation and a failure to understand him. There is a rise, a peak in Aquinas, then a progressive decline. It is a lot more complicated than this. Contrary to Pickstock's claim, Scotus was not primarily addressing Aquinas at all, but Henry of Ghent, who maintained not an analogy of being, but an equivocity of being. Scotus answered that there *had* to be some sense in which being is univocal, notwithstanding the denial of Saint Thomas. (He does not thereby deny that being is also predicated analogously!) But Scotus also meant something different by univocity. Univocity is simply that which suffices for a middle term in a syllogism. It does not have the baggage that Thomists try to foist upon it. And Scotus points out that even those who reject univocal being in fact make constant use of it.
Now Aquinas describes several sorts of "analogy". The "analogy of proportion" is the proportion between essence and act-of-being. It is only within created beings, because there is properly speaking no proportion between essence and act-of-being in God, only identity. The second holds *between* one being and another. This class will later be called the "analogy of attribution." In this latter sort of analogy, there is one "ratio" (aspect) in which two beings are the same and one in which they differ. So this kind of analogy reduces to a combination of univocity and equivocity. Scotus simply isolated this univocal aspect, and showed that it is the foundation of quantitative comparisons of beings. Hence his distinction between the infinite mode of being (God) and the finite mode of being (creatures). Rather than produce these unending mock contests between Scotus and Aquinas, Thomists should spend more time actually reading both philosophers. All of Pickstock's misrepresentations of Scotus flow from this fundamental misunderstanding.
Although I appreciate Pickstock's promotion of the Tridentine Rite, her motivations seem to be misplaced. She seems far too concerned with the social role of religion, as though Christianity were first and foremost about Christians and only then about Christ. A Catholic certainly cannot accept this distortion. The Real Presence for a Catholic must always be the "Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity" of Jesus Christ under the appearance of bread and wine. The Reality follows infallibly from the sacramental action of the ministerial priesthood, not from the priesthood of all believers. This Angelic Bread nourishes and builds up the Mystical Body through the practice of Holy Communion. So the Real Presence has priority over the Mystical Body. And it is precisely this that was forgotten after Vatican II.
This book is flavored with Pickstock's High Church Anglicanism and post-modern agenda. It is worth a read, but Catholics need to be wary when she claims to accurately characterize medieval (i.e. Catholic) thought.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A treatise of startling intellectual power 1 Mar 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This is a remarkable treatise, and I can do no better than to quote what Latin Mass Magazine (Winter 1998) had to say:
"Dr. Catherine Pickstock of Cambridge University is an unusual philosopher: she has an ear for liturgy and, though a member of the Church of England, she has studied and is deeply inspired by the traditional Roman Rite of the Catholic Church.
"At first glance, her book After Writing: On The Liturgical Consummation of Philosophy (Malden Mass.: Blackwell, 1998), which develops her doctoral dissertation, appears to be an abstract and extremely difficult work of politico-literary criticism, intended only for specialists. But what actually emerges in her defense of 'radical orthodoxy' is quite possibly the most poetically powerful defense of the Mass, and its place in culture, in a generation.
"Her thesis: outside liturgy, as embodied in the traditional Mass, there can be no meaning. The first half of her book examines the crucial role of praise of the divine, or 'doxology,' in the philosophy and culture of the ancient world. She explains how, with the coming of Christendom, the doxological dimension of antique thought was brought to a fuller realization in early liturgical texts, and thereby shaped the culture and politics of civilization of the pre-modern era.
"The second half subjects the entire Mass text to a remarkably close, phrase-by-phrase, philosophical and theological analysis that turns the method of postmodern literary criticism in on itself. She concludes that the old Catholic liturgy is the 'culmination' of philosophy, art, literature, and life itself, and defends that position in a treatise that has astonished reviewers with its brilliance, erudition, and sheer intellectual rigor."
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Read for the second half ... 9 Jun 2011
By Robert C. Hamilton - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Catherine Pickstock's After Writing came highly recommended to me from several sources as a profound and original critique of postmodernity and engagement with so-called "postmodern theology." While this dense volume is all that, I find it to be far more interesting as a defense of the traditional Latin Mass (the Tridentine, or Extraordinary, Form of the Roman Missal) than as a critique of other modes of thought.

Pickstock begins with a challenge to Derrida's famous reading of Plato's Phaedrus in his 1972 essay "Plato's Pharmacy." She attempts to argue, contra Derrida, that Plato does not so much privilege logocentric,"presence" in the guise of Theuthian "writing," as conceive of being as directly attached to orality and to a process of supplementation that partakes of excess rather than absence. She takes Derrida to task for associating Theuth exclusively with scribal écriture, providing a wealth of counter-examples from Egyptian papyri. Unfortunately, she does not offer such specificity when arguing that Derrida's thought can be reduced to pure nihilism. The argument is exceptionally difficult, but I believe Pickstock means to say that since the deconstructive "trace" constantly postpones meaning in a chain-like structure, meaning never actually exists, leaving nothing but "pure" difference. However, if there is only pure difference without a meaning from which traces differ, such a state could not be distinguished from pure *indifference.* Ergo, deconstruction can actually be said to rely on a metaphysics of presence. This last jump, however, strikes me as somewhat wishful thinking. To say deconstruction is "nihilistic" is potentially defensible; to insist that such nihilism is somehow logocentric does not follow so clearly.

Continuing the first part of the work, Pickstock moves forward from Plato (but backward from Derrida) to focus on the sempiternal whipping boy of both postmodern and traditional thought, René Descartes. As Descartes is so frequently identified as the progenitor of all that is wrong with modernity, this critique is less original, though still interesting. Descartes, she argues, only appears to begin from pure epistemology in the cogito; really, such a beginning requires a metaphysics in which the world is mapped out and comprehensible in a simple, propositional way -- a conception of reality Pickstock refers to as "mathesis." Ultimately, in this and the "transitional" middle section of the novel, she means to set up an archaeology of knowledge in which the Sophists began Duns Scotus, who begat William of Occam, who begat Peter Ramus, who begat Descartes, who begat Kant, who begat Heidegger, who begat Derrida. For me, it goes without saying that such a sweeping claim (and, really, a sweeping condemnation) requires a good deal more careful proof than can be contained in half of a 270-odd page book. Much of this first section goes by breathlessly, assuming that readers will take it almost on faith that (for instance) Derridean philosophy depends upon Cartesian-style mathesis, a claim that flies in the face of much in Derrida and other prominent spokespeople for "postmodernity."

Pickstock begins to slow down in the "transition," in which she seeks to demonstrate how "liturgical culture" (i.e. the High Middle Ages, Thomism in particular) undermined itself from the inside via Scotus's critique of Aquinas on being, immanence, etc. The salient divergence, for Pickstock, is Scotus's rejection of the Thomistic "analogy of being" in favor of a "univocity of being" dependent upon categories of being anterior to any actually existing being. Other reviewers have dealt with this section far more thoroughly than I can; suffice it to say that the argument is not outlandish, and Pickstock treads more carefully here, immersing her text in footnotes from the French neo-Thomists, especially Étienne Gilson. Marring the section is a perhaps too willing acceptance of 13th century Europe as a liturgically-oriented paradise, only ever contradicted by a half-hearted disclaimer at the very end of the section. Although Pickstock claims later to have no truck with conservatism, her vision of a guild-based feudalism in which, for example, the presence of praying beggars allows for a truly humanized charity (not "impersonal" contemporary philanthropy) wanders dangerously close to fetishization, and willfully elides the cruelties and depredations of the era.

If I have spent so much time on the deficiencies of this text, it is only because I consider even its weakest sections to be worthy of close attention. The book really begins to shine in the final section, in which Pickstock defends the Roman Rite as the "consummation of philosophy." The argument is far too nuanced and complex to detail in full, but she especially succeeds when closely reading the Latin text itself and commenting simultaneously on the nature of language (the Roman Rite, for example, by frequently "re-beginning" or "stammering," situates the subject in a context of linguistic difficulty that properly mirrors the journey toward the eucharistic altar). Her interpretation of the meaning of the eucharist is equally sophisticated. It is, she argues, the grounds for the possibility of "the sign" itself; when Christ says (of what is clearly bread) "this is my body," he completely bypasses deixis and leaves us with pure language that is, paradoxically, overflowing with meaning; the meaning is grounded not in "reference" but solely in the overflowing orality of Christ. The section develops what Pickstock saw in Platonism -- a conception of being as gift and excess, in which the world is characterized not by lack but by plenitude, in which being flows as gift from the trinity, and in which all beings (including human beings and inanimate nature) can participate in the divine being through liturgical orientation.

Throughout the text, Pickstock continues to distinguish herself at every turn from Derrida and deconstruction. While I applaud this maneuver (far too much philosophy and theology is served up as though continental thought did not even exist, or could be safely ignored), I do think that a closer engagement with Derrida's late "theological turn" would vastly improve this volume. As far as I could tell, passing references to "Donner la mort" and "Apories" constituted the only dialogue with Derrida's work of the 1990s; religiously inclined essays such as "Sauf le nom," "Khora," and/or "Cironfession" do push back against Pickstock's accusation of nihilism. I presume she has read some of this work and remained unconvinced; if so, it would behoove her to acknowledge these works and show how, for example, Derrida's preoccupation with apostrophe and prayerful address differs from her own laudatory account of apostrophe as a rhetorical/liturgical strategy. Similarly, Derrida has claimed in an interview that the primary philosophical maneuver is not question but affirmation -- again, he seems concerned specifically with exonerating himself from charges of nihilism. As usual, choosing Jacques Derrida as a whipping-boy comes at a high cost ...

In short, this book is well worth reading for theologians, Latin Mass aficionadoes, those interested in postmodernism's "theological turn," or those inclined to enjoy "intellectual history" on the broadest scale. This very scale is the book's greatest weakness, especially in Part 1, but the sheer virtuosity of the third part makes the uneven beginning well worth the read.
10 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hard, but worth it 1 April 2000
By Roberto T Helguera - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Ms. Pickstock's book is a hard read for the uneducated mind. But, then again, it is not meant to be for the uneducated mind. It is a philological answer to modernism and its culture of death. Through the use of language and the traditional Roman Latin rite of the Mass, Ms. Pickstock shows how those who have brought death to the intellectual world have done so through the misuse of language and philosophy, and how the best and perhaps only answer to that is the life giving structure, language and ritual of the Tridentine Roman Rite of the Mass.
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