Catherine Pickstock is the author of After Writing: on the liturgical consummation of philosophy, and several other books and articles in philosophical theology. She is a University Reader in Philosophy and Theology at the University of Cambridge, and is a Fellow of Emmanuel College, Cambridge.
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Read After Writing First, but Don't Miss This24 Jan. 2014
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If you've never read Catherine Pickstock, don't miss out on reading her incomparable first book, After Writing: On the Liturgical Consummation of Philosophy. That first book was unique: a defense of the Mass, a reflection on first philosophy in liturgical perspective, a work that exhibited postmodern literary theory in the analysis of the text of the Mass, but by inverting meaning-making so that the liturgy itself is what means.
As a reader of that early book, a work I think back on regularly, I had been waiting a long time for something new from the pen of Pickstock. Her new book, though not nearly as ambitious as that first volume, does not disappoint. It is an analysis of repetition and identity as it plays out in writing and literature.
What is most intriguing about Pickstock is her commitment to seeing theology as a literary event, or literature as theology. So in this book, part of a series of books that thinks about the role of literature in contemporary educational contexts, and looks at the wider implications of literary reading (and the need for its recovery) in the postmodern context.
Pickstock seems to take her cue especially from Kierkegaard on the topic of repetition, and of course he is a seminal philosopher/theologian who treats the theme in his own work. The book itself is quite programmatic. She works the reader very slowly through a big picture understanding of the nature of repetition, and illustrates it in discussions of various literary texts. This programmatic approach, though very systematic, is lively because of its engagement with the texts.
Pickstock being Pickstock, she then picks up on the theological opportunities latent in philosophical reflection on repetition. After having thoroughly analyzed the phenomenological distinctions between identical and non-identical repetition, she lays out a Kierkegaardian re-reading of recapitulation, and includes a final chapter that reflects on the Trinity and repetition in surprising and generative ways. The second to last chapter does this in an eschatological sense. The final chapter, on the "Repeated God," does it immanently in the Trinity itself.
As indication of her influences, she offers a brief bibliographic note on her sources. Of course, Kierkegaard's work Repetition is listed first. She also points readers to Irenaeus (on recapitulation) but then also to Deleuze (who like K wrote a book on repetition), but also Sigmund Freud and Dinesen's Babette's Feast.
If you are fascinated by these issues in theology or philosophy, or if you are intrigued by the ontological and identity issues in literature relative to repetition and recapitulation, this book is for you. Buy it as a companion piece to Pickstock's After Writing. Then give it some time. The two together will change how you read.