Infinite Passion: An Essay on Charity and the Self

Brown, James, Religious Studies - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Hart, Kevin, Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia
Jones, Paul, Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia

This essay argues for the following:
(1) Love is neither irrational nor merely affective but furnishes knowledge of the other, an utterly unique but genuine experience of alterity that exceeds ordinary knowledge. It is a knowledge that is obtained by a conversion of the gaze upon the gratuitous presence of the other, and it is knowledge obtained by way of the leap of faith (into the superabundant alterity of the other). Love does not derogate from the dignified rationality of reason but opens access to that which transcends reason. This essay therefore moves within a tradition, spanning from Augustine (non intratur in veritatem nisi per caritatem) to Bernard of Clairvaux (amor ipse notitia est), from Pascal (love as the third realm of knowledge) to Jean-Luc Marion (love as the transvaluation of the will), which represents a minority report in the history of thought since it characterizes love as an ordo cognoscendi that surpasses theoretic knowledge.
(2) Moreover, love gives the very reality of the self and the other. As Marion has put it, “love of the other repeats creation through the same withdrawal wherein God opens, to what is not, the right to be, and even the right to refuse Him.” The other can accede to its very own reality only if I allow it; that is, by renouncing my intentionality in order to create the space for the other to be. Concomitantly, the other’s counter-gaze is the condition of possibility for the existence of my own gaze. The other allows me to accede to myself by renouncing their mastery over me. Thus, as crossed κένωσις, love is not merely the transgression of intentionality but enables the mad ecstasy of haecceitas. In this manner, the self and the other genuinely appear in the καθ᾽αὐτό experience of love.
(3) Love is the preeminent and paradigmatic experience for human beings because love reflects the very intelligibility of the world. For Plato, reality is susceptible of being known in virtue of the erotic structure of the human soul. By passionately questioning worldly modes of being and thought, the soul is able to attain transcendence. Yet, unlike the Greeks, the phenomenology of love uncovers love as concrete, social transcendence as opposed to abstract, cosmic transcendence. This is the fundamental difference. The social relation of love is the foundation of the world because this relation is established only by giving my being and my world unto the other – which, in turn, enables each term in the social relation to accede their very own reality, qua haecceitas. In this manner, love is discovered as the preeminent human experience since it gives concrete meaning to human existence.
(4) Love is a way of life; it is not a static, even if exceptional, posture towards reality. The conversion of the gaze and the ecstasy of haecceitas is an ever-continuing process of existential engagement vis-à-vis the other; love therefore is supreme interestedness. Yet it is not modeled after being’s interest. To the contrary, love’s interest transcends worldly modes of being thereby completing the self’s inner dynamism, which aims at the other. Lacking perfect knowledge (of the Forms or the Other), one can only desire to move ever closer towards it. Erotic transcendence, in the midst of worldly finitude, necessarily implies an ongoing dynamism. Thus, as a way of life, love treats neither reason nor worldly modes of being as ultimate; it perpetually transcends worldly modes of knowledge, by slackening the intentional rapport with the world, in order to “see” the invisible gift that precedes and gives meaning to the world. And, it does so by personally embraced, passionate ecstasy (towards the other).
(5) The underlying concrete unity of the aforementioned is uncovered by way of phenomenological explication. In particular, we privilege the theory of crossed κένωσις as the phenomenality of love. And, even if we consistently criticize Heidegger’s existential analytic, we privilege the active and dynamic existential engagement with reality by way of the affections. Finally, we privilege the appearance of the superabundant gift by way of the experience of the impossible; that is, by way of the excessive love that is madly poured forth in a sinful and rational world.

MA (Master of Arts)
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