Repetition and Identity. By Catherine Pickstock. Pp. xxi, 211, Oxford University Press, 2013, £12.99.
Article first published online: 29 NOV 2013
© 2013 Trustees for Roman Catholic Purposes Registered
The Heythrop Journal
Volume 55, Issue 1, pages 169–170, January 2014
How to Cite
Madigan, P. (2014), Repetition and Identity. By Catherine Pickstock. Pp. xxi, 211, Oxford University Press, 2013, £12.99. The Heythrop Journal, 55: 169–170. doi: 10.1111/heyj.12064_52
- Issue published online: 29 NOV 2013
- Article first published online: 29 NOV 2013
Pickstock's ambitious project is to combine Aquinas and Kierkegaard in a type of encompassing master science called ‘reology’ that would erase, blur or bracket the traditional distinction between ontology and epistemology, since ‘things’ come to us as either sense objects or thoughts, objectively or subjectively, in the same way, as things which must ‘double’ themselves in space or ‘iterate’ themselves in time, before we count them as real. This non-identical iteration with variation is a primordial constitution that so far has been covered over but which needs to be exposed and appreciated as key to the establishment of our world and of ourselves (and others) as subjects, before we make a subsequent distinction between things existing relatively independently of us (and of each other) and things that, though real, depend in some way either on another thing or on a mind. This project, based heavily on the Platonic notion of ‘dialectic’ which typically ends in aporea and paradoxes, showing the limits of a logical analysis of experience, involves a wholesale replacement of the Aristotelian-Thomistic language of ‘eternity’ and ‘infinity’ for basic or primordial realities in preference for a Kierkegaardian language of ‘repetition’ as universally evidenced in our experience as key to crediting anything as ‘real’. A thing must ‘come’, and then ‘come again’, before it is counted as real. Pickstock gives a virtuoso demonstration of the universal applicability of this principle, spanning the full range of epistemological and ontological topics, showing not only its adequacy to everything a reasonable subject must take seriously merely to stay alive, but its superiority through a fine-grained sensitivity and nuance to the subtle relations and borders between these things.
Pickstock thus belongs to the ‘anti-philosophical’ tradition of Plato, Eckhart, Nicholas of Cusa, Duns Scotus, Pascal, and Gerard Manley Hopkins, delighting in showing the bankruptcy of our ‘esprit géométrique’ for doing justice to even the most ordinary and banal experiences; she deploys an exquisite word choice and sense of language, rivalling that of Hopkins, showing how we must fall back on an ‘esprit de finesse’ to achieve even a remote adequacy to the world that comes to us, in its important as well as silly ways, as a ‘coincidence of opposites’, in constant paradox and mystery. The key is not to despair, but to enjoy the ride – and to be honest about the experience. A kindred project, with which she seems not to be familiar, is that of John Deeley, building upon John Poinsot (John of St. Thomas) and Charles Sanders Peirce, who also proposes a ‘semiotics’ or ‘science of signs’ as a master science to unify and replace the traditional distinction between epistemology and ontology – and as a way of getting around the modern wrong turn or detour into a preoccupation with separating trustworthy ‘clear’ ideas from untrustworthy ‘unclear’ ones. Pickstock applies her basic categories artistically also to God and theology, showing how it is perhaps better to say that Jesus’ Incarnation and Passion are not ‘things’ that happen eternally, but rather are real in the same way everything else is – because they happen again, and again, and again.