Strange Wonder

Strange Wonder: The Closure of Metaphysics and the Opening of Awe

Mary-Jane Rubenstein
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  • Book Info
    Strange Wonder
    Book Description:

    Strange Wonder confronts Western philosophy's ambivalent relationship to the Platonic "wonder" that reveals the strangeness of the everyday. On the one hand, this wonder is said to be the origin of all philosophy. On the other hand, it is associated with a kind of ignorance that ought to be extinguished as swiftly as possible. By endeavoring to resolve wonder's indeterminacy into certainty and calculability, philosophy paradoxically secures itself at the expense of its own condition of possibility.

    Strange Wonder locates a reopening of wonder's primordial uncertainty in the work of Martin Heidegger, for whom wonder is first experienced as the shock at the groundlessness of things and then as an astonishment that things nevertheless are. Mary-Jane Rubenstein traces this double movement through the thought of Emmanuel Levinas, Jean-Luc Nancy, and Jacques Derrida, ultimately thematizing wonder as the awesome, awful opening that exposes thinking to devastation as well as transformation. Rubenstein's study shows that wonder reveals the extraordinary in and through the ordinary, and is therefore crucial to the task of reimagining political, religious, and ethical terrain.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-51859-8
    Subjects: Religion, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. INTRODUCTION: Wonder and the Births of Philosophy
    (pp. 1-24)

    One day in Athens, sensing he is nearing the end of his life, Socrates asks Theodorus whether there are any extraordinary students at the gymnasium. The wise old geometer names one Theaetetus, extolling the boy’s “amazing” nature and his “astonishing” mind, not to mention his remarkable resemblance to Socrates.¹ Just then, the object of their fascination appears on the horizon. As he approaches, Socrates decides to “examine” Theaetetus, telling the wide-eyed, snub-nosed boy, “I want to see for myself what kind of face I have” (144d). The conversation that ensues between the Master and the Wunderkind is nothing short of...

  5. 1. REPETITION: Martin Heidegger
    (pp. 25-60)

    If, as Heidegger maintains, metaphysics cannot think the “being” that gets it going, then “overcoming” metaphysics will be a matter of going back to its roots. The attempt to propel thought into “another beginning” is, in other words, always inextricably bound up with the attempt to think the unthinkable “first beginning.” This is the reason, despite numerous efforts to the contrary, that post-Heideggerian philosophy or theology cannot simply proclaim itself unmetaphysical by listing the ontotheological tenets to which it no longer adheres (essentialism, Cartesianism, theism, atheism, etc.). “Metaphysics cannot be abolished like an opinion,” Heidegger tells us; “one can by...

  6. 2. OPENNESS: Emmanuel Levinas
    (pp. 61-98)

    What does thinking open when it (re-)opens wonder? Insofar as wonder opens thinking to begin with, might one venture that opening wonder would open openness itself? Or that wonder keeps the open open? And if so, what are the implications of keeping thinking so profoundly exposed?

    Because of the irreducibly ambivalent nature of thaumazein, we have seen that remaining with wonder opens onto a kind of horror: horror at the sudden uncanniness of the everyday; at the groundlessness of the thinking self and the objects it clearly and distinctly perceives; at the monstrous slippage between friend and foe, Harpies and...

  7. 3. RELATION: Jean-Luc Nancy
    (pp. 99-132)

    During the course of our journey with Levinas, we saw a steady correspondence between the closure of indeterminacy and the erection of a selfdetermined subject. Remaining with indeterminacy, then, will be a matter of preventing this solidification at all turns. We return, therefore, to the Heideggerian insight the early Levinas charged with “banality”: that, from the outset, Dasein is Mit-sein. Insofar as being [sein] is, being is there, insofar as it is there, it is in a world, and insofar as it is in-the-world, being there is always already engaged in various relations of concern with other innerworldly beings.¹ At...

  8. 4. DECISION: Jacques Derrida
    (pp. 133-184)

    In the introductory chapter, the problematic of thaumazein was preliminarily articulated through Hannah Arendt’s fourfold suspicion of it. For Arendt, we recall, dwelling in wonder is inimical to responsible participation in civil society because it delivers the wonderer out of the world of everyday affairs, exposes him to all manner of good and evil forces, singularizes him at the expense of all earthly relations, and prevents him from forming any stable opinion, which means he has no base upon which to make concrete decisions. Through analyses of Heidegger, Levinas, and Nancy, I have gradually sketched thaumazein as a double movement...

  9. POSTLUDE: Possibility
    (pp. 185-196)

    During the past fifteen years or so, and with increasing regularity, scholars across the disciplines have become fascinated with the proliferation between the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries of wonders, marvels, prodigies, automata, witches, wizards, and monsters, particularly as these figures served as foils for modern Europe’s social, religious, political, and scientific self-becoming.¹ Although vastly different from one another, each of these recent studies demonstrates in one way or another that, thanks to the fantastic stories, amazing objects, and exotic bodies that flowed through newly established trade routes, early modern Europe was obsessed with wonders. John Onians, although he too claims...

  10. NOTES
    (pp. 197-234)
    (pp. 235-250)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 251-258)