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Giving Beyond the GiftApophasis and Overcoming Theomania$
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Elliot R. Wolfson

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780823255702

Published to Fordham Scholarship Online: September 2014

DOI: 10.5422/fordham/9780823255702.001.0001

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Secrecy of the Gift and the Gift of Secrecy

Secrecy of the Gift and the Gift of Secrecy

(p.154) Chapter 4 Secrecy of the Gift and the Gift of Secrecy
Giving Beyond the Gift

Elliot R. Wolfson

Fordham University Press

This chapter analyzes the nexus of secrecy, the gift, and the apophatic in the thought of Derrida. Many scholars have weighed in on these themes, but I will reexamine them from the particular vantagepoint of the relation to Jewish mysticism that one may cull from the Derridean corpus. While my focal point is Derrida's understanding of kabbalah as an expression of polysemy and atheism, the implications of the ensuing analysis should put into sharp relief the theological appropriation of deconstruction attested in any number of theo-philosophies of transcendence that have proliferated in the course of the last few decades, many of them centered especially on the metaphor of the gift. For Derrida, Judaism is not primarily a demarcation of ethno-religious identity, but rather a literary trope that signifies what cannot be signified, the secret that characterizes the way of being human in the world. The secret is not a mystery that is inherently unknowable, but rather the unknowability that issues from there being nothing ontologically or metaphysically that is to be known, the secret that there is no secret. Judaism thus provided Derrida with an existential template by which he could articulate the pretense of the secret, the sense of being in place by having no place. The nexus of secrecy and the gift ensues from the fact that the bestowing of the gift occurs precisely as the impossibility of the gift presenting itself as a gift, an event that is totally heterogeneous to either theoretical or phenomenological identification. For the gift to be a gift, it must be free of economic calculability, but to be so free, neither the one who gives nor the one who receives can be conscious of the giving. The phenomenon of the gift may appear only within the horizon of its absence.

Keywords:   Gift, Secrecy, Apophasis/Apophaticism, Deconstruction, Dénégation, Différance, Trace, Circumcision, Messianicity, Polysemy, Atheism, Kabbalah

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