As seems appropriate for a theologian so fluent in and influenced by process philosophy and theology, Catherine Keller has already given us a series of stunningly creative and constructive theological reflections on broken and mended webs; the fires and passions of apocalypses now and then; the face, darkness, and promise of the deep; and current configurations of God, politics, and power. Keller’s latest theological achievement, Cloud of the Impossible: Negative Theology and Planetary Entanglement, enfolds negative theology and embodied relation.
More fully stated, Keller cross-fertilizes and complicates negative theology with a cosmology, ontology, ecology, and ethics of relation. The style of negative theology offered and performed here is inspired more by the early modern Nicholas of Cusa than by negative theology’s more hierarchical or reductive practitioners. The multiplicity and dizzying complications of relation are borne out by forays into David Bohm’s astonishment at a universe gone relative and quantum; a mutually enriching encounter between Alfred North Whitehead and Gilles Deleuze; a reading of the poetry of Walt Whitman; an examination of the ethics of Judith Butler; a look at crusades and the flow of capital past and current; an analysis of whether an ‘apophatic ecology’ might be possible or even desirable; and finally a recommendation of ‘question-able love’, in line with elements of the Jesus of the gospels or the Paul of the epistles, as an appropriate way to greet and accept the unknown. The heterogeneity of these forays shows just how sweeping and arduous the task of thinking through embodied relation is. All the more impressive, then, is the way in which Keller continually keeps alive the question of the presence and diffusion of God amongst, in, and beyond these embodied relations.
Cloud of the Impossible is an impressive and astonishing work, and it is so because its author seems so clearly impressed and astonished by that great cloud of relations which only grows and complicates ever faster as we attempt to take its measure. The cloud also grows and complicates further as our panelists participate in its diffusion. Laurel C. Schneider, reflecting on the difference between taking part and taking apart, helpfully reminds us that at times ‘relations’ often seem and are experienced more as ‘tangles’. Jeff Keuss wonders if the variegated cloud may obscure and hamper what it envelops and poses to a work so concerned with matter and with what matters a question regarding materialism. Mary Jane Rubenstein offers a sprightly and clear account of the book’s task and raises two questions: what difference does God make for Keller’s cloud, and what types of difference may appear when thinking through embodied relation and the divine. Finally, using examples pulled from microbiology, immunology, and epidemiology, Karmen McKendrick interrogates further the form of relating which is vulnerability. Keller has given to us a suggestive and productive work, and each contribution to this symposium suggests ways in which the book continues to produce.
About the Author
Catherine Keller is professor of constructive theology at Drew University. Her work interweaves process relationalism and poststructuralist philosophy with an evolving feminist cosmopolitics. At once constructive and deconstructive in approach, it engages questions of ecological, social, and spiritual practice amidst an irreducible indeterminacy. Among her many books are Apocalypse Now & Then;God and Power; and The Face of the Deep: A Theology of Becoming.