The title and description of Johannes Hoff’s The Analogical Turn: Rethinking Modernity with Nicholas of Cusa could lead one to underestimate the creativity, range, and novelty of the task set out within it. The bundles of figures and topics covered—Nicholas of Cusa, an alternative modernity, theological aesthetics, and analogy—have become commonplace, and yet Hoff’s handling of them is far from common. There is, for instance, the invocation of Nicholas of Cusa, who is enjoying something of a small renaissance within theology and philosophical theology. This petit Renaissance of Cusanus can be traced to the search for a less self-defeating and more intellectually and politically productive apophaticism, to attempts to think through a cosmos and cosmology which have been rendered strange once again, and to Cusanus’ non-agonstic performance of paradox and dialectic and non-facile use of analogy. The “alternative modernity” outlined in the book is one in which the history of art, perception, and optics plays a decisive role and is also one in which the significance of the Kantian legacy is neither ignored nor downplayed but relativized such that not all premodern and early modern roads lead to Kant. As for the burgeoning field of theological aesthetics, Hoff devotes less attention to the beautiful or the sublime, or to the question of the relationship between revelation and natural theology, and instead attends more to social history, and in particular to interrelated changes in understandings of space, perspective, optics, and time as seen in the history of art, technology, and science. The book’s intellectual and historical creativity also shines all the brighter for its clear prose and digestible chapters.
While the range of the book is wide and its figures diverse, its overall argument and method are clear. Having interpreted the rise and legacy of modernity primarily through the lens of premodern and Renaissance accounts of space, perspective, and perception, Hoff then offers targeted readings of Nicolas of Cusa’s De docta ignorantia (1440–42) and De visione Dei (1453) as a way of outlining responses to a host of different issues. Hoff provides Cusanan responses to modernity’s narcissistic hyperreflexity, its understanding of perspective, its use of analytic rationality and individuality, its ‘liturgical crisis’, and he ends the work with Cusanus’ account of desire and the body of Christ. Hoff’s background as a Cusanist, his knowledge of recent scholarship on German Idealism, his familiarity with the history of art and science, and his interest in postmodern philosophy allow him to shift easily and ably through a host of different themes but perpetually with an eye to how an “alternative modernity” is offered to us by Cusanus.
As all the contributions to this symposium readily demonstrate, there is much to appreciate and scrutinize in this work. John Betz’s piece captures the vim and range of the book and beautifully highlights how Cusa’s metaphysics features both analogy as well as “precise paradox” and is all the theologically and phenomenologically sound for it. Michael E. Moore is able to decelerate the mercurial nature of the work and examine its argument regarding modernity, Christian learning, liturgy, and space. In his “appreciative critique,” Matthew Moser focuses on Hoff’s genealogy of modernity and its potentially distortive effects on Hoff’s reading of Cusanus’ Christology. Finally, Daniel O’Connell helpfully situates Hoff’s book within Cusanus studies more widely and offers critical questions regarding both the details and overall framework of Hoff’s genealogy of the Middle Ages and modernity and Cusanus’ place within it. That Hoff’s book is indeed a fascinating, creative, and daring work should be readily clear by the diverse topics and questions raised by our panelists and by the quality of the conversation which ensues.