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Derrida and Antiquity$
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Miriam Leonard

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9780199545544

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199545544.001.0001

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Negative Theology and Conversion

Negative Theology and Conversion

Derrida's Neoplatonic Compulsions

(p.101) 3 Negative Theology and Conversion
Derrida and Antiquity

Stephen Gersh

Oxford University Press

This chapter concentrates on two of Derrida's texts, How to Avoid Speaking: Denials and Circumfession, in order to show how the author reads major figures within the Platonic or Neoplatonic tradition—particularly Augustine and pseudo‐Dionysius—in counterpoint with such modern thinkers as Heidegger, Husserl, and Levinas. Contrary to the opinion of certain contemporary historians of ideas and post‐modern theologians, Derrida reveals a highly sophisticated grasp of what might be termed the negative‐differential, onto‐theo‐logical, and incipiently performative aspects of this ancient philosophical tradition. His only serious failing as a reader is perhaps to separate too radically the ‘mystical’ from the ‘Platonic’ aspects of late ancient thought, thereby missing the opportunity to release fully the deconstructive energy within many texts to which he had rightly drawn attention.

Keywords:   Derrida, negative theology, conversion, compulsion, neoplatonism, Augustine, Pseudo‐Dionysius

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