Grace and the Experience of the Impossible

Philosophy and Theology 10 (2):421-448 (1997)
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Abstract

Karl Rahner distinguishes “the experience of grace” and “the experience of grace as grace.” How is the experience of grace to be understood? How is grace experienced? This article attempts to understand the experience of grace in terms of Maurice Blanchot’s thought of the impossible. “Human life is impossible,” as Simone Weil reflects. Blanchot, particularly through a reflection which echoes that of Levinas, seeks to reverse the relationship between possibility and impossibility. Whereas, for Heidegger, the subject is to be understood in terms of possibility, Blanchot stresses the impossibility of human life which is only rendered possible through an initiative which is prior to the subject. The impossible relation with the other is the context for any possibility the self may have. With regard to grace, we argue its prior necessity, and its experience as impossible. Like suffering and death, the experience of grace is not the possibility of impossibility, but the impossibility of possibility. Maurice Blanchot himself remains relatively unfamiliar, he and his thoughts remaining in themselves inaccessible. Michel Foucault quite simply writes, “so far has he withdrawn into the manifestation of his work, so completely is he, not hidden by his texts, but absent from their existence, that for us he is that thought itself—its real, absolutely distant, shimmering, invisible presence, its inevitable law, its calm, infinite measured strength” (Foucault: Maurice Blanchot: The Thought from the Outside, 19). To a world espoused to philosophies of light and systems of integration, Blanchot’s thought presents itself as a “thought from outside” of any philosophy and any system, and refuses, as Levinas, says, to “see in philosophy the ultimate possibility.”

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