contributor.author: Philipp Rosemann

title.none: RESPONSE: Rosemann on Metzger

identifier.other: baj9928.0007.001 00.07.01

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Philipp Rosemann, University of Dallas, rosemann@acad.udallas.edu

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2000

identifier.citation: Rosemann, Philipp. RESPONSE: Rosemann on Metzger's review of Understanding Scholastic Thought with Foucault(TMR 00.05.20). ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 00.07.01

Rosemann, Philipp. RESPONSE: Rosemann on Metzger's review of Understanding Scholastic Thought with Foucault(TMR 00.05.20). ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Philipp Rosemann
University of Dallas
rosemann@acad.udallas.edu

Dr. David Metzger, an expert on neither Scholastic thought nor Foucault, has seen fit to butcher my book, Understanding Scholastic Thought with Foucault. His piece fails in the most basic task a review ought to address, namely, accurately to summarize the author's main theses and arguments. As he has not given himself the trouble to read the book carefully, most of the criticisms Metzger advances are not pertinent.

Let me begin by correcting the bibliographical data published with Dr. Metzger's review--annoying little inaccuracies that are probably not to be blamed on him. The New Middle Ages series is of course not edited by Michael Flamini, but by Bonnie Wheeler, of Southern Methodist University. My book appeared in 1999, not 2000. It has xiv, 263 pages, not iii, 263.

Understanding Scholastic Thought with Foucault opens with a seventeen-page introduction entitled, "A Change of Paradigm in the Study of Medieval Thought: From Rationalism to Postmodernism." Situating the book in the history of studies of the intellectual culture of the Middle Ages since Aeterni Patris, this introduction attempts to define some of the principal features of the current postmodern turn. It is complemented by an eighteen-page bibliographical essay at the end of the book which provides an overview of "literature...indispensable to anyone interested in embarking upon serious study of the intellectual life of the Scholastic period in a postmodern perspective". (189) In his review, Dr. Metzger does not discuss either the introduction or the bibliographical essay; indeed he does not mention them at all. Therefore, one wonders what justifies his opinion according to which Understanding Scholastic Thought with Foucault "does not provide a strong complement to ongoing work on nominalism--or even more general work on 'medievalism'..." The book explicitly addresses the question of the varieties of medievalism; but Dr. Metzger ignores what it has to say. That my book does not treat of nominalism is true--does every book on Scholastic thought have to, whatever its approach or perspective?

Study 1, on "Michel Foucault's Philosophy of History," discusses the philosophical presuppositions that are involved in a post-structuralist approach to intellectual history. The choice of Foucault is motivated by the fact he is "the post- structuralist philosopher who has devoted the most careful and detailed attention to historical research." (19) The Study argues that the earlier Foucault developed a theory of cultural change inspired mainly by Nietzsche's Birth of Tragedy. This dialectical theory, which is focused on the notions of the center and outside of a culture and describes their complex historical relationship, remains the guiding principle of the book's project of "understanding Scholastic thought with Foucault." Dr. Metzger objects that Study 1 "does not really provide us with a methodology," which, he adds, should be more than "merely the identification and serialized illustration of concepts." To substantiate his objection, he quotes "some statements about culture" that I make on page 25 of the book, but, alas, he does not explain the theory to which they belong. Thus taken out of context, the statements sound trivial and naive. To make matters worse, the third one is misquoted (read "now destined" for "not destined," which renders the sentence meaningless). Dr. Metzger's rhetorical strategies are neither scholarly nor fair.

But let us continue. Dr. Metzger is "not satisfied with the version of Foucault" that Study 1 presents. He believes that I should have considered alternative interpretations, as well as Foucault's dialogue with his contemporaries; all I offer, however, is "an analogy between Foucault and Nietzsche." Certainly, I could have expanded on the interpretation that Study 1 presents of Foucault's philosophy of history. However, Understanding Scholastic Thought with Foucault is not a book on Foucault; it uses a certain reading of Foucault as a tool for understanding Scholasticism. While this reading is admittedly partial, it is based on more than vague analogies between Nietzsche and Foucault, as Dr. Metzger would have it. In Madness and Civilization, Foucault's first great book, the author places his entire project "sous le soleil de la grande recherche nietzscheenne" (p. v of the first French ed. [1961]), developing his account of the relationship between reason and unreason in close dialogue with Nietzsche. What is more, Foucault never abandoned his Nietzschean roots, even in the revisions of his earlier positions. My approach of Foucault is therefore far less arbitrary than Metzger would make us believe.

Study 2 then applies the Nietzschean-Foucauldian theory of the mechanisms of cultural change to the question of how to define the Scholastic tradition. On the account I propose, Scholastic thought gradually emerges in and through a reintegration of the Greek tradition of philosophy into the narrative (scriptural) center of Christian culture. The tension between these two poles is captured in the Pauline contrast of Christian "folly" (moria) over against Greek "wisdom" (sophia). I suggest that the dynamic relationship between moria and sophia is structurally analogous to, and continues, the Greek interplay between mythos and logos. Moreover, I point out that Martin Grabmann's theses on auctoritas and ratio as the dominant forces of Scholastic culture anticipate such a "Foucauldian" account of the place of Scholastic thought within the Western intellectual tradition. However, Dr. Metzger finds the three binaries that stand at the center of Study 2 insufficiently related: "Could the binary mythos/logos be related to the binary auctoritas/ratio? Sure. But no such historicization is offered. We find, rather, another binary in an extended quotation from 1 Corinthians: Christian folly (moria) vs. Greek wisdom (sophia)." The different binaries are related in two ways, as I believe my treatment makes abundantly clear: structurally, insofar as each of them represents the dialectical tension between a narrative pole and the logic of (for lack of a better word) a more calculative form of rationality; but also historically, insofar as the history of moria/sophia (auctoritas/ratio, in Grabmann's parlance) can be seen as continuing the Greek dialectics of mythos and logos.

Study 3 sets itself the task of showing how the reconciliation of moria and sophia previously identified as the core of the Scholastic project is facilitated by the creation of certain 'intellectual practices'--for instance, institutional structures and literary genres, but also Gothic handwriting, forms of textual transmission, and reading techniques. In this way, the Study endeavors to outline a number of important aspects of the epistemological field in which the Scholastic form of discourse became possible. Dr. Metzger distorts my argument when he suggests that "what we might observe of these practices is limited to how these intellectual practices 'seem to reflect and reinforce a certain confidence in the powers of human reason.'" Again, the reviewer has ripped a quotation out of context so that it must appear jejune. My next sentence adds, "Yet, Gothic handwriting is perhaps characterized by a dialectics even more profound than the structure to which [paleographer Robert] Marichal drew attention." (63) About this dialectics, Metzger says nothing, although it is at the center of what I argue in Study 3. My thesis could have been summarized much more appropriately by a quotation from page 101: "...in the Scholastic episteme, the confidence in the powers of human reason to discover the texture of the real is counterbalanced by the insight that God, ultimately, transcends the text--every text." My argument is that this dialectics of positive and negative theology is not only at the heart of Scholastic doctrine, but even animates the very techniques of intellectual work in the Scholastic age. This would explain, for instance, the characteristic openness of the disputationes, the structure of the quaestio, and maybe even certain aspects of Gothic script.

It is an exhausting exercise, but Dr. Metzger's travesty of Understanding Scholastic Thought with Foucault calls for further clarifications. As he has not understood the thesis of Study 3, he also misconstrues the function of Studies 4 and 5. According to him, these chapters are necessary "to avoid a circular argument" (the supposed circularity is based upon Metzger's reduction of the thesis of Study 3 to a platitude). In truth, these Studies analyze the reconciliation of moria and sophia from another angle--this time not that of intellectual practices but of philosophical and theological issues. Study 4 takes its starting point in Foucault's perceptive characterization of the pre-sixteenth- century episteme, for which he says the world was "prose," or text. Hence, Study 4 carries the title, "The Prose of the World," like the second chapter of The Order of Things. Yet what Foucault does not explain in The Order of Things is why the Scholastic world could be understood as a text, with God (through the Word) as its Author. What metaphysics would support such a conception? The answer lies in causal similarity, that is to say, the idea that a cause returns to itself in its effect, by bestowing on the latter a certain resemblance to itself. Study 4 traces the history of the metaphysics of circularity to Parmenides, looks at its development in Plato, Aristotle, and Plotinus, and finally asks how it could be rendered compatible with the Christian linear conception of time and history. That, I submit, was one of the central problems in the Scholastic project of reconciling moria and sophia.

Dr. Metzger absurdly writes: "Study 5 finds that Greek circularity is synthesized with Christian linearity in the following sentence from Aquinas' Libri Sententiarum." He goes on to quote a text of which Understanding Scholastic Thought with Foucault remarks: "This passage shows the extent to which Aquinas has allowed Greek circularity to penetrate to the very heart of his thought" (143)--no mention of linearity or synthesis. Again, Dr. Metzger has quoted without consideration of the context or author's intentions. Incidentally, what are Aquinas's Libri Sententiarum?

Study 5 does indeed present Thomas Aquinas's thought as a successful synthesis of the Greek view of the world as circular, on the one hand, and the 'linear' Weltanschauung of the Bible, on the other. Its argument pivots on an interpretation of Thomistic thought as thoroughly dialectical. In the famous list of transcendentals in the Quaestiones disputatae de veritate, qu. 1, art. 1, Thomas maintains that every being, insofar as it is, is an aliquid, which he understands etymologically as aliud quid, an "other what." Does this not indicate a dialectics of Same and Other at the heart of Thomistic philosophy and theology? That is what Study 5 attempts to prove by a rereading of texts from Thomas's metaphysics, theology, and ethics. It finds that Thomism is structured like an "open circle": its dominating theme is the quest for a return to the self, or the Same, which, paradoxically, is also the Other (God); but this return is barred, at least in this life. Dr. Metzger is "not certain how a Foucauldian methodology allows Rosemann to talk about circles and lines without also discussing the role geometrical figures and the 'impossibility of the void' played in medieval natural philosophy." This is perhaps the one helpful criticism his review contains.

In the last paragraph of his review, Dr. Metzger, instead of discussing Study 6, launches into a lecture on what he understands to be Foucault's method. Well, Study 6 begins with a quotation from the preface of Madness and Civilization:

One could write a history of limits - of those obscure acts, necessarily forgotten as soon as they have been accomplished, by which a culture rejects something which will be for it the Outside (l'Exterieur); and throughout the course of its history, this hollowed-out void, this white space by which it isolates itself, designates it as much as its values (pp. iii-iv of the first French ed. [1961]; my trans.).

Taking inspiration from this quotation, Study 6 asks, What is the 'Outside', the 'Other' of Scholastic thought? It seeks a tentative answer by analyzing three cases: the Condemnation of 1277, the transformation of the Scholastic episteme that made the witch-hunt possible, and the relationship between Scholasticism and modernity. What we see in the 219 condemned theses, as well as in Heinrich Kramer's Malleus maleficarum, are tendencies to 'close' the circle of Scholastic thought, that is to say, to absolutize reason. These tendencies seem to be characteristic of late Scholasticism. Modernity, however, might best be seen not as an extension, but rather a rejection of late Scholastic thought. Both Luther and Descartes have been interpreted as struggling to reinvent the negative element in theology, which reminds the human being of the irreducible otherness of God, together with his or her own finitude. The book ends with a question that it does not pretend to have answered: "Is modernity really the radical 'other' of the Scholastic episteme? Our brief discussion of Luther and Descartes has yielded a paradoxical answer: the otherness of modernity seems to have been born from a thwarted desire to return to the Middle Ages." (181)

"Foucault," Dr. Metzger suspects, "would lead us in other directions. But, to give the author his due, these other directions may well be more carefully considered because of Rosemann's efforts." My book may not be perfect. It may contain mistakes. They are not the ones pointed out by Dr. Metzger. As for him, his incompetent review is an embarrassment.