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Autism and Apophaticism

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Philosophy Teacher's Assistant
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Dordt College

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  1. Introduction
  2. Autism as the default stance
  3. The negation of appelation
  4. The symbol of self
  5. The silence
  6. Conclusion
  7. References

A postmodern philosophy of religion, of the relationship between God and men, is based on a unique set of beliefs about God, language, what it means to be as human, and the way the world is given us to inhabit (including ourselves). Perhaps the profoundest movement within this philosophy occurs around the question of names. This movement?what we will call the apophatic movement?can be incredibly difficult to understand. For this reason, both as an explication but also as a validation of apophaticism, I propose to pin the salient moments within the apophatic movement to the experience of one man, Craig Romkema.

Craig is autistic. As I will attempt to demonstrate, autism is the default stance of all of us, in relation to God and to each other. Craig works so well as an example because he can represent both the side of the Other (that which we name) and the side of the self (that which names). He represents the Other because, like so many in our society, he is hidden behind himself.

[...] In one of his poems, Craig eloquently describes the mode of our interaction: The glance, Ricocheting into thought, Assaying my appearance, Combined with misperceptions About people like Us.[4] For Craig, the first and deepest problem his autism poses for his interactions with other people is that it makes him unameable?or, perhaps, that it makes him too easily named a false name. But this is the first and deepest problem of the individual being of us all: autism, isolation, is our default condition. [...]

[...] However eloquent and moving Craig's poetry, especially his poetry about his mother, he has not succeeded in thereby naming the Other?at best he has named the clothing, the call of the Other. The revelation of the Other in the call of its listening provokes a naming of the Other that is never a proper naming (although it is a true naming?of the listening of the Other). Ultimately, the only proper response to the listening of the Other is that the self, itself, listen. [...]

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