Word of the Day

Got to admit, sometimes I feel at a disadvantage writing and thinking in English. I study mostly French and German philosophers (Marion and Heidegger especially). Somehow those languages seem so much more hospitable (enter Derrida) to the philosophic project. Maybe in the case of Heidegger, the use of language seems more calculated and engineered (because it is). But French seems to effortlessly bend and twist to produce a subtly in thought that defies gravity. And easy translation.

Today I’m preparing a paper on Marion to present at a conference in March. I’m extremely humbled to be included in the program and very happy to be writing about work that on any given day takes up a good deal of my head space. In particular, I am writing on the way “vanity” in Marion’s account of the saturated phenomenon suggests the need to think beyond Self and Other to include Another, in this case the religious community.

“Vanity” is a pretty good word as things go. In Marion’s work, at least in my reading of it, vanity is the precipice at which the self comes to the end of its rope and becomes capable of the plunge into existential crisis. Vanity is a great word for this extremis because it carries with it both the self-absorption native to the self and, in the useage assigned in Ecclesiastes, its undoing, an exasperated admission of the futility of self-agency. That’s neat work for one word, especially one that retains the full connotation in English.

Writing on the subject today, I reacquainted myself with the word “deponent.” A deponent is both a person who makes a deposition and a passive verb that in nonetheless active in meaning. In other words, deponent turns out to be a handy word for discussing the self converted by the saturated phenomenon to witness. The witness is active in its capacity to register the saturated phenomenon, but is also passive in that the coming forward of the saturated phenomenon itself becomes the self which is attested.

Deponent is not at the heart of my argument (so much good has been said on that front by others better than I), but seeming as I so rarely find an English word (albeit one that is invoking Latin and Greek verbs) that fits philosophy so nicely, I thought I’d take the time to celebrate. Please feel free to share the love and list your favorite English philosophical phrases. In the meantime, keep writing.


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