Thinking the Absolute Edge between Altizer and Leahy
Excerpt from “Thinking the Absolute Edge between Altizer and Leahy” in Journal for Cultural and Religious Theory, eds. Carl Raschke and Victor Taylor; Guest editor Lissa McCullough. Vol. 19, No. 1 (Winter 2019-2020).
Altizer’s Total Presence constitutes a figura of Leahy’s thinking now occurring. Centered on the contemporary world consciousness and world now dawning as a final nec plus ultra fulfillment of the promise at the foundation of the Western world—as mediated through ancient prophets and especially Jesus’s eschatological proclamation—it touches Leahy’s thinking now occurring in essential ways. Altizer views Western history as a progressive enactment of the proclamation of the Kingdom of God by a series of apocalyptic revolutions and negations that constitute a reversal of the reversal. Initial reversal of the proclamation meant the original sin, the birth coeval with the tearing apart of self-consciousness, wounded by the proclamation received as judgment itself as it called forth the denial, the annihilation, of individual identity and subjectivity, its sacrifice and death, for the sake of a total presence and total objectivity of consciousness. Leahy’s novitas mundi and novitas mentis enact precisely this total objectivity of consciousness, of consciousness at the disposal of an other, of transparent I the body itself. This, however, is beyond presence and absence. And yet. At the end of Total Presence, while still grounded in the old world, Altizer shares glimpses of a new world perceived through a glass darkly; in absolute solitude, listening to American jazz (specifically to the saxophone solos of Ornette Coleman), he experienced an uncanny joy as he witnessed the perishing of ego and subjectivity, and with it the perishing of the given established human world and the dawning of a new world and consciousness. Joy, exaltation, ecstasy—but only at the price of total dissolution.
“This letter of Altizer, paraphrasing Leahy’s notion of the ontological donut, becomes an enthusiastic celebration of the thinking now occurring’s absolutely objective and completely free I that I now am, devastated of being and nothing, the now existing I who is the foundation of a society that is beginning a new world. This is total presence, the hinge singularly and essentially uniting Altizer and Leahy on the threshold of the third millennium, the apocalyptic era that is heaven incarnate on earth, the paradise that previous visionaries could only dimly perceive, uniting and separating ending and beginning, simultaneously the last and the first. The shattering ecstasis of the voice, the Word, missa solemnis become missa jubilaea: “the infinitely transparent I, the surface identifying body and world absolutely.” Total presence. Yes! Joy.