John Betz on Hamann

An incisive passage from John Betz’s After Enlightenment:

There are, then, profound similarities between Hamann and postmodernity. Indeed, one could argue that postmodernity commences  — once it is recognized that the theoretical foundations of the Enlightenment have, in fact, collapsed, i.e., once it is realized that we can no longer return to a naïve confidence in reason’s power to establish its own principles a priori — precisely by accepting the terms of Hamann’s Metacritique and what Terezakis rightly calls his “immanent linguistic perspective.” At the same time, however, there are crucial differences between them, stemming most obviously from the fact that Hamann was a Christian thinker, whereas postmodern thought is typically — if not essentially — a secular, post-Enlightenment continuation of modern unbelief.

As was intimated above, this difference appears, firstly, in their respective views of language. For here one is presented with a clear alternative: Is language a Gnostic “prison-house” in which thought is trapped because it cannot get outside the infinite regress of signification to some definitive “transcendental signified” that could bestow meaning upon what is otherwise a “bad infinite” of meaningless “supplementation”? Or is it a sacramental medium of divine self-communication, whose infinite regress is an image of God’s own infinity and whose metaphorical richness is a foretaste of divine plenitude? In short, is language a purely human construct, or is it also — in and through human creativity and self-expression — a vehicle of divine self-revelation?  Clearly, these are two radically different options: whereas the former forecloses the possibility of metaphysics and theology, the latter very much holds it open, once one is able to affirm that language comes from God and, as such, is capable of revealing God.