Narrating self, narrating other: A pneumatological approach to apophatic anthropology

Matthew John McKinnon, Marquette University


My dissertation situates theological anthropology within an interdisciplinary postmodern discussion and asserts its relevance within the broader concerns of philosophical anthropology by employing a narrative paradigm of the person complemented with a pneumatological orientation. Three themes characterize my approach: apophatic anthropology, the narrative paradigm, and a pneumatological characterization of the person. Apophatic anthropology stresses the "unknowability" of who we are. While there is a certain apophasis in some modern descriptions of the person, such as the unknowability of the agent in Kant's transcendental unity of apperception, my emphasis is different in that the failure to know completely oneself is not simply an epistemological problem rooted in structural or transcendental reasons. Rather, the larger problem results from the notion that in fact there is no person to know--at least not in the traditional sense of substantialist ontology. Proceeding from the idea that the person is a complex webbing of stories and beliefs constantly undergoing interpretation and editing, the ability to know the person is limited to finite, static moments--and even then is only partial at best, since it is one more in a series of interpretations and re-interpretations. The idea that narrative is constructive of selves and self-identity, following the work of Paul Ricoeur and contemporary literary criticism, is applied to three distinct but inter-related questions: the constitution of the self, the relationship of the self and the other, and the role of Spirit in both. It approaches the problem of the person not as one of ontology (being) or epistemology (knowing), but rather of meaning . The attempt to narrate is an attempt to give meaning, to give structure to the unstructured, to make meaningful what may not be inherently meaningful. The relationship of the narrative paradigm to pneumatology recognizes the need for openness to meaning, correction, and interpretive inspiration that is the work of spirit. It stresses the pneumatological orientation of the narration of self in the connectedness characterizing the emergence of the self and the other. Spirit becomes the normative criterion by which an apophatic anthropology approaches the self and the other within the reciprocity that characterizes their relationship.

Recommended Citation

McKinnon, Matthew John, "Narrating self, narrating other: A pneumatological approach to apophatic anthropology" (2005). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI3184682.