“Synaptic plasticity” is one of the contemporary metaphors of the plasticity of nature and culture. In the past, deities were also plastic. Ovid or Apuleius poetically described their « metamorphoses ». Among the Greeks and Latins, Zeus or Jupiter could take all forms. The idea of the plasticity of God is therefore not new. But among Christians, this idea is pushed as far as possible, with the paradoxical form of « kenosis ».
Madness for the Greeks, scandal for the Jews: Christ is a man and he is also God.
He is not the God of the Hosts, but the God in his glory, the Lord on the right hand of the Lord, the Messiah of the end times.
Madness, scandal, is that this God in all his Glory is also a God ignored, humiliated, tortured, mocked, crucified as a stateless slave.
Madness, scandal, is an infinite God, eternal, creator of the worlds, reduced to the state of a human wreck, a pantelante, dying on the wood, in the midst of rotten corpses.
Kenosis, from the Greek kenoein (to empty), reflects this strange idea of the descent to earth of a God emptied of himself and his power.
Who can do more can do less. Hegel did not hesitate to use divine kenosis as a metaphor for a kind of philosophical kenosis. Without fear of any celestial lightning, Hegel put the former at the service of the latter.
Kenosis is a free erasure of divinity in favor of human freedom, and this erasure is part of the divine project. This paradoxical idea of kenosis can also illustrate, according to Hegel, the philosophical process of voluntary self-dispossession, the dispossession of subjectivity.
Divine kenosis signalled the possibility of a space and time of transcendental emptiness. Philosophical kenosis now applies to man himself. Man is no longer a fixed substance, he is a disappearing subject.
To make an image, Hegel multiplies the figures of God’s exit from oneself. The German language is rich in possibilities in this field: Ent-zweiung, Ent-fremdung, Ent-aüsserung. These forms of exteriorization, and even alienation, are not to be taken lightly from a God who fills the world, or who envelops the world with his thoughts and his Word.
By philosophically recycling an eminently theological concept, Hegel wants to « bring to light the kenotic essence of modern subjectivity, » comments Malabou.
Hegel is ready to bend any wood, including cross wood, to support his speculation.
But in what way is « modern subjectivity » kenotic? How does it mimic the divine recess? By its own emptiness?
The emergence of the concept of kenosis on the philosophical level indicates that Christ first became a noetic representation. For Hegel, it represents, it embodies a speculative idea, that of « absolute truth ». « If Christ is to be only an excellent individual, even without sin, and only that, the representation of the speculative idea of absolute truth is denied.
The Christ who died on the cross, descended to the bottom of the abyss, represents « the negativity of God relating to himself ».
God denying himself represents the absolute truth of his own negation. Is this not the figure of a « plastic » God, par excellence?
« Plastic » refers to what can take on a shape, but then resist deformation to a certain extent. In the philosophical context, what is more « plastic » than the mind? νοὖς (noûs), in its passive reception state, is « the sleep of the spirit, which, in power, is everything » says Hegel in his Philosophy of the Mind. Plasticity contaminates everything. If the mind is originally plastic, as its epigenesis shows us, then the very concepts it can express must also be plastic in some way. The mind is characterized by its innate ability to receive forms, but also to give forms. He extends this property to his own form, which he can deform, reform, reform, transform, transform, by epigenesis, by work or by any other appropriate operation.
Thinking, by its very nature, takes itself as an object of thought. This « thought of thought », this noesis noêseos, this notic plasticity, is the philosophical translation of what was originally a primordial neurobiological property. Thinking is a kind of living being, a being independent of the one who thinks it, and who in this own life, takes itself for form and for future transformations. Thinking takes itself and expands itself freely. Hegel uses the word Aufhebung, which can be translated as « divestment ». Aufheben combines the senses of Befreien (to liberate) and Ablegen (to get rid of).
This withdrawal movement is reflexive. It can be applied to itself. There is always the possibility of a succession of the succession, a divestiture of the divestiture. But who is the subject of this second degree succession? Who decides to divest himself of his act of divestment, and to do what with it?
In other words, what can be generated by a moment of true freedom? What can we hope, at best? Another moment of pure freedom, with no connection to any of the above? The establishment of a new causal chain, imposing its own determination until another possible free moment “arrives”, a moment without how or why, and where, for reasons that are not reasons, would another moment of pure freedom follow?
In reality that is a mystery.