Apophatic Universalism East and West: Rethinking Universality Today in the Interstices Between Cultures
The universal keeps up a constant pressure of self-surpassing on all forms of achieved identity; it undermines the self-satisfaction or sufficiency of any institutional form or structure. As such, it is the unconditioned that moves in history, reversing and overstepping all exclusions in its path. It keeps the common run of history and politics on the march and constantly in search of itself throughout never final metamorphoses. The universal prevents the common from declining into mere communitarianism, with its inevitably sectarian tendencies. The universal keeps humanity in quest of itself—guided by an ideal. Even though no culture can ever step outside of its own singularity, so as to be universally valid as such, since there is no position (or stable ground to stand on) outside all cultures and their respective languages, still a transcendental Unconditioned nevertheless motivates such aspirations. In Kant’s terms, which François Jullien evokes, the universal is effective as a “transcendental ideal.” Franke takes this thinking of universality and recasts it as culminating in the “apophatic universal.” The progressive role that the quest for universality plays throughout the history of Western thought can be more fully and adequately grasped when the universal is understood to be what could never be articulated and made explicit. This type of universality, moreover, is illuminated especially well by ancient Chinese traditions of thought. An intercultural method thereby emphatically recommends itself for the pursuit of philosophical insight in the apophatic vein.