De Certeau, Theory & Madness

I am reading Michel de Certeau’s posthumously-published second volume to his Mystic Fable.  In a chapter on Nicholas of Cusa, he writes more generally about theory’s madness:

Theory, then, introduces rather a “madness” into practices.  A madness marks theory from the beginning of the intellectual movement, not only in the stupor that is its origin, a blank, but in the threshold that makes its discourse possible.  If you do not believe the other, as the preface said, you will not be able to grasp that it is possible.  This condition, necessary in order to exit the initial mutism, is the folly that makes the theory possible. An irrational initiates the rational.

The madness of belief – an irrational act of faith, it seems – is necessary to catalyze rational inquiry.  The shift from “mutism” to theory is the irrational act of faith in the medium of discourse itself.


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