In a discussion that centers around the idol and the icon, the Idol versus the Icon, Marion attempts to say how it is that we might speak of God. Should we even think to speak of God? To think of God? For Marion the idol is located not in the object which is traditionally called, “idol” but in the gaze that rests upon the idol. This is an incredibly important move which sets the foundation of much of Marion’s work in this book. For Marion, the gaze is the idol in its origin.
“The idol fascinates and captivates the gaze precisely because everything in it must expose itself to the gaze, attract, fill, and hold it. The domain where it reigns undividedely - the domain of the gaze, hence of the gazeable... - suffices as well for reception: it captivates the gaze only inasmuch as the gazeable comprises it. The idol depends on the gaze that it suffices, since if the gaze did not desire to satisfy itself in the idol, the idol would have no dignity for it.”
The gaze is ultimately the starting point of the idol. It creates the thought, creates the idol, creates the god, the “God.” The actual “idol” then, that is the statue or picture, is an “invisible mirror.” It becomes a place for the gaze to finally rest. It not only rests but returns the gaze back upon itself - fulfilled. It is this “return” which becomes, in many ways, so important for Marion. In capturing the gaze the idol makes visible that which the gaze had imagined to be visable - that is to be possible as visible. “The idol produces (itself) in actuality (as) that at which vision intentionally aims. It freezes in a figure that at which vision aims at in a glance.” It is this thought, this gaze, which defines “God” and captures “him.” It is this thought and gaze which thinks the god(s) - which thinks “God.”
It is in this way that Marion can bring under judgment the metaphysical and even post- metaphysical tradition of speaking about “God.” Even the philosophical concepts and categories which have been used to think about “God” and define “God” ultimately function just the same as the idol does. “It gives itself to be seen, but thus all the better conceals itself as the mirror where thought, invisibly, has its forward point fixed.” As long as it is thought which gives rise to “God,” thinks “God,” and fixes “God” within its gaze as the fulfillment of that gaze, it is thought, “more than God,” that “judges itself.” The thinker - gazer - is not free to be judged by God but is instead free to judge “God.” It is this which is truly idolatry.
Over and against this, Marion works out a concept of the icon and therefore of how to begin to think of God. The icon has its starting point in the invisible, in God. The icon is not a mirror for the gaze, but is instead that through which the gaze is gazed upon and overcome, bringing it into the gaze of the invisible. It is here where our the problem of idolatry is inverted, where our gaze is subverted. “The gaze no longer belongs here to the man who aims as far as the first visible... such a gaze here belongs to the icon itself, where the invisible only becomes visible intentionally, hence by its aim.” It is the gaze of the icon here which thinks itself - or better yet is thought by the one to whom the icon points - and impresses itself upon the gaze, upon the one who might gaze. Here, in the icon, as opposed to the idol where “the divine indeed has a presence and... offers itself to an experience, but only starting from an aim and its limits,” the divine is no longer limited but is instead unlimited and freed within its own aim, within its own intention.