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Political Theology (print) ISSN 1462-317X Political Theology (online) ISSN 1473-1719
THE ECLIPSE OF ESCHATOLOGY: CONVERSING WITH TAUBES'S MESSIANISM AND THE COMMON BODY
Independent writer and researcher Rome
ABSTRACT In this article Jacob Taubes's idea of eschatology is examined. Taubes's own understanding of eschatology has profound implications on the very expression of political theology and political practice. If politics—as a practice— assumes that time has a terminal point, than it will invariably change this practice and encumber and even neutralize political action of a commonbody that gives voice to the oppressed. This article agrees with Taubes in that eschatology must announce an end to itself, which is at once a birth of a postmodern possibility of the principle of immanence in which a commonbody announces its infinite possibility. The end of eschatology is the end of transcendence and the beginning of a struggle for liberating the infinite possibility of a common-body of labor. Keywords: eschatology, Jacob Taubes, multitude, postmodern, time.
Jacob Taubes has written only one book in his life. Or, rather, he has written many, published between 1942 and 1996, but it is always the same book, or chapters or notes from the same book, or even plagiarisms of itself. The title of this one book? I would propose "The End of the Modern." But no, someone could object, Taubes's book is a history of eschatology. Certainly: because the book on the end of the modern is a book about the survival and metamorphoses, and even the soul and continuity of eschatology as the essence of the modern. So, then, to speak of the end of the modern means also to speak of the end of eschatology. If, in the postmodern era in which we are living, I were able to make any recommendations to students who seek to enter a department of philosophy that actually might concern itself with the postmodern, in terms of books in which the philosophical
* Translated by Bruno Bosteels, Cornell University Press.
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1996). that of the typical seminars of the nineteenth-century German university. the unresolvable radicality of the eschatological question. These are books of exceptional erudition and extraordinary intelligence. an end that is an opening principle." Taubes would not agree. But what. the fruits of untimely relations and a kind of academic attention aiming for the anthological. in this sense. A God to come. In this sense eschatology presents itself as the experience of coincidence between the "wherefrom" and the "whereto. event and freedom is therefore a search for meaning which is situated between the possible and the real and which effectuates itself in the leap taken by whoever traverses their separation. this is not how things stand. as real event. 1997). on the other hand. The Political Theology of Paul (La teologia politica di San Paolo. For him. the tensions of hope: all this requires a principle that might give it an eschatological solution. On the contrary. like Chinese boxes. This dialectic of possibility. It is certainly true that the history of eschatology and that of modernity are superimposed and arrive at the same result—Taubes might admit this much—but he would add: the end of modernity does not contain that of eschatology. becomes apocalyptical. A question that assumes the eschaton (the end) as limit and overcoming of history. is in question in eschatology? According to Taubes—and I don't see why we would not agree with him in this regard—it is the question about the essence of history. Teleology. Adelphi." Eschatology always means revolution. that is. as the point from where history can be unfolded as subjective possibility. as a title for this ensemble I propose: "The End of the Modern. I would propose the three books by Jacob Taubes that I have in my hands in Italian translation: Western Eschatology (Escatologia occidentale. To move beyond the modern could therefore only mean to assume. as affirmation of freedom. An opening principle that is an end. and at the same time they are books that. 1997). In Diverging Agreement: Writings on Carl Schmitt (In divergente accordo. Therefore. At least. identified in Israel with the place © Equinox Publishing Ltd 2010. if by didactic one understands the didacticism of the best Talmudic schools and. eschatology offers the essential problematic schema to philosophy and to thinking in general (also in its secular and not only theological form). The enigmas of reason.36 Political Theology thematics of modernity might be torn down and liquidated." as a question of the spirit about the "what for. because it seeks to reach a telos that would confer upon freedom the dimension of totality. Eschatology abundantly exceeds the result of the modern and. then. that is. in the assessment of this leap. Born in the domain of religion. contain one within the other and thus end up representing the many facets of a didactic argumentation. without mystifications. especially at the end of the modern. the uncertainties of the will. . it is inexhaustible. Garzanti. Quodlibet. Scritti s Cari Schmitt.
he identifies in the development of historicism—between Lessing. and negative theology has. as its corresponding gnosis. It seems to me that the entrance into the postmodern negates this conclusion of Taubes and that eschatology—in all its forms—is overcome and denied by the experience of the telos and the absolute in the way it presents itself after the end of the modern era. separating itself from every yoke. transforming the crisis opened up. For Taubes. Kant and Hegel—a central place of a new gnosis. a break between the "no longer" and the "not yet" in which we will have no other choice except to resist or to decide." has come to a close. The history of eschatology thus leads the demand for meaning into a definitive impasse. between the principle of incarnation in existence and that of the ecstasy of transcendence. incarnated in decision and resistance. therefore. In this process the spirit forms times and spaces. In every case a teleology of revelation dominates the outlook onto history. into a definitive caesura. Then. which had renewed eschatology in the "coincidentia oppositorum. the apocalyptical element further unfolds itself in a worldly realm: here it becomes the process of revelation of the spirit in history. but at the same time they restate the eschatological question as essential: to the latter it will be possible to give a negative answer. only a negative philosophy and a negative ethics. The ancient world of Christianity and the modern one. only a negative one. decision is secular and gnostic: both remain apocalyptical. he defines the crisis of the principle of the modern era (between the Joachimite pre-Reformation and the revolutionary Anabaptist Reformation) as a place of renaissance. in alliance with God). To the religious side of apocalypsis there thus corresponds an apocalyptical gnosis which absorbs the ontology of salvation into the dialectics of history. .Negri The Eclipse ofEschatology 37 of revolution (which here consists in the becoming-people of a multitude grouping together. periods and figures of liberation—which is the realization of the divinity. The world that opens up will not be able to renew eschatology. the definition and history of eschatology reach their conclusion in the end of the modern. enabling us to think in the present. What is more: I believe that only the overcoming of the schema of negative thinking allows us to underscore all the way to the end that we are beyond the modern (in all its facets). Taubes follows the definition of the eschatological demand and its formal characteristics with a history of the apocalyptical element which sees a place oforigin in the conversion from the Old to the New Testament. Marx and Kierkegaard complete this history. Finally. radically. all the while retaining the dualism of possibility and the real as insoluble except in the revelation of the divinity. © Equinox Publishing Ltd 2010. Resistance is religious. but it will renew its principle: a naked principle.
has forced usfinally. to put our trust in those last specters of transcendence that we call resistance and/or decision. A bizarre and ineffective mysticism has espoused this nakedness. in the regime of immanence that it proposes. in which the postmodern common radically grounds existence. to a measureless excess of potentiality. The theological end in this case is completely absorbed in a new ontological condition. Not the void but plenitude is what they need. Rebellion © Equinox Publishing Ltd 2010. of communication. it is no longer the arrow that carries the value of life elsewhere. that we remit ourselves. it is freedom freed of the eschaton.38 Political Theology In what does radical thinking consist today? In eradicating every dualism. by transforming the transcendent into the transcendental. they are possible only when they are incarnated in real ontological assemblages. These are spectral images in a world—our own postmodern world—in which faith in life (the adherence to eternity) is not possible without love of the other (without the constitutive consistency of the common). but to an explosion of values. ontological radicality shows itself as constituent process. and every instant is eternal. two different eschatological arrangements take shape around this alternative. as the commonality that precedes and forms the condition of every resistance and every decision. it is not to a limiting measure. which is where the postmodern manifests itself. as an example of the end of eschatological thinking. this nakedness has appeared to be immodest and unacceptable. time is an intensity. of the formative processes of meaning that we answer. Nor is time anymore what modern eschatology wanted it to be. and Taubes insists on this. The telos consists in the construction of community. And hope. charged with responsibility and constituent potentiality. hope and love. in its absolute self-affirmation: not teleologica! but tautological. who would accept to entrust it to the arrow of time? Time is no longer something inside of which action unfolds but it is constitutive of the action of the multitude. Let us assume. that at least starting with Paul of Tarsus. In the postmodern. And in the postmodern. It is not to God but to the plural and articulated ensemble of relations. in accepting the horizon of absolute immanence as destiny.in the crisis. There is no more transcendence. Hope is the actuality of life as lived. precisely there where every transcendence has been eliminated. . the metamorphosis of the theological virtues: faith. it is the overabundance of the potentiality of affects. The impotence of resistance and the cynicism of decision have joined themselves to the greatest dramas of our history: terrorism won on both sides. thereby once again mystifying the real. decision: never did they seem so essential. But not in their nakedness! On the contrary. Who would any longer accept the way this problem is situated with the dialectic between justification by faith or by love? And yet we know. In the common context. Ever since the modern. Resistance.
True. Taubes contributes to offering us. And in his didacticism. the one excluded from Taubes's synthesis is Heidegger. the end-goal. No. he includes the general accomplishments of philosophical culture from between the two wars. by way of a diagnostic. This description corresponds to modern philosophy which from Platonic transcendentalism draws—by transforming it into a transcendental principle—the science of command. with the arche being the principle and the command and. put differently. Precisely. Why continue then with the anachronistic reading of Taubes? In part. Paradoxically.Negri The Eclipse ofEschatology 39 itself and its destructive capacity are absolute potentiality. there is another good reason for reading Taubes. A didactic self-destruction. we already gave a hint of an answer above: because his work is an excellent introduction to the self-destructive definition of the modern. the common body of believers is not mystical but productive. because from Heidegger no dialectical somersaults are possible from crisis to mysticism. . The exclusion is therefore appropriate. But. Heidegger is a tombstone on the modern. (It is useless to add that this deadly rigidity is certainly more alive in modern phenomenology than in the form of eschatology that persists in Taubes. whichfinallygoes back to the mystical. the theory of the end and the theory of value. seizing on the two names of Marx-Kierkegaard as the apex of the crisis. from this point of view. and consequently puts the command (as science of the limit) before the action (as freedom in time). Taubes suggests. Now Taubes precisely recalls for us that teleology and axiology. who always appears marginally and somewhat caricatured. the © Equinox Publishing Ltd 2010. In fact. whereas his historical place is actually that of the final destroyer of the modern-eschatological which Taubes exhumes as the form of thinking to come. which we can find by developing and bringing to their conclusion two cues that he offers in his work for the definition of teleology. we can see the complete insanity of negative thinking from Heidegger on. by emptying the relation between teleology and axiology of all content and making it into a formal structure of consciousness. he wants to know nothing of him. Perhaps Franz Rosenzweig did better for theology. thus. this road is foreclosed. end in itself.Paul's negative nomos is not governed by expectant waiting but by the common. which defines the limit prior to the development.) Implicit in the one already mentioned. revelation of a common that preconstitutes its form and itsfigure. always gp together. Walter Benjamin for the theory of history. apart from those great figures. the nakedness of being in Heidegger is a deadly rigidity. and Carl Schmitt for political theology: but Taubes offers us the sum. and therefore. he adds. this connection which in eschatology is underlined in a special way carries with it another connection: that which presses (and/or subordinates) the rhythm of time to a principle of value.
there are also positive ones." "calling" and so on has invested the unhappy consciousness of the crisis. that the modern has not been able to take up and mystify. but they open up spirals onto a life with no more teoleological illusion. First of all from a philological point of view. then. These are useful as long as we do not forget that modern thinking is always a thinking of power. As for us. I have had this impression every time when. And then there are the words of rebellion." "nomadism. Such metaphors can above all be found in the meditations of those who. in its matrix. as an exaltation of its forms. And in performing this philological labor of referring the secular to the religious." "stranger. The Platonic contamination. in the recitation of the Christian "Credo. and perhaps they are. he poses eschatology against teleology: naked eschatology against the teleological ornaments of the modern. Perhaps this is one of the few elements in the eschatological tradition." The body. he opens crucial critical perspectives for us.40 Political Theology definitive critique of the ideological thinking of modernity." I heard the verse about "the resurrection of the dead. in the era of which Taubes himself is a product. that metaphysics in the modern era is always a way of expressing the political. In the end. the Gnostic trend in the reception of eschatology impeded this. Perhaps it is only in certain "philosophies of medicine" that this corporeal spirit reappears: it is not a © Equinox Publishing Ltd 2010. These two terms are "body" and "the common. If these are negative reasons that justify the reading of Taubes. in the genesis of capitalism). And these forms dramatically present themselves to us as tragedy in the realm of ethics. In sum. Taubes suggests that modern thought is none other than a formidable metaphor of religious eschatologism. in the course of the process of secularization and divestiture that the eschatological tradition of the modern undergoes and that can still be of use to present a postmodern thematic." It is clear why modern eschatologism has not been able to digest this affirmation—which nonetheless might have been appropriate to some of the implications of its material axiology (for example. the affirmation of singularity: these too metaphorize the ancient dogma and its modern use in favor of control. resistance." "awakening. It is true that this language has led many to a bout of indigestion! And even the fascination of apocalyptical terms such as "foreign life. in its eschatological version. more so than to any of the above we turn our attention to two metaphors that may seem secondary. Even those who prefer the harsh ontological school of Heideggerianism (or that formally colorless one of Wittgenstein) cannot remain insensitive to the poetry and the self-destructive precursors of the modern. ." "errancy. They thus often interpret the emptying out of the contents of eschatology exactly in the way Taubes does. managed to intuit the crisis of the modern.
for example). by castrating it: it could subsist and reproduce itself only by subordinating itself to the Platonic principle of teleology. made up of all qualities and miseries. Foucault. We will therefore be able to use the postmodernism if only to be summonsed by its metaphor. Because in it we capture the intuition ofthat principle of immanence that the postmodern assumes for the definition of its departure from the nihilist tragedy of the modern. Empire. Only the principle could allow the common to develop itself. to become reality. ." or rather from the common to the "ecclesia. The transvalued body of labor. in some cases. Now it is precisely in the eschatological thought of the body that we find some metaphorical elements that are useful and adequate to the advancement of thought in postmodernity. Insurgencies: Constituent Power and the Modern State. State and Church were born under the same Platonic cover. The Savage Anomaly. only God could allow the intellect. the cooperation of the multitude. Because the eschatological body is a full body. By contrast. The mystical body of eschatology is a potent metaphor of the biopolitical body of postmodernity. He has been a Lecturer in Political Science at the University of Paris and a Professor of Political Science at the University of Padua. and Commonwealth. they represent strong premises for the development of philosophical thought beyond modernity (Canguilhem. All the more so when we push the metaphor of the body toward the notion of the "common. He is the author of many books including Time for Revolution. by extending itself and becoming collective.Negri The Eclipse ofEschatology 41 coincidence that these always had something to do with materialism and. Multitude. of each of the passions and desires that pertain to it. the eschatological common bore its own potentiality (potenza) within itself. the body remains fixed in its materiality. the affects. © Equinox Publishing Ltd 2010. Antonio Negri is an independent researcher and writer." In this case too the modern has absorbed the ecclesia or the common as body. What is more: for the same reason. and with Michael Hardt. today.
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