Exemplary Acts, the Whatever-Messiah & Revolutionary Post-History
Rowan G. Tepper, M.A., Department of Comparative Literature, Binghamton University Presented at Binghamton University PIC Conference: “The Revolution of Time, Time of Revolution,” March 26th 2011
“There is no revolution without exemplary acts... moments when revolutionary potentiality was not only present but was affirmed in a negation that, while opening a void and stopping time, also pointed toward the future...” Maurice Blanchot, May 1968

1. Exemplary Acts Written in Paris during his intellectual and political engagement with the tumultuous events of the student revolts of May 1968 – a revolution successful at best in part – Maurice Blanchot's unsigned political tract in the sole number of Comité defines the “'exemplary act' [as being] such because it goes beyond itself while coming from very far away, superseding itself and in an instant, with a shattering suddenness, exploding its limits.”1 Two exemplary acts will serve as our approach to the problematic of the eminently temporal conditions of possibility for revolution, to kairos. First, an event of May '68 itself:
The highest violence was no doubt in an instant of nonviolence, when, to reject the ban (the banning of (Daniel) Cohn-Bendit was the pathetic “exemplary act” of the powers that be), thousands of workers and students – revolutionaries in an absolute sense – stamped their feet and chanted: “We are all German Jews.” Never has this been said anywhere, never at any moment: inaugural speech, opening and overthrowing the frontiers, opening and disrupting the future.2

Second: In Walter Benjamin's fifteenth thesis of “On the Concept of History,” we are presented with a tableaux of a peculiar event that took place during the July Revolution, a rare instance of successful insurrectionary action, one of the very few truly hopeful images “On the Concept of History.” The episode in question took place during the course of a spontaneous revolution, which swept Charles X out of power in the course of three days. On the evening of July 27th 1830, without any form of coordination or plan, “revolutionaries’ fired upon the faces of clock-towers ““at the very same hour, in different parts of the city. [And this was the expression not of an aberrant notion, an isolated whim, but of a widespread, nearly general sentiment.””3 [a21a,2] The Great Revolution introduced a new calendar. The initial day of a calendar presents history in time-lapse mode. And basically it is this same day that keeps recurring in the guise of holidays, which are days of remembrance [Tage des Eingedenkens]. Thus, calendars do not measure time as clocks do... On the first evening of fighting, it so happened that the dials on clock-towers were being fired at simultaneously and independently from several locations in Paris. An eyewitness, who
1 2 3

Maurice Blanchot, “Exemplary Acts,”Political Writings: 1953-1993, Trans. Zakir Paul (New York: Fordham University Press, 2010), 98-9. Blanchot, “Exemplary Acts,” Political Writings 1953-1993, 99. Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, Trans. Howard Eiland and Kevin McLaughlin (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999), 737.


may have owed his insight to the rhyme, wrote as follows: Qui le croirait! On dit, qu'irrités contre l'heure, De nouveaux Josués, au pied de chaque tour, Tiraient sur les cadrans pour arrêter le jour.4 This moment of revolution acted upon what Benjamin calls “Joshua's Intention,” that is, the intention to interrupt the course of time, “to interrupt the course of the world... The intention of Joshua.. From this intention sprang [Baudelaire's] violence, his impatience, and his anger; from it, too, sprang the everrenewed attempts to stab the world in the heart of sing it to sleep.” 5 This is the intention, conscious or no, behind all exemplary acts, “moments when revolutionary possibility not only was present but was affirmed in a negation that, while opening a void and stopping time, also pointed toward the future.”6 This episode did not escape Blanchot's notice; in fact the following reflection upon Benjamin's thesis was also published in Comité: As soon as, through the movement of forces tending toward rupture, revolution appears possible, in a possibility that is not abstract but rather historically and concretely determined, It is in these moments, at these instants, that revolution takes place. The only mode of presence of revolution is its real possibility. Then there is a state of arrest and suspension. In this suspension, society undoes itself entirely. The law collapses. Transgression occurs: for a moment, there is innocence; interrupted history. 7 Now, were this moment, instant, interruption to be thought in terms of the present, of being present, it would then be fixed and ossified in the form of an atemporal entity (which is absurd), and it would be reduced to any moment of chronological time n’importe qui (the present – whether present or not – as a moment inhering in the attempted atemporal representation of time). In The Writing of the Disaster, published some twelve years later, we find one fragment in which this thinking of the moment of revolution is once again formulated, this time on a less explicitly political-historical register, retaining an implicit reference to Benjamin’s reflections on time and history: “…from what comes to pass, the present is excluded. Radical change would itself come in the mode of the un-present which it causes to come, without thereby either consigning itself to the future (foreseeable or not), or withdrawing into the past (transmitted or not).”8 It is this moment, which is always now, and yet never present, in relation to our unquenchable desire both for it and that for which it serves as a transcendental, that is at the center of this work. The word kairos signifies “the opening of a discontinuity in a continuum... a decisive moment that

5 6 7 8

Walter Benjamin, “On The Concept of History,” Trans. Harry Zohn, in Selected Writings, Volume 4, Ed. Howard Eiland & Michael W. Jennings (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2003), 389-400. 395. Walter Benjamin, “Central Park,” Trans. Edmund Jephcott and Howard Eiland, in Selected Writings: Volume 4, 161-199. 170. Blanchot, “Exemplary Acts,”Political Writings: 1953-1993, Trans. Zakir Paul (New York: Fordham University Press, 2010), 98. Maurice Blanchot, “[A rupture in time: Revolution],” Political Writings: 1953-1993, 100. Maurice Blanchot, The Writing of the Disaster, Trans. Ann Smock (Omaha: University of Nebraska Press, 1995), 114.


must be caught in passing,”9 while the kairic designates the mode of temporal experience to which kairos corresponds – experience in which time itself is invested with desire. An experience and concept of time in the kairic mode is as much a condition of possibility for revolution, for a foreseeable future to which action must be subordinated is every bit as stultifying as the constraints of the past upon the present. That revolutionary insubordination with respect to the future itself is now possible is emblematic of a break with the political thinking and epoch of modernity, for both Benjamin (as a first apostle) and for all of us, responding to the bankruptcy of the Enlightenment project of the progress of reason by recognizing that it is up to us to live in a world of experience and to fashion a future without thereby forgetting to or devaluing the present. An exigency of our time might well be to invent new ways to tell stories, to narrate our events as a history that oppresses none. How coincidental it was that the closure of history in its modern guise was announced in a book edited by Raymond Queneau, who would later take up this very task and be among the founders of the OuLiPo. 2. Kairos at the End of Modernity
...our experience is dominated by a hypertrophy of expectation. Those who diagnose the “pathology” of Modern man, such as Hans Jonas and Reinhart Koselleck, are right when they point to the prematureness grounding the symbolic dominance of the waiting and of a planning tending towards the future... the pathology does not simply consist in the fact that there exists a form of time that tends to the future... but in its form and degree.10

During the long interval preceding Tillich's revival of kairos, especially as the Enlightenment and the epoch commonly given the name of Modernity, the eschatological concepts of prophecy and of acceleration were secularized and underwent a sort of reversal: prophecy became rational prognosis and acceleration, according to “Luther, the compression of time is a visible sign that... the Final Judgment is imminent, that the world is about to end. For Robespierre, the acceleration of time is a human task, presaging an epoch of freedom and happiness, the golden future.” Robespierre's pronouncement, that “the progress of human Reason laid the basis for this great Revolution, and you shall now assume the particular duty of hastening its pace,” 11 indicates the following. That the “goal” of historical progress took over the structural and dynamic function of eschaton, and the fact that such a goal should be subject to prediction and the belief in its inevitable realization – with or without revolutionary intervention – first requires that historical time arise out of chronological time, and then that progress become ideological and forget the experience of time that gave birth to history. On the other hand, as Benjamin noted, there remain traces of a qualitative experience of time – in holidays – the repetition of which was, in fact, an archaic signification of the word

Francoise Balibar, Philippe Büttgen, Barbara Cassin, “Moment, instant, occasion,” in Barbara Cassin (ed.), Vocabulaire européen des philosophies. Dictionnaire des intraduisibles. (Paris: Le Robert/Seuil, 2004) 813-818. 815. Trans. H. Jordheim, 2007.
Giacomo Marramao, Kairos: Toward an Ontology of Due Time, 58 Reinhart Koselleck, Futures Past: On the Semantics of Historical Time, Trans. Keith Tribe (New York: Columbia University Press, 2004), 12.

10 11


“revolution.” And “since the onset of such acceleration, the tempo of historical time has constantly been changing, and today... acceleration belongs to everyday experience...” 12 Accordingly, it follows “...the desire to accelerate the moment leading to eternal beatitude was clearly not peculiar to Nazism... The desire for acceleration of the end, which was in truth a constitutive element in the whole structure, was always associated with the toppling of the established order.”13 This, of course would be the particular modernity of the Nazi apocalypse – its originality and decisively anachronistic lies in having developed techniques of evoking what Tillich called “demonically distorted kairos” by means of aesthetics, propaganda and spectacle (Speer's “Theory of Ruin Value” clearly displays anachrony as a principle), but in the failure of these techniques clearly demonstrated the fact that such moments cannot be indefinitely sustained, for “not [being[ satisfied with having created a state of ecstasy, the Convention leaders [at Nuremberg] tried to stabilize it by means of proved techniques that utilize the magic of aesthetics forms to impart consistency to volatile crowds.”14 The experience of time in kairos is frequently conflated with or reduced to a qualitative alteration of the passage of time – acceleration/deceleration – and consequently of history. While it is true that moments experienced as unique and of significance often bear such associations, this is readily explained by cognitive psychology. Rather, the qualitative difference lies in the disordering of time, in the anachrony of remembrance in Benjamin, for example.
On the question of the incompleteness of history, Horkheimer's letter of March 16, 1937: “The determination of incompleteness is idealistic if completeness is not comprised within it. Past injustice has occurred and is completed. The slain are really slain. . . If one takes the lack of closure entirely seriously, one must believe in the Last Judgment...” The corrective to this line of thinking may be found in the consideration that history is... not least a form of Eingedenken. What science has “determined,” remembrance can modify. Such mindfulness can make the incomplete (happiness) into something complete, and the complete (suffering) into something incomplete. That is theology; but in Eingedenken we have an experience that forbids us to conceive of history as fundamentally atheological, little as it may be granted us to try to write it with immediately theological concepts. [N8,1]15

In the mindfulness of Engedenken there is a parallel and potential connection to the Pauline concept of recapitulation. This is the very structure of time defined as kairos by Jean-Yves Lacoste: “le présent est construit alors comme souvenir d'un avenir...” which is “l'abolition des distances temporelles. Il est la réalité exclusivement théologique du temps. Le kairos n'est pas l'eschaton, puisqu'il ne déploie sa logique qu'à l'intérieure d'une histoire à laquelle il n'appartient pas de détenir quelque dernier mot que ce soit.” 16 Internal to history, kairos disrupts and abolishes temporal distances and their consequences - “Elle affirme qu'entre mémoire et espérance, le présent ne jouit d'aucun statut qui lui soit propre. Tout est donné au présent, sauf la conscience qui porte cette presence: passé et avenir, promesse et espérance... L'ordre kairologique rompt
12 13 14 15 16

Koselleck, Futures-Past, 50. Eric Michaud, The Cult of Art in Nazi Germany, Trans. Janet Lloyd (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004), 186. Siegfried Kracauer, From Caligari to Hitler, Revised and Expanded Edition, Ed. Leonardo Quaresima (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004), 301. Benjamin, The Arcades Project, 471. Jean-Yves Lacoste, Note Sur Le Temps (Paris: PUF, 1990), 187-8.


l'ordre chronologique.”17 Kairos is a structure of time in an essentially theological mode, that within history voids temporal distance – supporting the many claims concerning kairos either as an implicit structure of Benjamin's philosophy (Ralf Konersmann, in a selection entitled Kairos: Schriften Zur Philosophie), as analogous to Tillich's concept of kairos (Adorno, Lindroos, Marramao, Agamben), and/or as to some extent mapping on to, or in direct relationship with Jetztzeit – without leading to an indistinct conceptual mess. If this is in fact the case, then the anachrony of kairos and Eingedenken – of the dialectical image in its Jetzt der Erkenntbärkeit – is sufficient to demonstrate that this is not at all the time of Modernity (the time of the absent kairos). This is but one indication among others. It is clear that Benjamin's theological understanding of history, kairos and pleroma inherent in every jetztz of Jetzt-zeit, and the potential imminent messianic event, all run against the grain of Modernity's doctrine of progress and continuous process. It is more than enough to find something strangely amiss when examining the three French versions of Benjamin's Theses: In both Benjamin's own 1940 French translation and the definitive 1971 translation by Maurice de Gandiallac, the fifteenth thesis is rendered comparably, Benjamin's translation merely adding to the description of the repeated inaugural day of the calendar the property of integrating the preceding time (Tikkun Olam?). However, in the 1947 translation by Pierre Missac, published presumably with Horkheimer's approval in Les Temps Modernes, the phrase rendered into English as “history in time-lapse mode” is instead replaced by “the rhythm of history accelerating.”
Maurice de Gandillac, 1971 Pierre Missac, 1947 Walter Benjamin, 1940

Le jour avec lequel commence un nouveau calendrier fonctionne comme un ramasseur hisorique de temps. Et c'est au fond le même jour qui revient toujours souce la forme des jours de fête...

La jour où un calendrier entre en vigueur, le rhythme de l'histoire s'accélère. C'est au fond le même jour qui revient sans cesse sous les espèces des jours de fête...

Le jour qui inaugure une chronologie nouvelle a le don d'intégrer le temps qui l'a précédée. Il constitue une sorte de raccourci historique (eine Art historischen Zeitraffer). C'est encore ce jour, le premier d'une chronologie, qui est équivoqué et même figuré par les jours fériés qui, eux tous, sont aussi bien des jours initiaux que des jours de souvenance.

We must first note that the phrase “the rhythm of history” is also of terminological importance in Kojève, with whom both Benjamin and Missac had contact. According to Kojève, acceleration of the historical rhythm is an acceleration of the coming end of history.
As for the rhythm of History, it is indeed such as I indicated previously: action → coming to consciousness → action. Historical progress... a 'mediation' ...of the Past is what..., transforms the Present into an historical Present... [if this] is Time, it is because it has a beginning and an end... a goal (Zeil) which can no longer be surpassed.18

17 18

Lacoste, 188. Alexandre Kojève, Introduction to the Reading of Hegel, Trans. James H. Nichols, Jr. (Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 1969), 163-4.


It is especially incongruous to find this phrase used here, for Benjamin had written to Horkheimer following his attendance at Kojève's December 4th 1937 lecture at the Collège de Sociologie, with which Missac had numerous contacts:
Kojevnikoff is as much an expert in Hegel as one can be without having much proficiency in materialist dialectics. Regardless, his conceptions of the dialectic seem to me highly contestable. They don't hinder him in any case in his talk – in the 'Acéphale' circle! - from developing the thesis that only Man's natural dimension, in its manifestation in his history up until now, which as it is running out shares the fixed quality of his natural being, can be the object of scientific knowledge. .19

On the other hand, Benjamin had, on at least one occasion, provided evidence in his correspondence with Adorno that he was less than forthright with Horkheimer, particularly in the context of his relationships with his French associates (often with multiple, specific motives). We are left with to decide between two unpleasant alternatives: either on the one hand, he did not entirely reject Kojève's thinking of the end of history, but objected to his idealism – which allowed him to make the claim that it was with Stalin and not Napoleon that, according to Gaston Fessard, “l'histoire universelle parvient donc elle aussi à son achèvement: “Kairos” où la Verité se manifeste comme Savoir absolu.... En d'autres termes, comme le Christ, apparu à la plénitude des temps... de même Hegel dévoile d'une manière définitive la philosophie et sa rationalité produit de l'histoire... 20 – or to the political conclusions themselves. It is also possible that Missac, who at Bataille's request arranged for the post-war transfer of the Benjamin Nachlass hidden in the Bibliothèqie Nationale into Adorno's care, was supported by or even induced to make this substitution on behalf of Horkheimer. One might suspect as much in light of “La perspective de Horkheimer pendant les années 1940-50 [qui] est celle d'une critique rationaliste des errements de la raison, une critique par un Aufklärer des limites de l'Aufklärung. Toute thématique romantique lui semble suspecte – et son argumentation ne comporte, à cette époque, aucune dimension religieuse.” 21 And yet, “the end of exploitation, writes Horkheimer, 'is not a further acceleration of progress, but a qualitative leap out of the dimension of progress', i.e. a break in historical continuity.” 22 This leap would locate the end of exploitation, of alienation, in a history after history, a condition that maps onto the condition of das Posthistoire. 3. La Révolution Posthistorique Arnold Gehlen, in ¨The Roll of Living Standards in Today´s Society¨ (1952) and Hendrik de Man (Paul´s uncle), in Vermassung und Kulturverfall (1952), present another “end of history” scenario emphasizing

20 21 22

Benjamin to Horkheimer, December 6th, 1937, cited in Michael Weingrad, “College,” 141. His translation. Also in Max Horkheimer, Gesammelte Schriften 16:315. Gaston Fessard, Hegel, le christianisme, et l'histoire (Paris: PUF, 1990), 145-6. Michael Löwy, “Ün Saut Hors du Progrès”L'hommage de Horkheimer a Walter Benjamin,” Archives de Philosophie, 49 (1986), 225-229. 229. Ibid, 225.


das Posthistoire23, the-post historical period; that period into which we entered after the Second World War (and of modernity, see exhibits: a) the unprecedented scale of the war, b) Auschwitz, and c) the Bomb), and made possible by the post-war economic and technological acceleration, which ensured that all could enjoy a high standard of living as compared to before (this parallels Kojève´s footnoted suggestion that the classless society was in fact American consumer capitalist society).
The mathematician A. A. Cournot had envisioned, as it was about a century before the phrase post-histoire was coined; then, Cournot wanted to designate the position that emerges when any human invention or innovation has been so perfected that every further morphological change appears closed off...the conclusion that our culture has filled its “archetypal” sense and is thus has entered a phase of meaninglessness; the alternative was then, viewed biologically, death or mutation...Post-histoire is not concerned with the lethargy of a culture in which its vital powers have been extinguished, rather with the entry to a phase of world-events occurring overall outside of the framework of History because they lack any noticeable historical connection between causes and effects. 24

At this point, our capacity for prognositication fails, as the logic of necessity (causes and effects) is disestablished. The logic of history, which is defined by a form of causality dependent upon a concept of temporality that has been decisively refuted, ¨ a phase of world-events occurring overall outside of the framework of History.” Essentially, this amounts to claiming that “History with a capital H” (Perec) came to an end (epic history) without people having thereby ceased to live, act and make history. Microhistory goes on after the end, albeit only for those whose eyes can see it. Viewed from the standpoint of history, the post-historic epoch would indeed appear as it did in Kojève's footnote or through the eyes of an unreformed Fukuyama.
A “historical situation coming to pass in which all possibilities of action are held in reserve ...abrogating all their further hopes and plans beyond limits already attained. Revolutionary action would found classless society, beyond which further historical action wouldn't arise.¨25

For my part, I view this as an epochal transition by which History, i.e. the epic element of history, only pauses, as it were, being a hiatus, or interval, in an ausnehmezustand that is often also political, and since the microhistories and singular agents have already been emancipated from a great degree of their material constraints, revolutionary action can produce a recommencement – or defer, or at least shape the form of the recrystallizing logic of a new history. what is significant is that this maps onto messianic time perfectly, with kairos standing as the moment of entry into messianic time, rather than being conflated with it. And as such, for a time, the experience of time and the possible forms of history and politics would be altered, for sovereignty is likewise suspended, attenuated, devolved or deferred. This was certainly the case in both



Which, as Lutz Niethammer has noted in Posthistoire: Has History Come to an End? “does not exist in French” but is a German coinage inspired by the mathematician A.A. Cournot, in his reflections on the dynamics of history in the mid-19 th century. Hendrick de Man, Vermassung und Kulturverfall (München: Lehnen, 1951), 135f, quoted in Arnold Gehlen, Gesamtausgabe Bd. 7: Einblicke, “Anmerkung des Herausgebers,” 468-9. Bataille, On Nietzsche, 42. Je puis imaginer un développement historique achevé qui réserverait des possibilités d'action comme un viellard se survit, éliminant l'essor et l'espoir au-delà des limites atteintes. Une action révolutionnaire fonderait la société sans classes – au-delà de laquelle ne pourrait plus naître une action historique. Oeuvres Complètes, Tome VI (Paris: Gallimard.1973), 60.


post-war Germanies, regaining sovereignty piecemeal over a 45 year period. 26
In the idea of classless society, Marx secularized the idea of messianic time... Once the classless society had been defined as an infinite task, the empty and homogeneous time was transformed into an anteroom, so to speak, in which one could wait for the emergence of the revolutionary situation... (Classless society is not the final goal of historical progress but its frequently miscarried, ultimately achieved interruption)... Marx says that revolutions are the locomotive of world history... Perhaps revolutions are an attempt... to activate the emergency break. (XVIIa) 27

Kairos is rather the opening of post-histoire, and the mode of temporality proper to the condition of History having been held in abeyance. It is a rupture, inaugurating a new history as a time filled with a plenitude of moments, bearing the emancipatory possibility of defying the constraints and false continuity of the future and past and interrupting history: Revolutionary rupture. 28 Kairos is active in our production of reality as our freedom for the future and in transforming the past in terms its relationship of meaning with the present kairos. The event of kairos effectuates the potential for a revolutionary rupture with the past. What’s more is that the rupture takes place also as a refusal to subordinate the present that we experience to a future we may very well not. Not only does kairos constitute the immanent selftranscendence of history; it is also the liberation of desire, a singular sovereign moment in which it is possible to “transcend without transcendence.” 29 True revolution is in fact messianic, for blueprinting utopia or having a ¨plan¨ is impossible from this side of the event – as rational prognosis is interrupted by a change, as it were, in historical rationality. The messianic need not be deferred, but neither can its advent be accelerated: no deferral. Those who wait, wait in vain, because they are only waiting for themselves (Nietzsche, BGE 274). Those who have recognized that the pleroma (fullness of time) is here and now, also recognize that it is bound up inextricably with our desires, such that any moment can be the kairos of the revolution that would mark the start of an interregnum of messianic time, the hiatus that exists before a new history can be constructed or installed. In such moments there is brought about “a real ausnehmezustand”30 liberating the present from this servitude to the future and constraint of the past in view of making experience in the strong erfahrung sense possible again. A “pure time of suspended history marking an epoch [called] a revolutionary regime”(Sade). No conception of the temporality of revolution could be at once as opposed and as similar to Robespierre's exhortations to accelerate the Revolution. Rather than the time of a new, ever-accelerating history inaugurated by the Revolution, “it is the time of the between-times where... there reigns the silence of the absence of laws, an interval that corresponds precisely to the suspension of speech when everything ceases, everything is arrested... because there is no

27 28

29 30

The position of post-history inaugurated by kairos (kairology rather than chronology) stands diametrically opposed to the earliest concept of post-history, R. Seidenberg's “final posthistoric phase, more or less symmetrical with the prehistoric phase. History itself is thus marked off as a transitional interregnum... a relatively fixed state of stability and permanence.” Roderick Seidenberg, Posthistoric Man (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1950), 56. Benjamin, “Paralipomena to 'On The Concept of History,'” Selected Writings, Vol 4, 401-11. 401-2. Post-historical period = hiatus in history (epic/ideological), of indeterminate duration but unable to endure eternally. That desire which in kairos renounces the temptation to vainly prolong it is stronger than the desire to continue existing and desiring, the supersession of conatus. Ernst Bloch, Atheism in Christianity, Trans. J. T. Swann (London: Verso, 2009), n.p. (epigraph). Benjamin,“On the Concept of History,” 392.


more interdiction. Moment of excess, of dissolution and of energy.. Always pending, this instant of silent frenzy is also the instant at which man, by a cessation wherein he affirms himself, attains his true sovereignty.” 31 To await, to say that action is to bring about, is to still subordinate oneself to the future and to never even see that opening onto a different future, a different form of history. It henceforth becomes the task of the revolutionary to maintain that lapsus, a time simultaneously post-historical and pre-historical, in which every moment is unique, irreplaceable and contemporary (if virtually, or by means of remembrance) with every other – in which every being is likewise irreplaceable in its singularity and yet immanent to every other.
When one commentator says, The Messiah is perhaps I, he is not exalting himself. Anyone might be the Messiah – must be he, is not he. For it would be wrong to speak of the Messiah in Hegelian language – “the absolute intimacy of absolute exteriority.” – all the more so because the coming of the Messiah does not yet signify the end of history, the suppression of time. It announces a time more future.. than any prophesy could ever foretell 32

Everyone is messianic when aware that kairic moments are to be found everywhere in Erfahrung. by the historian who “brushes history against the grain.” When the “principle of alienation constituting man... imprisoning him in a contentment with his own reality... leading him to... impose it as a conquering affirmation” is overturned, when one has extirpated all that “roots men in a time, in a history... in a language,”33 it is beyond all possibility for me to deny that, as Bataille wrote in Devant un Ciel Vide (1946), “these moments are relatively banal: just a little ardor and abandon is sufficient (on the other hand, just as little weakness turns us away, and the next instant expels us from the moment;. Laughter to the point of tears, fucking and crying, obviously nothing is more common... ecstasy itself is right under our noses.” 34 Unexpectedly, the moment “opens itself up while denying that which limits separate beings, the instant alone is the sovereign being…”35 No great event or historical/epochal/cosmic crisis is really needed in order to overcome such a blinding alienation from life in the present, from the present itself, from others, for “ Every just act (are there any?) makes of its day the last day or – as Kafka said – the very last: a day no longer situated in the ordinary succession of days but one that makes of the most commonplace ordinary, the extraordinary.”36 In consideration of the fundamentally immanent quality of kairos Blanchot was absolutely correct in asserting that demonstrations “express the right of all to be free in the streets, freely to be a passerby and to make something happen in the streets.”37 The significance of May '68 lies in the
31 32 33 34


36 37

Maurice Blanchot, The Infinite Conversation, Trans. Susan Hanson (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993), 226. Blanchot, The Writing of the Disaster, 142. Blanchot, Political Writings, 97. Georges Bataille, “Devant un ciel vide,” Fontaine, Nos. 48-9, Fevrier 1946, 207-212. 212. My translation. [Les moments soverains sont extérieures à mes efforts. Mais ces moments sont d'une banalité relative: un peu d'ardeur et d'abandon sufissent (un peu de lâcheté par allieurs en détourne et, l'instant d'après nous discourons. Rire aux larmes, charnellement jouir et crier, rien évidemment n'est plus commun... L'extase même est proche de nous.] Georges Bataille, “The Sovereign,” The Unfinished System of Nonknowledge, Trans. Michelle and Stuart Kendall (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2001), 185-195. 187. Blanchot, The Writing of the Disaster,143. Blanchot, Political Writings, 91. Cf. Bataille, ON, 157.


fact that “the rupture... is decisive. Between the liberal capitalist world, our world, and the present of the communist exigency, there is only the dash of a disaster, an astral change.” 38 Unbinding revolutionary possibilities is a matter of reliquishing that which resists this anachrony – that is, according to Blanchot, “everything that through values and through feelings roots men in a time, in a history, and in a language is the principle of alienation constituting man as privileged in his particularity, imprisoning him in a contentment with his own reality, and leading him to propose it as an example or to impose it as a conquering affirmation.” 39 In this Blanchot takes over and develops an insight given to us by Bataille in 1945, who wrote, “actually, our native country is what belongs to the past in us. It's on this and this alone that Hitlerism erects its rigid value system, adding no new value.” 40 4. Going out of synch(rony): Creating community with the quodlibet-Messiahs – We are the ones we've been waiting for: Kairos and Immanence. Substituting the word “messiah” for “being” in the opening chapter of Agamben's The Coming Community, we arrive at an instructive formulation: “The coming messiah is whatever messiah. Whatever messiah has an original relation to desire. The whatever in question relates to singularity... only in its being such as it is... The singularity exposed is as such is whatever you want, that is, lovable.” 41 Moreover, when Benjamin references Origen by way of Leskov in Der Erzähler, we may interpret αποκαταστασις as not only the restitutio in integratum and the tikkun olam, but as a restoration to immanence, through kairos (in Origen, kairos and αποκαταστασις cannot be understood but in relation to one another in his eschatology ) – and through new modes of (hi)story-telling. Community and others would thus stand in a relationship of immanence to us in kairos, for Community produced/actualized in the present – made contemporary – apres coup: “We wouldn't have ever known transcendence if we hadn't first constructed and then rejected it, torn it down... But just as the event being past, the community discovers itself beyond the calamity – in the same way, the 'tragedy of reason' changes to senseless variation,”42 and “the feelings of immanence I have when talking to them, that is, when we're together in our sympathies are an indicator of my place in the world - a sign of the wave in the midst of ocean.”43 The anachrony introduced by kairos undermines the chronopolitical regime that imposes and is
38 39 40 41 42 43

Blanchot, Political Writings, 93. Blanchot, “[Communism without heirs],” Political Writings 1953-1993, 92. Bataille, On Nietzsche, 171-2. Apologies to Giorgio Agamben, The Coming Community, 1. Georges Bataille, On Nietzsche, 165-6. Bataille, On Nietzsche, 157.


supported by temporal structures in the mode of chronos - on the model of the clock. For example, Western-syle liberal democracy is bound up with contemporary forms of capitalism. And at the base of capitalism is an organization of time into a unilinear succession of identical days, this time is also a measure - which translates time into capital. This is disrupted by the anachrony of kairos, the experience of which reintroduces the heterogeneity of erfahrung in a qualitatively unique moment. Such disruption is that opening which makes the moment of rupture possible. We can thus sum up the revolutionary task of the quodlibet-Messiah by once again appropriating Blanchot's words, that is: “Let us share eternity in order to make it transitory.”44 We can thus sum up the revolutionary task of the quodlibet-Messiah as being first to attain to “a conception of the present as Jetztzeit shot through with splinters of messianic time.” 45 That is, to grasp that “every second was the small gateway in time through which the Messiah might enter.” 46 And who enters? The quodlibet-Messiah – at any moment, everyone in their irreducible singularity can, by embracing anachrony, recognizing the heterogeneity of time, and acting without hesitation to produce-seize the kairos, redeem the past and unchain the present from its servitude to the future. In this moment, “let us share eternity in order to make it transitory.”47

44 45 46 47

Blanchot, The Writing of the Disaster, 146. Benjamin, SW 4, 397. Benjamin, SW 4, 397. Blanchot, The Writing of the Disaster, 146.


Appendix: A Short History of Kairos As our time is apportioned, it becomes all too easy to forget that this moment is unlike any other and will never return – experience is thereby atomized and put out of reach as even time is commodified by the measure of the hourly wage. “The obsession of expectation that, in the Western experience of time, continually surprises the present by neutralizing the 'new' and having it swallowed by a future that is constantly bent toward the past.”48 This led, at the paroxysmal end of Modernity, to the highly unlikely fusion of futurism and archaism in Fascism, for instance the architecture of Nazi Germany “made the monument as messiah for an impatient community, the heralded new man who came when summoned to liberate the community from time, who came to put an end to its waiting.” 49 In the Greek rhetorical tradition “kairos first appeared in the Iliad, where it denotes a vital or lethal place in the body... [and] carries a spatial meaning.”50 The word kairos is first found in the theory and the practice of rhetoric, designating the “proper time,” or “opportune moment” for an action. In the earliest instances of its use, kairos is understood to play an important ritual function: designating the temporal occasion of the performance of, for instance, a sacrifice. Kairos would later be carried over in Roman religion as the occasio or tempus for the performance of a ritual, ritus, which Georges Dumézil notes “is related to the important Vedantic concept rtá, Iran. Arta “cosmic ritual, order, etc., as the basis of truth” (c.f. Rtú, “proper time [for a ritual action], allotted or regulated span of time”; Avestan ratu).”51 Now, since to the Vedantic rtú corresponded the word kāla, "a fixed or right point of time, a space of time, time... destiny, fate... death,” 52 the root of which, *kāl-, meaning to calculate, while kairos derives from the root *krr-, meaning “union, communion,”53 it appears to follow that we can infer a parallelism with kairos-chronos. A more extensive philological and historical examination will be written later, however for the moment one might speculate that the temporal specification of kairos occurred as a result of cultural contact, conquest and/or assimilation. The fact that such linguistic doublings as kairos and chonos can be found in all Indo-European languages since the time of the Vedas, in conjunction with the associations with ritual and sacrifice, suggests that they emerge at the inception of written culture and the earliest forms of historical consciousness. This hypothesis resonates with Georges Bataille's remark that “sacrifice will illuminate the conclusion of history as it did its dawn. Sacrifice can't be for us what it was at the beginning of “time.” Our experience is one of impossible
48 49

50 51 52


Ibid, 61. Eric Michaud, “National Socialist Architecture as an Acceleration of Time” Translated by Christopher Fox, Critical Inquiry, Volume 19, Issue 2 (Winter 1993). Philip Sipiora, “Introduction,” in Rhetoric and Kairos, 2. Georges Dumézil, Archaic Roman Religion, Volume One, Trans. Philip Krapp (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970), 80. Monier Monier-Williams, A Sanskrit-English Dictionary: Etymologically and Philologically Arranged with Special Reference to Cognate Indo-European languages (Oxford: Clarendon, 1964). Boisacq, 393.


appeasement. Lucid holiness recognizes in itself the need to destroy, the necessity of a tragic outcome.” 54 The entry for kairos in Émile Boisacq's Dictionnaire Étymologique de la Langue Greque (2nd Ed. 1923, 1st Ed. 1903) includes the following: “καιρός a été rapproché de κρίσις f. lat. discrimen 'decision'... au sens premier de 'moment décisif.'”55 It is thus that any given krisis would take place as and in a heterogeneous moment interrupting the continuum of history & time. In this sense, krisis refers to “a historically unique transition phase. It then coagulates into an epochal concept in that it indicates a critical transition period after which-if not everything, then much-will be different. The use of "crisis" as an epochal concept pointing to an exceptionally rare, if not unique, transition period, has expanded most dramatically since the last third of the eighteenth century, irrespective of the partisan camp using it. 56 The moment, however, in which this kairos-krisis is experienced as present, is not itself transitional but a transitory interruption – part of neither ho aiōn touto (this epoch) nor ho aiōn mellōn (the coming epoch). Via Hippocrates, kairos comes to stand in opposition to chronos – an opposition suggested aptly in the form of a sort of inverse relation in the Corpus Hippocraticum: “chronos is that in which there is kairos and kairos is that in which there is little chronos [chronos esti en ho kairos kai kairos esti en to ou pollos chronos].”57 It is at this early juncture, in the Corpus and subsequent Greek medical literature, the moment designated by kairos is at the same time a “crisis [which, as a concept] refers both to the observable condition and to the judgment (judicium) about the course of the illness.... There it is used as a transitional or temporal concept (Verlaufsbegriff), which... leads towards a decision... due but has not yet been rendered”.58 Kairos becomes an eminently temporal-historical concept through the syncretistic development of the early Church, assimilating to kairos concepts appropriated from Judaism, Gnosticism, Neo-Platonism, and so forth, and in the Septuagint is bound to crisis, decision and finally to eschatology, by using the word krisis to designate the Last Judgment.. Kairos enters the philosophy of history as a secularized catergory of eschatology. This transposition into the apocalyptic was made thinkable and indeed, to some extent legitimate: already in Hippocrates the moment of kairos is also the moment of krisis – and thus the Last Judgment, the absolute eschatological event, the Krisis , would manifest temporally as kairos. Origen uses kairos in a sense exemplary of this period. For him, “kairos denotes a quality of action in time, when an event of outstanding significance occurs... a moment of time when a prophecy was pronounced... when a prophecy is fulfilled”59 By coming to figure as a much awaited, anticipated and desired eschatological event, kairos stands in relation with Eros. Kairos is the insistence of the now, the demand that this time, this now,
54 55 56 57 58 59

Georges Bataille, Guilty, Trans. Bruce Boone (Venice, CA: The Lapis Press, 1988), 51. Due to numerous inaccuracies in this edition, in all quotations from this book I have corrected the translation. Émile Boisacq, Dictionnaire Étymologique de la Langue Grecque, 2nd Ed. (Heidelberg & Paris: C. Klincksieck & C. Winters, 1923), 392. Reinhart Koselleck, “Crisis,” Trans. Michaela Richter, Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 67, No. 2 (Apr., 2006), 357-400. 372. Giorgio Agamben, The Time That Remains, 68-9. Koselleck, “Crisis,” 360-1. P. Tzamalikos, Origen: Philosophy of History & Eschatology (Boston: Brill, 2007), 130.


be unlike any other, decisive and fulfilled. Surely, “the Church is itself eschatological. But the moment the figures of the apocalypse are applied to concrete events or instances, the eschatology has disintigrative effects.” 60 From about the 16th century forward, it passed to “the state enforced a monopoly on the control of the future by suppressing apocalyptic and astrological readings of the future.”61 Subsequently, “progress occurred to the extent that the state and its prognostication was never able to satisfy soteriological demands which persisted within a state whose own existence depended on the elimination of millenarian expectations.” 62 It is thus no surprise that aside from a few scattered remarks by Nietzsche and Kierkegaard, it was in the context and service of “religious socialism,” that kairos was first re-conceptualized in the domains of the philosophy of history and the political by Paul Tillich (in the company of the other socialist Protestant theologians who formed the Kairos-Kreis) beginning in the early 1920s. In Kairos and Logos (1926) Tillich writes: “time is alldecisive... qualitatively fulfilled time, the moment that is creation and fate. We call this fulfilled moment, the moment of time approaching us as fate and decision, Kairos.”63Toward the end of his life, he wrote in Systematic Theology (1957) that, apropos of the turbulent historical moment out of which it arose, kairos “was chosen [as a term] to remind philosophy of the necessity of dealing with history, not in terms of its logical and categorical structures only, but also in terms of its dynamics. And, above all, kairos should express the feeling of many people... that a moment of history had appeared which was pregnant with a new understanding of the meaning of history and life.”64 The idea of kairos has since entered into theological discourses: notably, those of Gaston Fessard, S.J., P. Tielhard de Chardin, Hans Urs von Balthasar, and importantly, Jean Danièlou, S.J. (with whom Bataille frequently spoke), and in philosophical discourses: Agamben, Marramao, Negri, Moutsopoulos, Konersmann (on Benjamin), and obliquely (but unmistakably) in Bataille, Blanchot, Taubes, etc.

60 61 62 63


Reinhart Koselleck, Futures Past, 13. Koselleck, Futures Past, 16. Koselleck, Futures Past, 21. Paul Tillich, Part One Translated by N.A. Rasetzki, Parts Two, Three and Four Translated by Elsa L.Talmey (New York and London: Charles Scribers Sons, 1936), 129. Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology, Volume Three, 369.


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