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Rowan G. Tepper 8, March 2012 Every moment is at once experienced as singular and heterogeneous: no one has ever said that time, in their experience, felt “clock-like,” or continuous. We can only experience time become homogeneous and without qualities while staring at the clock in endless expectation. 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. This disjunction between intensive and extensive experiences of time, between qualitative and qualitative, can be detected long before the well known linguistic doubling of time into chronos and kairos, in Attic Greek rhetoric, philosophy and myth: that there are indications, correlates, traces or equivalents found in languages ranging from Vedantic Sanskrit and Avestan, to modern Indo-European languages (becoming less pronounced; today found in most pronounced form in the German words Moment and Augenblick) suggests a sort of quasi-universality – limited, however, to historically conscious written cultures of the Indo-European linguistic family.1 The relationships between these various words and concepts – most familiarly in the relationship between chronos and kairos – indicate a more complicated state of affairs than naïve dualisms, for instance “lived time” and “measured” time, must be foregone in favor of merely indicating that we generally see spatial metaphors, numerical and quantitative measure, and homogeneity/interchangeability associated with one word/concept (chronos), while we encounter nonspatial (re-)presentations, intensive, qualitatively distinctions between times, as well as a heterogeneity that makes each moment or time unique and irreplaceable, associated with the other (kairos). Time resists conceptualization, and this resistance leads to it being thought solely in the mode of chronos – that is, on the model of space. In The Genesis of the Copernican World, Hans Blumenberg traces this
1 These constraints are due on the one hand to limited expertise outside of this domain, and on the other to philosophical objections to universals and universality.
process: “In the strict sense, we have no concept of time. We comprehend what we mean when we use the term "time" by means of spatial metaphors, and we use them not only as clarifying illustrations but as an intuitive foundation [fundierende Anschauung].”2 Nevertheless, history bears witness to a multitude of conceptualizations of time, whether implicitly in a given language's representations or explicitly in theories rooted in concepts of mythological, theological and in philosophical origin. Every history itself depends upon a specific concept and experience of time appropriate to it.
3.1. A Conceptual History of Kairos
Kairos first emerged in the Ancient 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.” 3 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 this sense kairos played 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).”4 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,”5 the root of which, *kāl-, meaning to calculate, while kairos derives from the root *krr-, meaning “union, communion,”6 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
2 3 4 5
Hans Blumenberg, The Genesis of the Copernican World, Trans. Robert M. Wallace (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1987), 437. 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). 6 Boisacq, 393.
assimilation.7 The fact that such linguistic doublings as kairos and chronos 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 appeasement. Lucid holiness recognizes in itself the need to destroy, the necessity of a tragic outcome.”8 Our study of kairos in Attic suggested that the non-temporal meanings were largely in abeyance by the end of the fourth century B. C. However as a literary-rhetorical term kairos is still vigorously championed by Dionysius of Halicarnassus in the Augustan period... If the tendency to restrict kairos first to temporal appropriateness and then to a mere synonym for chronos began in the middle of the fifth century B. C, it still had not run its course more than five centuries later. 9 One notable early deviation points toward an additional meaning: the critical moment, the moment of crisis, as Koselleck and Agamben, more elliptically, have noted, in Hippocrates. In the philosophical discourses of Ancient Greece, 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].”10 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. At such a time, it will be determined whether the patient will live or die… With its adoption into Latin, the concept subsequently underwent a metaphorical expansion into the domain of
7 Perhaps via Persia: Zoroastrianism. Written in Avestan – Founded 6th Century BCE. 8 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. 9 John R. Wilson, “Kairos as 'Due Measure,” in Glotta, 58. Bd., 3./4. H. (1980), 177-204. 203-4. 10 Giorgio Agamben, The Time That Remains: A Commentary on the Letter to the Romans, Trans. Patricia Daley (Stanford: Stanford U. P., 2005), 68-9.
social and political language. There it is used as a transitional or temporal concept (Verlaufsbegriff), which, as in a legal trial, leads towards a decision. It indicates that point in time in which a decision is due but has not yet been rendered.11 “Kairos is also a significant concept in the Bible, appearing hundreds of times in both the Old and New Testaments. The first words of Christ call attention to the importance of timing:“The time [kairos] is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand” (Mark 1:14).” And, in the earliest years of Christianity, St. Paul uses the term kairos12 not merely to denote a time, but as a synonym for what is, in the Judaic tradition known as “messianic time,” it denote the time, the present time of the messianic event. It is at this juncture a messianic concept, an experience of the present or of imminence, not yet an apocalyptic-eschatological anticipation of the krisis of the Last Judgment. Later, during roughly the period spanning the first through fifth centuries AD, kairos acquires a theological, mystical (Gnostic, Neo-Platonic and Christian) and philosophical usage, adding nodes and connections to the theoretical nexus around kairos. Here, kairos is at last linked to eschatology as the krisis which brings to an end the profane world and in which eternity irrupts into time, much as in the nunc stans of the mystic of the age. Its 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 (Koselleck, “Crisis” 359-60; Danièlou, LOH 32), 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”13 By coming to figure as a much awaited, anticipated and desired eschatological event, kairos comes into relation with Eros. After this period, however, kairos falls into disuse with the efforts of the Church to damp down dangerous and revolutionary millenarian expectations.
11 Reinhart Koselleck, “Crisis,” Trans. Michaela Richter, Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 67, No. 2 (Apr., 2006), 357-400. 360-1. 12 Usually found in Paul's epistles in the formulation ho nyn kairos, the time of the the now 13 P. Tzamalikos, Origen: Philosophy of History & Eschatology (Boston: Brill, 2007), 130.
In Futures Past, Koselleck observes: “A ruling principle of the Roman Church was that all visionaries had to be brought under its control... 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.”14 With the Reformation and the rise of the absolute state in the 16 th and 17th centuries not the Church but “the state enforced a monopoly on the control of the future by suppressing apocalyptic and astrological readings of the future.”15 Subsequently, the “historical time” and corresponding experience of “lived time”(durée) replace kairos in a relationship of opposition to natural or chronological time. At the same time, “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.”16 The goal of historical progress took over the structural and dynamic function of eschaton while 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. The ideology of progress has henceforth served to make time measurable so as to be able to quantify time and labor. Time, on the scale of days, is thoroughly homogenized by and on the model of the clock and natural time, while on the scale of years and ages, as Benjamin notes, there remain traces of a qualitative experience of time – in holidays – the repetition of which was, in fact, an archaic signification of the word “revolution.”
3.2. Paul Tillich: Kairos & Logos
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
14 Reinhart Koselleck, Futures Past: On the Semantics of Historical Time, Trans. Keith Tribe (New York: Columbia University Press, 2004), 13. 15 Koselleck, Futures Past, 16. 16 Koselleck, Futures Past, 21.
theologians who formed the Kairos-Kreis) beginning in the early 1920s. In Kairos and Logos (1926) Tillich writes: “time is all-decisive... 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.”17Toward 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.” 18 We find a thoroughly philosophical, that is stripped of its theological accoutrements, definition of kairos in explicit distinction from chronos in “Kairos III:” Chronos hat es mit der meßbaren Seite des zeitliche Prozesses zu tun, mit der Uhrzeit, die durch die regelmäßig Bewegung der Sterne bestimmt wird, im besonderen durch die Bewegung der Erde um die Sonne. Kairos dagegen bezeichnet einzigartig Momente im zeitlichen Prozeß, Momente, in denen sich etwas Einzigartiges ereignen oder vollenden kann... Chronos bringt das quantitative, berechenbare, wiederholdbare Element des zeitlichen Prozesses zum Ausdruck, während Kairos das qualitative erfahrungsgemäße, einzigartige Element betont. 19 Kairos is thus the qualitative, experiential and particular element or face of any given moment of time. The very title of Kairos and Logos makes clear that kairos is to be seen in conceptual relationships other than this on; firstly, if “a moment of time, an event, deserves the name of Kairos, fullness of time in the precise sense, if it can be regarded in its relation to the Unconditioned, if it speaks of the Unconditioned, and if to speak of it is at the same time to speak of the Unconditioned,” this means that the fullness of time in kairos is the momentary point of contact between the temporal and conditional and the eternal and unconditional. Secondly, if “to look at a time thus, means to look at it in its truth,” 20 this means that the relation17 Paul Tillich, The Interpretation of History, 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. 18 Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology Volume Three, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1963), 369. 19 Paul Tillich, “Kairos III,” in Der Widerstreit von Raum und Zeit: Schrifien zur Geschichtsphilosophie,Gesammelte Werke.(Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1963), 137. 20 Paul Tillich, The Interpretation of History, 173.
ship of kairos to logos is not exactly a simple matter of contrast, but of the eternal logos becoming temporal in a unique moment of time, kairos. John E. Smith provides the following gloss: “...we cite this information only when it is needed or relevant... [logos] represents truth that is regarded as universal in import and [kairos] the special occasion in the course of events when such truth must be brought to bear by an individual somewhere and somewhen.”21 This becoming-temporal and becoming-contingent of the eternal, unconditional logos within kairos is not merely the truth of time or a historical category, but it is the moment in which time becomes history. In Meaning in History (1949): Natural space-time and the distinction of an indifferent "now"-point from its "before" and "after" do not explain the experience of a qualitative historical time. A historical now is not an indifferent instant but a kairos, which opens the horizon for past as well as for future. The significant now of the kairos qualifies the retrospect on the past and the prospect upon the future, uniting the past as preparation with the future as consummation. Historically, it was the appearance of Jesus Christ at the appointed time which opened for the Christian faith this perspective onto the past and onto the future as temporal phases in the history of salvation... Prefiguring and unfolding this outstanding time when the time was fulfilled are other kairoi in the past and the future which together delineate the historical oikonomia of the divine dispensation. A mere before and after of a neutral now could never have constituted historical past and historical future.22 If it is true that the 'now' of kairos transforms the indifferent, homogeneous continuum of (natural) time into history “uniting the past as preparation with the future as consummation,” it would follow that all doctrines of a historical progress toward fulfillment in a fervently anticipated, long awaited goal (whatever it may be) represent a secularization of eschatology.
21 John E. Smith, “Time and Qualitative Time,” Rhetoric and Kairos, 53. 22 Karl Löwith , Meaning In History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1949), 185-6.
The decline of the belief that salvation will come in history is characterized by a disenchantment of heaven and of time, which calls forth an incursion of Nothingness... The element of salvational promise in these theories [Marx & Hegel] is clearly recognizable... transcendent redemption has given way to the self-reconciliation of the human spirit, the humanization of man who has become alienated from his own nature. But as scientific critique progresses, these constructions also lose their cogency. Causal and relativizing thought, brought to the fore by the empirical sciences of nature and history, gains the upper hand, with the result that theory and practice are no longer subordinated to a common directive. Thought and action are related no longer continuously but only from instance to instance in the sense of a mandate and its execution, though the belief in progress—that last pale memory of an eschatological concept of time—may tend to obscure this fact.23 This is the situation in late Modernity, a time when the obscurantism of the ideology of progress rendered incomprehensible the true nature of the rise of Hitler and the NSDAP – particularly, according to Walter Benjamin' s critique, the SPD. Today, the thought that this tragic episode in history could have possibly been a self-correcting aberration is laughable, if not incomprehensible. And yet, while not a self-correcting historical aberration, Fascism did bear within itself as it were an internal limit, which Bataille aptly observed in the epilogue to Sur Nitezsche: If the essence of Fascism is national transcendence, it can't become “universal.” It draws its particular force from “particularity.” In each country, a certain number wanted control over the masses, taking personal transcendence as their goal. They were frustrated seeking it... not being able to offer the masses the option of following them in this movement – and so thereby transcending the rest of the world.24
3.3. Walter Benjamin: Jetztzeit und Kairos
23 Helmuth Plessner, “On the Relation of Time to Death,” Man and Time: Papers from the Eranos Yearbooks, Joseph Cambell, Ed. (London: Routledge, 1958), 233-263. 243-4. Both Tillich and Danièlou participated in the Eranos conferences, the former as early as 1936. 24 Bataille, On Nietzsche, Trans. Bruce Boone (St. Paul, MN: Paragon House, 1992), 158-9.
In Fire Alarm, a study of Walter Benjamin's last work, “On the Concept of History,” Michael Löwy notes that the association of the concept of time developed therein with the concept of kairos is virtually as old as the text itself. No one other than “Adorno compared the conception of time of Thesis XIV with Paul Tillich's 'kairos' – 'full' historical time, in which each moment contains a unique opportunity, a singular constellation between relative and absolute,25 although he in fact only mentions in passing, in a letter to Horkheimer dated 12.6.1941, that “es ist kein Zufall wohl dass danach die XIV These dem χαιρός unseres Tillich nicht ganz unähnlich sieht.”26 This begs the question: why was it not coincidental or surprising in the eyes of Adorno? Ralf Konersmann writes most convincingly of the kairic structure and dynamics of Benjamin's epistemology, etc: In der Funktion einer elementaren Orientierungsfigur stellt der Kairos das Rationalitätsmuster bereit, in das die Begriffe Walter Benjamins allesamt eingelassen sind: die Allegorie und ebenso das dialektische Bild; der Name ebenso wie die Idee, die Monade ebenso wie der Ursprung, die Erkenntnis ebenso wie die Erfahrung.27 The claim made by Konersmann is that all of the major philosophical concepts in Benjamin's operate according to a logical structure and historical dynamic that absolutely conforms to that of kairos. Future and past times and events are cited in a 'now' in which they have become recognizable and meaningful, which is not merely an epistemological, historical or even political matter. This is, for Benjamin, a matter of the basic structure of experience as Erfahrung; the Erlebnis, lived experience, of phenomenology lacks precisely this kairos-structure. Experience as Erlebnis has always already missed its kairos, its present, in becoming memory. Hence, the task of the Angel, that is of searching “for a just representation of a new time: present-instant, interruption, arrest of the continuum, Jetzt-Zeit. Every Jetzt can represent it... In the
25 Michael Löwy, Fire Alarm: Reading Walter Benjamin's “On The Concept of History,” Trans. Chris Turner (New York: Verso, 2005), 87. 26 Theodor W. Adorno – Max Horkheimer Briefwechsel 1927-1969, Band 4, Teil 2 (Frankfurt Am Main: Suhrkamp, ), 125. This letter pre-dates the first publication of the Theses in 1943. 27 Ralf Konersmann, “Walter Benjamins philosophichen Kairologie,” in Walter Benjamin, Kairos: Schriften zur Philosophie (Frankfurt Am Main: Surhkamp, 2007), 327-348. pg. 331-2.
Jetzt of the Jetzt-zeit the time of every 'now' is idea of this memory.28 Here we may set forth the operative conceptual oppositions, that is, between memory as Erinnierung and as Ein-gedenken, to which the opposition of Er-lebnis and Er-fahrung corresponds. In essence, the task of remembrance with regard to experience could be called die Erlösung des [erfahrung in dem] Vergangenheits. The experience of time at stake is in fact not at all rare, only rarely recognized and even more rarely grasped before passing into the sterility of memory. We must restore that which has been reserved for the ever-deferred messianic event to its place in experience, any ‘now’ can serve as the gateway, the kairos through which a different time can enter – for experience is “shot through with chips of messianic time.” These kairoi are “filled with the [virtual] presence of Jetztzeit,” and inhere in every moment that we desire or from which we recoil, every moment for which we hope or that we dread, every moment in which we love or hate. In “Walter Benjamin and the Demonic,” Agamben writes that in Benjamin “the concept of happiness is inextricably linked to the concept of redemption, which has the past as its object,” and that furthermore, from the standpoint of Redemption, history becomes citable and that “Benjamin writes that in citation, origin and destruction merge.”29 This duality of origin and destruction finally results in the paradoxical formulation that “What cannot be save it what was, the past as such. But what is saved is what never was: something new.”30 Thus, in Agamben’s view of Benjamin’s Messianic time and Redemption, which is primarily oriented toward the past, “remembrance restores possibility to the past, making what happened incomplete and completing what never was.”31 Thus, Messianic time exerts a retrodictive power upon the past, bringing about a qualitative alteration. This is precisely the desire of the Angel of History of Thesis IX. In the European iconographic tradition, there is only one figure that brings together purely angelic
28 Massimo Cacciari, The Necessary Angel, Trans. Miguel E. Vatter (Albany: SUNY Press, 1994), 51. 29 Giorgio Agamben, “Walter Benjamin and the Demonic: Happiness and Historical Redemption,” Potentialities, Translated by Daniel Heller-Roazen (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999). 151-2. 30 Agamben, “Walter Benjamin and the Demonic,” Potentialities, 138-159. 158. 31 Giorgio Agamben “Bartleby, or On Contigency,” Potentialities, 267.
characteristics and the demonic trait of claws. This figure, however, is not Satan but Eros, Love. According to a descriptive model that we find for the first time in Plutarch (who attributes 'fangs and claws' to Eros), but that is well documented in certain infrequent but exemplary iconographic appearances, Love is represented as a winged (and often feminine) angelic figure with claws. Love appears as such both in Giotto's allegory of chastity and in the fresco in the castle of Sabbionara, as well as in the two figures of angels with claws flanking the mysterious winged feminine figure in the Lovers as Idolaters at the Louvre, attributed to the Maestro of San Martino… The claws of Angelus Novus (in Klee's painting, the angel's feet certainly bring to mind a bird of prey) do not, therefore, have a Satanic meaning; instead, they characterize the destructive – and simultaneously liberating – power of the angel.32 The Angel seeks the moment of kairos and the final krisis, and the simultaneously destructive and liberating moments of erotic fulfillment. While Benjamin never explicitly makes use of the word kairos, writing of Jetztzeit, das Jetztzt der Erkenntbarkeit and of Messianic time, Adorno – as quoted previously – took note of the close relationship between these Benjaminian concepts and Tillich's kairos – in 1941. Likewise, Ernst Bloch noted the relation between Jetztzeit and kairos in Benjamin fifteen years later, in “On The Present In Literature”(1956) – he views them as sharing a “decisive sense... [and] is certainly the most revolutionary time, also in its religious and chialiastic form.”33 Bloch however refuses to equate the two terms, arguing that kairos and the pleroma are of the chialiastic form – in most cases. It was Giorgio Agamben, shortly before his discovery of Benjamin's second Nachlass in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (assisted by Pierre Missac), in Infancy and History (Italian, 1978, English, 1993), and developed later in “The Time That is Left” (English, 2001) and The Time that Remains (Italian, 2000, English, 2005), who first proposed that not only does Jetztzeit stand in close relation to kairos (as conceived by Tillich), but that Jetztzeit maps onto the kairos of St. Paul as aliases, as it were, of messianic time. While I agree with Michael Löwy's brief note –
32 Giorgio Agamben, “Walter Benjamin & The Demonic,” 141-2. 33 Ernst Bloch, “On the Present in Literature (1956),” Translated by Jack Zipes and Frank Mecklenburg, in Literary Essays, 131.
like him, “I do not think that Jetztzeit refers directly to the expression ho nyn kairos which Paul uses in the New Testament to refer to messianic time, particularly as the term Jetztzeit does not appear in Luther's translation (which has: in dieser Zeit).”34 I hasten to add, however, that it must be emphasized that a relation between kairos and Jetztzeit exists and must be articulated. It does not suffice to dismiss Agamben's claim in its entirety. This is all the more so for the fact that when first he reads kairos in Benjamin's concept of Jetztzeit, he refers to the Gnostic-Stoic cairos, “the abrupt and sudden conjunction where decision grasps opportunity and life is fulfilled in the moment. Infinite, quantified time is thus at once delimited and made present: within itself the cairós distils different times ('omnium temporum in unum collatio') and within it the sage is master of himself and at his ease, like a god in eternity.” 35 There is nothing particularly problematic involved in this formulation; this is in stark contrast to his rather dubious claims in The Time That Remains, that Benjamin “endows the term [Jetztzeit] with the same qualities as those pertaining to the ho nyn kaiors in Paul's paradigm of messianic time,”36 and that each Jetzt der Erkenntbärkeit/Lesbärkeit is predetermined in a manner analogous to Pauline typological prefiguration. Most subsequent research concerning Benjamin and kairos, with the notable exception of the work of Giacomo Marramao, has taken either Agamben or Adorno as both authority and point du départ, thus leading to numerous efforts to reconcile Benjamin's thought with either Pauline eschatology or Tillich's religious socialism (K. Lindroos 1998, 2006). Clearly, there is in Benjamin a relationship between Jetztzeit and messianic time, in terms of which kairos can be situated: as the opening unto messianic time – the revolutionary emergency brake on the train of world history in thesis XVIIa. Jetztzeit would thus be rather the mode of temporal experience proper to such an interruption of progress as the emergence of “classless society, [in which] Marx secularized the idea of messianic time... (Classless society is not the final goal of historical progress but its frequently
34 Löwy, 134n161. 35 Giorgio Agamben, “Critique of the Instant and the Continuum,” Infancy and History, Trans. Liz Heron (London & New York: Verso, 2007), 111. 36 Agamben, The Time That Remains, 143.
miscarried, ultimately achieved interruption)... Marx says that revolutions are the locomotive of world history... Perhaps revolutions are an attempt by the passengers on this train to activate the emergency break”.37 While it is true that Georges Bataille likewise eschews explicit use of the term kairos, like in Benjamin it is no great stretch to see analogues in his work on the issue of time in relation to sovereignty, desire and history. While the nature and extent of the relationship between Bataille and Benjamin is a matter of contention, their kinship is particularly visible in the following passage drawn from Sur Nietzsche (1945): ¨I can imagine some kind of historical situation emerge, in which all possibilities of action are held in reserve... abrogating all their further hopes and plans beyond limits already attained. * A revolutionary action would found classless society – beyond which no further historical action could come into being¨38
3.4. Jean Danièlou, S.J. & Georges Bataille: Mysticism & The Instant
Fortuitously, a variant of this passage is found in the manuscripts of Sur Nietzsche and the lecture given by Bataille at a “conference on good and evil,” held at the home of his friend Marcel Moré on 5 March, 1944, which was followed by a critique presented by his friend, Father Jean Daniélou, “a Jesuit and future cardinal, with whom Bataille had been discussing his ideas regularly since the spring of 1942..." 39 Bataille's biographer, Michel Surya adds, “ he seems to have seen [Danièlou] often during the war, and... he apparently had some long conversations"40 (Surya, 348)κ. These two lectures and the discussion that followed have been published under the title, “Discussion sur la Pèche.” Bataille's lecture, i.e. the text
37 Benjamin, “Paralipomena to 'On The Concept of History,'” Selected Writings, Vol 4, 401-11. 401-2. * Plus de bien d'autrui prétexte à des mouvements me dépassant moi-même: ce bien serait assuré une fois pour toutes, du moins, dans la mesure où il serait, ne resterait-il plus de moyen de l'assurer davantage: plus de project de réforme qui suscite un grand espoir. (OC VI 392) 38 Bataille, On Nietzsche, 42. Translation modified according to the text of Georges Bataille, Oeuvres Complètes VI (Paris: Gallimard, 1973), 60. 39 Stuart Kendall, The Unfinished System of Nonkowledge, xxix. 40 Michel Surya, Georges Bataille, 368. κ There are accounts of Bataille's conversations with Danièlou found scattered across several of Bataille's manuscripts of the period. Two in particular stand out, on account of their length and degree of detail. The earliest account of a conversation between Bataille and Danièlou is found written on the back of the portion of the manuscript containing both Madame Edwarda and the sections “Pèche” and “Chance” in Le Coupable, which dates to between late 1941 and 1943 (OC V: 542, Note to variant of 306). The second and longer one is found in one of the manuscripts comprising Sur Nietzsche, preceded by the date 28 Janvier 1944.
containing this and other variants, constitutes a complete manuscript version of the chapter “Summit and Decline,” in Sur Nietzsche. In a letter written on the occasion of the publication of the “Discussion” in Dieu Vivant (1945), Bataille notes that the changes to the text as it appears in Sur Nietzsche were made in response to problems raised either by Danièlou's presentation41 or in the discussion.42 There are many traces of the concept of kairos that can be found in Bataille' s writings of the 1940s, as Bataille had previously appropriated a closely related concept of l'instant privilegée from Émile Dermenghem's 1937 essay, "L'Instant chez les mystiques et quelques poètes," (Measures 1938(3)15/7/1938, 105-123), in “Le Sacré”: The term privileged instant is the only one that, with a certain amount of accuracy, accounts for what can be encountered at random in the search; the opposite of a substance that withstands the test of time, it is something that flees as soon as it is seen and cannot be grasped... nothing is more desirable that what will soon disappear... [and yet] vain efforts are expended to create pathways permitting the endless re-attainment of that which flees. 43 The privileged instant is, according to Dermenghem, an essential support subtending life and experience, without which "La vie serait difficilement supportable si elle ne reposait pas sur des instants privilegies qui font jaillir la saveur d'une réalite estompée la plupart du temps." 44 This is a moment in which chance is seized and in which the new can emerge (“Le « moment du genie » a reuni des « elements » jusque-lit isoles dans un « mouvement d'ensemble » nouveau...”)45and in the absence of the concern to fix or grasp, such moments reprise those once situated in the sacrificial festival: moments of liberation – once ritually invoked, now a matter of “La Chance,” the title of an essay contemporaneously written. ...Les chances humaines ont ete utilisees a des fins particulièrs et, s'il veut, consumees egoistement a
41 In a letter dated 11 May 1943, Michel Leiris wrote to Bataille that “"Father Danielou would also like to write an article [on Inner Experience] but has no idea where to place it." (#31, Bataille-Leiris Correspondence, 142-4). Danièlou's review did, in fact, appear the following February in Études. See Appendix A for the text of the review.. 42 Georges Bataille, Oeuvres Completes VI, 377, 382. 43 Georges Bataille, “The Sacred,” in Visions of Excess: Selected Writings, 1927-1939, Translated by Allan Stoekl with Carl R. Lovitt and Donald M. Leslie, Jr. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1985), 241. 44 Emile Dermenghem, "L'Instant chez les mystiques et quelques poètes," Measures 1938(3), 15/7/1938, 105-123. 105. 45 Georges Bataille, “La Chance,” Oeuvres Complètes, Tome I (Paris: Gallimard, 1971), 535,538.
l'écart des ensembles dont elles auraient d'être l'orgueil et le moment liberatoire d'fête. Il est naturel que le détournement des chances ait abouti à leur negation. Mais rien n'alourdit davantage les jeux de l'existence humaine que la suspicion ou le dénigrement s'attachant a chacun de ses «moments privilegies»46 Dermenghem further describes this singular moment, writing: Il ne peut plus se préoccuper ni du passé ni de I'avenir et s'absorbe dans son instant, completement dominé par la touche divine (présence ou absence, union ou séparation, joie ou angoisse) qui lui arrive sans que sa volonté puisse rien pour l'attirer ou la repousser, car l'instant ne dépend pas de l'effort humain et ne peut « s'acheter au marche ». Et revenant à comparaison avec le sabre... « L'instant coupe Ies racines du futur et du passe. L'epee est un compagnon dangereux ; elle peut, faire de son maitre un roi mais peut aussi Ie detruire. Elle ne distingue pas entre Ie cou de son maitre et celui d'un autre. »47 The time during which Bataille's initial theoretical constructions of this kairos-like conception of qualitatively distinct moments was soon48 to be followed by a period of close dialogue with Danièlou – for whom the concept of kairos is theologically and historically indispensable, drawn from his studies of Origen and John Chrysostome: Si nous nous rappelons l'importance capitale de ce mot de kairos dans l'Évangile pour désigner les événements essentiels de la vie du Christ... Ainsi les sacrements... sont-ils marqués de ce caractère histoirique, de cet aspect d'événement qui constitue la réalité chétiennne propre par opposition à la pensée philosophique.. et qui en fait la continuation au milieu de nous, de l'histoire sainte. Chaque messe est un kairos, une circonstance exceptionnellement favorable - et ceci en relation avec le
46 Georges Bataille, OC I, 543. 47 Dermenghem, 112-3. “Ces instants sont intermittents, dit Al Sarraj (Luma); s'ils etaient continueIs, ceux qui Ies subissent ne seraient plus sociables; les forces humaines ne pourraient plus les supporter. Leur exces, leur frequence, Ie desequilibre entre leur. force et celle du sujet, ne sont pas des signes de perfection mais plutot de faibiesse ; c'est seulement l'etat de grace, Ie hal, qui affermit en l'homme delivre alors du temps, zaman, I'instant changeant, waqt, et transforme ce1ui-ci en une vie dans I'eterneJle presence..(Hujwiri).” 48 “Le Sacré,” and “La Chance” were both written in 1938, while the encounter with Danièlou began around 1941-2.
kairos par excellence .."49 Jean Danièlou's rejection of the orthodox Marxist theory of history bears many resemblances to Benjamin's. There are, of course, differences that go far beyond their theological milieus, but we do find them in agreement concerning the critique of progress and the thought of redemption not as a singular event, but as the task of human historical action: For the Marxist, history has not yet set its course: he looks toward the future. For the Christian, history is substantially fixed and the essential element is at the center, not at the end... Does this mean that there is nothing more to be done? Yes, if, after the event of the Redemption, no fundamental task remained to be accomplished. But the Redemption is a reality of incomparable dynamism; for what is acquired by right for all humanity remains indeed to be transmitted to all men... Sacred history is the history of the present in which we live50 Danièlou's concept of kairos is highly determined by his theological studies and vocation, in particularly from the Early Church Fathers – some of whom, Origen (the subject of Danièlou's first major study) had been condemned as heretical for his Gnostic-influenced doctrine of αποκατασταςις. Bound up in the same conceptual nexus as αποκατασταςις, as kairos is always characterized as a point of communication between the present or temporal and the future/past or the eternal. P. Tzamalikos writes of this, that “Origen holds a view of kairos on account of the character of an action mainly from a point of view of time. It is not only an action which requires the proper time... but also each time requires the proper action befitting a particular moment... in the light of the eschatological purpose of salvation.” 51 (137) Amusingly, Danièlou cites Origen's contemporary, a great critic of Gnosticism and opponent of Valentinus, Iranaeus, who was clearly the first one who discovered the solution by showing that, again to the dismay of
49 Jean Danielou, “Le Kairos de la Messe D'Apres Les Homélies Sur L'Incomprehensible de Saint Jean Chrysostome." in Die Messe in der Glauberwerkündigung: Kerygmatische Fragen, Hrsg. F. X. Arnold & Balthazar Fischer (Freiburg: Herder, 1950), 71-78. 75ff. 50 Jean Danièlou, “Marxist History and Sacred History,” The Review of Politics, Vol. 13, No. 4 (Oct.,1951), 503-513. 507. 51 P. Tzamalikos, Origen: Philosophy of History and Eschatology, 137.
reason, the temporal aspect, the chairos, should enter into the value-judgments to be brought to a reality... An effort must not be made to keep them when their time, their chairos, is over. The sin of Judaism is a sin of anachronism; it consists in wanting to arrest God's plan at a moment in its growth, to maintain out-of-date forms.52 Chrysostome: Il constitue un évènement extraordinaire, un moment unique... [le] kairos: "Quelle espérance de salud ne peux-tu pas avoir en ce moment (kairos). Ce ne sont pas seulement les hommes qui lancent ce cri rempli d'effroi sacré, mais les anges. Ils ont la circonstance (kairos) qui combat en leur faveur, l'oblation (prosphora) qui leur vient en aide" (726D). C'est pourquoi le diacre profite de ce kairos; pour amener les possedés (727 A)53 Danièlou was, in fact, but one among those in Bataille's intellectual and social milieus to have potentially exposed Bataille to the concept of kairos in the (Hellenistic) Judeo-Christian tradition. Notable among these were Gaston Fessard, another Jesuit who had attended Kojève's course on Hegel, and one of Bataille's closest associates, Roger Caillois, who in 1963 wrote of kairos as the “instant [that] largely determines the occurrence... its fortune, its scope, its character... The Greeks called this cosmic timeliness kairos, but they reserved this appellation for privileged occasions when destiny seemed to intervene.”54. Forgoing, for the time being, detailed analysis of Bataille and kairos, it would suffice to say that there is no less reason to consider Bataille's temporal concepts, including “l'instant/moment privilegé,” “moment perdu,” “moment souveraine,” or “sommet,” in terms of and in relation to kairos. Le mystère du temps présent est en effet qu'il comporte cette présence simultanée d'un monde passé, qui se survit à lui-même, et d'un monde futur qui est déjà existant de façon anticipée- C'est dire qu'en fait il n'y a pas de monde présent, ou que ce monde n'est qu'un passage. Pour lé chrétien,
52 Jean Danièlou, “The Conception of History in the Christian Tradition,” The Journal of Religion,Vol. 30, No. 3 (Jul., 1950), 171179. 173. 53 Danièlou, “Le kairos de la Messe...,” 75ff. 54 Roger Caillois, “Circular Time, Rectilinear Time,” Trans. Nora McKeon, Diogenes, Vol. 11, No. 1 (1963), 1-13. 8-9.
le monde de la vie naturelle et de la science, le monde de la cité temporelle et de la vie économique a quelque chose d'essentiellement anachronique. Il est dépassé radicalement par le monde de l'Église qui est son avenir déjà présent. Le monde de l'Église, à son tour, paraît, par rapport au monde de la. société politique, « catachronique »  dans la mesure où il appartient à l'avenir. Juxtaposition d'un passé et d'un futur, tel est le présent chrétien.  Je hasarde ce mot, qui exprime le contraire do l'anachronisme, c'est-à-dire anticipation d'une réalité avenir.55
3.5. Concepts of Kairos in the (Post) Modern Age
It is only possible here to give a brief summation of other 20 th century and contemporary concepts of kairos. We shall proceed in roughly chronological order – if only ironically. First, we must note the contribution of Jacob Taubes in Occidental Eschatology, who emphasizes the influence of the Gnostic and Neo-Platonic traditions. According to Taubes, both Marx and Kierkegaard “have one mutual premise: the disintegration of God and the world. World-history... is understood by Marx and Kierkegaard as history of the 'world.' In the presence of kairos, world history is downgraded to prehistory. The End Time and primordial time intersect in kairos.”56 This is but the repetition in Modernity of what has been the case since St. Paul, in whom “eschatology and mysticism meet,” introduced Gnosis into apocalypse, for “The moment when 'this' world touches 'that' world, when they interlock, is the kairos. Paul defines the time between the death of Jesus and the Parousia of Christ as the kairos, which is characterized by the crossing over of the still natural and the already supernatural states of the world.” 57 Furthermore, Taubes draws the connection between eschatological / apocalyptic thought and the conviction that motivates Hegel's philosophy of history, for Hegel and Joachim consider themselves “to be positioned at the time of the greatest tension in the history of salvation, positioned in the kairos, in which the new spiritual world is dawning, and he himself is called to aid the breakthrough of the ecclesia spiritualis.”58
55 56 57 58 Jean Danièlou, “Christianisme et histoire,” Études, Vol. 80, No. 254 (Jul-Sept 1947), 166-184. 182-3. Jacob Taubes, Occidental Eschatology, Trans. David Ratmoko (Stanford: Stanford U. P., 2009), 9. Taubes, Occidental Eschatology, 68. Taubes, Occidental Eschatology, 97.
As noted previously, Gaston Fessard, a Jesuit auditor of Kojève's lectures, in Hegel, le Christianisme et L'histoire, drew the connection between the moment in which history concludes in Absolute Knowledge and kairos, of which he writes “C'est [en la distension que le temps introduit dans la représentation] que l'hypothèse de Hegel sur la 'fin ultime du monde' peut me rendre service, si du moins, au lieu de la prendre pour une 'fiction' irréelle, j'y vois au contraire la nécessité du Concept qui ne triomphe d'une représentation qu'en lui en opposant une autre qui la nie. 'Prendre sur moi la croix du présent' consistera donc à appliquer cette hypothèse aux points où passé et futur s'articulent avec mon hic et nunc, en le concevant dans son amplitude objective et universelle aussi bien que dans la profondeur subjective et individuelle.” 59 More recently, following in the same theological-philosophical tradition, Jean-Yves Lacoste defines kairos as “le présent [est] construit alors comme suvenir d'un avenir.”60 Here, anachrony and the superposition of past and future in the present define the temporality of kairos. It is thus quite apropos of Giacomo Marramao to also emphasize the anachronistic dimension in a secular milieu, writing that “'asynchronies' inevitably arise within Historical Time, time and rhythms change according to the fields and domains of action.” 61 Kairos is a figure for asynchronic/anachronic moments interrupting historical time and changing its rhyhm, or tempo. Tempo is, of course, an apt choice of terms, for Marramao concludes: “The Greek correlative of tempus is not chronos but kairos... Far from the meaning of “momentary instant,” or “opportunity” ...kairos comes to designate... a very complex figure of temporality which recalls the “quality of conformity” and the proper mixture of different elements – exactly like the notion of weather. 62 It is this temporality, not chronological time, that is ours – for “our time is the time of living forms, of the world that evolves, precisely because it is originally ingratiated by the kairos. We can only experience the dimension of due time, of “kairological” time independently from the nature of
59 Gaston Fessard, Hegel, le christianisme, et l'histoire (Paris: PUF, 1990), 149-150. 60 Jean-Yves Lacoste, Note sur le temps (Paris: PUF, 1990), 187. 61 Giacomo Marramao, Kairos: Toward an Ontology of 'Due Time,' Trans. Philip Larrey and Silvia Cattaneo (Aurora, CO: Davies, 2007), ix. First published 1992, 3rd Edition 2005, English Translation 2007 62 Marramao, 71. W. Benjamin's comment on temps qua tempus in Das Passagen-Werk.
the disorientation that delimits it.63
3.6. Fascist 'Kairos' / Eros & the Aura
From the outset, kairos had to be thought in connection to desire – eros – a conceptual linkage for which there is much support – for the answer was to claim that the experience of time toward which all desire tends is the interruption of indifferent, chronological time, by a qualitatively distinct moment, kairos. Furthermore, in Eric Michaud's “Nazi Architecture as an Acceleration of Time” (1993) and The Cult of Art in Nazi Germany (published in French as: Un Art de l'Eternité: L'image et le temps du nationale-socialisme: 1996; English translation: 2004), and in Klaus Theweileit's Male Fantasies (Volume 1: 1977; English translation 1987), there was much to be found that suggested a linkage to the domain of aesthetics – art, architecture, photography and film appeared to be instrumental in evoking such an experience of time and in providing some amount of satisfaction to desire. According to the logic of kairos, first presented in the essay in question, this evocation can only ape kairos, for the architecture of Nazi Germany, for example,“ 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.” 64 If, however, a moment worthy of the name kairos cannot be objectively distinguished from any other time, how then can it be distinguished with certainty from pseudo-kairos? The true from false messiahs? Furthermore, this indicates that kairos is not only emergent but effective in history and in politics, as Paul Tillich writes: Kairos ...was used not only by the religious socialist movement in obedience to the great kairos... but also by the nationalist movement, which, through the voice of Nazism, attacked the great kairos and everything for which it stands. The latter use was a demonically distorted experience of a kairos65 and led
63 Marramao, 72. 64 Eric Michaud, “National Socialist Architecture as an Acceleration of Time” Translated by Christopher Fox, in Critical Inquiry, Volume 19 Issue 2 (Winter 1993), 233. 65 “Since then [Darwin's time] there has been a continuous search for new interpretations and ersatz religions which strive to extract a promise of salvation from the material of experience, a promise that may provide a common directive for thought and action... In order to exorcise the fatal meaninglessness of the empty future, they must inhibit criticism—that is, set themselves up as dogma. The ideology of National Socialism was a product of such fear. Its regressive mythology banished collective historical fear and also the individual fear of death as life grown meaningless. If the individual is nothing and the nation is everything (though possessing value only because of its racial quality), the practical survival of the individual in the nation guarantees the fulfillment of his existence and prescribes his political line. The same, with appropriate transpositions,
inescapably to self-destruction.66 In a very real sense, Benjamin was correct to characterise fascism as the aestheticization of politics – as opposed to the politicization of art by Communism/Historical Materialism. Fascism used aesthetic means to evoke kairos – through mass spectacle, propaganda, and so forth, Symbols chosen for their stimulative power helped in total mobilization: the city was a sea of waving swastika banners; the flames of bonfires and torches illuminated the night... [Yet,] not 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.67 Fascism is thus fabrication of aura in the political via aesthetic means (propaganda, monumental art, mass spectacle) directing desire – kairos as aura: not objective, neither truly subjective – production of kairos and kairic experience in a particular, concrete, momentary encounter. The fascist distortion would therefore amount to an attempt to prolong the moment of kairos by the same means by which it had been evoked. In “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” Benjamin explains the concept of aura as that property of the work of art that derives essentially from “its presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be;” 68 its authenticity; and in the case of natural objects: “the unique phenomenon of a distance, however close it may be.”69 This is to say, while eliding a good amount of Benjamin’s thorough analysis, that the aura may be conceived of as the effect of the apperception of the object of aesthesis, except that this effect is, strictly speaking, neither in the subject nor in the object, but arising out of the determinate spatio-temporal locus of the confrontation of subject and object and exhibiting the irreducible singularity of the object and the time of the encounter. While Benjamin restricts
is true of the mythology of class struggle.” (Plessner, 244) 66 Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology Volume Three, 371. 67 Siegfried Kracauer, From Caligari to Hitler, Revised and Expanded Edition, Ed. Leonardo Quaresima (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004), 301. 68 Walter Benjamin Illuminations, Translated by Harry Zohn, Edited by Hannah Arendt, (New York: Schocken Books, 1968), 220. 69 Benjamin, Illuminations, 222.
the term aura to the authentic work of art, it seems fruitful to appropriate this concept as part of our conceptual. As such, I propose the following modification of the Benjaminian concept: that the term aura should be understood as the qualitative singular that arises out of the multiplicity of a constellation. To state this explicitly in other terms, the aura is the product of our immanent relation to the totality of our experiences, present, past and future, at a specific historical “now,” a product irreducible to the brute facts of the factical situation. The kairos-quality of an experience can be conceived of as the qualitative product of an absolutely unique situation. According to Georges Sorel: we must ‘carry ourselves back in thought to those moments of our life when we made some serious decision, moments unique of their kind, which will not be repeated…’ It is very evident that we enjoy this liberty most of all when we are making an effort to create a new individuality within ourselves, thus endeavoring to break the bonds of habit which enclose us...When we act we are creating a completely artificial world placed ahead of the present world and composed of movements which depend entirely on us... when the masses are deeply moved it then becomes possible to describe a picture which constitutes a social myth70 Experience is really produced by desire according to a particular modality: “if we admit that there is a specifically ‘fascist’ mode of producing reality and view that as a specific malformation of desiringproduction, we also have to admit that fascism is not a matter of form of government, form of economy or of as system in any sense.”71 Pseudo-kairos: product of malformed relation of desire, time and experience – ultimately the negation of desire in the future stasis of the Thousand-Year Reich. Kairos would therefore be produced by the free play of desires in their absolute particularity and transience. Our
70 Georges Sorel, Reflections on Violence, Edited by Jeremy Jennings (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 26-7. 71 Klaus Theweleit, Male Fantasies, Volume One: Women, Floods, Bodies, History, Translated by Stephen Conway in collaboration with Erica Cater and Chris Turner (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987), 221.
kairos cannot be maintained, but that reality we then create, that can endure a while. That desire which in desiring-producing kairos renounces the temptation to vainly prolong it is stronger than the desire to continue existing and desiring, conatus. This is the “sovereign instant” of which Georges Bataille writes in “The Sovereign” (1952): [And in] this final and mischievous solitude of the instant, which I am and just as assuredly I will be… nothing in my rebellion evokes it, but nothing separates me from it just the same. If I envision the instant in isolation from a thought that entangles the past and future of manageable things, the instant that is closed in one sense but that to another, much more acute sense, opens itself up while denying that which limits separate beings, the instant alone is the sovereign being… I must strive and struggle to deny the power of that which alienates me, which treats me like a thing, and confines that which wanted to burn for nothing to utility…72 Kairos is reality-producing not only by freeing one creatively for the future but in transforming the past both materially and in terms its relationship of meaning with the present kairos. The event73 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 self-transcendence of history; it is also the liberation of desire, a singular sovereign moment in which it is possible to “transcend without transcendence.” 74 The sovereign instant is: That in relation to which the meaning is given cannot but be indefinitely postponed: this is a sovereign moment75 lost in the inconsequence of the instant... A senseless background, sometimes a composition of the imagination, sometimes of disorder, occasionally the extreme tension of life,
72 Georges Bataille, “The Sovereign,” The Unfinished System of Nonknowledge, Trans. Michelle and Stuart Kendall (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2001), 185-195. 187. 73 The use here of the term “event” is intended in the specific sense developed by Deleuze and Foucault, drawing upon Nietzsche. 74 Ernst Bloch, Atheism in Christianity, Trans. J. T. Swann (London: Verso, 2009), n.p. (epigraph). Principle of Hope III 75 I have written elsewhere (The Logic of the Lost Moment) of the terminological difficulty presented by Bataille’s usage of the le moment and l’instant, and I have concluded that they are to him interchangeable.
clearly escapes every conceivable rationalization; otherwise we would cease being in the present: we would be completely at the service of moments to come… Humanity, oriented by prohibitions and the law of work since the beginning, is unable to be at once human… and authentically sovereign: for humanity, sovereignty has been forever reserved, as a measure of savagery (of absurdity, of childishness, or of brutality, even more rarely of extreme love, of striking beauty, of an enraptured plunge into the night).76
3.7. Krisis: Kairos as Critical Moment in History
The history of civilization... is to be regarded as a series of kairoi, moments of decision, crises, each representing at once the break-up and the condemnation of a society that has committed the sin of hubris in the pride of life... These decisive moments, times and seasons, each reflect the supreme kairos of the passion and resurrection... as they also anticipate the ultimate kairos of the Last Judgment....77 Prior to the articulation of the conceptual and semantic network that links up kairos with krisis and other concepts, their linguistic/etymological relatedness has long since been established: 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.'”78 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
76 Bataille, “The Sovereign,” 194. 77 Jean Danièlou, The Lord of History, Trans. Nigel Abercrombie (London: Longmans, 1958), 32. 78 Émile Boisacq, Dictionnaire Étymologique de la Langue Grecque, 2nd Ed. (Heidelberg & Paris: C. Klincksieck & C. Winters, 1923), 392.
the eighteenth century, irrespective of the partisan camp using it. 79 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). Indeed, this expansion into the historicalphilosophical domain represents a dramatic expansion from the derivation of “kρισις... [from] the Greek verb χρίηω: to 'separate' (part, divorce), to 'choose,' to 'judge,' to 'decide.'” 80 Kρισις, according to Boisacq, signifies by contrast “faculté de distinguer, choix; dissentiment; décision; interprétation,” 81 which more strongly implies an agency or at least a determinate standpoint or frame of reference. In the Judeo-Christian tradition of eschatology, the term krisis designates the Last Judgment in the Septuagint, and the anticipation of the final krisis thoroughly colors thought concerning history and historical time. Reinhart Koselleck writes of this: Christians lived in the expectation of the Last Judgment (χρίσις/krisis = judicium), whose hour, time, and place remained unknown but whose inevitability is certain. It will cover everyone, the pious and the unbelievers, the living and the dead. The Last Judgment itself, however, will proceed like an ongoing trial... While the coming crisis remains a cosmic event, its outcome is already anticipated by the certainty of that redemption which grants eternal life. The tension resulting from the knowledge that because of Christ's Annunciation the Last Judgment is already here even though it is yet to come, creates a new horizon of expectations that, theologically, qualifies future historical time. The Apocalypse, so to speak, has been anticipated in one's faith and hence is experienced as already present. Even while crisis remains open as a cosmic event, it is already taking place within one's conscience.82 This is obviously an instance in which the ordinary succession of events of chronological historical time is disordered – anachrony defined by the anticipation of the future end of the world. This anachrony found
79 80 81 82 Reinhart Koselleck, “Crisis,” 372. Koselleck, “Crisis,” 358. Boisacq, 518. Koselleck, “Crisis,” 359-60.
universal history, according to Taubes: “Apocalypticism is the foundation which makes universal history possible... The eschatological chronology assumes that the time in which everything takes place is not a mere sequence but moves toward an end... Apocalypticism reveals knowledge of what in time is like crisis [das Kriesenhafte der Zeit]. Time appears as a stream... after descending various gradients it pours into the sea of eternity and redemption.”83 Following the transition from sacred history to the secular project of a universal history, “The concept of crisis has here lost its meaning as a final or transitional stage-instead it has become a structural category for describing Christian history itself. Eschatology is now incorporated into history.84
3.8. Secularization: Political Theology at the end of Modernity
All significant concepts of the modem theory of the state are secularized theological concepts not only because of their historical development-in which they were transferred from theology to the theory of the state, whereby, for example, the omnipotent God became the omnipotent lawgiverbut also because of their systematic structure, the recognition of which is necessary for a sociological consideration of these concepts. The exception in jurisprudence is analogous to the miracle in theology.85 Secularization takes place selectively; rather, what is carried over is nether arbitrary nor systematic: secularization is a historical process determined by the reply of desire to the withdrawal of the divine. Even such a critic of the secularization thesis in its simple form such as Hans Blumenberg supports a reading of the transposition of eschatology from theology to the domain of history, a process of 'reoccupation,' as he designates it in Work on Myth. In the first place, Rudolf Bultmann has observed, that with the establishment of the Church as a temporal institution, “eschatology is not abandoned, but it is
83 Taubes, Occidental Eschatology, 33-4. 84 Koselleck, “Crisis,” 398-99. 85 Carl Schmitt, Political Theology: Four Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty, Trans. George Schwab (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1985), pg. 36.
neutralized insofar as the powers of the beyond are already working in the present.” 86 This tactical sublimation was obviously dependent upon faith in the intrinsically meaningful nature of the world, which is in turn dependent upon a divine guarantee. Thus, Blumenberg writes in Care Crosses the River, If the world becomes meaningless... then the world arouses a wish for its destruction, an indeterminate rage at its continued existence and those in it. The apocalyptic threat is transformed into the hope that what is suspected of being meaningless – if it were only destroyed – will let nothing arise or leave nothing behind other than what proves to be meaningful. 87 Secularization not a linear and straightforward process; it is often accompanied by its inverse image, the process of sacralization. Secularization occurs and is shaped by a need – by a call – analogous to Benjamin's appropriation of Schmitt's concept of the ausnehmezustand and re-introduction of theology into the philosophy of history at the end of Modernity.
3.9. The End of History/Modernity
The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the ausnehmezustand in which we live is not the exception but the rule. We must attain a conception of history that accords with this insight... it is our task to bring about a real ausnehmezustand, and this will improve our position in the struggle against fascism.88 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
86 Rudolf Bultmann, History and Eschatology: The Presence of Eternity (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1957), 54. 87 Hans Blumenberg, Care Crosses The River, Trans. Paul Fleming (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2010), 40. 88 Benjamin, “On the Concept of History,” 392.
the basis for this great Revolution, and you shall now assume the particular duty of hastening its pace,” 89 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 “revolution.” And “since the onset of such acceleration, the tempo of historical time has constantly been changing, and today... acceleration belongs to everyday experience...” 90 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.”91 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.”92 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
89 90 91 92 Reinhart Koselleck, Futures Past, 12. 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.
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]93 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.” 94 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 l'ordre chronologique.” (188) 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
93 Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, Trans. Howard Eiland and Kevin McLaughlin (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999), 471. 94 Lacoste, 187-8.
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 La jour où un calendrier entre en vigueur, Le jour qui inaugure une calendrier fonctionne comme un au fond le même jour qui revient de fête...95 le rhythme de l'histoire s'accélère. C'est 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.97 sans cesse sous les espèces des ramasseur hisorique de temps. Et c'est au fond le même jour qui revient toujours souce la forme des jours jours de fête...96
95 “Thèses sur la philosophie de l'histoire,” Oeuvres II: Poésie et Révolution, 96 “Sur le concept d'histoire,” Trad. Trad. Maurice de Gandillac (Paris: Pierre Missac, Les Temps Modernes, No. 97 “Sur le concept d'histoire,” Écrits Denoël, 1971). 25 (Oct., 1947), 623-634. Française.
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.98 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. .99
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
98 Alexandre Kojève, Introduction to the Reading of Hegel, Trans. James H. Nichols, Jr. (Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 1969), 1634. 99 Benjamin to Horkheimer, December 6th, 1937, cited in Michael Weingrad, “College,” 141. His translation. Also in Max Horkheimer, Gesammelte Schriften 16:315.
sa rationalité produit de l'histoire... 100 – 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.” 101 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.” 102 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. Blanchot underlines the political value of the thought of the end of history – as an exigency: I do not believe this, but from now on I will hold onto an exigency: to become fully conscious, and always anew, that we are at the end of history, so that most of our inherited notions, beginning with the ones from the revolutionary tradition, must be reexamined and, as such, refuted. The discontinuity that May ('68) represented (no less than produced) strikes language and ideological action equally.103
3.10. La Révolution Post-historique
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 das Posthistoire104, 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),
100 Gaston Fessard, Hegel, le christianisme, et l'histoire , 145-6. 101Michael Löwy, “Ün Saut Hors du Progrès” L'hommage de Horkheimer a Walter Benjamin,” Archives de Philosophie, 49 (1986), 225-229. 229. 102Ibid, 225. 103Maurice Blanchot, “On the Movement,” Political Writings 1953-1993, 106-9. 109. 104Which, 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-19th century.
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 posthistoire 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...Posthistoire 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.105 At this point, our capacity for prognostication 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. Micro-history 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. For, an “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
105Hendrick de Man, Vermassung und Kulturverfall (München: Lehnen, 1951), 135f, quoted in Arnold Gehlen, Gesamtausgabe Bd. 7: Einblicke, “Anmerkung des Herausgebers,” 468-9. Gehlen: Hendrik de Man has recently expressed the interesting thought that we have entered into an epoch that no longer belongs to History, an age of “post-histoire” as Cournot called it. If this should be the case, naturally one can say nothing more about the future. Is it not the case then that one can still always find in the past keys to the future and must then already derive the reaction of humanity to these increases in consumption, impoverishment of existence and loss of personality, from the obligations of our actual lifestyles. Perhaps then one can once again see ascetic elites that exclude themselves from the general race toward “a good life,” and would in so doing deny the common conditions that all present social and political contradictions still have, and which and are so noisily fought over.
action would found classless society, beyond which further historical action wouldn't arise.” 106 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 micro-histories 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 post-war Germanies, regaining sovereignty piecemeal over a 45 year period. 107 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) 108 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. 109 Kairos is active in our production
106Bataille, 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. 107The 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. 108Benjamin, “Paralipomena to 'On The Concept of History,'” Selected Writings, Vol 4, 401-11. 401-2. 109Post-historical period = hiatus in history (epic/ideological), of indeterminate duration but unable to endure eternally. That
of reality as our freedom for the future and in transforming the past in terms its relationship of meaning with the present kairos. 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 (F. Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, #274 – see below). 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”110 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. In L'entretien infini, Blanchot writes of 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 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.” 111 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
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. 110Benjamin,“On the Concept of History,” 392. 111Maurice Blanchot, The Infinite Conversation, Trans. Susan Hanson (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993), 226.
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 foretell112 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,”113 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.” 114* Unexpectedly, the moment “opens itself up while denying that which limits separate beings, the instant alone is the sovereign being…”115 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.”116 In consideration of the fundamentally immanent quality of kairos, Blanchot was
112Blanchot, The Writing of the Disaster, 142. 113Blanchot, Political Writings, 97. 114Georges 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. 115Georges Bataille, “The Sovereign,” 187. 116Blanchot, The Writing of the Disaster,143.
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.”117 The significance of May '68 lies in the 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.” 118 Unbinding revolutionary possibilities is a matter of relinquishing 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.” 119 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.” 120 The experience of kairic heterogeneity and the rupture interrupting history thereby inaugurated removes that which “...impedes access to the present is precisely the mass of what for some reason (its traumatic character, its excessive nearness) we have not managed to live... [and constitutes our contemporaneity, in the sense that] to be contemporary means in this sense to return to a present where we have never been.” 121
3.11. Going out of synch(rony): Creating community with the quodlibet-Messiahs: Kairos and Immanence, Messianism and Apocalypse
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.” 122 Moreover, when
117Blanchot, Political Writings, 91. Cf. Bataille, ON, 157. 118Blanchot, Political Writings, 93. 119Blanchot, “[Communism without heirs],” Political Writings 1953-1993, 92. 120Bataille, On Nietzsche, 171-2. 121Giorgio Agamben, Nudities, Trans. David Kishik and Stefan Pedatella (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2011), 18. 122Apologies to Giorgio Agamben, The Coming Community, Trans. Michael Hardt (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press,
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 is 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,” 123 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.” 124 The anachrony introduced by kairos undermines the chronopolitical regime that imposes and is 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.”125 Reading Walter Benjamin's Theses it is striking that such a thinker drawing upon the tradition of Jewish messianism should mention an “Antichrist” in the following passage: “Articulating the past historically does not mean recognizing it 'the way it was.' It means appropriating a memory as it flashes up
1993), 1. 123Georges Bataille, On Nietzsche, 165-6. 124Bataille, On Nietzsche, 157. 125Blanchot, The Writing of the Disaster, 146.
in a moment of danger [krisis]... The Messiah comes not only as the redeemer; he comes as the victor over the Antichrist. ”126 To understand this better it is instructive to note first the influence of the Russian Apocalyptic tradition in the French intellectual circles frequented by Benjamin – which he had previously encountered through the mediation of Fritz Lieb. Both Lieb and Kojève had written on Vladimir Solovyov127, while both Lev Shestov128 and Nicolai Berdayaev were actively publishing in France during the 1930s – the former of which had been an early and important philosophical influence. In this context the notion that kairos might be simulated and that pseudo-kairos and pseudo-messianism, as exemplified in the fascist/Nazi historico-political tragedy indicates a structure found in the Apocalyptic tradition. That is, a structure of mimesis corresponding to the apocalyptic figures of the Antichrist and the False Prophet – hence Tillich's appropriation and mobilization of kairos can be seen as an effort to combat the pseudomessianism of the German Right, and subsequently the NSDAP. Furthermore, during a 1984 course on Benjamin's Theses, Taubes emphasizes the importance of this opposition in the thesis and its relation to the apocalyptic view of history: Dieses Theologumenon ist die zentrale Stelle der ganzen These: Der Messias kommt nicht als Erlöser, sondern auch als Überwinder vom “Was ist.” “Was ist,” ist der Antichrist[; die] Rezitation der Herrschersicht wird blankgeputzt vom Historismus. Der Messias, in apocalyptischer Perspektive[,] nur in dieser Perspektive kann das Vergangene einzig gerettet werden. 129 It takes but a shift of register to see the way out of the dilemma presented by the possibility that kairos might be convincingly simulated : to attain to “a conception of the present as Jetztzeit shot through with splinters of messianic time.”130 That is, to grasp that “every second was the small gateway in time through
126Walter Benjamin, “On the Concept of History,” SW 4, 391. 127Fritz Lieb, “Der Geist der Zeit” als Antichrist. Speckulation und Offenbarung bei Vladimir Solovjev (1934), also in Sophia und Historie (1962). 128According to Raymond Queneau, in “Premières confrontations avec Hegel,” (1963), Shestov – whose book, L'Idée du bien dans Tolstoi et Nietzsche, Bataille had translated in 1925 – was pivotal in inciting and guiding Bataille's earliest philosophical studies. 129Jacob Taubes, “Walter Benjamin: Geschichtsphilosophiche Thesen,” Der Preis des Messianismus, Ed. Elettra Stimilli (Würzburg: Könighausen & Neumann, 2006), 67-92. 85. 130Benjamin, SW 4, 397.
which the Messiah might enter.”131 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.
131Benjamin, SW 4, 397.
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