Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Time That Remains

Giorgio Agamben's The Time that Remains: A Commentary on the Letter to the Romans is an exposition of the first verse of Romans and with it the Apostle Paul's concept of messianism and, eventually, its relationship to the work of Walter Benjamin. This was one of the more interdisciplinary works that I have read. The result was that I often felt critical of his linguistic approach to the NT text, appreciative of his philosophical sensibilities, and completely lost in much of his political theory.
Agamben is concerned with the implications of what he understands messianic time to be in the writings of Paul. Messianic time is neither historical-chronological nor apocalyptic. Messianic time is the space that opens up within our chronological experience. Agamben likens this to the reality opened up within the metrical system of rhyming poetry stating that "rhyme issues from Christian poetry as a metrical-linguistic transcodification of messianic time." The poem remains within historical time but opens a new space within it, what I would understand as a type of aesthetic space in which experience and meaning emerge in excess. Agamben is much more interested in the political and juridical implications of this thinking which I do not fully follow.
Interested in the role of law in Paul's messianism Agamben concludes that the messianic abolishes the space between the sign and meaning. Paul does not serve Jesus the Messiah but Jesus Messiah. "Paul does not believe that Jesus possesses the quality of being the Messiah; he believes in 'Jesus Messiah' and that is all." I take this to be communion and Agamben explores this as the living word within us. For Agamben this means that "there is no such thing as a content of faith." To believe in the messiah is not to believe something about him. This nearness to the word acts rendering the word of law inoperative "in de-creating and dismantling the states of fact or of law, making them freely available for use." And it is this nearness to the word that ultimately "extinguishes languages."

Agamben's work has confirmed for me the enduring value of exploring an aesthetic understanding of the sacred and the potentiality of our world and experience.
"There is another world, and it is the same as this one."

1 comment:

Nicola Masciandaro said...

The beautiful Rilke quote brings to mind a Hasidic doctrine, also discussed by Agamben in the chapter "Halos" in _The Coming Community_, about the world to come being just like this one, only a "little" different.

Just found your blog. Nice work.

Nicola Masciandaro