Thursday, September 10, 2009

E-Seminar: Messianic Time and the Untimely

by J J Cohen

This post instigates the electronic portion of the seminar on Messianic Time and the Untimely, to be held at the George Washington University on Thursday September 17, 3-5 PM.

The papers may be downloaded here. Any comments made on this blog will form part of the discussion on Sept. 17, and a follow-up post will be published. Eileen Joy may also Twitter the proceedings.

The seminar is sponsored by the GW Medieval and Early Modern Studies Institute. Our three presenters are Julia Lupyon, Kathleen Biddick, and Gil Harris. Some information about each of them may be accessed via this post at the GW MEMSI blog.

The comments are open. Please post!


Jeffrey Cohen said...

Some of the topics the papers have in common: cultural and religious diversity; hybridity; a rejection of supersessionary models of history; complex temporal enmeshments; a return to originary moments (especially in the apostle Paul's potential Jewishness, in the cosmopolitan Paul of Romans versus the Gentile-directed Paul of Galatians); the foregrounding of the inexcluded (especially Islam: at once said to be dead as mechanical device and yet present with an uncanny life); the inhuman; machines, drives and automata.

What exactly is Messianic time? Biddick describes it as an "unsovereign mode," a relation rather than a state that carries trauma forward and needs to have its dead ["indigestible remainders"] released, its stucturing fantasy traversed, its gears exposed and its business finished.

Biddick finds Messianic time to be more Christian and more traumatic than Harris and Lupton. Yet Messianic time can also be more Jewish than Christian, with its prophets as Walter Benjamin and Paul (but the Paul of Romans, a Jewish Paul, an anti-philosopher). This version is far more explosive, as well as more connected to futurity.

Anonymous said...

Walter Benjamin loved and appreciated Charlie Chaplin. MODERN TIMES (1936) comes to mind when I think of Jeffrey's comments. Who/what is caught up in the gears and the clock? Benjamin was struggling with just that question in his First Thesis on the Philosophy of History. Does futurity escape the gears, or, is that why Chaplin produces a collage of corporeal "tics" to problematize futurity. Just ticking away here, see you all soon face to face and virtually Kathy Biddick

Jeffrey Cohen said...

Left a looooong and tangential comment here.

Rick Godden said...

My brief comments here are not so much untimely as they are almost out of time. As the Now of the seminar bears down on me, I can finally record some disorganized thoughts in response to these provocative and engaging papers.

The one thought that keeps recurring to me as I re-read these papers is the importance of the proper name, or of acts of naming. Whether it's the sovereign's ability to name the enemy, the countertime of Romeo's name, the relation between mammet and Mohammed, or the multitude of nominal problems associated with Paul (his change from Saul; are there Greeks or Jews now?; etc.), the temporal complexity of the proper name seems to haunt all of these papers,

Harris usefully explores Derrida's take on the aphorism and the proper name. Names can be an untimely agent, and to a degree, the category of the name is the essence of the untimely. By naming a thing, you anchor it to time, allow it to be recorded into memory. As a rigid signifier, it seems to arrest time, preserve it. But yet, as Biddick's paper suggests to me, there may be something undead about the name. Some persistent vitality that haunts its legibility.

I'm reminded here of Deluze on names in The Logic of Sense: "Or might there not be two languages and two sorts of 'names,' one designating the pauses and rests which receive the action of the Idea, the other expressing the movements or rebel becomings? Or further still, is it not possible that there are two distinct dimensions internal to language in general--one always concealed by the other, yet continuously coming to the aid of, or subsisting under, the other?" The name may at once be a rebel becoming and a pause or rest.

Something of the name defines Messianic time as well. Messiah as the name of a being yet to come, or the last name of Jesus (rendered Christ)--messianic time may be an untimely contraction of the present, but it also alludes to the fulfilling, or perfection of a name (the name), perhaps all names.

As I continue reading and thinking, I am still unsure of the relation between the messianic and the untimely. Are they the same? Do they in some way cancel each other out? If messianic time could straighten out the crook in the chess playing dwarves back, does it also seek to reorder the untimeliness of the name to a proper sequence of time? Paul's statement that there are no Greeks or Jews may be the messianic disabling of the untimeliness of those names. Or at the least the wish for it.

I have, perhaps appropriately (or fortuitously for me given the half-formed thoughts above), run out of time. I am, however, envious of those are are attending in real time, rather than asynchronously as I will be via twitter. I very much enjoyed these three papers.