Why would Agamben deny that Paul is an apocalyptic thinker?

In The Time That Remains and elsewhere, Agamben flatly dismisses the idea that Paul is an apocalyptic thinker. This is strange to me, because Paul obviously is an apocalyptic thinker. It’s even more puzzling because Agamben gives basically no explicit reasons for this assessment.

What would be wrong with apocalyptic from Agamben’s perspective? Is it simply too “mythological” to be appropriable in the way he takes a “messianic” Paul to be? Does he think that all apocalyptic roads lead to Schmitt? Any ideas?

5 thoughts on “Why would Agamben deny that Paul is an apocalyptic thinker?

  1. I think that the problem with ‘apocalypticism’, at least in its literal sense, is that it takes emphasis away from the present and locates it towards an (absolute) future. Agamben, I think, wants to understand the messianic remnant of potentiality as infusing the present and holding out hope for the future. So it seems to me that Agamben is certainly eschatological (insofar as he wants to infuse the present with the remnant of originary and final potency), but he doesn’t want anything that would defer until the future (which, as I understand it, the apocalyptic (however close we may be or may not be to it) would do.

  2. Perhaps something to do with the distinction he makes at the outset between apostle and prophet? Paul owns his words, the prophet, as apocalyptic visionary, does not (but rather speaks through God). Paul does not live in eschatological time (future directed) but in the ‘time of the now.’ For Agamben it’s important to situate Paul here to show that he has a significant relation to the past, and to “recapitulating” the past within messianic time, so it’s an important distinction to uphold for his argument…But even messianic roads become quite Schmitt-like–Paul says that the law of faith is the exclusion of the law of works!

  3. Perhaps a bit tangential, but are you familiar with Andrew Perriman who writes at postost.net?

    He makes this point in discussing what he sees as problems with supposing “a defining universal or cosmic component to Paul’s apocalyptic gospel,” saying:

    (I)f we do not make the leap from Israel to all humanity, from nation to cosmos, but move from nation to oikoumenē, from YHWH as God of Israel to YHWH worshipped by the nations that made up the formerly pagan empire… then we are not bound to interpret the parousia as an absolute, final event, and the imminence of Paul’s expectation ceases to be a problem.


  4. Perhaps it has to do with Agamben’s preference for the idea of “revelation” over that of “apocalypse.” In his terminology, he much seems to prefer the former rather than its Greek counterpart, from which it is “calqued” (apo-kaluptein –> re-velare), though I have not consulted a proper etymological reference on the historical order of terms there.

    When reading your post, I thought immediately of “The Idea of Language” in which he discusses “revelation” directly and concludes by dismissing the idea of human community as founded on any presupposition (whether positive or negative), instead presenting revelation as an experience of the im-mediacy of language. I hyphenate there to accentuate that the point seems to be an “immediate” experience of “mediation” (in language) that allows humans to perceive its (language’s, history’s, or anthropogenesis’s) end.

    I wonder if the connotations of “apocalyptic” are too “presuppositional” in this regard. They seem to indicate, to us at least, an expectation or even certainty that would be presupposed in order to found the community. Not to say that Agamben thinks of Paul as failing in this regard, but maybe he would prefer to call him a “revelational” rather than “apocalyptic” thinker?

    Here is the passage in question:

    “For language, which mediates all things and all knowledge for man, is itself immediate. Nothing immediate can be reached by speaking men — except language itself, except mediation itself. This immediate mediation represents for man the only possibility of reaching a beginning freed from all presupposition, even from the presupposition of language it self; of reaching, in other words, that [arkhe anupothetos] which Plato, in The Republic, presents as the [ho logos], as the fulfillment and end of [autos ho logos], of language itself, and at the same time as the “thing itself” and the concern of man. No true human community can, in fact, rise on the basis of a presupposition — whether it be that of a nation or a tongue or even the a priori of communication of which hermeneutics speaks. What unifies men is not a nature or a divine voice or the common imprisonment in signifying language, but the vision of language itself— and, therefore, the experience of its boundaries, of its end. The only true community is a community without presupposition. Pure philosophical exposition therefore cannot be the exposition of one’s own ideas on language or on the world, but an exposition of the idea of language.”

    [Sorry if the transliteration of Greek is poor. I only have an older translation on .pdf and the OCR isn’t recognizing Greek.]

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