Thursday, April 17, 2008
Tiqqun de la noche
Giorgio Agamben's postface to the Italian edition of The Coming Community from 2001.
As an intelligent preface – or, as they say, an “emancipated” one – does not really need to elaborate anything, and so it is at best reduced to a kind of false movement, a good postilla or postface can only be that which demonstrates how the author has absolutely nothing to add to his book.
The postilla is, in this sense, the paradigm of the end of time, when the last thing that can come to the mind of a sentient person is the aggregation of what has already happened. But precisely this art of speaking without saying anything, of acting without doing – or, if you like, of “recapitulating,” the saving and undoing of everything – is the most difficult thing to achieve.
The author of this postilla considers his condition – like the condition of anyone who is writing in Italian about first philosophy or politics – to be that of survival or outliving. This conscience distinguishes him from those who pretend to write today about similar topics. He knows that not only “the possibility of shaking the historical existence of a people” is vanishing into thin air, but also that the very idea of a call, of a people or of an assigned historical task – of a klesis or of a “class” – must be rethought from beginning to end. Yet this condition of survival, of outliving – of writing without addressee, or of a poet without people – leads neither to cynicism nor to desperation. On the contrary, the present time, which is the time that comes after the last day, a time in which nothing can happen because the new is always ongoing, achieving its full maturity, is the only true pleroma of times. What is true in such a time – in our time – is that, to a certain point, everyone – all the peoples and all the humans on earth – is recovering the position of a remnant. This implies, to those who look closely, that an unprecedented generalization of the messianic condition, which was in the beginning of the book only a hypothesis – the absence of work, the whatever singularity, the bloom – is becoming a reality. Precisely because the book was directed towards this non-subject, to this “life without form” and to this Shabbat of man – in other words, to a public that by definition cannot accept it – one can say that the book did not miss its aim and it did not lose, consequently, its inactuality.
It is well known that during the Jewish Shabbat one has to abstain from every melakha, from any productive work. This idleness, this primal inoperativity, is for man a sort of another soul, or, if you like, his true soul. An act of pure destruction, however, an activity that has a perfectly destructive or de-creative character, is closer to menucha, the idleness prescribed for the Shabbat and, as such, it is not prohibited. From this perspective, not work but inoperativity or decreation is the paradigm of the coming politics (the coming does not mean the future). Redemption, the tiqqun that is at stake in the book, is not an operation or work, but a particular kind of sabbatical vacation. It is the insalvable that renders the salvation possible, the irreparable that allows the coming of the redemption. For this reason, the decisive question in the book is not “What to do?” but “How to do?” Being is less important than the like that. Inoperativity does not mean inertia, but katargesis – that is to say an operation in which the how completely replaces the what, in which the life without a form and the form without a life coincide in a form of life. The exposure of this inoperativity was the operation of this book, which perfectly coincides with this postilla.
[Notes: Tiqqun is a term in Lurianic Kabbalah for the mending of the world. It is also the name of a collective of French writers who are best known for their Théorie du Bloom (to which Agamben alludes in the body of the text). Tiqqun de la noche seems to refer to a Jewish costume from Shavuot, the holiday symbolizing the giving of the Torah: during a single night, the believers are required to read, among other texts, the beginning and the end of each and every book in the Old Testament. The photo of the graffito above was taken in Venice last year. It reads, roughly: “There is no Virgil that can guide us in this Inferno.”]