Posted by: HAT | May 4, 2010


10th coming of Vishnu

Kalki, by Nicholas Roerich
Kalki is the awaited 10th avatar of Vishnu who will bring to an end the present evil age

I am working on finishing the concluding chapter of this interminable and awful project today. I have found I have to work diligently to stop myself thinking about how really not good it is, and just keep working. In other words, it is down to the wire of Kantian duty. This practice is fairly devoid of joy.

One of my claims is that a form of messianic expectation surfaces in the work of all these authors. Weak messianic expectation, mind you!! (I’m borrowing from Walter Benjamin here, who says, and I quote,

The past carries with it a temporal index by which it is referred to redemption. There is a secret agreement between past generations and the present one. Our coming was expected on earth. Like every generation that preceded us, we have been endowed with a weak Messianic power, a power to which the past has a claim. That claim cannot be settled cheaply. Historical materialists are aware of that.

He says this in Thesis II on the Philosophy of History. A lot of stress needs to be put on that weak. I am not at all suggesting that these thinkers advance a form of messianic expectation that depends on any supernatural claims, or would take any kind of supernatural form, or would involve supernatural beings (this is in spite of Irigaray’s use of the term God; I just don’t believe she means it that way, though some might argue this point), or anything like that. So, not expectation of a “messiah” like one who shows up with a discernible sign of some sort (like 112 marks of perfection, or a lightning shaped scar on his or her forehead, “the whole world whispering, born at the right time,” or whatever). Not, that is, anyone other than the crooked timber on hand.

I am saying that they are working on finding a way to identify a defensible form of metaphysical experience — or maybe it would be more precise to say quasi-metaphysical — that permits efforts to work or create in the direction of “something other than the unspeakable world that is” to be not just making things up out of thin air with no idea of what one’s aiming at, but provide some non-arbitrary orientation. Something almost like trying to move in the direction of the good. But with a sizable degree of openness there, so as not to provide any scaffolding for some institutionalized or -izable group to lay claim to the exclusive knowledge of the good. Because having a person or group or superego like that, dictatorial and incorrigible, is a demonstrably bad thing, the very bottle we ought to be helping the fly to get out of.

I don’t think I’m just making this up. Agamben wrote a book The Time That Remains that is all about a particular understanding of messianic time that is intrinsically linked to Benjamin’s comment, and to uncovering a link between Pauline and Benjaminian messianic expectation. Adorno at least has the notion of the messianic as an available category, or he would not have written at the end of Minima Moralia that the task of the moment is to regard everything as it will look in the “messianic light” of the redeemed world. This is precisely the impossible task of philosophy that it must nevertheless undertake. So, does Irigaray have an equally explicit statement along these lines? Probably the most accessible one is Ethics of Sexual Difference near the end of the section “Love of Other,” which she concludes with a subsection titled “Parousia,” and says

Does parousia correspond to the expectation of a future not only as a utopia or a destiny but also as a here and now, the willed construction of a bridge in the present between the past and the future?

She goes on to link the possible parousia of God to the parousia of “the other,” which for her is of course going to be the other of sexual difference. This is a well-known text of hers, where she also talks about the third age, the age of the spirit and the bride (straight out of Revelation, via Joachim de Fiore), as the one the advent of which we are awaiting. Her use of Pentecost imagery in this text is presumably linguistic (women, too, get to speak in tongues — “the language of their birth”, indeed). The messianic figure, in other words, is Irigaray’s woman-as-subject. Although the advent of the Irigarayan woman-as-subject is simultaneously the advent of man-as-subject and of the possibility of a fully human subjectivity, in contrast to the man-as-alleged-subject and woman-as-other-of-the-same that passes for human subjectivity in the current dystopian situation.

So, as I was looking for this text, to prove to myself I am not crazy, and also to find it for the purposes of citation (ESD, 147-150), I see that the grosbeak has returned! Along with not one but two more!!

I am not enough of a nihilist. (See Negative Dialectics, 380) The grosbeaks do not improve my text, or make the past year “worth it,” but I am happy to see them all the same.


  1. […] been untouched since October, so as to liberate the surface of the desk. As luck would have it, the annual grosbeak chose this occasion to put in a welcome apearance. This may not be the same bird; he looks a little […]

  2. […] a fondness for him and a sentimental attachment that is a matter of public record (here, here, here, and […]

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