Agamben’s Paroikia

| May 13, 2012

“In the eyes of the Church Fathers -as well as the eyes of those philosophers who have reflected on the philosophy of history, which is, and remains (even in Marx) an essentially Christian discipline- history is presented as a field traversed by two opposing forces.  The first of these forces -which Paul, in a passage of the Second Letter to the Thessalonians that is as famous as it is enigmatic, calls to catechon– maintains and ceaselessly defers the end along the linear and homogeneous line of chronological time.  By placing origin and end in contact with one another, this force endlessly fulfills and ends time.  Let us call this force Law or State. dedicated as it is to economy, which is to say, dedicated as it is to the indefinite -and indeed infinite- governance of the world.  As for the second force, let us call it messiah, or Church; its economy is the economy of salvation, and by this token is essentially completed.  The only way that a community can form and last is if these poles are present and a dialectical tension between them prevails.

It is precisely this tension which seems today to have disappeared.  As a sense for an economy of salvation in historical time is weakened, or eliminated, the economy extends its blind and derisive dominion to every aspect of social life.  Today, we witness the eschatological exigency which the Church has abandoned return in secularized, and parodic form, in the occult sciences that have rediscovered the obsolete gestures of the prophet and announce every sort of irreversible catastrophe.  The crises -the states of permanent exception and emergency- that the governments of the world continually proclaim are in reality a secularized parody of the Church’s incessant deferral of the Last Judgement.  With the eclipse of the messianic experience of the culmination of the law and of time comes an unprecedented hypertrophy of law -one that, under the guise of legislating everything, betrays its own legitimacy through legalistic excess.  I say the following with words carefully weighted: nowhere on earth today is a legitimate power to be found; even the powerful are convinced of their own illegitimacy.  The complete juridification and commodification of human relations -the confusions between what we might believe, hope and love and that which we are obliged to do or not do, say or not say- are signs not only of crises of law and state but also, and above all, of crises of the Church.  The reason for this is that the Church can be a living institution only on the condition that it maintains an immediate relation to its end.  And -a point which we would do well not to forget- according to Christian theology there is only one legal institution which knows neither interruption nor end: hell.  The model of contemporary politics -which pretends to an infinite economy of the world- is thus truly infernal.  And if the Church curtails its original relation with the paroikia [sojourn or exile; paroikein: to sojourn as a foreigner; opposed to katoikein: to live as a citizen; cf. p.2-4], it cannot but lose itself in time.”

-Giorgio Agamben, The Church and the Kingdom. New York: Seagull Books, 2012, p.34-41.