Reflections on an Obscure Hope
I find it worth registering and archiving this moment, this day, not in order to make any promises about the quality or importance of the work that I will – hopefully – one day complete. I single out this moment, this day, because the work that I began today cannot really be begun today.
I planned to compose a chapter on the relation between history and redemption – a relation that is, in fact, a non-relation. I planned to explore what Gershom Scholem calls a “theory of catastrophe.” This is a theory whose practice would seem exceedingly problematic, if not terroristic. The fact is, however, that this theory of catastrophe has no practice, properly – historically – speaking. This theory of catastrophe only names a transition, or a lack of transition, between the temporal and profane movement of history on the one hand, and the end of history on the other.
History can be thought of as the temporal flow that many would like to believe is carrying us toward a redemption that is immanent, calculable and implementable – what we could call a theory of “progress.” It is only from this perspective, from the perspective of the ideology of progress, that the end of history appears to be a “catastrophe.” That is, from the perspective of history, redemption (and redemption is still a category of modern “secular” politics) would be the completion and fulfillment of human progress and not its interruption.
But should, indeed, can redemption be forced to produce and endure such a “progress.” History as progress is, in one sense, an archive of human knowledge and accomplishment. But it is one that has been purchased at the price of innumerable atrocities. It is thus, a “document of barbarism” and an archive of violence. Would not redemption better be thought of as the “end” of history in terms of the dissolution of violence and barbarism instead of its “end” as its telos and justification? Would not redemption be the interruption of history…maybe even today?
This seems to me, or it seemed to me before today – and probably only for today – to be an important category of historiography, and of politics. But today, and – hopefully – only for today, the archive of human progress has displayed itself one-sidedly: in honor, despite its shame; in peace, despite its wars; in freedom, despite its slavery. This is not to say that what we have witnessed today is honor, peace and freedom, but it has displayed itself as such. This is a spectacle, no doubt, but it is a spectacle that in some oblique way – hopefully – points to, promises, that which exceeds its own immanent progress and escapes its ineffaceable violence.