Over the weekend, the Catalan journalist Enric Juliana interviewed Ramón Tamames, former member of the Spanish Communist Party (PCE) who embodies the living memory of the 1978 transition to democracy. Nowadays he is the main protagonist of the motion of confidence against the government coalition raised by the nationalist right-wing party Vox. There is no surprise (at least for those of us that follow closely the idas y venidas of Spanish politics) that a former member of the Communist Party makes amends with with the neo-sovereignist right. Even the Medieval jurist Bártolo de Sassoferrato centuries ago diagnosed that an epoch void of political authority, leads to a ‘monstrous form’ of arbitrary governance. This is not the place to analyze the cartoonish Vox-Tamames’ convergence, rather what produced a chilling effect while reading Juliana’s exchange was the moment when he asked about what he would have said to the communist prisoners in the Burgos correctional facilities in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War. And, to this Tamames responded: “Están todos muertos”. They are all dead. It is a monstrous phrase voiced by a hyperbolic figure of the Spanish political elite. The answer is bold and lacerant because the message is stated without formal investidures or pathos: the dead are dead, and we own them nothing, since they are nothing. They are less than nothing.
It is no minor feature that historical communist parties during the twentieth century, in spite of the public and rhetorical monumentalization of their ‘heroic pantheon’, had little patience with the dead. This is why a motto in some socialist countries was, indeed, “los hombres mueren pero el Partido es Inmortal” (men died, but the Party is Immortal). So, by organizing immortality and the relation to the dead around the Party, historical communism was able to solve two problems at some: it was able to justify sacrifice in the name of a transcendent cause; and, at the same time, it introduced the dead corpse in Party as a government that kept operating even well beyond people had ceased to believe in it. I mention this because as a historical communist, Ramón Tamames is still embedded in this metaphysical enframing, only that now it takes different garments through a full erase of the dead that a posteriori justifies a concrete political action.
I have underlined a few times already the fact that Tamames is a trained political elite, because his alignment with Vox is rooted in his alleged elite credentials. This is an important feature. I remember a few years ago that Mario Tronti told me, in a Weberian spirit, that a new epochal transformation of Western politics required the elaboration of an elite in possession of vocation and conviction. But this is, paradoxically, what Tamames has always stood for, regardless of his political commitments. The problem is that today the restitution of political elitism is not only insufficient, but it is also visibly catastrophic and opportunist. It is opportunist because it can only self-affirm itself as a supreme value in the world of the living, which necessarily entails killing, once again, the dead. Under this light one should reconsider what Carl Schmitt enigmatically writes in his Glossarium: “elite is that category which no one dares to write a sociology about” . It seems, however, that the contrary is true: sociology is the predominant form of political elite, since its final aim is the reproduction of material social relations at the expense of the dead. As administrators of the public life of the city, the political elite must hide the cemeteries and the world of the dead away from the arcana of its public powers (this is very visible in Washington DC or Madrid). This void demands a relation with the dead as a fictitious memory based on public memory, monumentalization, infinite naming, and cultural commodification in exchange for foreclosing the relation with the dead. This also explains why the epoch of high-secularization is fascinated with the investment of public memory and practices of memorialization which maintain the equilibrium and endurance of the society of the living against the dead.
And isn’t Tamames’ depreciation of the dead just an expression of the attitude present during the high peak of the epidemic across Western metropolises? The corpses amassed in registrator hums outside hospitals in New York was a monstrous spectacle that bore witness to the disconnect between the living and the dead in the triumphant epoch of absolute immanence. What is important here, it seems to me, is that one cannot but expect this from a “political elite”; that is, a denegritation and blockage from a contact with the dead that is neither in the home nor in the city, but in the khora or the extra muros. Whenever this has been achieved, the political consequence has been, precisely, punitive acceleration, social death or expulsion.
In a beautiful text written during the height of the epidemic controls, Monica Ferrando reminded us that the socratic philosophical ethos was not rooted in the space of the city, but rather in relation to the underworld that grants “freedom every time” . In times gone awry, nothing is more urgent than to do away with the gatekeepers that keep society a total space of inmates, while making the whirling presence of the dead a silent echochamber between cemeteries, as a friend likes to put it. In a certain way, we are already dead, and it is only the fiction of political elitism (or the permanence of those that appeal to the “political elite”) that taxes death – and our dead – to the sensible modes that we relate with the mysterious and the unfathomable.
1. Carl Schmitt. Glossarium: Anotaciones desde 1947 hasta 1958 (El Paseo Editorial, 2021), 351.
The origin of Eliseo Diego’s mythical poetic collection En la Calzada de Jesús del Monte (1949) is so well known and recorded that it has been completely forgotten even by its most copious commentators. In his short memoralist essay “Un día ceremonial”, written decades after the publication of the poem, José Lezama Lima wrote the following: “En uno de sus ceremoniales litúrgicos, en un día de nuestro santo, nos reunimos en la iglesia de Bauta. En esa ocasión Eliseo Diego leyó su “Primer discurso” de En la Calzada de Jesús del Monte. Era un precioso y sorprendente regalo, suficientemente para llenar la tarde con aquella palabra que nace para uno de los más opulentamente sobrios destinos poéticos que hemos tenido…Cuando se publicó En la calzada de Jesús del Monte, el júbilo que me produjo fue esencialmente poético. En unos versos de circunstancia amistosa he intentado decir la alegría que me produce ese libro que traía esclarecimientos para nuestro paisaje y su acercamiento” . At the center in this confession is not only the centrality of a poetic liturgical practice that vested the friendship of the origenistas poets, but more fundamentally the efficacy of the poetic word that Lezama describes as a “júbilo poético” or poetic happiness. It is a strange remark (like almost everything written by Lezama), since En la calzada de Jesús del Monte has been largely read as the litany of a domestic space (a “gran casa de todos”) consumed by dread experienced at the turn of the mid-century failed and stagnated republic.
The intuition raised by Lezama, although not elaborated, still haunts us: in what sense is En la calzada de Jesus del Monte about poetic happiness and what could stand for? We can go astray if we claim that happiness is a particular substantive and representational content of the poetic word. Indeed, there is really no event of happiness in En la calzada de Jesus del Monte except for the taking place of the poetic word fully estranged and foreign from its own place of annunciation. This seems to confirm Diego’s poetic vortex who writes in the dedicación of the book: “A poem is nothing more than a few words told one afternoon to a group of friends” . However, this only deepens the mystery, since whoever tries to find concrete friends in En la calzada de Jesús del Monte (1949) will find none. Solitude abounds and expands throughout spaces. Lezama attempted to elevate the secret of friendship from thought to the liturgical enactment in search for transcendent meaning. Indeed, the emphasis on the mystery of liturgy is emphatic and compressed in Lezama’s programmatic memory about the almost ecclesiastical origins of the poem. I would like to suggest another path for the mysterious and inapparent force of the poem, which is no longer situated at the liturgical aesthetic experience, but rather in the mystery of a felicitous life at the threshold of history. If anything is disclosed throughout the pages of En la calzada de Jesús del Monte this is, precisely, that things appear to dwell in their place, even if no one is around and no community could stand for its reverence. Indeed, the poetic event dwells in an existential solitude before a changing world now fallen into pure disenchantment.
The happiness that falls from the poem, then, is not merely about the execution of the word or the unity of form, but it consists of something previous, altogether different: a mysterious shadow of the enchanted myth. In En la calzada de Jesús del Monte (1949) we are exposed to a poetic language that gathers in a desecularized dimension that suspends what Gianni Carchia identified as the postmythical form of mystery that seems to anticipate the semblance of historical order . But Diego’s En la calzada de Jesús del Monte transfigures mystery to the point of disclosing the limit where life and redemption from the material world take place; namely, in the Sunday of life. But, unlike for Carchia, this poetic transfiguration takes place within the grammar of Christian theology and not the Greek classical past. Here Diego’s poetic mysterium differs fundamentally from the liturgical mystery, which presupposes a “fundamental sacrifice” that allows the temporal sequence of the end of time as the motor for universal religious redemption . By contrast, Diego’s idea of a poetic mystery (which is also the mystery of the poem, which he never ceased to reflect upon through his life) is spatially dispersed, redeeming eternal life from the visibility of worldly phenomena. As Diego writes in an essay defining his conception of the theological mystery: “Primero les haré una confesión…no veo por la sala ningún hábito de Santo Domingo. Uno no debe jugar con los Misterios Mayores, y ninguno es mayor que el Misterio de los Tres que son Uno. Pero, ¿acaso no hizo Él a las ballenas y a los colibríes? ¿Acaso él no sonríe con la infinitud de sus peces y sus insectos? No creo que me tome a mal esta broma que hago como un niño pequeño que pretende jugar con su padre” .
By separating the “mayor mystery” of the Trinity from the minor mysteries of imaginative creations of the world (fables, poetry, child’s play), Diego was able to displace the grandiose stage of the liturgical mystery emphasizing the role that humor plays in the affective realization of the kingdom. In other words, it is most definitely the case that the mystery and the poetic musicality compose the parabolic nature of a transfigured kingdom that accompanies the inner existence of each and every human being . Furthermore, this is why the Calzada is a defined in “Primer Discurso” as a pantheistic kingdom: “mi reino, en esta isla pequeña rodeada de Dios por todas partes / en ti ciego mis descanso” . The happiness of the poetic effect in En la calzada de Jesús del Monte is the consummation of an eternal life that, by withdrawing itself from the representation of historical time, can outlive both dread and death. However, in its call for “eternity”, it is language itself that becomes a mode within a series of uncountable events: “sigo pensando, aquí, mi amigo, sucediéndome. / Luego de la primera muerte, señores, las imágenes … .Porque soy reciente, de ayer mismo” . The “sigo sucediéndome”, a modal attempt at transforming life through event diffuses life and death like “Abel y Cain reunidos en Adán, como la muerte” . The transfiguration of liturgical mystery does not evoke a christological arcana, but the overcoming of the civilizational myth of fratricide only to find “unity” in the eternal paradise evoked through Adam. As Diego will also write in an essay about the work of British novelist Jean Rhys: “…el sentido de orar para convertirse en símbolo del misterio de vivir: nuestro jardín era grande y hermoso como aquel jardín de la Biblia – el árbol de la vida crecía allí, nos dice, en medio del terror de una violencia que no entiende” . The reemergence of the myth of an enchanted Edenic garden through the poem?
The fact that Diego chose to write En la calzada de Jesús del Monte as a series of poems and not a novel speaks to his resistance to metaphorize the Garden of Eden outside of the world, overly compensated through a figural postmythical semblance that could have only been taken as a form of parody. On the contrary, En la calzada de Jesús del Monte evokes the original paradise as a recurring and parabolic Sunday of life. A life of nothingness: “si la nada / es también el dormir, pesadamente / la caída sin voz entre la sombra… el Paraíso / realizado en la tierra, como un nombre!” . What cuts through between the forms of the world is the poetic parabola that put us in nearness to the limit of the mystery and the unspeakable. This is what poet Fina García Marruz beautifully captured in one of the most outstanding essays on En la calzada de Jesus del Monte where the weight of the question is meshed with the eros of the poem’s parabola: “Todo arte es, o debería ser, arte de amor, qué es arte de re respeto, la estrategia de una amorosa retirada. Donde el yo se manifiesta en exceso, invade los otros límites, incendia el mundo, pero el verdadero sol del centro, como en Heráclito, no rebasa sus medidas” .
García Marruz will even allude to a “magical distance” to elucidate Diego’s poetic measureless opening to proximity: “para el dulce tamaño de la vida que miden estas distancias” . The distances modulate situated existence against the reduction of ordered historical time: “El sitio donde gustamos las costumbres / aquí no pasa nada, no es más que la vida” . As an authentic habitante Diego’s parabola solves the problem of the eclipse of historical time (the ruins of the first morning of historical development) through a descension to spatial detachment where the rest of Sunday is achieved amidst the dust of the world (“como el polvo del mundo”). And from the vantage point of every concrete experience and every limit, life emerges from the dead before a ruinous world marked by the failed Republic. This was a Republic that could not be named (“Yo no sé decirlo: la República”) in a paradoxical display of expository nominalism. As Diego writes in “El sitio en el que tan bien se está”: “en la penumbra como deshabitado sueño” . At the height of 1949, En la calzada de Jesús del Monte was the most rigorous attempt to retreat from this penumbra of historical political life and its daydreaming.
This is the open secret of the actual city street, La Calzada de Jesús del Monte (Havana), during the first decades of the twentieth century, which according to historian Emilio Roig de Lauschering was the only route of communication between the hinterland and the new urban community: “La Calzada de Jesús del Monte que después se llamó después Calzada de Jesús del Monte por haber construido una ermita en la pequeña eminencia donde se encuentra la iglesia parroquial de Jesús del Monte…[…] Pero la Calzada de Jesús del Monte fue desde remotos tiempos hasta no hace mucho la vía principal de entrada y salida entre la población y el campo” . In the late 1940s, la Calzada de Jesús del Monte was already a ‘deshabitado sueño’ as symbolized by dust, debris, oblivion, and death announced by the abstract time of modernization. En la calzada de Jesús del Monte, however, does not cross the path nor seeks a communication between the limits, but rather it opts to dwells on it.
This might be, indeed, Diego’s most important and subtle difference with Lezama’s defense of a liturgical surplus (even ex ecclesia cult of friendship, Freundschaftsdichtung, as a surrogate for national salvation) as if he had found a refuge in the mysterious parish of the Calzada Jesus del Monte or Bauta . Diego’s transfiguration of history placed him at Sabbath in possession of “poderosas versiones de su vida” (“strong modes of his own life”) . But the Sabbath is not a mere memory of a defeated religious community, but as Hermann Cohen argued, a spatial and institutional habit of a people coinciding with the cycles of a bright moonlight . This is why imagination in En la calzada de Jesus del Monte is not enough, and the poet laments: “de tanto imaginarla mi corazón iba callando”. The eternal life of Sundays finds a retreat in the sabbatical experience against the historical time of normality and its revolutionary cycles that demystifies the thingly destruction in which civilization had declined at the end of times. Diego’s La Calzada de Jesús del Monte enshrined the only access to the transfiguration of the mystery: a sabbatical rest disambiguated from the monotone idleness posed by postmythical romanticism . It was in the threshold of parabolic dwelling where En la Calzada de Jesús del Monte remained faithful neither to religious idolatry nor to a free-standing mysterium, but only to the feast of a sabbatical life “como un asno, en perpetuo domingo” (like a donkey, in a perpetual sunday) . The donkey is the transfiguration that must carry this weight. And withdrawing from Juan Vives’ known fable about the peasant who sacrificed a donkey when realizing that he was drinking the moon reflected on a bucket of water, En la calzada de Jesus del Monte stubbornly trumpets not the entry to a “poetic enlightenment”, but the dwelling into the eternal Sunday where poetry is not a resource of radiant sacrifice of beauty, but the prophecy for both silence and sound .
1. José Lezama Lima. “Un día ceremonial”, in Imagen y Posibilidad (Editorial Letras Cubanas, 1992), 48-50.
2. Eliseo Diego. En la Calzada de Jesús del Monte (Editorial Pre-Textos, 2020), 103.
3. Gianni Carchia. Dall’Apparenza al Mistero, in Immagine e verità: Studi sulla tradizione classica, Edizioni di Storia e Letteratura, Roma, 2003.
4. Odo Casel. Misterio del culto en el cristianismo (Cuadernos Phase, 2006), 82.
5. Eliseo Diego. “Viaje al centro de la tierra”, in Flechas en vuelo: ensayos selectos (Editorial Verbum, 2014), 162.
6. Giorgio Agamben. “Parabola e Regno”, in Il fuoco e il racconto (nottetempo, 2014), 25-37.
7. Eliseo Diego, En la Calzada de Jesús del Monte (Editorial Pre-Textos, 2020).
8. Ibid., 115.
9. Ibid., 117.
10. Eliseo Diego. “Una Iglesia no muy británica: Jean Rhys y su ancho mar”, in Flechas en vuelo: ensayos selectos (Editorial Verbum, 2014), 124.
11. E. Diego, 119.
12. Fina García Marruz. “Ese breve domingo de la forma”, in Hablar de la poesía (Editorial Letras Cubanas, 1986), 398.
13. E. Diego, 131.
14. Ibid., 177.
15. Ibid., 184.
16. Emilio Roig de Leuchsenring. La Habana: Apuntes Históricos (Editora del Consejo Nacional de Cultura, 1963), 111.
17. Wolfdietrich Rasch. Freundschaftskult und Freundschaftsdichtung im Deutschen Schrifttum des 18. Jahrhunderts (Halle-Saale, 1936).
18. Ibid., 157.
19. Hermann Cohen. “The Sabbath in its Cultural-Historical Significance”, The Reform Advocate, February 10, 1917, 5-6.
20. José Lezama Lima claims in “Pascal y la poesía”: “En la tradición de Pitágoras, que creía que sólo el símbolo daba el signo y que la escritura, tesis incomprehensible para el contemporáneo romanticismo antisignario, nace de un misterio, no de la horticultura de la pereza”, in Algunos tratados en La Habana (Anagrama, 1971), 166.
21. E. Diego, 147.
22. The fable is told by Hans Blumenberg: “The Spanish humanist Juan Luis Vives recorded the fable of a peasant who killed a donkey because it swallowed the moon while drinking from a bucket, and because the world could sooner do without a donkey than without heaven’s lamp”, in “Glosses on Three Fables” (1984), History, Metaphors, Fables: A Hans Blumenberg Reader (Cornell University Press, 2020), 604.
Some will surely remember the figure of the painter Tirtorelli in Kafka’s The Trial who executes portraits of monotone and serious judges and magistrates on demand. The aura of these portraits is of absolute austereness and seriousness, as if Kafka wanted to capture the lackluster liturgy of the empire of judges and their repetitive exercise of legal adjudication. This seriousness, however, must be contrasted to the comic dimension of bureaucracy, that is known to anyone who might have glimpsed at the administrative processes that control even the tiniest details of daily life (the literary and cultural objects are too many to even reference them). The comic and the serious are also visual tones in the exhibition of modern public powers. If the empire of judges is gray and inexpressive, the bureaucratic agencies have been rendered as playful even if they repeatedly yield tragic effects on anyone entrapped in the legal construction of the “case”.
I recall this, because if today we are in the rise of an administrative state, this fundamentally entails a collapse of the bureaucratic comedy and the judge’s seriousness. The joining of the two spheres implies not only a transformation of the legal culture in the Anglo-Saxon tradition, but also a confusion regarding both the comic and serious that now form an integral techno-political unit. As humor eclipses, comedy becomes controlled, assessed, and weighted against what must be free-standing seriousness each and every time. This integralist institutional imagination, at first sight, could be taken as a return of theology of sorts; but, according to Hans Urs Von Balthasar, it is quite the contrary: the integralist suture is so alien to Catholic theology and the mystery that it only deserves to be taken as a distance from the divine. As Von Balthasar writes in Il Complesso antiromano (1974):
“For humor is a mysterious but unmistakable charism inseparable from Catholic faith, and neither the “progressives” nor the “integralists” seem to possess it—the latter even less than the former. Both of these tend to be faultfinders, malicious satirists, grumblers, carping critics, full of bitter scorn, know-it-alls who think they have the monopoly of infallible judgment; they are self-legitimizing prophets—in short, fanatics.” 
And Von Balthsar reminds us that fanatic is a word that comes from fanum – “holy place” – which alludes to the site that the guardian must guard to keep the divinity at bay. In the same way today, the fanatic is the nexus that organizes the administrative process that covers all spheres of human activity and purpose. If this is the case, then one could say that our current society is “fanatical” not because of the new religious factions or outnumbering of social cults, but rather because new legal administrators exert their control in the guise of priests that speak the rhetoric of a social intelligible common good. This is, indeed, the ultimate comic aspiration of a very seriousness legal process (it impacts literally every living species) in which the precondition to safeguards the “good” must be exerted as to keep everyone away from the irreducibility of what is good, beautiful, and just.
The seriousness of the administrative agents is transformed into a perpetual laughter that secures a social bond where no transgression and sensation is possible. Against this backdrop, we see how Gianni Carchia was correct when suggesting that the passage from comedy to enjoyment (divertimento) renders impossible the laughter of redemption in a life that ceases to be eventful . In this way, comedy mutates into a mere socialization of laughter. And the impossibility of entering in contact with the comic initiates the commencement of the social parody.
1. Hars Von Balthasar. Il Complesso antiromano. Come integrare il papato nella chiesa universale (Queriniana, 1974), 304.
2. Gianni Carchia. “Lo cómico absoluto y lo sublime invertido”, en Retórica de lo sublime (Tecnos, 1990), 153.
Giorgio Agamben’s Il mistero del male, now translated in English as The Mystery of Evil: Benedict XVI and the End of Days (Stanford U Press, 2017), is an intense repudiation of the mundane legitimacy of every institution, costume, and political structure hitherto existing on earth. For Agamben, the decline towards illegitimacy has not been a matter of a few years or decades, but part of a larger inherited drama. The core of the book reads Benedict XVI’s “great refusal” as an ‘exemplary act’ [sic] against the Church, bringing to awareness a vital “loss of substantial legitimacy” (Agamben 3). Overstating the dual structure characteristic to Western governmentality – potestas and autorictas, or economy and mystery, legality and legitimacy – Agamben asserts that Ratzinger’s gesture cuts through the very thicket of the ekklesia arcanum, reversing the mystery of faith in time to the point of abandoning the very vicarship of Christ (Agamben 5). Of course, this comes as no surprise to those that have engaged with his prior The Kingdom and the Glory (2011), where Agamben interprets the Trinity as a stasiological foundation of an oikonomia that plays out (vicariously) as a praxis without Being .
In many ways, this essay is supplemental to the larger turn already undertaken in The Kingdom, only that this time, Agamben brings to focus a seminal institution of the Western political tradition. Here Agamben seems to be pressing more heavily on the state of global affairs in which the Church is a metonymy: “…if this gesture interests us, this certainly is not solely insofar as it refers to a problem internal to the Church, but much more because it allows us to focus on a genuinely political theme, that of justice, which like legitimacy cannot be the eliminated from the praxis of our society” (Agamben 16-17). This is consistent with overall structure of The Kingdom, by which the structure of the oikonomia is understood vis-à-vis the true ‘providential machine’ of human administration. So every administrative structure is illegitimate, since for Agamben, it governs through de-substantial vicarious being. It is a true ‘kakokenodicy’ (referring to the emptying) that can only justify effective evil (Agamben 36). To the extent that Agamben’s overarching project seeks to establish a responsive unity to the problem of discessio or internal division, it is not difficult to grasp how Benedict XVI’s return to Tyconius’ obscure thesis of the Church composite of good and evil is highly relevant, as we shall see.
We are far from Augustine’s City of God, where the split was produced between two cities, allowing for what Erik Peterson understood, against Schmitt, as the impossibility of any political theology. Tyconius is, in a sort of way, the persistence of an Anti-Augustinian gnosis. Agamben’s effort, let’s be clear, tries to make Augustine a son of Tyconius, which makes it even more mysterious; since whereas Augustine separated Church and Empire, Tyconius separates evil and good in the temporal katechontic nature of the Church (Agamben 10-11). Agamben cites Illich’s testimony to claim that the Church is always already mysterium iniquitatis as corruption optima pessima (the worst possible corruption of the best). But once again, Agamben seems to be forcing positions, since whereas for Illich the Church, consistent with Augustine, allowed for ius refomandi (reform), Agamben posits discessio as the arche of the corporeal Church, in this way reintroducing the myth of political theology to stage the mysterical drama of History.
In a strange sense, the mystery is not that mysterious. It becomes messianic eschatology on reserve. According to Agamben’s narrative, the Church as a dual nature of opposites, possesses an internal stasis between a temporal restrainer (katechon), the evil that runs counter to against law’s integrity (anomos), and the eschatological dimension of the End. This last character points to the Pauline’ messianicity, which allows Agamben to link Benjamin and Tyconius’ in a common salvific structure. As he writes: “The mysterium iniquitatis…is a historical drama, which is underway in every instant, so to speak, and in which the destiny of humanity, the salvation or fall of human beings, is always at stake.” (Agamben 14). Benedict XVI is a counter-katechon, as he is able to reveal, in his exodus, the eschatological structure that leaves behind the vicarious economy. According to Agamben, Benedict XVI’s message was “nothing but the capacity to keep oneself connected to one’s own end” (Agamben 16).
On the reverse, this entails subscribing a messianic turning of life from within the Church in order to posit a metapolitical form without remainder. The renunciation of the katechon implies that we are left with an economy (oikonomia) devoid of legitimacy. The central problem here is that history itself has become mystery of the economy, instead of an economy of mystery, which is the Pauline arche. What compensates for this illegitimacy becomes messianic politics that “does not remain a mere idea, entirely inert and impotent in the face of law and economy, but succeeds in finding political expression in a force capable of counter-balancing the progressing leaving out onto a single technico-economic plane of the two coordinated but radically heterogeneous principles [legitimacy and legality] that constitutes the most preciouses patrimony of European culture” (Agamben 18).
But if the machine of governance of the West is dual, playing legitimacy and legality in a skirmish co-dependency, why does Agamben conflate the renewal of legitimacy to the coming of a new politics? The reason seems to be that once you accept the condition that what exhausts government is an economical structure of the Christian katechon, you can then accept as exodus a metapolitics of salvation. What is interesting is that this politics, seemingly against Schmitt, actually re-enacts the same movement for an exact, albeit reverse, political trade-off. Agamben does not follow Peterson here. Let us recall that Peterson’s argument was never that the Church is an oikonomia, but that Schmitt’s totalizing and unifying political theology applied not to the Church, but only to Empire. This principial politics, as we know, has always led to catastrophic dominance, from Rome to Christian Monarchy to Nazi Germany. Counter to Schmitt, Agamben wants to produce not an imperial katechon, but “a time of the end, [where] mystery and history correspond without remainder” (Agamben 30).
The problem becomes that in order to set the stage for such “drama”, Agamben needs to avoid at all costs the Augustinian/Petersonian split of the Church in its facticity (as it actually happened). This explains why, in the second essay, history is understood as mysterical. In this context, it is noteworthy that Peterson is fully absent, even though he famously authored the essay “The Church”. There he writes in an important passage:
“The worship the Church celebrates is public worship and not a celebration of the mysterious; it is an obligatory public work, a leitourgia, and not an initiation dependent on voluntary judgment. The public-legal character of Christian worship reflects the fact that the church stands much closer to political entities like kingdom and polis, rather than voluntary associations and unions” .
I highlight Peterson’s reference to the “the mysterious”, because this is an explicit polemical stance against Casel, the Benedictine monk that informs Agamben’s mysterical adventure in history. But this has important implications, only two of which I will register here. First, accepting Casel’s mysterical Church leads us to conclude that internal worldly illegitimacy requires that we embrace a messianic politics ‘again’ (Agamben 38). In fact, politics is ultimate salvation in Tyconius, Casal, and Benjamin.
Secondly, mysterical historicity demands voluntary filiation. Agamben lays this out in plain sight: “it is in this drama, always underway, that all are called to play their part without reservation and ambiguity” (Agamben 39). Messianism forces agonic politics, displacing administrative vicarship with a conceptual theodicy. But profane life does not need to coincide with or abdicate a metapolitics of salvation. Now, if this is so, perhaps the accusation raised against governmental structure as illegitimate is in itself not legitimate. What if instead of being on the side of the metapolitics of the eschatological mystery, legitimacy is nothing other than the internal rational enactment of the separation of the profane that is always taking place in the world?
Agamben writes in The Kingdom and the Glory (2011): “And, more generally, the intra-Trinitarian relation between the Father and the Son can be considered to be the theological paradigm of every potestas vicaria, in which every act of the vicar is considered to be a manifestation of the will of the one who is represented by him. And yet, as we have seen, the an-archic character of the Son, who is not founded ontologically in the Father, is essential to the Trinitarian economy. That is, the Trinitarian economy is the expression of an anarchic power and being that circulates among the three persons according to an essentially vicarious paradigm… The mystery of being and of the deity coincides entirely with its “economical” mystery. There is no substance of power, but only an “economy,” only a “government.” 138-39 pp.
Erik Peterson. “The Church”. Theological Tractates (Stanford U Press, 2011). 38 pp.