The motif of the Messianic: law, life, and writing in Agamben’s reading of Derrida

Willemse, Arthur (2016) The motif of the Messianic: law, life, and writing in Agamben’s reading of Derrida. Doctoral thesis (PhD), University of Sussex.

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This is a study of the relationship between the works of Giorgio Agamben and Jacques Derrida. It explains how the vantage point of Agamben’s thought is achieved by rendering Derridean terminology inoperative. It is argued that this enactment of suspension with regards to Derrida is Agamben’s way of undoing a theological structure of thought that philosophy has unknowingly appropriated. Agamben claims a position that is decidedly post-Derridean, and it is from this position that his sometimes baffling claims about philosophy and its tradition obtain their justification. The closure of the Derridean era and the inoperativity of Derridean terminology is sealed and traced by a messianic motif.

Only Derrida can object to the naivety of Agamben’s claims, as he did in his final seminar-series. For anyone else to make such objection would be to take the bait. This is because the apparently dizzying magisterial position that Agamben occupies makes sense only in a philosophical landscape wherein Derrida has become obsolete. However, this thesis will argue how Derrida’s thought even in its desuetude continues to exert influence, now as a paradigm of language. As Agamben recalls in his essay “The Messiah and the Sovereign”: “[...] in the Jewish tradition the figure of the Messiah is double. Since the first century B.C.E.., the Messiah has been divided into Messiah ben Joseph and a Messiah ben David. The Messiah of the house of Joseph is a Messiah who dies, vanquished in the battle against the forces of evil; the Messiah of the house of David is the triumphant Messiah, who ultimately vanquishes Armilos and restores the kingdom” (Agamben 1999a, 173). The vanquished messianic force here represents Derrida’s work that in its defeat releases its positive messianic twin, the thought of Agamben.

In the first chapter of this thesis I will give an introduction to Agamben’s thought specifically speaking to the motif of the messianic in its relation to infancy. In the second chapter the outline of the messianic exhaustion of the law of potentiality will be examined closely in the literary figure of Herman Melville’s scribe Bartleby. In the third chapter it will be argued that in the philosophical constellation Bartleby’s role as the paradigm of the self-capacity and passion of writing is fulfilled by Derrida. This is argument is presented against the background of the theme of life in philosophy. Furthermore, this chapter presents a close reading of Derrida’s khōra essay as a counterpart to Agamben’s text on Bartleby. Finally, in the fourth chapter, the positive gains of Agamben’s thought are explored by looking at two messianic tableaus: life and writing. Life is explored the shape of a contingent “being”, a “creature” in the theological sense – yet one that has vanquished its theological condition of abandonment. In this sense, the modality of contingency is sought in a condition of being theologically disenchanted. Furthermore, passing beyond the Derridean paradigm of pharmacology, a new paradigm of writing is indicated.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Schools and Departments: School of History, Art History and Philosophy > Philosophy
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > B Philosophy (General) > B2430.D48 Derrida, Jacques
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > B Philosophy (General) > B3611.A4 Agamben, Giorgio, 1942-
Depositing User: Library Cataloguing
Date Deposited: 27 May 2016 11:12
Last Modified: 29 Jun 2018 09:33

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