Messianic time and the problem of political action in the work of Agamben

Doussan, Jenny. 2010. 'Messianic time and the problem of political action in the work of Agamben'. In: Waiting for the Political Moment. Utrecht University, Netherlands 17 - 19 June 2010. [Conference or Workshop Item]

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Abstract or Description

In The Time That Remains: A Commentary on the Letter to the Romans (2000), Giorgio Agamben founds his definition of messianic time upon the concept of operational time. Borrowed from linguistics, operational time constitutes the infinitesimal quantity of time that it takes one to complete a representational image of time. This affects a gap between our experience and conception of a moment. Neither a supplementary nor separate temporality, Agamben asserts that operational time is internal to chronological time. It does not replace it, but is rather the transformative force within it. The space that messianic time opens between ourselves and our representation of time therefore permits us access to this transformative force at every instant.

This formulation of the messianic to some extent recalls Agamben’s earlier work on pure means, the sphere of human action, thought and politics (Notes on Politics, 1992); however, the familiar concept that he evokes is the ‘state of exception’, which corresponds to the messianic figure of the law. As in a state of exception, he explains, under the influence of the messianic, Judaic law fulfils itself through its suspension. However, consistent with his Homo Sacer series, the state of exception is also paradoxically the condition of the camp.

The critical distinction between the messianic and the camp is precisely located in the temporal consideration. Messianic time is—and must be—bound within the temporal constraints of chronological time, the passage of instants, while the distension of messianic time into chronological time such that the two are flattened into each other affects the state of exception of the camp, the state of exception as rule.

What does this imply for political action? It would seem that any attempt to employ this transformative force would necessitate a duration, thereby producing the condition of the camp. Do the oblique political strategies that Agamben advances such as profanation and play evade this concern?

Item Type:

Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Visual Cultures


17 June 2010Completed

Event Location:

Utrecht University, Netherlands

Date range:

17 - 19 June 2010

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

19 Jun 2024 11:54

Last Modified:

19 Jun 2024 11:59


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