Posted by: rogermitchell | November 8, 2017

The Kingdom and the Glory: conclusion

Throughout this book Agamben has been achieving two main things, political genealogy and theological insight.

Firstly, he has been offering a genealogy of the current political situation of the contemporary West. Secondly, and simultaneously, he has been providing vital theological insight into the politics of incarnational, trinitarian, faith. In the final pages of this last chapter “The Archaeology of Glory,” these two strands come together in Agamben’s return to his exposition of katargēsis as “inoperativity,” which he identifies with the Sabbath rest of Hebrews 4:1-10 (pp. 239- 251), and in the image of the empty throne that occurs in early Christian architecture and symbol (pp. 243-245). Depending which of these two strands we are following, we find ourselves encountering the same political space but in two very different ways. On the one hand is a vacant space where glory and government never coincide and the biopower of contemporary government is left legitimated and unchallenged by any alternative zoē or life force, and on the other, is an invitation to recognise a space of potential fullness where a mutually affirming plural transcendence might yet bring together kingdom and government in an oikonomia of love. Without recognising these two strands as they intertwine in the final chapter readers may find themselves quite conflicted – is Agamben offering hope or despair? On my reading, neither. Rather he is offering us the opportunity for both recognition and choice, and the degree of hope or despair will depend upon the verdict of the reader. As he puts it “Glory, both in theology and politics, is precisely what takes the place of that unthinkable emptiness that amounts to the inoperativity of power” (p. 242).

Glory as sustenance for God and government

We left the last post with Agamben drawing on Mascall’s work to explore the role of acclamation in sustaining God. This included the suggestion that Jesus himself initiated a self-conscious transformation of acclamation into affirmation in such a way that glory became sustenance for God and government. If Agamben’s purpose were to press home the full incarnational implications of this, he could have well referred to the Johannine prayer of Jesus in John 17.  Here the eternal life of God, even before the world was made, consisted of this mutual affirmatory acclamation, “the glory I had with you Father before the world was” (Jn 17:5), and is the self same glory that Jesus came to share with his followers. However while Agamben does expose this theological insight, his purpose is to disclose the outworking of the mysterious economy, not to advocate the good news that Jesus ostensibly came to make known. So instead he follows Mascall across to the Vedic scriptures where a similar relational acclamation is applied to corporate transcendence (pp. 232-234).  If such a sustaining glory is the nature of transcendence you would expect signs of it to shine through wherever the image of God is carried. I like it!

Glory and the media

Rather than exploring this further, Agamben returns to the primary strand, his genealogy of contemporary political space. He progresses this via an examination of medieval hymnology and the concept of Sabbath rest in the epistle to the Hebrews and comes inexorably to the conclusion that these modes of glorious inoperativity find their contemporary expression in the media. This explains a lot!  Bringing together Debord’s description of globalised capitalist economics as “an immense accumulation of spectacles” together with Schmitt’s analysis that “public opinion is the modern type of acclamation,” Agamben underlines the way that the media dominates every area of social life in “nothing less than a new and unheard of concentration, multiplication and dissemination of the function of glory as the center of the political system” (p. 256). It follows that the tension between western representative democracy’s government by consent and the media’s role in forming and affirming public opinion reveals the same inoperative space that Agamben has been considering all along.

In conclusion

So to return to our two strands, Agamben’s genealogy has revealed the character of the seemingly irresolvable impasse between the vote and any possibility of substantial deep structural change in our contemporary western democracies. However, if the mysterious economy consequent on the subsumptive partnership of church and empire is really a reversal of the good news of the economy of the mystery made known in incarnational faith, then a glorious acclamatory, affirmative politics of love may yet resolve the impasse. This latter potentiality is what my coming book on the Politics of Love will attempt to configure, hopefully, once again, with the help of interaction with you clickers and surfers via this blog.

 

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