Imagine as an Apocalyptic: revelation and immanence

“At first glance the kingdom of heaven looked a lot like a golf course. I’m not interested in golf, so this was a complete surprise to me. Another odd thing is that when people talk about heaven they usually refer to it as being “up,” but I had no feeling of upness. The place felt right around sea level to me. The temperature was cool, maybe 55, 60 degrees. The sky was partially cloudy, but the air was so fresh I felt we must be near an ocean, and the kingdom stretched on and on in such a rolling, barren way that the land itself seemed like a sea.”
-David James Duncan (via Kincaid), The Brothers K, 80.

“I can imagine as an apocalyptic: let it go down. I have no spiritual investment in the world as it is.”
-Jacob Taubes, The Political Theology of Paul, 56, 103.

In a recent blog post at AUFS, Dan Barber reflects on our habits of thinking apocalyptic transcendently, as something completely other-worldly, “as the arrival of something positive from beyond.”  In contrast, he wants to put forward an immanent understanding of apocalyptic, and also “apocalyptic immanence.”  What does this mean? And what is the impetus for bringing-apocalyptic-back-down.

In addition to thinking apocalyptic as transcendence, we also tend to think of revelation this way, as the disclosure of something more than the world from beyond the world.  Apocalyptic and revelation certainly do both entail this “more” than the world, but why do we concede that this “more” must come from beyond? The desire for transcendent revelation comes about as a response to the affliction of the world.  When we are faced with the proliferation of violence, injustice, suffering, oppression, we desire another world, an-other, radically different world; it is as though we do not believe in the redemption of creation, the resurrection of the flesh, and so we feel we must rise up and away from this sinful world to a better place, as it crumbles beneath us.  But Christ is raised in the flesh, and ascends bearing the wounds of the crucifixion. And St. Paul proclaims the resurrection of the dead, in spiritual bodies. Why should we think of the kingdom-come as anything but a radical transformation of this world, from within, amidst creation? We have not learned to think the immanent “more,” or what Barber elsewhere calls the “immanent surplus” of creation.

But some will say that this is not radical enough. To think that immanent revelation, transformation, apocalyptic would not be radical enough comes about because we do not perceive the way the world itself exceeds us.  We think we know the world, that the world is all that we can imagine, and that apocalyptic transformation must therefore exceed the world.  But we do not know the world, and apocalyptic shows us this by immanently exceeding the way the world is. Phenomenology teaches us, away from the metaphysics of presence, that the world is not only an interplay of presence and absence, but also as immanent surplus oblique to the presences/absences we perceive.  The world is not comprised of things, objects, exhaustibly describable material that we can then put into relations.  Rather, the world is itself relational. Creation is ontologically relational.  The immanent surplus of the world is its relational excess, its excessive relationality.  And it is this immanent-relational-surplus, which is the potential (potentiality) site of apocalyptic and of revelation.

To imagine as an apocalyptic is to let the world as it is go down; Christian apocalyptic has “no feeling of upness.”


10 comments on “Imagine as an Apocalyptic: revelation and immanence

  1. Finally ordered a copy of Taubes’s Paul book. BTW I am starting to hate blog / Face Book comment splits . . . just venting.

    • Kampen says:

      Well done! I look forward to hearing what you think of it. I also hate the comment splits. I wish the comments that are there were here right now…where they can (presumably) generate *more* conversation. Ry, post over here!

  2. dbarber says:

    Melanie, just wanted to say thanks for the cite / link. I’m always glad when things i write can be of use to others! I love where you are going with this, particularly not up.

  3. dbarber says:

    oh, and i found myself commenting on the comments on facebook. Alas.

  4. Lexi says:

    This is very interesting, Melanie! I have a question though. We seem to be talking about immanence/transcendence primarily in terms of spatial metaphors. What would it mean to think about it temporally? Could there be some sort of transcendence that is not above the world but beyond linear history? Doesn’t Christian eschatology require us to wait for a future that is not the result of an historical process but is somehow beyond history. Even if there is no world beyond our own world, is there a sort of time beyond our own time, even if that time is always breaking into the now in the already-but-not-yet?

    • Kampen says:

      Yes, my use of terms like transcendence/immanence and even diaspora (in my thesis) is emphatically spatial. Your question is definitely an important one to ask and one that I want to ask as well. I am only just beginning to think about some of the temporal contours of these notions – much thanks to Agamben, which I think is where you are coming from on this question too.

      • Kampen says:

        One can think of how Agamben’s remnant is to time as diaspora is to space. Or as Barber has said elsewhere: “diaspora is to space as the apocalyptic is to time.”

  5. Lexi says:

    Yes, I was thinking of Agamben. I think it makes sense what you say about remnant is to time as diaspora is to space. I don’t know if Agamben would identify remnant and apocalyptic, though. My understanding was that the remnant functions as sort of disruptive concept (division of the division) between apocalyptic/non-apocalyptic. But perhaps this is precisely the sort of apocalyptic that you and Barber are going for – one that is not set over against the non-apocalyptic?

    But this is precisely what I like about Agamben. He is not interested in simply advocating the immanent as opposed to the transcendent. He doesn’t reject the transcendent altogether. Instead, he problematizes it. He makes it such that the divide between immanent and transcendent is virtually indistinguishible. Dividing the division between immanent and transcendent and rejecting transcendence in favour of immanence seem to me to be two different moves.

    • Kampen says:

      No, for Agamben apocalyptic and remnant are definitely not the same thing. Apocalyptic is the end time, and the remnant is the time it takes for time to come to an end – a cut time that is not end time. Any suggestions on what I might read in Agamben having read The Time That Remains and Homo Sacer?

      • Lexi says:

        Well, of course I really like The Man Without Content, but if you have no interest in art then that may not be what you’re looking for. Potentialities is pretty important and I think you would also really like The Comming Community – it might actually tie in really well with your work on diaspora. There is also a book that was just written called Agamben and Theology. I disagree with some of it, but it’s a helpful overview.

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