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Title: ‘Canon as an act of creation: Giorgio Agamben and the extended logic of the messianic’
Authors: Dickinson, Colby #
Issue Date: 2009
Conference: Towards a Philosophy of Life Conference, in the Continental Philosophy of Religion location:Liverpool Hope University, Liverpool, UK date:June 2009
Abstract: This essay presents a genealogical outworking of a certain ‘messianism’ precariously situated between the theological and the secularized (philosophical), initiated in the work of Walter Benjamin, modified through Jacques Derrida, and returned to in Giorgio Agamben. This inquiry therefore begins with the formulations of Benjamin on the theo-political dimensions of the ‘state of exception’ (C. Schmitt) unfolded in fuller historical terms, (e.g. a call to remember what has been repressed as justice within the messianic horizon of history). Though modified, this same expression returns as the ‘messianic without messianism’ along the eschatological horizons of justice in the work of Jacques Derrida. Following this logic, this essay intends to understand Benjamin’s views on violence and historical representation in conjunction with Derrida’s structures of messianicity and justice in order to arrive at a contemporary conception of the necessity for a canonical form (of history, of scripture, of political representation, etc). It is by doing so that canonical representations might become illustrative, not as totalizing frameworks, but as a (theological) principle of creation.

The wager of this genealogical pursuit is that Agamben’s formulation of testimony after Auschwitz, an elaboration on the ‘witness’ of the homo sacer in today’s biopolitical environment, is the only way to provide an adequate continuation of this theo-political trajectory of the canonical form. According to Agamben, the concept of the messianic is the closest intersection between religion and philosophy, yet it is an always immanent messianism, a Benjaminian fusion of the materialist and the (secularized) theological. Within this context, Agamben explores a ‘logic of incarnation’, one founded upon the (im)possibility of testimony, and which runs counter to formulations of the archive (Derrida), yet is itself dependent upon the structures of messianicity. By providing an analysis of this ‘logic of incarnation’ within its messianic context, it can be shown how the concept of the canonical functions as more than just a primary metaphor for creation, but as a central means by which creation is understood theologically. This essay therefore reflects upon canonicity (as the ‘desire’ for the canonical over and beyond any canon) as ‘more than a metaphor’ of creation, but in fact as a form of the testimony of creation in terms of identity constructions, beyond the contours of the archive (Derrida’s ‘archivization’) and with significant consequences for social and political representation today. Indeed, the principle of canonicity comes to stand in a productive tension with a theology of creation which continues past any originary (singular) act of creation.
Publication status: accepted
KU Leuven publication type: IMa
Appears in Collections:Research Unit Systematic Theology - miscellaneous
# (joint) last author

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