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philosophy and psychoanalysis
    # ISSN 1751-8229 Volume Ten, Number Two A Hermeneutic of Hope: Problematising ! i ek’s Apocalypticism Ola Sigurdson, Dept. Literature of History of Ideas and religion, University of Gothemburg, Sweden In this paper, I wish to problematize Slavoj ! i ek’s use of the apocalyptic tradition in his political philosophy, especially focusing on the consequences it has for his understanding of hope. 1  Especially, I find his strong emphasis on the disjunction between the state before and after the radical event implies a radical discontinuity between the present state and the state of emancipation, that the possibility falls away of any kind of criteria for a useful distinction between authentic and inauthentic events. Such a lack of a more developed hermeneutics of discernment opens up for a potential ‘decisionism’ in ! i ek’s work despite itself; decisionism in the sense of the evental decision itself provides the criteria for what counts as a legitimate emancipation rather than any preconceived criteria. This means, in turn, that the heavy emphasis on discontinuity between the state before the event and after, 1  I would like to thank my colleague Hjalmar Falk for his very insightful and constructive critique of an earlier version of this paper, the anonymous reviewer for forcing me to express myself (hopefully) a bit more clearly, and Cindy Zeiher for many good points on the final version.    $ results in a philosophical version of ‘supersessionism’ – that is, for example, the theological understanding that the Jewish people was superseded or replaced by the Christian church – that belie any continuity between the memory of what once was and the hope for what is to come. If there is only little or no continuity whatsoever between the state before and the state after the event between memory and hope, does this not mean the end of hope as we know it? My critique against ! i ek, then, is that his weak sense of hope makes emancipation almost unimaginable here and now, and more like a leap into the dark rather than a condition to be desired even when one can only partially imagine what it might be like. I shall proceed this inquiry of hope by means of a theological critique, however, my purpose is to call attention to a latent weakness in ! i ek’s political conception. I begin by clarifying some of the key concepts of my argument, especially ‘apocalypticism’, ‘eschatology’ and ‘hope’ and with introducing the apocalyptic tradition in Christianity, its hermeneutic challenges, as well as the relation between the more general concept eschatology and its relation to alterity. I then proceed with a summary of philosopher and psychoanalyst, Jonathan Lear’s understanding of ‘radical hope’. It is at this conjuncture that I return to ! i ek, where I explore the ways he relates to the ‘apocalyptic’ heritage. Here I discuss the act of hoping and the object of hope – on loss as well as a possible future – and will discuss ! i ek’s dialectical understanding of hope in relation to Lear’s conception and, specifically, what ! i ek’s understanding of hope might imply in terms of possibilities to discern the emancipatory quality of an event. In my concluding section I summarize my argument in relation to the potential decisionism and supersessionism in ! i ek’s work and why this might imply the end of hope as we know it. Eschatology and Alterity  As a kind of general background to my argument, I shall begin with a very short exposition of theological understandings of apocalypse and eschatology and their relation to alterity. Such an exposition could aptly begin where the Christian Bible ends: In the Book of Revelation in the New Testament, also known as The  Apocalypse  from the first (Greek) word of the text. Here the reader gets a graphic description of the world to come. After the seven seals are broken and the seven trumpets have sounded, after the fights with the dragon and the beasts are over, after the seven angels with the seven plagues of God’s wrath have flown, after the    % thousand years of the millennial kingdom is over and Satan has been released, there is a vision of a New Jerusalem. According to chapter 21, this is a quite extraordinary city, given that it is built of jasper, gold as pure as glass, pearls, and every kind of precious stone. Not only is the building material amazing, it is a city that promises everlasting peace and where the nations will come to heal. Through it a river of the water of life will flow. This provides a vision of a city that will inform the imagery of Christian eschatology for centuries. The Bible starts in Genesis with a formless and empty earth which then continues into a garden, but ends as a city; an image of both human and divine community. The image of the city in Revelation puts one before an immediate hermeneutic obstacle. A city of gold where the foundations of city walls are made of jasper, sapphire, agate, emerald, onyx, ruby, chrysolite, beryl, topaz, turquoise, jacinth and amethyst seem wildly impractical. Even allowing for a hermeneutic gap of almost two thousand years where one cannot be sure what the srcinal readers thought of all these precious stones, there must have been readers of Revelation even then wondering what to do with such an imagery that hardly could be taken literally.   (Or, rather, can it? Given the obscene affluence of some of the world’s super-rich today, is it actually thinkable that such a city could be appealing to someone?) Perhaps, and this is a conjecture, such imagery is chosen because it deliberately wants to draw attention to the impossibility of taking it at face value, thus forcing the reader to imagine a city beyond our present conditions. If this is correct – and it certainly is for some historical exegetes – then the purpose of the strange imagery is to evoke the image of a city discontinuous with our present, more contemporary cities. This is perhaps an obvious point to make, but it nevertheless illustrates the dilemma which any discussion of the future, whether it be political or theological, faces: is the future merely a prolongation of the present or will it be different? The image of the city in Revelation (a book that throughout history has inspired many emancipatory movements) is obviously on the side of imagining a different future. But, how different is this different future? In my illustration of the New Jerusalem in  Revelation , there is both continuity and discontinuity: we recognise the image of the city even when it is a different city from all present cities. I shall not deal here with the extraordinary rich, problematic and extremely varied history of interpretation of the imagery detailed in the Book of Revelation , the only apocalyptic book in the New Testament, a text which has always been    & recognized by the Christian tradition as being very difficult to interpret. To note two prominent historical interpretations, Augustine (354–430) interpreted the millennial kingdom in chapter 20, verses 1–6 as an ahistorical allegory for the time between the first and the second coming of Christ, whereas Joachim of Fiore (1135–1202) thought of it as an actual, historical period, a peaceable kingdom in  history rather than after   history (Svenungsson 2014: 65, 76 f.). These differing interpretations of the millennial period are representative of how these authors interpret  Revelation  in general, particularly given these authors’ different yet equally prominent Wirkungsgeschichten  or effective histories. Neither of these authors consider the image of the peaceful city as a literal image of the world to come. However, the function of propagating this particularly abstruse imagery is to alert the reader that the New Jerusalem is quite unlike the old one as well as any city known to us. The emphasis, perhaps, is on the discontinuity between the new and the old rather than continuity. The image of the New Jerusalem not only raises the general question of the continuity and discontinuity between this world and the world to come for Christian theology, but also, specifically in Joachim’s case, the continuity and discontinuity between different eras in history. Eschatology is the locus  in Christian theology that deals with this question, not only with regard to things to come in a futural or historical sense, but in its entirety: if God is transcendent, which incidentally does not only mean that God is far away but alter  , how alter   is this alter  ? What is the end   of the world, in the sense both of its final chapter and its semogenic context? Theology in an eschatological mode deals with questions concerning the relation between continuity and discontinuity, whether regarding the alterity of God, the form of the coming peaceable kingdom, or the resurrection of the dead. If the coming world of peace is too like our own, one may suspect that it will not be as peaceable as one hopes. But if it is completely different, then what is the point of hoping for it, as it will be completely unrecognizable to us? Eschatology needs to strike a balance between continuity and discontinuity, so as to avoid the extremes of trite permanence and irrelevant alterity. The image of the city in the Book of Revelation  attempts to recognize this. As the British theologian Gerald Loughlin puts it: ‘We can only imagine paradise on the basis of our knowledge of earthly gardens’ (Loughlin 2004: 281). Likewise, one cannot imagine divine cities other than through earthly cities.
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