Monday, 6 August 2012

Melancholia, Messianic Banquets and the 19th Hole

‘It is in the Eschaton that history surpasses its limitations and is seen for what it is’
Jacob Taubes, Occidental Eschatology

‘The earth is evil. We don’t need to grieve for it; nobody will miss it. Life on earth is evil’.
Justine, Lars von Trier, Melancholia.

From the writing on the wall at Belshazzar’s feast to the vision of Ezekiel and the messianic banquets in Isaiah, Luke, even the Last Supper itself, where ever there’s an apocalypse or revelation of the end, there is always it seems an eschatological banquet. Ritual feasts and banquets mark points of personal or interpersonal transition, social change, the movement from stranger to guest, enemy to partner, weaning, weddings, funerals and so on. As such they are like the Eschaton which while enabling the possibility of time and history, is not itself, as Jacob Taubes argues, subject to history since it is its eternal end, condition and point of transformation.
Appropriately dominated by a register of orality and consumption, its mise-en-scene a luxury hotel and golf resort, Lars von Trier’s Melancholia is organized around a series of eschatological banquets: a wedding breakfast, an end-of-the-world or death breakfast and the special meal of a meatloaf that tastes of ashes. Along this locus of eating and disgust, the paper will discuss eschatology in relation to Melancholia as an essential fantasy which (again following Taubes) can be seen as both a screen and condition for ideas of freedom, revolution and even self-consciousness. Von Trier’s film depicts what Freud calls in his essay ‘Mourning and Melancholia’ a ‘mental constellation of revolt’ in the context of the voracious orality of a consumer culture whose acme and unsurpassable limit is represented in the film by the luxury golf course and the 19th hole. The prominence of the latter, clearly signalled at the beginning and end of the film, indicates that the film’s register is phantasmatic and symbolic rather than realist, golf now become the pinnacle of (post)human culture, a pointless yet snobbish pursuit that nevertheless seems to sustain desire and negativity at the End of History, in the manner of Alexandre Kojève’s admiration for the Japanese. The film also juxtaposes scientific and religious versions of and responses to the imminent catastrophe of the earth’s demise and these will be discussed in relation to two quite recent eschatologies – the Messianism of Quentin Meillassoux whose ‘hyper chaos’ promises the coming of a God hitherto alien to this world, and the nihilism of Ray Brassier which regards the inevitability of extinction as an essential condition for a thinking of scientific realism without illusion, that is outside of the human-world correlation. 
In contradistinction to the religious and scientific thinking above, however, and in the context of Melancholia’s delineation of an essentially oral ontology, this paper will discuss the locus of the mouth as a site of multiplicity and a power of transformation in the base materialism of the depths that are both interior and exterior to time and history.

Culture, Politics, Eschatology: A Symposium

Department of English & Creative Writing, Department of History, Department of Politics, Philosophy and Religion,Department of Sociology, the Lancaster Institute for the Contemporary Arts and the Journal for Cultural Research.

The symposium’s theme is the continuing cultural and political relevance of eschatology. In recent years, diverse contemporary commentators have attended to eschatology. The symposium takes its cue from the work of three in particular, Jacob Taubes, Giorgio Agamben and Michel Foucault. Originally published in 1947, Taubes’ Occidental Eschatology (2009) is a classic study of the legacy of Judaeo-Christian eschatological theology for radical politics in modernity. His The Political Theology of Paul (2004), published posthumously from lecture notes, remains a highly influential recuperation of the radical implications of Paul’s theology. Agamben’s The Time that Remains (2005) continues Taubes’ project with a stunning reading of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans in relation to the messianic thinking of Walter Benjamin. His more recent The Kingdom and the Glory (2011), a genealogical study of the contemporary polity and its operation on an economic model, contests Foucault’s own, influential analysis of the same polity and its mode of operation by recovering their theological foundations. Foucault, for his part, maintained that ‘the new historicity of raison d’etat excluded the empire of the last days; it excluded the kingdom of eschatology. Against this theme, which was formulated at the end of the sixteenth century and is still with us today, counter-conducts develop that make it a principle to assert the coming of a time when time will end ... an eschatology in which civil society will prevail over the state’.
Storey Institute, 21-22 September 2012, Lancaster UK
Confirmed Speakers:
Gil Anidjar, Columbia University
Agata Bielik-Robson, University of Nottingham
Ward Blanton, University of Glasgow
Kathleen Davis, University of Rhode Island
Ziad Elmarsafy, University of York
Yvonne Sherwood, University of Glasgow
Scott Wilson, Kingston University

Confirmed respondents:
Arthur Bradley, Bulent Diken, Michael Dillon, Charlie Gere, Paolo Palladino, Thomas Rohkrämer and Yoke-Sum Wong.