Plastic Time

Waiting (harold)

“What difference is there between apostle and prophet?” Giorgio Agamben raises this question in his book titled The Time that Remains. Whereas the prophet is turned towards the future, and projects the arrival of the messiah as something that is to come, the apostle speaks from the time of that arrival, when the prophecy has become fulfilled. In the apostle, past and future are contracted into the now, a now that through this contraction turns into a highly plastic—in the sense of explosive—potentiality: a time loaded with energy. In this time, anything can happen. It is a time of infinite possibility. This also means, however, that in this time, anything can happen: plastic time is a time of infinite vulnerability. Indeed, we are talking here about a potentiality so radical that it leaves nothing whole of any actuality, and instead forces one to begin anew, deprived from a childhood, as an entirely different person. The messianic time of the apostle is thus also the time of what Catherine Malabou calls “les nouveaux blessés”: those who because of a brain lesion are turned into another person.

It is this type of wound, Malabou argues, that truly constitutes a trauma, one that would exceed the realm of sexuality and the psychic energy of the libido, and would instead belong in the realm of cerebrality, which escapes hermeneutics. There is no sexual conflict to which the patient and the analyst can return in their pursuit of a cure, no anterior childhood state in which one can take refuge; all of that is gone. What remains is a new person who was born out of the nothing of the wound. It is with this for now final installment of Malabou’s research into the brain that the third characteristic of her concept of plasticity, its explosiveness, receives its full treatment: suddenly, the potentially utopian discourse of What Should We Do With Our Brain? or Plasticity at the Dusk of Writing flips over into its dark side, into emergency’s emergency.

This might actually reveal something about the discourse on time from which I was pilfering earlier on: if Agamben advocates a certain suspension of the law in his discussion of messianic time as the past and future’s contraction into the now of radical potentiality, it is essential to see this suspension in relation to his discussion of the camp, a state of exception in which the law is also suspended. In The Time that Remains, Agamben aims to show through a series of quick points that they are different—but their proximity remains, at least for this reader, uncomfortable, and it is not always clear how the problem in Agamben’s writings does not operate as its own solution.

References: Agamben, Giorgio. The Time that Remains: A Commentary on the Letter to the Romans. Trans. Patricia Dailey. Stanford: Stanford UP, 2005; Malabou, Catherine. Les nouveaux blessés: De Freud à la neurologie, penser les traumatismes contemporains. Paris: Bayard, 2007. Image: Dan Davis, Waiting (Harold), Oil on canvas, 125 cm x 153 cm, 2003.

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