Waiting for Politics to Begin Again (6)

(SPECIAL NOTE TO READERS: This will be my last post to this blog before taking a few months off  for the summer. I plan to resume weekly posts again in October.)

6. Awaiting Archaic Politics  

Archaic politics is politics “in the beginning.” It is the beginning of politics as such: Where politics must always begin, if it is to begin at all. As a true and full beginning, as opposed to a mere starting-point, the archaic, as I am using that term, is precisely what already happened “in the beginning” in just such a way that it continues to happen again and again. From the very beginning, the true beginning is always beginning again anew. As what from the very beginning always keeps on beginning again, the truly “archaic”—which is just to say what truly does begin what it begins—is therefore also always still to come; it is always still “on the way.” Its having begun is never over and done with, but is always to be awaited and expected anew, in “the time that remains” until it comes once again, as it has come and come again before.

In that regard, we can say that the archaic has a traumatic structure: Its happening is always “belated,” in Freud’s sense, and as such is always still to come. Yet it is belated, as Freud also saw, only insofar as it never stops happening, but keeps on repeating itself again and again. In having that fundamentally double-sided effect, every true beginning—every arkhe—is “traumatic.”

We can also reverse that, to say no less truly that the traumatic is itself archaic. That is, trauma as such is a genuine beginning, which means a beginning that keeps on repeating itself and is therefore always still to come, never once and for all over and done with.

In the same way the beginning of genuine politics is no one-shot affair. Instead, it is something that must keep on repeating itself constantly, beginning over and over and over again to keep in motion what it set into motion once and for all in the first place, back “in the beginning. In turn, by “archaic politics” I mean a politics that seeks to remain faithful to what politics really has always been from the very beginning. Consequently, any such politics, any “archaic politics” in the sense I am using the term—that is to say, then: any politics that remains true to the original meaning of politics itself—must also be a revolutionary politics.

Indeed, archaic politics can only be a politics of “permanent revolution.” If the revolution is not “permanent,” it is no revolution at all. It’s just another flush of political waste.

“In Kierkegaard’s terms, a revolutionary process is not a gradual process, but a repetitive movement, a movement of repeating the beginning again and again,” writes Slavoj Žižek in “How to Begin from the Beginning,” his contribution to a conference that took place in London in 2009 and was later published under the same title as the conference itself had used: The Idea of Communism (edited by Costas Douzinas and Slavoj Žižek, London & New York: Verso, 2010, page 210).  What Žižek is calling a “revolutionary process” is a genuine political beginning or arkhe, one that not only sets politics itself in motion in the first place, but also continues to keep it moving from then on, constantly “repeating the beginning again and again.”

Any such beginning or arkhe, a wellspring that not only sets something underway, but then also keeps it constantly underway and on the way, opens up a space and grants a time for waiting. It opens, that is, space and time for what Kierkegaard in his Upbuilding Discourses calls “expectancy.” The beginning makes room and while for waiting, expectancy, to keep giving back to the beginning itself room and while in turn, allowing the beginning to keep on beginning what it begins again and again, letting it be as the very beginning that it is. Such waiting or expectancy thus speaks to the beginning the “Amen!”—the “So be it!”—that defines prayer.

Such prayerful, active waiting is an expectancy that, as Kierkegaard says of “The Expectancy of Faith” in the Upbuilding Discourses, is always certain of being fulfilled by the arrival of what it is waiting for. That is, it is always certain of what Kierkegaard there calls “victory.” That is because the event for which such waiting waits, the one such expectancy expects, is one that can only be waited for and expected insofar as it has already happened, way back in the very beginning, is still happening now, and will happen again in the future.

Our political task is to live in such waiting for politics itself to begin again, as our very waiting makes manifest it will, since that waiting is only possible insofar as what it expects has already cleared the way for expecting it. What we await, what we expect, will indeed come again, just as it has done so many times before, from the very beginning, and as it continues to do now. Thus, our hope is always assured of its victory.

That assurance sustains hope’s resistance and revolt, the beginning of politics.

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End of this post series on “Waiting for Politics to Begin Again.”