Times Ahead (On the Coming Time)

This is a translation of Sul tempo che viene (“On the Coming Time”) by Giorgio Agamben from his blog, November 23, 2020. To followers who receive email notifications: apologies for an earlier post of this, now deleted. Everything on this blog is set for free distribution with zero monetization.

What is happening today on a planetary scale is surely the end of a world — but not in the sense meant by those who would govern it according to their interests, a passing over to a world that will be better-suited to meet new needs of the human community. The age of bourgeois democracies is ending, with their rights, constitutions, and parliaments. Beyond this juridical shell, not insignificant, it is the end of the world that began with the industrial revolution and matured into the two (or three) world wars and the totalitarianisms — tyrannical or democratic — that came with them.

If the powers that govern the world deemed it necessary to resort to extreme measures and mechanisms such as biosecurity and health terror, established everywhere and without reservation and now threatening to go out of control, it is because they feared, on good evidence, that they had no other choice in order to survive. If people have accepted these despotic measures and unprecedented restrictions, put in place without warrant, it is not only from fear of the pandemic, but presumably because, more or less unconsciously, they recognized that the world in which they had been living could not continue — it was too unjust, too inhuman. Of course, governments are now preparing a world that will be even more inhuman and more unjust. In any case, it was somehow presaged from all sides that the world as we knew it could no longer continue. As with any obscure presentiment, there is a religious component. Health has replaced salvation; biological life has taken the place of eternal life. The Catholic Church, long accustomed to compromising itself to worldly demands, has more or less explicitly consented to the substitution.

We should not regret the passing of this world or be nostalgic for ideas of the human or divine that, like a face in the sand on the shores of history, are being erased by the relentless waves of time. But with equal determination, we should refuse the bare life, mute and without a face, and the religion of health that governments are proposing. Not awaiting either a new god or a new man, we should seek, here and now, and in the ruins that surround us, a humble, simpler form of life — one that isn’t a mirage, because we have memory and experience of it, even if adverse forces within us and outside us repel it in forgetfulness.

See also:

Illich on recovering the vernacular:

Oaxaca de Juárez, Mexico. Studied English literature in the PhD program at Johns Hopkins. Questions or comments? Reach me at ddean3000@gmail.com.