Theologico-Political Fragment: On Messianism as Method


Book landscape sculpture by Guy Laramée

by M. Munro

“World history is not the place for happiness,” Hegel writes. “Periods of happiness are empty pages (leere Blätter) in history.”[1] It’s a striking image—not least because it’s unclear how one’s to understand it. Empty pages are doubtless those on which nothing is written, nothing printed; and if history can be said to have “pages,” this suggests that history is grasped here, in its concept, and not excepting an elaborate theological heritage, on the model of “the book.”[2] It can therefore be asked: In what respect might (the book of) history be said to have “empty” pages, and how did those pages come to take their place “in” history? Where, in history, are history’s empty pages to be found?

“Radical hope,” as Jonathan Lear puts it, “anticipates a good for which those who have the hope as yet lack the appropriate concepts with which to understand it.”[3] One might be tempted to respond to Lear as Max Brod once did to Kafka: “Then there is hope outside this manifestation of the world that we know.” Kafka smiled, Brod recalled. “Oh, plenty of hope, an infinite amount of hope—but not for us.”[4] Kafka’s reply clarifies the stakes: Whatever “radical” hope is hope for, in other words, radical hope radically reconfigures “us”—and it does so, among “those who have the hope,” equally, since to “have” the hope is, equitably, and unequivocally, to lack concepts “appropriate” to the good this hope anticipates. So that while that for which one might hope may ultimately, in its full radicality, not be in any sense comprehensible or recognizable, in the face of it, save for that equality—and so for the first and perhaps most important of those “appropriate concepts with which to understand it”—neither are we.

Happiness is history’s endpapers in potentia, the last pages handled as we close the book on it.


[1] Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Introduction to the Philosophy of History, ed. and trans. Leo Rauch (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1988), 29. Fredric Jameson, The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1981), 102: “History is what hurts.”

[2] See, for example, Ernst Robert Curtius, “The Book as Symbol,” in European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2013), 302-348.

[3] Jonathan Lear, Radical Hope: Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastation (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2006), 103. Giorgio Agamben’s reading of the “absoluteness” of Bartleby’s enigmatic phrase could perhaps be said to articulate radical hope’s minimal consistency, its zero degree of intelligibility: “The final ‘to’ that ends Bartleby’s phrase has an anaphoric character, for it does not refer directly to a segment of reality but, rather, to a preceding term from which it draws its only meaning. But here it is as if this anaphora were absolutized to the point of losing all reference, now turning, so to speak, back toward the phrase itself—an absolute anaphora, spinning on itself, no longer referring either to a real object or to an anaphorized term: I would prefer not to prefer not to.” Giorgio Agamben, Potentialities: Collected Essays in Philosophy, ed. and trans. Daniel Heller-Roazen (Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 1999), 255. Author’s emphasis.

[4] Max Brod, quoted and translated in Dagmar Barnouw, Weimar Intellectuals and the Threat of Modernity (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1988), 187. “For centuries, political theorists have sought to explain power and its exercise via expositions of the duties and obligations, virtues and attributes of specific political figures. Machiavelli made the Prince famous (although he wasn’t alone in writing for or about princes). There are countless treatises on kings, monarchs, and tyrants. Political theorists have investigated the citizen and foreigner, neighbor and stranger, lord and vassal, friend and enemy. Their inquiries extend into the household: master and slave, husband and wife, parent and child, sister and brother. They include the workplace: schoolmaster and pupil, bourgeois and proletarian. Yet for all these figurations of power, its generation, exercise, and limits, there is no account of the comrade. The comrade does not appear.” Jodi Dean, “Four Theses on the Comrade,” eflux 86 (November 2017),

About the Author:

M. Munro is author of the open access chapbook, Philosophy for Militants (punctum books, 2017), to which this piece serves as a postscript.