Sitting in my hotel room in London, on my way home from attending "The Messianic Now: Politics, Religion, Philosophy" in Lancaster, England -- a great conference, with kudos to the organizers, Arthur Bradley and Paul Fletcher -- I feel compelled to testify to what I saw and what I failed to see today. The conference title is pretty much self-explanatory; lots of talk about Benjamin, Scholem, Derrida, etc., and, of course, Agamben, who was probably mentioned more than anyone else, and who was billed as the keynote speaker for the concluding session this afternoon. Based on things I had heard and my own, limited (failure of) communication with him, I had had my doubts all along that he was actually going to show, but was repeatedly told by the conference organizers that he was on board. Chatting with one of the organizers after I arrived, I learned that he had something of a personal relationship with Agamben -- had spent some time with him at an event in Germany -- and that Agamben had repeatedly assured him that he was going to come, and that he wanted to do a session with graduate students and an open public lecture on Friday in addition to today's conference lecture (all of which, I assume, had been arranged). In any event, yesterday I was told that Agamben had e-mailed as recently as Tuesday that he was coming (although, interestingly, he failed to respond to the specific request that he tell the organizers what flight he wanted to take from Venice). Needless to say, come today, the moment of truth, the ho nyn kairos, and, behold, oh ye of too much faith, he fails to show.
It's sorely tempting to turn this into an allegory of the competing virtues of a Levinasian ethics of responsibility and a Heideggerian ethos of dwelling contentedly in one's ownmost (one's ownmost, mind you, and no one else's!) possibilities, but that might make me sound resentful . . . . In fact, the much-discussed question of Agamben's heralded parousia -- will he or won't he? -- provided the perfect background music to this conference on messianism, and his ultimate failure to come may have spoken more eloquently to the contemporary relevance of messianism -- or academic messianism, anyway -- than anything he could have actually said . . . .