MARIE-JOSE MONDZAIN: I've been given the great honor and real pleasure, as we say, to introduce Susan Buck-Morss' conference. An eminent thinker, Susan Buck-Morss is internationally recognized as a specialist in critical philosophy, a distinguished scientist in the triple field of history, sociology, and aesthetics. I know that she would prefer to escape any restrictive identification of her competence. But I insist to acknowledge Susan Buck-Morss as a philosopher, in my opinion for two main reasons-- for her practice of counterobviousness, and her interest for all counterpower, for she never separates all her speculative philosophical work from her political commitment. This is philosophy.
SPEAKER 1: I'm going to take this.
SPEAKER 2: Let's do this.
MARIE-JOSE MONDZAIN: OK.
SPEAKER 2: [INAUDIBLE].
MARIE-JOSE MONDZAIN: Her work-- sorry, ca va? Her work demonstrates an interdisciplinary approach through a deep knowledge of continental philosophy, and particularly in the German field and its close links with the political and cultural history of all the countries of the Old World, as it used to be called. Her speculative acuity and immense scholarly knowledge as an historian and philosopher, I insist, far from reducing her to a simple academic posture, allowed her instead to deploy a lively and highly mobile thinking about our most recent history and our most burning news.
Susan Buck-Morss holds an MA degree from Yale University, studied in the Frankfurt Institute for Social Research, and received her PhD in European intellectual history from Georgetown University. Her training is in German critical philosophy and the Frankfurt School. Her work crosses many disciplines, including art history, architecture, comparative literature, cultural studies, German studies, philosophy, history, visual culture.
Susan Buck-Morss, who has been teaching for almost 40 years, is now a distinguished professor of political philosophy at the CUNY Graduate Center, where she is a core faculty member of the Committee of Globalization and Social Change. She's also a professor emeritus in the Department of Government, Cornell University. She has been a scholar in residence and a fellow at several institutions, including the Pratt Institute, and has taught at numerous universities in the States and abroad, including Cornell University, Florida Atlantic University, Rutgers University, the Russian State University in Moscow, and Jan Van Eyck Academy of Art in Maastrict. She has received a number of grants and awards for her work, including a Fulbright Fellowship, Getty Scholar Grant, Guggenheim Fellowship, two [INAUDIBLE] grants from Berlin, Frankfurt, as well as the prestigious John and Catherine MacArthur Foundation Fellowship.
She lectures worldwide, is on the editorial board of several journals. Among her publications are "Hegel in Haiti," 2009, "Thinking Past Terror-- Islamism and Critical Theory on the Left," 2003, "Dreamworld and Catastrophy-- the Passing of Mass Utopia at East and West," 2002, "The Dialectics of Seeing-- Walter Benjamin and the Arcades Project," first published in 1989, "The Origin of Negative Dialectics-- Theodor Adorno, Walter Benjamin, and the Frankfurt Institute 1979. She has edited a volume of Adorno's writing, Theodor Adorno, [SPEAKING GERMAN].
Her work, translated in many languages-- German, Japanese, Spanish, Serbo-Croatian, Korean, Portuguese, French now-- is continuously reinforced by the reading of modern and contemporary writers and philosophers, and enriched by the social history of revolutions, their utopias, and also their failures. Her reading of Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Benjamin, Adorno, also includes Freud, Derrida, [INAUDIBLE], Foucault, and interacts with the latest thinkers, such as Piet [INAUDIBLE] Zizek, Said, and [INAUDIBLE].
Without going into the details of her many books, I choose to situate Susan Buck-Morss in our current philosophical and wider cultural landscape to emphasize the potential importance for us all of the prominent figure of a woman philosopher. In fact, I can personally attest that in the theoretical field and criticism, the role of women has long been obscured. Either [INAUDIBLE] by Catherine Malabou and recently rediscovered by Professor Suliman Bashir. About the forgotten one of history, the colonization of male philosophy is a task that is far from complete. The place of women in this field is one that we must still defend with the utmost vigilance. So it is as much as a woman, then, as a philosopher, that I greet this scholarly and rigorous thinker, but also her militant work that clearly imposes her speculative authority while facing the wall of great men, as Hannah Arendt previously has to do, but not without a fight.
Her curiosity seems insatiable and combines an absolute rigor with a turbulent sensibility which is often a prevalent feature of female thinkers. Her philosophical and political commitment is, of course, not a naive activism, but a demanding and vigorous position. She has put all the energy of her research into reflecting about emancipation, including not only feminism, but anti-colonialism and the constant criticism of the damaging consequences of neoliberalism and globalization of the history of thought, creation, and freedom.
I want to say that the particular interest of Susan Buck-Morss for the entire field of visual culture in relation to philosophy has brought me considerably closer to her thinking, and I am extremely grateful for the reading she had the opportunity to do of my own work, and for the renewed opening she had given to my own research. We European and especially French scholars are constantly amazed by the prodigious philosophical and literary culture of the great American intellectuals. Their research opened up the possibility of a renewed view of our own world and of our reading of the text of the European tradition. Europe is aging very badly right now, and I strongly bear witness to this rejuvenation of our intellectual habits brought by listening and dialogue with American thinkers like Susan Buck-Morss.
Too often, the American model of society is seen in Europe as dominant, and also as a cause of the depletion of political imagination, and often [INAUDIBLE] power and the law of the market and globalization in all exchanges. On the contrary, in terms of vitality, I really feel that today, there is often more inventive and transformative energy within American thought than in our own continent. The work of Susan Buck-Morss is the most vibrant and active proof of my feeling, because she questions ceaselessly, and with an inexhaustible curiosity, the philosophical text and visual works in order to find a new axis for questioning a possibility of movement of thought and changing the world.
Philosophy cannot be content with contemplating itself and its own history and attitude, mocked by Jean-Luc Godard as a creator when he derides the professional of the profession. The reading of Susan Buck-Morss' works reminds us that the most fruitful ferment of philosophy comes from its outside, and from its encounter with the reality of society that expects in turn its transformation of the gaze, allowing our hope for a transformation of the world. With this hope, let us listen to the last proposition of Susan Buck-Morss about her last counter-obviousness concerning, in 2015, the untraceable year one.
SUSAN BUCK-MORSS: Thank you so much, Marie-Jose Mondzain, who has inspired me, too, as you have heard. And just thanks to Jent for this fantastic summer. It's really been terrific for those of us who have participated.
Thank you all for coming. And I'm going to give you some of an introduction to a new book. I call it a book now. It took me five years to call it a book. And it's not written yet. But parts of it are written, and I'm giving you some of it today.
And I know I don't have my light on. Yes. Is that good? Can you hear? Yeah. Fine.
So I'm going to give you hopefully something that hangs together. But it's very difficult, because I have written the introduction to the book, and yet the introduction doesn't tell you what the book is about. So it's very difficult to give you a taste of what this is. I will refer to it as this book, but recognizing the fact that this book does not exist.
At the beginning, I will call it just this project. This project was conceived within years of extreme violence in the Middle East that ushered in the 21st century and show no sign of abating. The Arab-Israeli Western conflict has morphed into a religiously inflected divide between three closely related monotheistic beliefs which trace their ancient origins to the same part of the world. Repercussions of this local conflict are now global.
This is not a book about the crisis. Rather, it searches for a way to remember the past against the exclusionary ulterities that dominate the discourse today. Its focus is on the first century, when there was no clear divide between Christian and Jew, no orthodox account of either belief, and when Islam was still distant on the temporal horizon. The historical assemblages presented do not reveal the roots of the present crisis. Rather, they proceed from the premise that the political stalemate in the Middle East finds its correlate in the concepts and categories we use to describe it, and that liberation from these constraints is a politically useful task.
The experiential matrix that we call globalization is affecting the very structures of knowledge. An educated public cannot afford to have its knowledge bound at the end of a nation, or language, or religion, or civilization. The old sorting mechanisms that divide human experience into disciplines of art, literature, and philosophy, based on sequential narratives of national and cultural differences, do not capture the interrelatedness of people and events today. Perhaps they never did.
Three givens of knowledge basic to the whole project of modernity and entangled inextricably with each other have been undermined. One is the belief that history is necessarily progress, and modernity is the ultimate stage in that progression. A second is the presumption that historical developments proceed in a sequence of stages whereby the West is at the apex of history's advance, and its development provides the prototype for the world. The third, particularly relevant to this project, is the understanding that historical progress is one with the process of secularization.
The resurgence of religion in politics has come as a surprise. In the 20th century, commitment to modernization that was future minded, focused on economic development, and clearly secular in orientation was a conceptual frame shared across the great divide of the Cold War. This deadly standoff was over the means, but not the desired goal.
Today, however, when Middle East peace talks are at a stalemate, secular modernity cannot be presumed as a shared discourse across conflicting parties. The relationship between Judaism and Zionism is contentious. Christianity matters as a political category, no matter how secular the West purports to be. And within a post-colonial context, Islamic thought is experiencing a political revival with global reach. A two-state solution to the Israeli occupation of Palestine that once seemed plausible, perhaps inevitable within the modern nation-state paradigm, now seems remote, even anachronistic-- as anachronistic as modernity itself.
Heaps of data of human history exist. The internet has exploded social barriers of access to knowledge of the past. It sets in motion an awareness of the inadequacies of modernity's concepts, contents, and goals. But the work of liberation from intellectual captivity still needs doing. No easy rupture will provide escape. This is slow work. It takes a chisel, not a bomb.
The first century-- already we have problems. This is no innocent nomenclature. It marks a claim to ownership of time. For whom was it the first century? Presumably for the Christian West, and yet even that is not a given, as no Christian called this the first century for at least 500 years, and it took until the eighth to the 11th centuries for the form of dating anno domini, year of the Lord, to catch on, finally sparing chronologists the need constantly to revise their own positioning within the prescribed 6,000 years of biblical time. Because of miscalculations along the way, even Jesus was born, it seems, as early as seven years before his birthday, or perhaps six years after. And he, of all alive them, would never have considered making this claim on time his own.
There was a kind of year one, indeed many of them, during this period, as the form of dating that counted the years of rule of the Roman emperors. Our first century's year one was the 28th year of rule of Rome's first emperor, Caesar Augustus, who held the position for 40 years until his death in 14 CE. His years of rule were publicly noted, but not in the straightforward sense, 1 through 40 of his years in power, as has been done earlier and elsewhere on lists of kings. Rather, the time was noted in terms of the number of times of renewal of the multiple titles that the emperor held as tribune, an office renewed annually, consul, a two-year, two-person term and not always held by the emperor, imperator, emperor, a title renewed with significant military victories, and princeps, first citizen, Augustus's name for himself.
No standardized chronology emerges from these multiple renewable titles that varied in lengths of office. They appear sometimes, but not always, on the minted coins, sometimes but not always followed by the number of times an emperor held them. This coin of Augustus has a reference to the consulship, C-O-S, but no date.
But even when coins indicate the number of terms held, for us these are not easily legible. Dating of the coins by the numbers on the coins is incredibly difficult. Transcription tables are required.
Year one returns as the date the first-- pardon me. Year one returns to date the first year of various title holdings of his successors, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, and Nero, all of whom minted coins with mobile dating systems claiming their personal ownership of time. Then it gets complicated.
68-69 CE was a year of civil war fought over imperial succession that followed the assassination of Nero, last of the Julio-Claudian line. During that year one, four emperors claimed power. All of them issued coins with different strategies of identification.
Galba, for example, changed systems, first issuing coins continuing the dates of the Claudio-Augustan emperors, and then switching to his own year one. Otho's rule was so brief, a matter of months, that no reckoning of time appears on the coins. Vitellius, the third emperor, was captured and killed by Vespasian, who, returning from military victories against Jewish rebels in Galilee, established a second, the Flavian, imperial line, through his two sons, Titus and Domitian.
Nerva and his adopted son, Trajan, rounded up out the first century of first years of imperial rule. That makes an even dozen. However, with regard to the coins, it was victories of war, concern for one's heirs or promises of peace throughout the provinces that were more significant concerns than mere chronology. Events are celebrated, titles appear, but how these relate to sequential dates cannot be determined.
Now, the lesson to be learned from such convoluted numismatic details is this-- not this slide, particularly, but I have to push it ahead. The very proliferation of number series indicates that the inhabitants of what we call the first century had a very different idea of how time mattered than we do today. We couldn't have told time in our chronological way, and they would not have cared. I'm having a great difficulty-- let me just get a chair.
But numismatic evidence in the first century reveals a different way of counting time that challenged the imperial monopoly. Two years before the year of four emperors, in 66 CE, Jews in the province of Galilee initiated a different kind of civil war. Their supporters captured Jerusalem and the Jewish temple, and for four years, until their devastating defeat by Titus and the destruction of the temple, this new polity issued coins dated with the years-- with each year of independence, one through four, suggesting not a new imperial reign, but a new historical era, which within the Jewish context had a specifically messianic significance.
The gesture re-emerges in the French Revolution. Dating 1789 as year one appeared on coins already in 1791, the last year of the reign of King Louis XVI, while in 1792, the first year of his deposition, the French National Assembly officially inaugurated that year as year one of a new revolutionary calendar, which appears on this coin as year five of the republic. This enactment of time's meaning is seen as prototypical of Western modernity's revolutionary time, marking an event's significance as a temporal rupture in history.
Transcendent significance conflating political history with new beginnings occurred as well, however, on Muslim coins that relatively soon began to include dates from the year of the Hegira, 622 CE, at a time when Christians still conceived of time in biblical terms. Indeed, as Garth Fowden notes, the initial concept of Hegira dating had not a little to do with the perceived shortcomings of Christianity, whereas Christians taking note of Islam's elegant solution were in turn disposed to accept a proposal for anno domini dating as an alternative, although at widely varying times within the Greco-Latin world.
Hence, if there is continuity in this idea of a world historical event as itself a rupture in chronological time, then it demands that we trace its development across the histories of Judaism, Islam, and the modern West. Considered independently as times belonging to people who do not belong together, this analogous gesture across distances of time and differences in identities cannot be seen.
For us, the overarching abstract chronology of Western time that one theorist, Walter Benjamin, has famously referred to as homogeneous, empty time, is the dominant form. For us here is an inclusive category. The Muslim today who can translate readily from hegemonic Western century dating to the Hegira system is increasingly rare. Still, we can appreciate the fact that Islam's intelligent system of dating forward, finally mimicked by the Christians, allowed them to escape the threat of running out of days before the end of days and needing constantly to move the temporal goalposts further forward due to the lack of punctuality of the end's appearance.
Now, this book sustains the hegemonic mode of Western dating while mitigating the universal Christian claims of anno domini by the more modest and scholarly preferred delineation of CE, which doesn't mean Christian era. It means common era. With a nod to the world's indebtedness to Islam for the inventive institution of a rational chronological system, and also to the fact that CE dating adopts the use of the Hindu Arabic decimal system, the spread of which allowed the medieval West to abandon the cumbersome Roman and Greek numbering system by letters, and in full recognition that indigenous dating systems have been multiple in the world, we affirm that no pure dating exists. All are arbitrary, with no universal status but convenience, the fact that in our time, this system is commonly shared.
Arguably, all are indebted to one another. We cannot separate out the strands of our shared past. Nor should we try. Yielding to a common chronology is a technological necessity demanded by global systems today. However, the production of shared culture is another matter.
The task of historical research in our time is precisely to create a countermovement to the hegemonic drive of global demands. It requires not a reactionary shoring up of differences, but a radical return to a diasporic consciousness that never had a home, that continuously recedes, withdraws, and is in danger of leaving our sight without active intervention. Diasporic communality is evanescent, a form of [? choros, ?] difficult to catch, and yet visible, it seems to me, in the cosmopolitan lightness that lies embedded in this image. It is the folio page from a book of translation which the experimental scholar of images Shulamit Bruckstein Coruh found in a Jerusalem bookstore. She placed its image in what she called the epistemic architecture of an exhibition she curated at the Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin in 2010-11.
The book is the Holy Koran, newly edited and translated from Arabic into German by Lazarus Goldschmidt, who also translated the Babylonian Talmud into German. It was published in Berlin in 1916-- that is, in the second year of the First World War, a conflict that was global in scope. The right folio page introduces the Holy Koran. The left describes the book's printing.
Striking is the cosmopolitan breadth that infuses both words and dating with a diasporic accuracy that defies the extreme nationalism of the time. Shulamit translates-- el Koran, that is, the reading, the revelation of Mohammad Ibn Abdallah, the prophet of God, laid down in writing by Abdel Kaaba Abdallah Abu Bakr, translated by Lazarus Goldschmidt in the year of the flight, that is the Hegira, 1334, or in the year of the coming flesh, that is Christian, 1916. This sharing of time across every line of difference suggests a shift in the perspectival axis along which differences are charted, and with it a corresponding shift in the ethical orientation of knowledge production that no longer partitions the histories of separate peoples, treating the past like a child that needs the rescue of King Solomon's protective wisdom.
And now I'm going to show you one of my favorite quotations. "Those who study and teach the history of the ancient world suffer from a great disadvantage, which we find difficult to admit even to ourselves. In a perfectly literal sense, we do not know what we are talking about." He's a fine, fine historian.
It is possible to colonize time as well as space. This happens when particular collectives claim a specific vertical slice of history, set upon it a flag of national or religious belonging, and control the production and distribution of the meanings that are mined within it. This clearly has been the fate of the first century. Contemporary anthropology has led the way in exposing the violent distortions in knowledge that colonization of space entails. Their critique applies as well to colonized time.
In exploring the distant past, we are foreigners entering alien territory. The natives share understandings not accessible to us without translation. Even if linguistically we know their words, we cannot assume proprietary rights over the meanings they convey. Even if we can trace the erratic path by which they have been rescued throughout time and come down to us, the privatizing laws of inheritance do not apply.
Let us consider the Res Gestae Divi Augusti, Deeds and Accomplishments by the God Augustus. It is the life testimony of the first Roman emperor, describing in the first person and in great detail the events and accomplishments, indeed the firsts-- that's his favorite word-- achieved by Augustus during his rule. Augustus speaks explicitly of the years of his rule as, quote, "my era." Time prolongs to him, although as with the minted coins, there is a lack of concern for chronological sequence so that the political narrative of the events listed is extremely difficult for modern historians to reconstruct.
The Res Gestae was written by the emperor in the years before his death, and was intended for public display. The divine title Divi Augusti was bestowed upon him posthumously by the Roman Senate. This autobiographical description of the emperor's rise to power and virtuous actions, including military conquests, financial largess, festivals, games, public building projects, and the bringing of peace and prosperity, is one of the most famous documents of Roman imperial history.
But is the document known? Certainly it is seen-- not the original, an inscription set in bronze at the site of Augustus's mausoleum shortly after his death and has long since completely disappeared, but a 20th-century copy erected close by, carved in bronze on a Travertine wall that marks a compulsory stop on the pilgrim's path of today's tourists in Rome. It was constructed, the wall, under Mussolini in 1938 as part of a year-long Augustan exhibition of Romanita, Romanness, in celebration of the bimillennial of Augustus's birth, and it served as a podium for a glass pavilion to house a second Augustan monument, the recently excavated Ara Pacis, the altar of piece, that was visited by Hitler during the festival.
The pavilion was finished quickly and cheaply to meet publicity deadlines, as the image, not the object, was supreme. Today, the Res Gestae wall provides the foundation of an important new museum built to replace the glass pavilion. Designed by the architect Richard Meier, it opened in 2009, on April 21, which was the customary birthdate of the city of Rome.
Meier's construction is a classic example of 1980s international style, but it was rent with controversy from its inception. What, the traditionalists asked, was a modern construction doing in the city's historic center, and why was a non-Italian architect commissioned to build it? One critic compared it to a Texas gas station.
While visually integrated into the natural site, historically the monument's high modern profile is noncontextual in the extreme. It seems at home anywhere precisely because it obliterates the specific historical context of any particular place. Now, the abstract cosmopolitanism of Meier's contemporary architecture, specifically its global at-homeness, might suggest that the way to avoid such misplaced chauvinism as Mussolini's is to ignore history altogether. What better way to found a year one of a new global order than simply to erase the past?
This method is frequently attempted. Alas, it does not work, as historical amnesia builds the future on a faulty foundation. Moreover, it cannot even see that this is happening. Indeed, it can be argued that the surest way to intensify the political dangers of a mythic construction of the past is to foster ignorance of the historical truth about it.
If the original Roman tablets of the Res Gestae had disappeared without a trace, if the Latin primary sources provide only general references to the text, how is it that we know the exact wording? A largely intact copy of the Res Gestae has been preserved. It was carved into a temple wall in the ancient city of Ancyra, today's Ankara, the city chosen to be capital of the modern Turkish nation by its founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. The wall was made fully visible as part of Aristotle's program of glorifying the country's ancient cultural heritage.
Within a frame of national histories, this double appropriation by both Italy and modern Turkey appears as a contradiction. But if we focus on the materially persistent physical object itself, an entirely different history opens up before us. Here, very briefly, are the salient facts. The original founder of Ancyra was Augustus himself. The city of Ancyra, capital of the Roman province of Galatia, was colonized by veterans of Augustus's war in 25 BCE, and its public buildings were constructed by the enslaved prisoners of that war.
Two other copies of the Res Gestae have been discovered in Galatian cities, in fragments-- one at Antioch, near [? Besidia, ?] and then a third in Apollonia, today's Uluborlu. In 2012, a further fragment of a copy of the Res Gestae was identified in the city of Sardis in the neighboring province of Asia. These appear to be the only copies. Nowhere else in the Roman Empire have even partial inscriptions of the Res Gestae been found, indicating that this initiative came from local interests in cities practicing the emperor cult in the Roman provinces of Galatia and Asia in today's Turkey, not imperial decree.
Augustus was worshipped in the East as a god in his lifetime, a practice not sanctioned in Rome itself. The Ancyra temple predates the Res Gestae inscribed on it by several decades, and was constructed as a place of worship of the living god Augustus and the goddess Roma, the city that bore him. The temple exemplifies the emperor cult that was broadly extant not only in Galatia, but in the adjacent coastal province of Asia to the west.
The Res Gestae inscribed on the fragments that I've shown you are in Greek. I don't know if you notice that. But even in the case of the Ankara one, you have Latin on one side and Greek on the other. Moreover, the Greek translation is Koine. The word Koine in Greek means common. This was not the Attic Greek of Athenian philosophy, Plato and Aristotle, or the Ionic Greek of Homer, The Iliad and The Odyssey, but rather the dialect of Greek that spread across the East through trading networks now thought to have preceded and thereby facilitated the conquests of Alexander the Great, whose empire adopted this shared dialect as its own. By the time of Augustus, Koine, the common language, had become the lingua franca of the civilized world.
The central role of Koine, the common language, in multiple histories-- Jewish, Christian, Roman, and Greek-- is an indication of the entanglements of the past which this book is concerned. It takes its lead from the geographical shift in recent scholarship from Western Europe to the Middle East in the burgeoning field of what is called late antiquity that stretches from the empire of pagan Rome to that of Christian Byzantium, and continues on to the political rise of Islam. In this period, the complexities of cultural and religious intertwinings simply cannot be captured by the categories and concepts of history as traditionally told in the West.
Exemplary of this new orientation is Alison Cooley's recent edition of the Res Gestae from 2006. She writes that this broad inclusion of geography shifts things. Unlike the historical forgetting that is typical of Robert Meier's international style, her scholarship is deeply and broadly rooted in the details of material history, and therefore radically cosmopolitan. Here you see that she has juxtaposed the Latin and Greek versions of the Res Gestae from the Ankara temple on facing pages so that her book physically attests to the double nature of Roman imperial rule, its simultaneous Greek and Roman status providing a visual balance between East and West, Ankara and Rome, rather than a nationalist-centered story on either side.
Now, it is not that Rome is unoriginal compared to the Hellenic styles that it adopts. In the first century, which, despite the rupture of civil war, is coherent as the first era of the Pax Romana, you cannot pull apart Hellenic history from Roman history, certainly not along national lines. The reason we have such a good copy of the Res Gestae in Ankara is the fact that the building on the wall on which it was inscribed was first a pagan temple to Augustus, then, in the sixth century, a church, and then the site of a 15th-century mosque. In the history of the temple survival, all of these claims of belonging must be included. The preservation has been ensured precisely by the cultural entanglements with which this book is concerned.
A focus on the material historical object demonstrates not only the arbitrariness of exclusionary claims to ownership of history, but also the necessity of shared work among scholars if accurate knowledge of our past is to be achieved. Global humanity deserves a common history, but of what kind? There is a general awareness that a different pedagogy is called for. This book is written as a contribution to its development.
Here is the wager-- if the first century, one of the most divisive of historical terrains, can be claimed as common ground, rather than the origin of deeply entrenched differences, then its very remoteness has the potential to lift modernity's self-understanding off its foundational constraints, allowing a repositioning of intellectual orientation. And such a reorientation is necessary. Modernity does not have the power to transcend entrenched differences on the basis of its own resources, as the ways it describes differences are modernity's own inventions. The names of recent theoretical initiatives-- postmodern, postcolonial, postsecular-- are indicative of the inadequacy of this attempt.
It may not be an exaggeration to say that the entire history of 20th century philosophy, mainly but not only in the West, can be brought in as evidence both to the attempt to save modernity through its own means, as well as the frequency of its failure. Some of the best philosophers were aware of the situation. Theodor W. Adorno, on repeated occasions, compared the modern philosopher's predicament to the marvelous tale of the Baron von Munchausen, who, having fallen into a swamp with his horse, tried pulling himself out by his own pigtail. By one's own bootstraps is the English equivalent.
Now, this did not stop Adorno from trying, committed, as he was, to the poet Rimbaud's motto, [SPEAKING FRENCH]. But it also accounts for the fact that Adorno's own philosophy finds its contemporary effects far more limited than, for example, the ubiquitous Martin Heidegger, who showed no compunction when he moved about in time as if all of it belonged to him, as if all that was required was the reading of a historical text, a book ready at hand enabling his personal encounter with Plato or Duns Scotus or Lao-Tze, from which he could appropriate what he needed without any sense of temporal or cultural barriers to entry, or any awareness of not being at home.
The approach taken here is antithetical to this form of cat burglary. The deeper one immerses oneself in first-century material, the more respectful one becomes of its integral complexities, and the more critical of such methodological presentism that, to extend the [INAUDIBLE] metaphor, merely swims on the surface of time.
Now, it need be no secret that my lifelong relationship to the thinking of Walter Benjamin is behind this endeavor, specifically his insistence that historical objects have a metaphysical import that can be brought to legibility in the present. Benjamin described this as the task of the historical materialist. His friend Adorno warned him that such a project was situated, quote, "at the crossroads of theology and positivism," and he warned, "this place is bewitched."
I make no claim of succeeding where Benjamin failed, or even trying to accomplish what he intended. I'm a very different sort of thinker, not so genial, and not so lonely. My research, more plebeian, less esoteric, is in and about a very different historical moment than those that concerned him. But I have long considered the precarious positioning that he took, and that Adorno shunned, to be objectively compelling.
I make no apologies for opening up this project to its dangers. The question is, can the discovery of historical facts transform philosophical presuppositions, and can it do so in a way that rescuing the past provides redemption from the dangers that confront us in the present, not merely another narrative of the past based on one's own prejudices and desires?
The collective addressed in this project is generational. Just as those who lived in the first century experienced a reality in common that all of us do not share, we who are alive today have our own time in common. In the context of the stance taken in this book, every one of us is a descendant of survivors who have witnessed, suffered, and perpetrated history's horrors. We have this in common. One way or another, our mothers, while bearing us, escaped extinction, giving to each of us a year one. And that is no small legacy to share.
Now, the final section of this is dedicated to my colleagues at SCT, whose lectures have evoked it, and to Jent de Vries, who saw the potential of bringing us all together. It asked the question, can history itself be a way of doing philosophy, if history writing is understood as a task of translation? So here in this section, I attempt to translate what I have been saying thus far into the Koine, the common discourse, that we, students and faculty at SCT, from the most diverse backgrounds and geographical locations, have established here.
I begin with a quotation from a text that we share, Walter Benjamin's 1921 text, "The Task of a Translator." "If the sentence is the wall before the language of the original, literalness is the arcade." In the writing of history, the correlate to literalness is the factual detail, whereas the wall is the established narrative that the present tells about itself. The detail that counts is the one that arrests the reader because it does not fit the established narrative.
It will be evident that recognizing the marginal, the overlooked, the inappropriate detail, demands an utmost respect for expertise. The specialist is indispensable. Antiquarians have an instinct to trace such details down. Disciplinary adherence thus demarcates the ground of knowledge, but not the gaze.
There is the image, what you see here. There is the word, the caption by Benjamin. But there is also the referent, the Passage Vivienne, the Paris arcade itself, indexically indicated by this image and named by the word, essentially a parent object perceived by a particular human being at a historically transient moment in time. At issue here is not historical contexualization as a relativizing epistemological move that is said by philosophers to rob the experience of truth, as if transiency and truth were philosophically incompatible. Rather, this material referent is indispensable for establishing the [SPEAKING GERMAN], the literalness, of historical translation, and hence, its truth.
In the relationship between word and referent, indeed as Adorno insisted, it is the referent, the perceived object, that takes priority. Adorno's words for this are [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH], the priority of the object. And he is fully aware that the term resonates in the grammar of his own time with the materialist metaphysics of Karl Marx.
But this also means that to speak of objects, and more, to speak afterwards about what is written of objects, is to deal with ghosts, icons, avatars, monuments, fetishes, afterimages, and not the material experience itself. If the word or the image is the ghostly residue of a transitory nature that truly disappears, how is philosophy to acknowledge this severe limitation to its capacity to tell the truth?
We are reminded here of Bashir's formulation, quote, "translation is the impossible task that, in the end, always succeeds. Translation is impossible, but we do it anyway." Bashir considers the task of the translator as itself philosophy, and he tells us, quote, "philosophy can only be universal if it moves across differences." And it is distance that constitutes philosophy. So I am asking, what happens when the task of the historian is likewise understood as itself philosophy, a task of translation that crosses the chasm between a distant past and the present without exclusionary appropriation by the present, without present categories of knowledge reigning supreme as a form of temporal colonization, but rather in a way that changes knowledge on both sides of the temporal divide?
Consider Marx on the ancients. In asking why differences in modes of production and, correspondingly, forms of consciousness, do not lead to historical solipsism, but rather allow for appreciation of another era, he turns to the ancient Greeks, whose art continues to be admired as a model. He writes, "The charm of their," that is the Greek, "art for us does not conflict with the immature stage of the society in which it originated. On the contrary, that charm is a consequence of this and is rather inseparably linked with the fact that the immature social conditions which gave rise, and which alone could give rise to this art, can never recur again."
Now contrast Marx's approach with Walter Benjamin's very different orientation on the connection between phylogeny and ontogeny. The 1933 text, "The Mimetic Faculty"-- "Children's play," Benjamin observes, "preserves a mimetic capacity to perceive the world analogically that extends to nonsensuous similarities." He writes, quote, "the child plays at being not only a shopkeeper or a teacher, but also a windmill or a train." He continues, "it must be borne in mind that neither mimetic powers nor mimetic objects remain the same in the course of thousands of years. Rather, we must suppose that the gift of producing similarities, for example in dances, whose oldest function this is, and therefore also the gift of recognizing them, that these gifts have changed with historical development. The direction of this change seems determined by the increasing decay of the mimetic faculty, for clearly the perceptual world, the Merkwelt, of modern man, contains only minimal residues of the magical correspondences and analogies that were familiar to ancient peoples."
The implication, of course, is that what Marx can only see as the childishness of the ancients is due to the still childish stage in the development of Marx's own mimetic capacities. Benjamin believed that the training of children's innate mimetic capacity, and with it, and this is important, their capacity for creative political action, had been stunted by the bourgeois education of his generation. In the 1933 text, Benjamin considers, quote, "whether we are concerned with the decay of this faculty or with its transformation." And surely he hoped for the latter. He believed, as Eli Friedlander has shown us in a wonderfully literal sense, that the silent cinema of Charlie Chaplin did provide for the masses a new kind of schooling in the mimetic faculty.
If our understanding of a distant past demands a mimetic capacity to recognize similarities across the temporal expanse, the method is uniquely relevant to the first century, for if we are searching for a way to tie together the most diverse forms of the surviving sources, then the fact that their creators were extremely sophisticated in the development of their mimetic faculty means that studying them might provide schooling for us that transforms this capacity in ourselves. When applied to the writers of the first century that are my concern, the capacity to present thought analogically unites figures as seemingly diverse as Flavius Josephus, the historian, and Philo of Alexandria, who worked with the Septuagint and worked as a kind of interpreter or translator between Judaism and Platonic philosophy, and John of Patmos.
I chose these three figures to develop in the project because they form, one, the more marginalized one, of a pair of thinkers, the other of which is more accessible to present discourse-- so Josephus, not Tacitus, the more acceptable historian, Philo, not Seneca, favored by philosophers today, John of Patmos, writer of the Book of Revelations, not Saint Paul, the darling of Badiou, Zizek, [INAUDIBLE] and others.
Now, if we apply to these three our privileged category of identity, well, they were all Jews. But Philo and John were appropriated by Christians, and no one likes to claim Josephus as their own. The ways they make advocates of identity categories uncomfortable, their diverse ways of being Jewish, begins to melt away the edges of divisive categorical distinctions. Doubling, pairing, twinning-- such analogical constructs were fundamental to ancient thought. They become key to the method of philosophical history as translation, allowing us to present the past by following via lateral translation this process of twinning across fields now separated by vertical divisions into separate histories organized by categories of difference-- Christian, Jewish, Hellenic, Roman.
Twins are not identical, but different-- Moses and Aaron, Romulus and Remus, Cain and Abel. They are always potentially in conflict. Romulus, who founds Rome, kills his brother. Cain kills Abel. It is here that I would want to refer to Nicole Loraux's work La City Divisee, a book already introduced to our shared discussion by Marie-Jose Mondzain. As Mondzain has told us, Loraux presses the double meaning of the word stasis as both a state of equilibrium, hence inactivity, but also civil war. Loraux moves with this linguistic detail of paired meaning to the unstable relation of fictive brothers, which provides the key to Greek political theory, where harmony among contesting forces, as opposed to the uniformity achieved through tyrannical conformity, was the goal of political life.
This conception of politics provides for me a way of explaining Josephus' choice in his eyewitness history of the Jewish war, Bellum Judaicum, to translate bellum, war, not into polemos, the Greek word for war, but into stasis, civil war, a detail the significance of which I will not pursue here, but I find important. Indeed, I can only gesture to the historical details relevant to doubling, pairing, and twinning, that will matter in year one.
Consider the legitimacy of heirs to the Roman imperial title. Augustus used the imagery of twinning to provide a legitimacy for his designated heirs, his adopted sons, the brothers Lucius and Gaius, neither of whom survived, but they were immoralized in stone on the Ara Pacis as twin offspring of the goddess Earth. And they appear as boys on a relief of the Sebasteion in the first century city of Aphrodisias in the Roman province of Asia, now Turkey. Historians tell us that Lucius and Gaius were also paired with Pollux and Castor, the twin brothers that show in the sky as the constellation Gemini, and in the Hebrew zodiac, Gemini is the twin given to Moses of both the written Torah and the oral Torah. Moses receives the Torah in the third month under the zodiac sign of Gemini, of the twins.
The mimetic faculty could develop to high levels of sophistication. Aristotle, in the Poetics, praises metaphor, the capacity to discover likeness of things that are different, as the most important device to be skilled in, whereas Plato considered likeness, [INAUDIBLE], to be the closest we can come to the world of forms, and he considered myth, when appropriate, to be like the truth. The mimetic faculty, the capacity to discover correspondences, was not only a literary form, then, of myth in Ovid's Metamorphoses, or of biography in Plutarch's Parallel Lives, but also fundamental to the conceptualization of relations of power, political organization, social reciprocity, interurban relations, and the harmony of the spheres.
Science in the Roman Empire was based on similitude, reciprocity, correspondences, the principle of like causes like, and not exclusionary divisions into categories or dialectical oppositions. Causality, for Aristotle, was relational, not sequential. This is a major difference between the table of categories of Aristotle and those of Kant.
And finally, Koine, the lingua franca of the era, was for the vast majority of those who wrote it a second language. This would have made them eligible to enter Bashir's university of the future, with its motto that all who enter here speak more than one language. This bilingual practice was fundamental to paideia, education, that throughout the civilized world was conducted in Koine.
The Hebrew Pentateuch, translated as the Septuagint, the New Testament gospels, the Book of Revelation, as well as Augustus' Res Gestae, were all written in Koine. It unites the work of Josephus, Philo, and John. Nero also spoke Koine, and even addressed the Roman Senate in this tongue. All thereby made a claim to universal validity, but universality meant common, not the same.
The bilinguality of Koine was an ontology of doubling. Universality entailed pairing, but never, not even among Roman rulers, the absorption of one side of the pair within another, its subsumption to the point of oblivion. Koine thus produced a zone of commonality that maintained spaces within the unity.
So let me close with this last quotation, which could hang as a motto over the entire project. It is dedicated to Sari Nusseibeh, who, among all of us, can read it. "People we created you all from a single man and a single woman and made you into races and tribes so that you should know one another." Thank you for your patience.
AUDIENCE: It got me thinking that just because a reality is shared doesn't mean that it's an egalitarian reality, so that shared actually may be working in two ways worth distinguishing, and that I [INAUDIBLE] survived the first century together [INAUDIBLE]. And I feel less strongly the claim of the shared first century on the present Palestinian-Israeli conflict than I do, for example, the claim of a shared 1940s--
SUSAN BUCK-MORSS: The 19--
AUDIENCE: '40s, in the period immediately before the state of Israel. But I do think your notion of a year one is still very useful in that it does invite us to think about what's before the year one. What predates the zero in that sense?
SUSAN BUCK-MORSS: So the question is about equality.
AUDIENCE: About shared--
SUSAN BUCK-MORSS: Sharing or commonality, right. Exactly.
AUDIENCE: Reality is shared by definition.
SUSAN BUCK-MORSS: Right. Right. Well, you know, equality-- we haven't been able to, in the West, and we'll include the Soviet Union in the West, figure out what equality means. So I'm not saying that's not a worthwhile project. But I'm saying that to say that this is our highest thing, to impose equality on the rest of the world, when we don't even do it, even though we have these supposed definitions for it, is problematic.
So yes, certainly when you go back, the sharedness is a commonality among elites. There's no doubt about that. There's no doubt about that. And if I thought that the way that the first century is normally mined foR-- when did the Jews separate from the Christians, that's the big question. When did Christians become Christians? When did Jews, you know-- when did they get vulnerable to anti-Semitism, or were the Jews the first anti-Christians-- this is the burning issue of most of the work in history on the first century. And in the process, these vertical histories are written.
And even wonderful, wonderful historians like Elaine Pagels, whose works I use, she says totally innocently, I am writing the history of Christianity. Well, where did you get that word, you know? And by doing that, she's already-- when you read across these histories, people-- I mean, they're very smart and they've done wonderful work. As I say, the more detailed the work, the better the work. But as you see them have an a priori category which decides where their edge is to their reading or their interest, you produce the differences that then seem so, quote, irreconcilable today.
Why? Because everyone says, oh, Islam has always been, or Christianity has always been, Judaism has always been persecuted, always this, always that. And this is the realm of demagogy. So there is a political danger as well as the problem of-- I think, I hope, it doesn't look like I'm nostalgic, let's go to the good old days of the first century, but that we lost something along the way. Not that we should give up what we got, but we lost something along the way.
And that loss is simply that-- I mean, I'm an enthusiast, or I'm in favor of Levi-Strauss saying-- what does he say? He says humankind has always thought equally well. Yeah, they just have had less to think with, or maybe more or different things to think with. And so the equality would be there, in my approach.
You said at some point that the notion of diaspora might be good to turn to, or that we should become diasporic subjects. And that is tied to somewhat of a-- the notion of identity that is you were talking about it, the structures of [INAUDIBLE] difference that are articulated as history. And I'm wondering if, say we'd been given with the idea that most things are not necessarily [INAUDIBLE] diaspora, and not [INAUDIBLE] in the context of say the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Or in the idea that identity is never about-- it always assumes [INAUDIBLE], that the kind of shared wall of identity or a kind of [INAUDIBLE] discourse of history, assumes mixing as its [INAUDIBLE].
And I'm thinking about that in the context of the work of [INAUDIBLE], whose work on race [INAUDIBLE] a claim that mixing is the foundation for a kind of creation of clear delinations. And so from the perspective of Black studies, there's never not a mixed identity, because that's what produces blackness in the structure. And so if we complicate the notion of identity, what do we have? Or if we have an idea of flight into a [INAUDIBLE] where we're not grounded by anything, how is that not [INAUDIBLE] occupied [INAUDIBLE].
SUSAN BUCK-MORSS: Right. That's a tough one. Let's see if I can unpack it, because there are a lot of steps in that.
Diaspora is Koine It means scattered. It doesn't mean more than that. What it means for us today, because of recent history, is more than that. But it means scattered. And if you look at first century Jewry, it's scattered not just because of persecution. It's scattered also by choice. It's scattered for many, many reasons.
What I find so fascinating about the history of Judaism-- I'm going to go there first before I do the other, because it's closer to the topic-- and the history of Islam is that it hasn't been tied to political power. That's fascinating. And that it has included mixing. And I'm talking about Judaism not being black. This is a whole other thing.
The whole issue of race I will handle in this book in ways that won't deal directly with what you're talking about. There's a book by Karen Buell, B-U-E-L-L, called "This New Race," and it talks about-- actually second century, mostly second century, but a couple of them are in the first, so I could use them-- Christian writers who start talking about this new race as the Christian race, so that the word becomes-- then all of the metaphors connected with race are integrated into this.
This is where we get our founding fathers. I'm not in favor of founding fathers. I'm sorry, that's a feminist position. I just am not in favor of founding fathers. I'm also extremely interested in the fact that mixing-- well, I'm interested in tracing, for instance, what was a bastard in those days? It's not having-- the woman doesn't count. The woman is just like-- the status of one's race is determined negatively by the woman, or one's citizen status negatively. It the woman is not a citizen, the child is not a citizen. So there is a way-- so the women cannot pass down citizenship. Only the men can. So there is a patriarchal notion here of founding fathers that goes along with founding fathers, or all are brothers, even women, which is St. Paul's version, that structures the whole thing around a certain notion of who belongs.
And I will tie that in some way to what just somehow blew my mind when I was in Istanbul at the Bogazici University visiting and there just happened to be the first conference on the Armenian Genocide. And there were people there who were talking about the fact that if a woman-- the men were killed, there's no doubt. The women were taken. The children were taken by Turks, maybe married as a second or third wife.
Now, let's assume every one of those women was very happily married. Let's assume that. Even so, she goes back, she wants to go back, and she has a child by this other man. She can't go back, because the child is mixed. So the patriarch of the Armenian church said no, you can't come back.
So I'm extremely interested on the way that patriarchy-- black, Armenian, Jewish, whatever-- produces a categorization, plays into this notion of differences, and therefore makes it necessary for us to talk about the other. I can't find the other in the first century. And we can add to that, and I do.
I spent a wonderful day with my dear departed colleague Martin Bernal. In his book Black Athena, there's a lot in Hellenism that can bring in African contributions. So all of that will be handled in that kind of chapter, but in that kind of way.
And it won't solve the problems. And it's not a flight into diaspora. It's not a flight into diaspora. I think that-- I mean, sometimes I ask my seminars, I ask students, how many of you were born in the United States? And the last time I taught globalization at Cornell, one hand went up. It was Zahid Chaudhary. Nobody else had been born in the United States except this child of Pakistani immigrants who grew up in Connecticut.
So where is this-- is not all of our position diasporic? Which doesn't mean, doesn't justify or neutralize the slave trade, doesn't neutralize the slave trade. But it might shift the politics, because this is a protest against identity politics. Because I think let me, just finish by saying that in the present Middle East situation, that's the dominant problem.
AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] the way in which Year One is decided in retrospect. Will you explain [INAUDIBLE] year one was year one, I realized that I didn't know how it was decided that year one was the year where Christ was born. But then a decision was to say that this was the most important event in the world. And I compare this to the way in which the Hegira was decided as year zero. [INAUDIBLE]
SUSAN BUCK-MORSS: 18 years, yeah.
AUDIENCE: It was decided [INAUDIBLE] Caliph Umar.
SUSAN BUCK-MORSS: Oh, it was that close, yeah.
AUDIENCE: Caliph Umar was 634 to [INAUDIBLE]. So [INAUDIBLE] years after the death of the prophet Mohammed. And nobody envisioned the [INAUDIBLE]. Wasn't even thought of as being something that changed the course of history. But Hegira is flight of [INAUDIBLE] because when they were fleeing, basically, they thought it was [INAUDIBLE].
SUSAN BUCK-MORSS: It was a diaspora.
AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] So this was just a thought that I had when you were explaining this. And I wonder [INAUDIBLE] realized the year zero, that this was the year zero.
SUSAN BUCK-MORSS: Nobody.
SUSAN BUCK-MORSS: Nobody.
AUDIENCE: Augustus was saying, OK, this is my 28th year of being emperor, and [INAUDIBLE].
SUSAN BUCK-MORSS: But they see-- there's more to develop. There's three or four books on time and the Roman Empire. And there are these fasti, which I wanted to show a picture of, but they're too hard to explain. Somebody's seen them in Rome. There are these fasti, which are-- they were by comparison. They work by analogy and twinning. So you have, on the one hand, you have the dates of the days that you could do business, the days you couldn't do business, and the anniversaries-- they were big on anniversaries-- and other important dates.
And then they had next to them, the consul, so it would be the fourth consulship of Caligula, and the feast of the so on and so forth. And that would be in lists and whatever. So you can figure out correlations of time.
And the Julian calendar, of course, was a big help as far as the year was concerned in figuring out the days in a year. But that's very different than the chronology of time. I mean, how many times do we site Walter Benjamin saying homogeneous empty time. A lot of people cite it. But it's true. It's really true that our notion of time-- and it's not as if I give that up. I work with it very, very deeply, that you don't give up a skill you have. You just try to redeem the ones that you lost.
So I think it's fascinating. And there are books, of course, huge numbers of books on this topic as well. It's the Venerable Bede-- it's Bede, I guess, B-E-D-E, who kind of pushes this idea of anno domini. But that's late. He's what, eighth century, Jent? I think 700s.
And you have Eusebius who comes with these chronological tables in the early 300s. So he would compare-- he would say, well, Julius Caesar-- no, pardon me-- Augustus Caesar was kind of a contemporary of Christ, and that means something. So he would make these comparative things, these time charts. But our concept of time, without which we cannot do, simply did not exist.
AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] perhaps very useful for your project to link the elaboration of a distinctively Christian chronology [INAUDIBLE] a sequence of years starting the anno domini 1, for whom, as you mentioned, Eusebius is a significant figure. Two--
SUSAN BUCK-MORSS: He doesn't say anno domini 1.
AUDIENCE: OK. [INAUDIBLE] But in the elaboration of a Christian vision of the grand order of history, rather, to the elaboration of a [INAUDIBLE] account of the relation and articulation between what [INAUDIBLE] are more or less separated out as Judaism and Christianity, and therefore to the link between the sequential conception of history elaborated by these late antique medieval Christian thinkers, and the notion of progress and teleology that [INAUDIBLE] focus on.
SUSAN BUCK-MORSS: Thank you, Johnathan, and that's important. I still don't have a good answer to the question of why, if even by the second century, the Christian fathers are saying that Christianity has superseded Judaism, which is no longer necessary, because now it's gone to this higher level, why they couldn't have seen the logic that Islam came later and therefore superseded the other two. They never went that far, for some reason. So that's-- I've never actually seen a discussion of that blind spot in the chronological thinking.
Time is a big thing in this book. For instance, there's a whole-- Agamben cites someone who's very important, too, which is the distinction between-- what are the terms-- tell me, tell me-- chronos and kairos. But he gets chronos wrong. But that's OK. Kairos is important. The kairos, the kairotic time is a very different notion than the chronos time. It's the time of revelation. It's the time after which time is over, in a sense, and therefore we're just waiting until the end.
But by John, and this is why I find John so interesting as opposed to St. Paul, by John we have the delayed [? parosea ?] problem. Christ was supposed to have come back, and he hasn't come, and it's looking bad for the home team. So this is already 96.
And there's another thing, that John of Patmos is very late dated now. Used to be dated 60s, used to be prophetic, the Christians said, of the Jewish wars and other events. And now we see he was a historian of the first century, and that's going to help me. So I think you're right. This is very important.
And supersession, maybe you can help me here, because I would like to know if the term supersession, which seems to be the term or the equivalent in Koine or something used by second century, Christians who talk about superseding Judaism, whether that-- because we get a translation of [INAUDIBLE] from the Hegelian texts as supersession. And it's not really till the 19th century that you have this folding together of progress of the type you're talking about and this notion of supersession. And I suspect that Hegel's behind some of it.
AUDIENCE: I want to kind of corroborate and add something to one of your points that [INAUDIBLE]. A friend of mine does work on the Venerable Bede. [INAUDIBLE]
SUSAN BUCK-MORSS: No, it's Bede, I guess.
AUDIENCE: I think there's an A in there somewhere in some of the versions, isn't there? And one of his accomplishments was that he divorced Easter from Passover in the calendar. It had been that they used the-- straight up used the Hebraic calendar to determine when Easter was, the Sunday after Passover. And he figured out that it's the Sunday after the fourth full moon of the January year.
And so it strikes me, based on your narrative you've just unfolded for us, that this was kind of a piece of [INAUDIBLE] that Christianity had been there for hundreds of years and nobody had ever-- from the days when the two religions were so much closer as to be basically one was a sect of the other, and finally in the year 700 something, Bede said here's this other thing that we can jettison in order not to have to depend on them for our dates, because it's embarrassing.
SUSAN BUCK-MORSS: Marie-Jose Mondzain probably knows more about this than I do, because the Easter, the date of Easter, was very controversial very early, certainly by the fourth century when the Roman emperor became the Christian emperor. There were lots of fights as to when Easter should fall. And they seem to have been quite bitter and quite horrendous.
And a lot of the heresies, like the monophysites and the Nestorian Christians and all these Christian sects that were heretical, had this other notion of when Easter should fall. And that seems to be something that matters, matters in ways that it's hard for us to resurrect. But I think we should.
I mean, that's the kind of thing-- what bothers me-- the worst thing-- you know, you can pick up a book. I did. It's someplace in the business library here about the travel industry. I know, the Hotel School Library-- and it says ever since Noah, people have liked to travel.
That epitomizes what is wrong with a lot of history writing. They try to domesticate it totally so that it becomes totally accessible to you. You can understand it perfectly. And what interests me is that-- it's very hard to work in this way, because I'm interested in precisely what doesn't make sense. That's what I push for. And yet in the process, I'm way over my head in what does make sense and what people have known for a long time.
But also, there's been so much recent work-- this is why late antiquity is so interesting. I don't know if you follow this, but it begins with Peter Brown, and he says, there's something that goes up-- we should pay attention to Byzantium. We should pay attention. It's not just because-- because Byzantium-- remember, this is racism of Europe of the 19th century, Byzantium was Eastern, and Eastern was Semitic, in certain ways, and bad things came from the East, like, for instance, the whole idea of emperors. And even the Roman emperor, the pagan Roman emperors, didn't call themselves gods. It was those horrible easterners who called the Roman emperors gods. I mean, there's this enormous prejudice against the East generally.
And then actually the Nazis loved Ataturk because he was pushing for the Aryanism of the Ottomans and those Muslims who came from the North, as opposed to those horrible African Muslims, et cetera, and the Arabic Muslims. So there's enormous-- this is also, when I say heaps of data of human history exists, it exists, but it's so packaged in these awful categories. So you want to say, just throw it out. But when you do, then a demagogue like Milosevic gets up and says, ever since the 17th century, we have been fighting the Muslims, and they are always our enemy. They are our eternal enemy, and people say, as soon as you get the lid off Yugoslavia, all of these ancient hatreds return.
They're not ancient hatreds, ladies and gentlemen. How are they kept alive if we don't tell people about them? So it's us who perpetrate, in our education, hatred. And I say us because when you go into these categories very deeply, you find out how contaminated they are. Talk about contamination-- they really are hard.
So a lot of work that has been done, and I credit it to the whole critique of Western-centricity, in a postcolonial context, mainly, a lot of the work that has been done in the last-- I use books probably from the last 20 years only, not totally, but mainly, because that's where people have said, hey, wait a minute, we are-- after Edward Said, after Frantz Fanon, people are saying we can't just keep on stuffing stuff into these categories, because they are problematic categories.
And when did Judaism become Judaism as opposed to Christianity being Christianity? Then there's a new book out called The Ways that Never Parted, and then you have to realize, of course, that precisely the Nestorian Christians and the monophysites and the Coptics, the heretics, who were being persecuted along with the Jews by Justinian II, totally prepared the way for those good Muslims who came and said, you're people of the book, OK. You're not heretics.
So there's an enormous miscomprehension because of this [INAUDIBLE] we say, oh, it's always been like this. Or now the Muslims are reverting to the way they were. No. They were never like that. This is an ignorant, a historically ignorant evocation of the past, whether it's Milosevic or ISIS or whatever. It's historically ignorant. And it's dangerous. So why [INAUDIBLE] around the first century? I've asked myself quite a few times that question.
AUDIENCE: So I wondered why diasporic subjectivity is the way to go here, so maybe you can help us think about why saying something like [INAUDIBLE] geneology, or-- you mentioned Peter Brown, made me think of Pierre [? Gadot. ?] I love the philosophy [INAUDIBLE] and thinking about Platonic contrivances, in Christianity, in Augustine especially. But why diasporic subjectivity [INAUDIBLE] crave some kind of nostalgia, which you mention here you're not looking for. So why not just think about the proliferation of genealogy [INAUDIBLE].
SUSAN BUCK-MORSS: That's a really good question. So again, I'm not longing for diaspora. I think it's our reality. I mean, in the sense that if it's not, then people are illegal aliens, the other, and a lot of other categories that are not too pleasant. So I think that-- so that's one thing I'm kind of convinced of. But you asked, then, what was the second part of your question, 'cause it was really--
AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] --worried that something very flattening is happening--
SUSAN BUCK-MORSS: Right, OK, with the common and everything like that.
AUDIENCE: Right. So [INAUDIBLE] different diasporas that matter to them.
SUSAN BUCK-MORSS: Right, right, no, no. Absolutely, and I see a big problem here. I mean, that's why the introduction says, this is about the Arab Israeli Western conflict. It's not about the black Atlantic. It's not about a lot of other topics.
AUDIENCE: That assumes they're not connected, though.
SUSAN BUCK-MORSS: Pardon?
AUDIENCE: That assumes they're not connected.
SUSAN BUCK-MORSS: No, of course they are connected. But I wonder if the first century--
AUDIENCE: I mean, when America's fighting a war in the Middle East--
SUSAN BUCK-MORSS: Yes.
AUDIENCE: --was used to kill Bin Laden was called Operation Geronimo. So there's an intimate application of [INAUDIBLE]
SUSAN BUCK-MORSS: Yes, yes. OK, that's what we want to get at. What good is this for politics?
SUSAN BUCK-MORSS: That's really what you're asking. And I care about that question very much. And here's my answer. Although what I do politically today is very partisan, in my stuff, this research believes that the academic inflection of different genealogies or multiculturalism, whatever, has been-- you're not talking about that.
AUDIENCE: Multiculturalism and geneologies aren't the same. I think I share your same worries about identity politics.
SUSAN BUCK-MORSS: That's-- OK, so it's really about identity politics. And I think that particularly-- here's what I think is the problem. I think that as soon as you make it a collective phenomenon, you're in trouble. It's an ontology. They say of the Heideggerian approach, it leads to I am German, therefore I die. I mean, I am, and therefore. It's that that concerns me.
Is the political focus ultimately more on Islam and anti-Semitism? Yes, and you're right, they are connected. You're absolutely right they are connected. And I need any help I can get for when I write this chapter that's going to deal with race, as far as whether the first century is a place for that, for that discussion, and how. Will this help me, philosophy is a way of life?
AUDIENCE: Yes, we can talk more about that.
SUSAN BUCK-MORSS: So I definitely care about that. But I'm also terribly, terribly worried by this-- I'm terribly worried by the supposed secular Europe that is so religious, so Christian. I mean, what the heck is-- we're Christian. It's Christian Europe. It's a Christian civilization. The Turks can't enter the European Union, and it's become extremely problematic, because it's a category that's implied that is no longer operative.
And if you look-- for instance, there's a piece of this that deals with Zizek and Badiou. They say, of course I'm not anti-Semitic, but they pick up St. Paul. Well, don't they realize that with the whole notion of supersession, the entire structure of the logic is anti-Semitic? You don't have to be religious to think about it.
So I'm interested in these underlying structures of logic that we impose on other eras. And I'll tell you, I don't think-- there is some move by certain people to talk about Israel being colonized by Rome. I don't think that's the right word for it.
So I think it matters. You can't just say that these words have the same valence when they're applied to different situations and different times. And as I say, the only kind of direct way-- well, let me ask you, because-- sorry to hang on this, but it interests me enormously. So where could an approach in scholarship of the type that I'm doing produce a space where this kind of issue could be confronted?
AUDIENCE: I bring up the-- you brought up the Peter Brown essay. I've worked a little bit on Augustine. I'm thinking about asking the question about Augustine's African temporality, for example, and that may open up different ways of thinking about Christianity that don't necessarily rely on a particularly identity politics-- explodes one, but doesn't leave out the possibility of Augustine also being a church father.
So he has another temporality that may or may not be active in the story we tell ourselves about the church fathers. But it's not to say that we're all scattered. Never is anything all is well, but to say that we're all scattered leaves out the possibility of the distinct temporalities that are defective-- that might be more effective for doing the political work that you're doing.
SUSAN BUCK-MORSS: And you would call them by a collective name, like African?
AUDIENCE: So I'm saying--
SUSAN BUCK-MORSS: Well, but that's my question. I mean, what good are these adjectives? I'm worried about that. I'm worried about these adjectives. But that's my problem. I'm worried about these adjectives, because they imply a kind of continuity, kind of homogeneity of a collective that I find really difficult to identify with, because I don't-- I'm not-- I can't identify with the American collective. What collective am I going to identify with?
So obviously these things cross each other, and that's why I mean in contemporary politics, the stand that you take is absolutely, and this I want to say, is contextualized to the extreme, because that's what truth is. That was my whole deal with the [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH] the priority of the object. Truth is in that particularity, and I'm afraid to take that particularity and circumscribe it by categories of enclosure.
AUDIENCE: But it's one thing to say that Augustine had a Berber mother, and a different thing to say that he is only Christian, that he's only to be remembered as-- within the identify of Christianity.
SUSAN BUCK-MORSS: But I don't use any of those categories. I said Jew a couple of times. I think I said Christian a couple of times. Jesus came up once. That's not what this project is about. I try not to say, OK, we have to make-- we have to identify. That's really the struggle. Where do we-- what can we accomplish if we don't start history with identities? The history of the United States, the history of-- and then by doing that, we've already boxed it in.
And I agree with you, the word common appears so frequently here that it sounds as if it's all pretty easy. We're just all one mush. But I like to think that the counter to that is a concern for the detail that doesn't allow that kind of blanket statement. That's the method, the hope. But thank you. Tim.
AUDIENCE: Can I just shift gears and just ask you a curious question? Going back to your return to Benjamin, and I do so knowing that you know more about this than anybody in the room. I was just really interested by the pressure that you put on translation, the task of the translator. And I found myself wondering how you might fold in the [INAUDIBLE] into your approach [INAUDIBLE] to the juxtaposition of ruin and tragedy and allegory as Benjamin articulates it, and where the allegorical as a event of reading or activity of reading might figure in your project. It might not at all--
SUSAN BUCK-MORSS: Well, I'm waiting for Jent de Vries' suggestion for a reading, but there is guy Dawson who's written a book on allegory and Philo of Alexandria. And it seems to say that it's a kind of unique Philonian variant of allegory, and not Benjamin's. But now we find out that it's a larger concept of allegory that is functioning at the time.
So again, before I would make that kind of statement, I'd have to really know, what was allegory then, as opposed to presuming that the category-- see, this I think is really important. Can we presume that the categories, even the critical-- I left that out someplace along the way. I had to shorten this because it was long-- can we assume that the categories that we use, even the critical categories of [INAUDIBLE], all people I appreciate in many ways, can be imposed on the past? And if not, how do we prevent that kind of historical solipsism that I mentioned vis-a-vis Marx, Marx was concerned with?
So I guess-- I mean, the one time I used that allegory thing in Benjamin was when I was talking about voodoo in my book on Hegel and Haiti, because I think it really fit. I think it really fit. And it took me out of a discourse where people said, oh, voodoo was just a, quote, African tradition.
Thompson writes this-- that was taken with them, as if you just say, oh, we're going someplace, diaspora time. Pack up my culture in a suitcase and take it with me. No, the whole idea is you have this horrible experience, and how are you going to take these traditions and produce some articulation of meaning in that horrible, shattered situation?
And then I think the theory of the fragment and allegory in Benjamin, which was also true after years of religious war, in the peasant wars, and it's late 16th century, is it early 17th century? That that applies. And it's better than just saying, oh, well, this is their identity and they take it with them.
So I don't know if that answers the question. So yes, I'm really interested in allegory. I'm really interested in the-- because what Philo of Alexandria does is he takes the Jewish-- he's so happy because it's been translated into Koine, the Septuagint, and he says, look, we've got this text now, and now everyone can read it, not just Jews. And then there's a book this big on how he then reads Plato's Timaeus as a similar but less good variant of the book of Genesis. And it's so interesting, because sometimes he seems to be so elaborate in his ways of trying to make them fit together, and you wonder, what's he up to here? And if I said, oh, allegory, I know what it means, I won't go far enough to find out. And sometimes there may be nothing to know. Or I may not have anything to say about it. So this is why it's so slow.
AUDIENCE: Thank you very much. Just a simple question to see if I grasp the logics that sort of lie dormant in history. Does it matter at all if the early calendars, especially the Islamic and Jewish calendars, were lunar? Calendars rather--
SUSAN BUCK-MORSS: Yes. And I have that. And well, the Jewish was lunar-solar in this time, and the Islamic was lunar. And I mean-- it's so--
AUDIENCE: Because I thought that would change a lot.
SUSAN BUCK-MORSS: It does change a lot. There's also a wonderful story, it's a first century story-- well, it's a-- I guess story is the word for it. You know, when people said, well, if this was a virgin birth of Jesus, where was Joseph? And evidently, he was out for a walk. And it was the 21st, it was the equinox, the winter equinox, and time stopped and started moving in the other direction. And that was the moment when the conception took place. I mean, it's beautiful. I've always wondered about that too. Now I know.
All of this is extremely-- now this is enchantment. It's enchantment. And I don't mean let's be mythic again. I'm just saying that if we labor to understand it, we might take our naive, underdeveloped mimetic capacity and improve it. And that might be a better use of the historical material of the first century than to say, OK, you get-- it's terrible what people have done.
And of course, the Dead Sea Scrolls, everyone knows about, and [INAUDIBLE] was a [INAUDIBLE] too. These are total-- they're mine, No, they're mine. You can't have them. Who gets them? It's the whole notion, which is then commercialized in relics on the market. But it's a very-- I don't think it's a ground rule for pedagogy in the next century. Yes.
AUDIENCE: I just have a question on some of the materialist scholarship, which is you're insisting that we focus very much on particulars and ground our work in appreciation of objects. And does that commit me to a kind of nominalist position? And because really your goal is on behalf of the we.
You want us, we, to be a better society, to be better people, to be more respectful of differences both in our own era and toward the past. So then how does this materialist scholarship cross that gap. And then, is that setting up a kind of hermeneutic, and then do we practice our mimetic capacities by reflecting back and forth between this hermeneutic we're working with and then the punitive, particulars we're dealing with? Is that kind of metacognitive work of mimesis? Does that make any sense?
SUSAN BUCK-MORSS: Well, yes. I don't think mine-- it is a normative project. It's done for a reason. It's done for a reason. It's done because I am very aware from my own travel and from my own writing from my own discussions with intellectuals elsewhere, that this-- in Europe, I think one of the problems is Europe, it really understands itself as at best, European, at worst, anti-Greek and anti-whatever. But that's it.
And the universality is a universality of Europeans. But what is this European If it's not ultimately racism? Because I don't see cultural heritage. I see nationalism and cultural heritage as a form of racism. Now, we may say some racisms are good. But I would like to try to articulate a position that doesn't rely on them.
And when you say that I want people to be better and this and that, no-- yes, of course I do. But I don't think this project is an attempt to do that. For instance, it took me a long time to realize, and this is the Hellenomania that my colleague, my former colleague Martin Bernal, writes about in his book Black Athena. You know, Hellenic, that word-- that's a toughie, because it's essentially so embroiled in even Yeats and Shelley and romanticism and the Greek independence from the Turks, and this idea of Hellas, Hellenism.
The word does appear very, very infrequently. Judaism appears very infrequently. Christianity first mentioned in Antioch-- I mean people actually pinpoint-- this is where it was mentioned. It's how rare it was.
So these-- Hellenism-- the word for Koine is common. There's no Greek in it. There's no Greek in it. And what I thought was fascinating was reading-- because I had always thought that Alexander the Great spread all the over way over to-- there's a new book by Bryan saying, people-- the studies in Europe, or the West, never mention that there were Persians there. They just have Alexander going into this empty line, stopping at the Indus, at the river.
And everybody presumed that he carried Greek culture with him. No. Koine develops as a kind of creole in the port city of [? Pareus. ?] And the reason that he wanted to go to the Indus was there was great trade. And the way you could train is talk a common language. And that's where diaspora, or bilinguality is important, and this common language which allowed trade to flourish.
There's a lot of Christian writing about the prophet Mohammed as being a merchant. Well, quite frankly the mercantile society was extremely advanced, and the laws of-- this is Goitein's work in the documents that were found in Egypt--
AUDIENCE: The Geniza.
SUSAN BUCK-MORSS: The Geniza documents. It's fascinating stuff, where Jews and Muslims were trading all over the world. And the Europeans were in some dark age. So we have to kind of recalibrate the kind of overarching schemes that we have.
And the problem is that even the resonance, any kind of analogy we might think of making, is stopped at ignorance. We have so much ignorance of anything beyond the us. And the us can include-- let's make it big. Let's make it all of Europe. Well, you know, all of Europe-- add the North and South America group, and you still don't have half the world's population.
So we're really-- and I don't want global history. This is an attempt against global history. And yet it may still feel too undifferentiated. I understand that.
I also want to say one other thing. There's this-- has anybody read Sheraton, Sheraton's work, [INAUDIBLE]? It's the first historical novel. It's a historical novel written at the end of the first century. Who's read it?
It's interesting. It's interesting. And she dies and she's in a tomb for three days and she gets out, then her-- she thinks, hm, shall I have an abortion? She says no. She marries another guy. I mean, it's extraordinary, that novel. It's written in Koine. Yes. Go ahead, go ahead.
SUSAN BUCK-MORSS: It's not Koine?
AUDIENCE: I think it's very early [INAUDIBLE] where they were attempting to write in sort of classical--
SUSAN BUCK-MORSS: Yes, they tried to go back to it. They tried to go back to a purist Attic Greek.
AUDIENCE: It's this strange sort of Attic Koinean text.
SUSAN BUCK-MORSS: And the Koine was belittled because it was not the truly educated. Sarah.
AUDIENCE: I understand the project. I'm getting a sense for some of the [INAUDIBLE] working. And I feel a strong affinity to a lot of the energy of what you're doing. But then definitely some of the points raised about the identity piece that I'm still struggling with. So maybe here's a different way of putting that worry based on something that someone had just said here in a more recent part of the conversation.
So if cultural heritage is a form of racism-- that statement, that really is a powerful one, so I can see where you're going with that. And if the alternative method is to focus on objects in that particularity, how do we assure that the objects we choose to focus on have not been selected for us by our cultural heritage? And then to the extent that we downplay cultural heritage, perhaps we've even doing something worse. So for example, when you mentioned, where was Joseph? I have to say that I've never thought of that question.
And I have to say in taht respect, when you mention that CE stands for common era, every time I tell students that CE stands for common era, while I'm saying those words, I'm secretly thinking, it stands for Christian era. But anyway, that's an example of what if the questions or the objects that we're looking at are being selected for us? And then don't we do a worse problem by downplaying that possibility?
SUSAN BUCK-MORSS: And maybe I made it too concrete with the picture of the Passage Vivienne, because I was taking it analogously or metaphorically in the way that Benjamin was, and I said that it's the detail, not the object necessarily. I do use a lot of archeological evidence in here, because there's been terrific work done. The new technologies are phenomenal in the sciences, and the work that's being done-- Berenike, for instance, on the Red Sea. New digs-- this one I showed, these wonderful poplar trees and the thing in the woods, that's now a totally, totally excavated site called Aphrodisias in Turkey, which I visited when I was there. But it's only I think since the 1970s that any work has been done.
So yes, are we doing any worse damage? Well, as I say, it's not the object itself so much as the detail. And what I'm interested in is when the presumed narrative, for instance, when the category-- oh, oh, so interesting. There's three volumes on the Papyri Judeorum, which mention the Jewish-- anything Jewish that a person has gone through. The more detailed that people are, the better the scholarship. And when he goes through this, he's tracing, he's saying, OK, this in Egypt. What was the Jewish presence in Egypt? And he goes into it, into it, into it, and as he goes into it, the category begins to dissolve.
For instance, there was a whole-- maybe they were mercenaries. Maybe they were from Judea. I don't-- no one knows for sure. But there was a whole garrison under Ptolemy in Egypt of Jews. Problem is, of course, they married-- this is my point. They married Egyptian women. So what are they, Jewish or Egyptian? And then, somehow or other, the Egyptians loved the name Sarah, so they named a lot of Egyptian kids who had no relationship to any-- Sarah. So this guy is trying to trace all the times that Sarah appears and the whole names appear, and he ends up in trouble. So the categories begin to disintegrate.
So if I was doing Jewish history, I don't think I would say John of Patmos is my leading person. But the best of scholarship says he was a card-carrying Jewish apocalypticist. He was. If you're going to identify him, that's going to be the reason you're interested in him. But quite frankly, I'm not convinced that that is why we should be interested in the past, in order to identify it.
So can it be worse? It's not that I want to just do the objects. And you're right, what I'm selecting are precisely the counter cases. But I'm doing that because these are the cases where the story doesn't fit. These are the places where the story doesn't fit. And is it worthwhile to look at them? Or do you say, well, that's just the exception that proves the rule.
When I hear-- when I think of-- what I don't like, and this gets to politics today, what I don't like in political discourse today, it's precisely this very quick comprehension of the situation. Of course, they're Muslim. Obviously, it's probably a terrorist. Other people were just crazies, but this was probably a terrorist. We have to search it out. He went to Jordan. Of course he had family there, but whatever.
So there's this set-up. So yeah, there's this counterthrust that I'm up to. And the question is whether I do more harm than not. And the answer will be in the writing. Yes.
AUDIENCE: One remark and one question.
SUSAN BUCK-MORSS: Yes.
AUDIENCE: Your remark on the lunar calendar--
SUSAN BUCK-MORSS: Yes.
AUDIENCE: If we're going to focus on this entity that's been carved out in the first century, that might be better described as lunar-adjusted [INAUDIBLE]. In other words, your zodiac from date alpha is much later than that acculturation which [INAUDIBLE] probably if you look at most archaeologists and writers on this [INAUDIBLE] three centuries later.
SUSAN BUCK-MORSS: So for instance, that was a sixth-century thing that I showed, and that was wrong?
AUDIENCE: No, what I'm saying is the acculturation of the solar into--
SUSAN BUCK-MORSS: I see.
AUDIENCE: --into the lunar--
SUSAN BUCK-MORSS: I see. I did say that, yeah. And what was--
AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] lunar adjusted, perhaps.
SUSAN BUCK-MORSS: That's good. And can I ask you-- I mean, these are the kinds of details that, they're not easy to learn about. My question would be, how was Judaism inherited? Did it have to be of a Jewish husband and wife, or just husband, or just wife?
AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] Egypt is quite different than [INAUDIBLE] elsewhere. But obviously Jewish [INAUDIBLE] matrilineal [INAUDIBLE]. You're looking at your century and a little later in terms of some of that shift. [INAUDIBLE] most people, including Protestants, reference the seventh to the 10th BCE. So [INAUDIBLE]
SUSAN BUCK-MORSS: Right. Right. Well, yes, go ahead.
AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] Cohen has--
SUSAN BUCK-MORSS: Who?
AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] Cohen, C-O-H-E-N, has an article on this question of when and why matrilineal principle came in. And he proposes seven possible explanations and rejects all of them.
It's the best scholarship [INAUDIBLE].
SUSAN BUCK-MORSS: But this is the problem. This is the problem. It's really a problem .
AUDIENCE: We really don't know.
SUSAN BUCK-MORSS: We don't know. We don't know.
AUDIENCE: So I'd like to go back to something that I picked up from a [INAUDIBLE] archaeology, and that is the definition of scarcity that is used by [INAUDIBLE] as the overt is the past. And the purpose of-- the etiological purpose of using history [INAUDIBLE] contemporary reasons. Now, archaeologists have excellent reason in terms of their own provence as well as their work as appropriate, to be aware of how history gets used and taken. [INAUDIBLE]
SUSAN BUCK-MORSS: That's interesting.
AUDIENCE: So I'm sympathetic to the project and trying to [INAUDIBLE] religious essentialism in the Middle East, but I'd probably say it more having to do with globalization and [INAUDIBLE] religious resurgence, per se. [INAUDIBLE] religion that gets caught into a more minimal space, and then gets to grow in a very particular political context. But having said that, and looking at the ungrounding of identity politics on the sort of things that you're interested in, my question for you [INAUDIBLE] goes back to that first century. There's nothing [INAUDIBLE] or heard about it that would make me think there wasn't an other [INAUDIBLE].
SUSAN BUCK-MORSS: There wasn't a--
AUDIENCE: It would be used to unground some [INAUDIBLE] today. But I don't know if you would want to use it to unground itself by having just basic [INAUDIBLE] of a people [INAUDIBLE]. Those very basic concepts would suggest to me the other is not something unique to our times.
SUSAN BUCK-MORSS: No. Yes. It's not as if the standard history is totally wrong. It's not as if one can't find the same baddies, badnesses, in the past as one has today, in the sense of othering or anything else-- things that I've considered not desirable to perpetrate. And that's why this is a very-- the reason this is different, the reason I like-- Bashir may not approve of my appropriation, but I liked his idea that it's not that you've done the translation which is the philosophy. It's not the result. It's the process.
Because for instance, I discovered when I was writing Hegel in Haiti, which there is methodological parallels between this project and that one, it wasn't about Hegel, and it wasn't about Haiti. It was about unsettling the way we thought we could think those things separately. And so I would say that it's the same gesture that I'm trying to work out in the first century.
And you know, if it works to unsettle, you think, oh, yeah, first century, when did that happen? Oh yes, it certainly wasn't Jesus' year one. If those kinds of things happen to the reader in reading the book, then the philosophical task would have been completed.
And what would you be left with? Not much, maybe. But it seems to me that it's something of a corrective for stuff I see all over. And I see it-- for instance, take Agamben, who is great, except he thinks chronos is chronology. It's not. Chronos is this kind of repetitive chronic condition that you get, for instance, in the Timaeus by Plato. But he just takes something and runs with it into the present.
Now, people probably say, well, let's be in the present. That's where we are. Why do we have to deal with this stuff? But this is precisely where I see time and time again that people can mine it and say these crazy mythical stories of the past that are really, really politically dangerous.
And I see it in the stories, in the narratives. And then I see it still operating in the structures of thought. For instance, supersession-- the whole idea that Christianity is the universal and Judaism is the particular, which is hook, line, and sinker, swallowed by Zizek and Badiou. It isn't. Where did that come from? So that's the problem I have with what I call presentism, and the idea that all we need to do is take the categories we have, because they're obviously progressive, and they're Western, and they're familiar, so let's just apply them all over the place.
And then I see-- I've been part of 10 meetings of dialogues of civilizations, so you go to an Arab country and there are academics there and you talk to them, or maybe it's a Muslim country, so it's Kuala Lumpur, it's here or it's there. And people have to be representatives of their culture. I don't know what I'm supposed to do. I say, well, we Europeans or we Americans feel-- I don't know what that statement means. I don't.
And obviously, the good meetings were not like that. But it sort of sets up this strange notion that-- and then also it sets up among humanists, particularly, well, I can't deal with that. I'm not an expert. I don't speak-- I speak Demotiki, that is contemporary street Greek, and I can make out Koine. But I don't speak Arabic. I don't speak Hebrew. I speak some Latin, third year high school. I have no business being where I am.
And ladies and gentlemen, I don't think we have time to be so timid about crossing lines of scholarship. I think the questions-- I mean, I've heard people in the field of political science-- it's horrible because you have to have your thesis topic before you write it. So, oh, this is my topic. Well, what you find-- and you spell out, you have your abstract before you begin.
Can you imagine how dull that must be? You have your abstract, and then something comes up that doesn't fit. And so you say, oh, I can't deal with that. It may be necessary to answer the question I posed, but no, that's not my topic. Well, it better be your topic, or you're writing a stupid dissertation. I'm serious. I really, really think that there's a timidity about crossing lines.
But it's hard. I don't do this lightly. And I have 385 books out of the library here, and I'm just crazy with these books. And they're out for three years, and they say, don't bring them back. We don't have room on the shelves. And besides, they're books on every, every, every chapter and word, every verse, in the Book of Revelation. And each one is fought over.
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Susan Buck-Morss, Distinguished Professor of Political Science at CUNY Graduate Center and professor emeritus of government at Cornell, spoke at Cornell on July 21, 2015, as part of the School of Criticism and Theory public lecture series.