Enactment, Politics, and Truth

Pauline Themes in Agamben, Badiou, and Heidegger

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Antonio Cimino
  • New York, NY: 
    Bloomsbury Academic
    , July
     2018.
     192 pages.
     $195.00.
     Hardcover.
    ISBN
    9781501341014.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

The Apostle Paul’s writings have been a seminal influence on western philosophy since the middle of the first century. In recent years, however, it is the figure of Paul himself that has become clay in the hands of western philosophical, political, and psychological speculation. Starting with the period between the World Wars, Paul the man—as read in selected portions of his texts and through various critical lenses—has become the poster child or whipping boy of nearly every variation of continental philosophy, political theology, psychoanalytic theory, and identitarian movement. 

In Enactment, Politics, and Truth: Pauline Themes in Agamben, Badiou, and Heidegger, author Antonio Cimino brings clarity to this larger conversation by isolating the Pauline theme of pistis as a way of limiting the conversation partners. This leads him to Martin Heidegger, Alain Badiou, and Giorgio Agamben. While the conversation is by no means confined to these three, it is their work on the theme of pistis that brings them together. This book, in a mere 163 pages, distils, analyzes, critiques their work, and challenges their conclusions. 

In the introduction, Cimino offers three reasons for concentrating on Heidegger, Badiou, and Agamben: 1) they are all characterized by substantial thematic overlaps which can be traced to the articulation of pistis; 2) their respective approaches to Paul are diverse in terms of their theoretical presuppositions and philosophical motives, and 3) they come to very similar conclusions despite their claims to present innovative commentaries on Paul’s letters. In other words, while utilizing Pauline pistis as a source for their own personal philosophical manifestos, these three philosophers have generally wound up at the same destination: Paul the revolutionary rather than Friedrich Nietzsche’s institutional Paul. 

The title of the first chapter, “Proclamation, Performativity, and Declaration,” summarizes each of the three philosophers’s take on Paul’s articulation of pistis: Heidegger on “proclamation”; Agamben on “performativity”; and Badiou on “declaration.” In each case, Paul is seen as an innovator and a revolutionary. This overturns Nietzsche’s—and Sigmund Freud’s—view of Paul which framed the apostle as one who created an institutionalized religion, a “Platonism for the masses” to keep believers in line, which is incompatible with the “authentic philosophical spirit.” Thus, Heidegger, Agamben, and Badiou each propose a reversal of this institutionalizing view of Paul. Rather than seeing Paul as defending the status quo, they see Paul as creating a new reality which each of them cast in their own philosophical idioms.

Chapter 2, “Pauline Pistis as a Radical Attitude,” moves the analysis in the direction of how pistis functions in the follower of Paul’s teaching as an existential and phenomenological approach to such things as life, reality, and circumstances. In other words, pistis simply becomes a way of coping in all circumstances. Chapter 3, “Articulating the Political,” follows a similar thread in the area of politics, with the term hos me of 1 Corinthians 7 figuring highly in Badiou’s and Agamben’s discussion, and with the exception that, in Heidegger’s analysis, the political is not properly taken into account. For these three thinkers, Paul’s radical politics is a break from the established order of the Jewish and Greco-Roman cultures.

Stepping back and reflecting on Enactment, Politics, and Truth as a whole, Cimino appears to argue, on the one hand, that Nietzsche’s criticism of Paul in The Antichrist (1895) was to paint him as a political “company man” who institutionalized Christianity to keep people in, line while, on the other hand, Heidegger, Badiou, and Agamben—in the spirit of the 20th and 21st centuries—paint the opposite picture of Paul as a revolutionary who disrupts the established order in order to create something radical and new. On one side is the establishment of a herd mentality, on the other, the subversion of political order. The question arises; how can either view of Paul justify the founding of a messianic movement? The corrective to this is found in chapter 4, “Pistis Between Truth and Untruth.” 

Heidegger, Agamben, and Badiou all present a Pauline politics without metaphysics or onto-theology. This is to recast Paul into a current continental frame-of-mind and out of his own context in which metaphysics and ontology were live issues. Whereas Paul was a man of faith, instructing believers how to live in the real world and the political climate of their day, these three have restyled the message to a mindset that goes no further than ideology and speculative thought. For Plato, pistis is also about life in the real world. Cimino ends the chapter with a detailed study of Platonic pistis to demonstrate that, similar to Paul, the stance of pistis (faith) is one that faces uncertainty in the world of daily life, drawing the conclusion that Heidegger, Agamben, and Badiou have failed to truly understand and appreciate the value of Paul, Plato, metaphysics, onto-theology, and pistis.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Tom Edmondson is Senior Pastor at First Christian Church of Atlanta.

Date of Review: 
May 15, 2019
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Antonio Cimino is Assistant Professor in the History of Contemporary Philosophy at Radboud University in Nijmegen, The Netherlands.

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