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  • Does it Matter When? On Time Indifference
  • Hans Blumenberg
    Translated by David Adams

For a work of “pure” thought, say of mathematics or of philosophy, does it matter when it is published and thus receives at least the possibility for influence? This “when” is by no means a matter of indifference if one includes from the beginning the question of its actual influence. Such influence depends on conditions that cannot be separated from the date of publication. Yet the availability of a work—its mere appearance, even appearance in a particular periodical or press—is not identical with its potential influence. Because the content of a work is still not what is “transmitted.”

If every work of such stature is seen as the “effect” of other works that precede it—sometimes works not of comparable stature—then only the sequence of a series has been determined, but not the intervals between the units in this series, not the dating of the whole and of each unit. The actual appearance of a work at any point in time would then satisfy only one condition—not sufficient in itself—for the eventual appearance, or at least production, of one or more additional works. This is true even for a work which, despite its complete or virtual [End Page 212] descriptive and critical “independence” in relation to another, is dependent on the fact that the other work is “already there.” The contingency of dates and durations has little to do with the logic of the works’ relation and succession.

Redemption Date Delay

There is a paradigm for the contingency of the dates of all human masterpieces, a model one may call on, without being suspected of secularization, in order to convince oneself of the indifference of the “appearance”—used here with the insidious double meaning of “epiphany.” This paradigm of contingency: the Son of Man and the canonical texts that give news of him. Measured against the claim that the double event of life and text has developed for itself, and drawing on Biblical chronology which has been elaborated through the centuries, this is a case of delay as unforgivable as it was unavoidable. Ought the Johannine Logos have allowed four thousand years to slip by after the Fall and the expulsion from paradise before letting itself be seen in the flesh, before letting the words necessary for restoring salvation be heard? On a smaller scale, it let another thirty years pass after the manger birth in Bethlehem before with words and deeds it began that which for the sake of mankind could not begin and end soon enough. It was urgent, because the world hung in the balance, threatened by the Adversary.

After the first, frenzied expectation of salvation had cooled down, the apologists for Christianity had to confront this objection to the delay of divine intervention in the unholy history of mankind. This was clearly asking too much of them. To the question “Why so late?” only one answer would have settled everything in the sense of the principium rationis insufficientis for space and time: “It doesn’t matter when!” But this answer would have been theologically impermissible. Nevertheless, the dogmatic artifice, with which the problem was certainly not solved but at least was mitigated, turned on the unstated indifference of every date in relation to all others: the idea of the “descent to hell,” imprecisely translated from descensus ad inferos. The descent of God’s servant to Hades between crucifixion and resurrection not only fills this dismal waiting period, but also includes in the triumphal conquest over death all those who otherwise would have been passed over by the Passion’s redemptive work because they had been born too soon.

The lord of the underworld, who holds hostage the righteous who lived prior to the time of salvation, is not just the all-too-familiar devil in [End Page 213] the sense of the tempter; he is also Death as the demon who gained entrance to the world through the Fall and under whose rule evil had become only a consequence of mortality. That the rule of this deceiver and delayer is broken by one gesture of death’s conqueror...

Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 212-218
Launched on MUSE
1998-04-01
Open Access
No
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