Abstract

"Our heritage was left to us without a testament." Hannah Arendt repeatedly borrows this formula (from René Char) to capture the predicament of revolutionary modernity. Without a testament, without any symbolic means of transmitting the event, there is no way to bequeath the treasure to future generations—to harvest its energy or even to bear witness to what happened. Here's the thought experiment: what if Char's formula needs to be reversed? What if the problem is not intestacy but rather a kind of hyper-testamentarity—not a deficit but a surfeit of testamentary protocol? The past confronts us as a thicket of injunctions, promises, exhortations, incitements—obscure messages from the dead, unsigned and undated but time-stamped and addressed to us uniquely. What if the testament itself were the heritage—or rather, if there were no heritage, only the pressure of a demand as enigmatic as it is insistent?

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