'Revelations' Working Group Summative Research Report, 10 July 2023
With contributions from Florian Mussgnug, Rolf Scheuermann, and CAPAS Fellows
The first stages of the group discussion explored how we would frame and focus this potentially vast topic into key ideas, questions, and sources, with the ambition of developing structures for how we understand and develop new approaches to Revelation across historical-cultural and scientific disciplinary interests.
Framing the topic: Brainstorming > Main themes and topics of interest
Temporalities of Revelation
Eschatologies - End times in truth and fiction
Chronos, Krisis and Kairos (F. Hartog) as approaches/methodologies for navigating Revelation
Revelation; the Eschaton and world-making
Visualizing ‘Revelation’ - how artists navigate ‘endings’; endings as futures
Envisaging/Imaginaries of Revelation
Revelation and futurity ( - the Future as ‘Catastrophe’)
Revelation as ‘hidden’ or ‘secret’ knowledge
Gender and dimensions of Revelation
Religion/sacred space and Technologies of Revelation.
Focusing the Topic: 5 Key Questions
What does Revelation look like? (and in the contexts of reconceptualizing 'modern time' : Juliet, et al.)
What is Revelation in truth and fiction? (Nina, Paolo et al.)
Revelation and the generation of knowledge (early-modernity-present, encompassing 'colonial' time; constructs of 'le paradis terrestre'; Appropriations; Revolutions and Revelation) - Paolo, et al?
Prophecies (Christian eschatologies and beyond Christian eschatalogies), Visions and Dreams (Robert, et al.); modes of unveiling/Revelation?
What is the relationship of forms of catastrophe to Revelation; how are they different (All)?
Key Texts discussed and Other Key Resources
Key Sources and Approaches – ‘Toolbox’ for #Revelation
Visual and material sources (objects – artworks, images, sites)
Media and Performance (films/media)
Digital sources: games, world-making scenarios :
François Hartog, ‘Chronos, Krisis, Kairos: the Genesis of Western Time’, History and Theory, 60: 3 ( September 2021): 425-439.
Paul Ricoeur, ‘Towards a Hermeneutic of the Idea of Revelation’, The Harvard Theological Review, 70: 1.2 (Jan.-April 1977): 1-37.
Jane O. Newman, ‘Luther’s Birthday: Aby Warburg, Albrecht Dürer and the Early-Modern Media in the Age of War’, Daphnis 37 (2008): 79-110.
Eva Horn, ‘The Last Man: the Birth of Modern Apocalypse in Jean Paul, Jean Martin, and Lord Byron’, in Lebovic, Nitzan and Killen, Andreas (eds). Catastrophes: A History and Theory of an Operative Concept (Berlin, Boston: De Gruyter Oldenbourg, 2014): 55-74.
Monica Kaup, New Ecological Realisms: Post-Apocalyptic Fiction and Contemporary Theory (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press), 2021
René Girard, Things Hidden since the Foundations of the World (Stanford: Stanford University Press), 1987
David J. Davis, ‘The Culture of Divine Revelation’, Experiencing God in Late Medieval and Early Modern England (Oxford: Oxford University Press), 2022:https://academic.oup.com/book/43084/chapter/361537188, last accessed: 6.7.2023
Richard Swinburne, Revelation: From Metaphor to Analogy (Oxford: Clarendon Press), 1992
Francois Hartog, Chronos - L’Occident aux prises avec le Temps (Paris: Editions Gallimard), 2020
Judith Wolfe, ‘The Eschatalogical Turn in German Philosophy’, Modern Theology, 35: 1 (2018): 55-70.
Zachary Braiterman, The Shape of Revelation: Aesthetics and Modern Jewish Thought
(Stanford: Stanford UP), 2007
Colby Dickinson, ‘The Profanation of Revelation: On Language and Immanence in the Work of Giorgio Agamben’, Angelaki: Journal of the Theoretical Humanities, 19 (2014): 68-81.
Clara Peters, Still Life with Gilt Goblets, Coins and Shells, 1615. Oil on canvas. The Hague: Mauritshuis (hidden self-portrait)
Enguerrand Quarton, Coronation of the Virgin, 1453-54. Tempera on panel. Altar of the Charterhouse of Villeneuve-lès-Avignon
Hans Memling, The Mystic Marriage of St Catherine, St John’s Altarpiece, 1473. Bruges: St John’s Hospital
Akseli Gallen Kallela, Ad Astra, 1894-96. Espoo, Finland: Villa Gyllenberg Collection
Ernst Barlach, The Spirit Fighter (model for the Memorial church, Kiel), 1928. Bronze. Mannheim, Kunsthalle
Anselm Kiefer, ‘The Seven Heavenly Palaces’, ‘The Palaces of Heaven and
Earth’ (2004-15), Anselm-Kiefer Foundation-The Eschaton, Barjac
And the works shown in Juliet’s lecture: ‘Time beyond Time: Revelatory Worlds in Object, Image and Word, 1910-1933’
Film: Ingmar Bergman, The Seventh Seal (1957: dir.: Ingmar Bergman)
Key Sources - Focusing the 5 Core Questions
(François Hartog, ‘Chronos, Krisis, Kairos: the Genesis of Western Time’, History and Theory, 60: 3 ( September 2021): 425-439.)
Navigating Time’s crises or gaps
(Paul Ricoeur, ‘Towards a Hermeneutic of the Idea of Revelation’, The Harvard Theological Review, 70: 1.2 (Jan.-April 1977): 1-37.)
Different modes and modalities of revelation – ‘secret’ revelation
(Jane O. Newman, ‘Luther’s Birthday: Aby Warburg, Albrecht Dürer and the Early-Modern Media in the Age of War’, Daphnis 37 (2008): 79-110.)
Cultural/object/image Afterlives – or Nachleben as vectors of hidden futures
(Eva Horn, ‘The Last Man: the Birth of Modern Apocalypse in Jean Paul, Jean Martin, and Lord Byron’, in Lebovic and Killen (eds). Catastrophes: A History and Theory of an Operative Concept (Berlin, Boston: De Gruyter Oldenbourg, 2014): 55-74.)
Future as Catastrophe or Plenitude?
Summative questions and discussions relating to key individual topics and readings
How, and in what ways, is the art-work and the visual image a vehicle for Revelation and Revelatory temporalities? How does this work in the visual-cultural field, in particular, in the cultural modernities which have shaped canonicity and constructs of artistic-cultural value in the long nineteenth century and twentieth centuries? In particular, I am interested in the question of how the art work may be conceived as a pivotal ontology and an agentive practice of Revelation. This is via its capacities to navigate Revelatory temporalities which involve/negotiate both dislocation (the Apocalyptic) and plenitude (the Eschaton: eschatologies of world-making that are not Absolute ends -cf. Heidegger key idea of resolving ‘eschatological unrest’). The focus of my research therefore is in rethinking constructs of the artwork as pivotal in destabilizing constructs of ‘linear’ time and ‘destination’ to open imaginaries of end times as ‘immanence’, and as routes to possible futures via uses of pre-modern art and visual cultures as a border crossing, alterity of ‘modernity’.
These questions draw on pivotal ideas raised in key texts, notably Hartog’s constructs of Chronos, Krisis and Kairos and Aby Warburg’s idea of Nachleben - embodied afterlives of past images and forms working through the present as an alterity of time and the image. They also touch on the key question of legacy, cultural and religious ‘inheritance’ in and around the 1900s, as artists, writers and historians grapple with the legacies & ownership cultural ‘inheritance,’ and its meaning-production within increasingly fragmented and polarizing constructs of cultural modernities of the present.
In terms of Christian Eschatological frameworks, a key concern for the art-work as Revelation is how a visual interpretation of the Biblical narrative of Apocalypse and end times, as Natasha O’Hear points out (2011), produce an “exclusive focus on textual exegesis” in the development of a visual hermeneutics of this ‘most visual of books’. Instead, she proposes a series of artistic works - these include the Angers tapestry (1373); the Ghent Altarpiece, Memling’s St John’s Altarpiece and Botticelli’s Mystic Nativity (c.1500), enabling “us to map different hermeneutical strategies […] between the images and their corresponding texts.” Thus, Revelation as point of departure for world-making viewed in an expanded eschatological framework, is a profoundly visual ontology – predicated on acts of startling awakening, or Illumination that also differ from ‘Apocalypse’. The visual navigates both light and darkness in treatments and in the uses of the image that complexify and condense the textual narrative of Revelation in terms of an evoked truth. So, in the Angers tapestry images evoke the text rather than merely transposing it into a visual medium. Similar ambiguities are at work in visualizing temporalities of Revelation. The Ghent Altarpiece (c.1432: Jan & Hugo van Eyck) is a visualization of the communion of the mystical body of the Deity and the Church that was believed to take place during the celebration of the Eucharist. O’Hear notes the effect of the synchronic presentation style, and suggests that Olivier de Langhe’s Tractus de corpre Christi might be the source text of the work. In reference to Memling’s St John’s Altarpiece (1479), the right hand panel is a synchronic presentation of Revelations 1-13, and that the panel’s depictions of John’s Vita “locate John’s apocalyptic visions within his life story as if in one glance, presenting a temporal summa of a life and event projected synchronically.
Botticelli’s The Mystic Nativity (c.1500). Upon first glance, the painting appears to represent Luke 2.1-20, but Botticelli’s Greek inscription at the top of the work and the speared devil and other angelic figures point toward Revelation as a major influence. Scholars have noted a pervasive apocalyptic and millenarian expectation in Florence at the end of the fifteenth century and suggest that Savonarola’s 1496 sermon influenced Botticelli. It is possible thereby to conceive the iconography of the Nativity [pp. 118-132] in terms of Botticelli’s understanding of the nativity as “itself an eschatological event” ushering in a time of endings as beginnings, which the powers of darkness are overcome and a new age begins.”
Compare also: two examples of early modern German woodcuts: Albrecht Dürer’s Apocalypse series (1495-6) and Lucas Cranach’s visualization of Revelation published in the Luther Bible (1522). The tradition of German Apocalypse woodcuts can be traced to the Koberger Bible (1483)—published by Dürer’s grandfather—to Dürer himself and on to Cranach. Cf Dürer as interpreter, arguing that he ought not to be labelled a “proto-Reformer.”[pp. 174-175] In reference to Cranach’s work, O’Hear undertakes a similar analysis, highlighting the literalistic and polemical nature of Cranach’s overtly Protestant visualizations. These examples point to the neglected importance of “visual exegesis' ' as a ‘re-envisioning’ of the text of Revelation which foregrounds the act and agency of a visionary experience predicated on a projection of heightened/intense visuality. It is perhaps visual artists, rather than textual exegetes, who may be most receptive to the visionary nature of the text.
Further ways of framing the art-work as Revelation, extending beyond a Christian eschatology, and as productive modes of ‘visionary’ and temporal alterity, are suggested by Hartog’s key concept of time’s crises or gaps. Hartog’s argument - that we need to grasp the tangle of temporalities that constitute Chronos time (earthly time - measurable time) - in order to understand their entwining with ‘sacred time’ (Krisis and Kairos or the immanence of endings), opens productive new avenues for rethinking how the art-work and the aesthetic opens a space that interrogates and re-imagines that ‘tangled’ relationship of sacred-Chronos time. This is particularly the case if we consider key 20th-century artistic and cultural modernities and their contemporary legacies in terms of their negotiation of multiple - often conflicting, antagonistic times (hinting at binaries & constructs such as Compagnon’s ‘Moderns-Anti-Modernes’). Yet, Hartog’s emphasis on ‘Krisis’ as the modality of modernity and its ‘régimes of historicity’ neglects the domain of art, and arguably the entanglement of ‘religious’/’sacred’ temporalities in the experience of modern time that problematize the aesthetic/art-work as the vector of Revelation/eschatological time mainly of ‘Krisis’: this is demonstrable in wide-ranging artists’ responses to states of crises, eg Edvard Munch, Käthe Kollwitz, Ernst Barlach, via temporal alterity as a pivotal medium for visualizing and perceiving the dynamics of Krisis - eros-thanatos; destruction-creation; decadence-plentitude; beginnings-endings.
A second productive frame - redressing some key gaps in Hartog’s conception - is Aby Warburg’s core idea of Nachleben or ‘afterlives’. Considering Newman’s key reading of Warburg’s 1917 lecture and essay, ‘Luther’s Birthday’, sheds light on potential benefits and drawbacks of Warburg’s core concern with visual traditions and image-pathways conceived as ‘temporal constellations’. That is, a ‘cartography’ of simultaneous material and image transfers that work trans-temporally and across media, allowing for occulted vectors of pre-modern visual cultures and across political/ geo-cultural borders to manifest as a present, possibly future ‘pathos’ - or structures of affect. ‘Pathos’ is the pivot of Warburg’s idea of temporal shift. UIt marks a moment of ‘arousal’ by the image - a moment of ‘disturbance’ by it, which is simultaneously a point of danger and revelation. Newman points out that in 1917, this thinking becomes problematically entangled with Warburg’s involvement with Reformation image-cultures, astrological predictions relating (in Luther’s case) to the coming of a new era (of ‘Reason’) and WWI War theologies, similarly founded on ideas of War as a prequel - a ‘necessary’ catastrophe (Warburg) - to ‘revealing’ a new social and political future. However, Warburg’s Nachleben offers an illuminating, if conflicted perspective, particularly on the image’s instability of meaning-production in times of crisis (historical, political and social). This also cuts across the domain of religion and concepts of ‘sacred’ time in ways that offer scope to situate the artwork’s ‘Revelatory’ potential, not only as the vehicle for ‘a sacralized, sedimentation of a pre-modern world’ (Holsinger, 2005/2007), but as the embodied transfer and medium for a pathos that negotiates uncertainty, darkness, and a condition of embodied disturbance. Pathos, in short, offers another way of rethinking the ‘Revelatory’ potential of the art-work working in and beyond the space of the aesthetic, binary or agonistic constructs of time & cultures, and a metaphysics /doctrine of ‘absolute’ endings. This should also take into account prevalent, yet neglected aspects of Jewish-Apocalyptic-Messianic thinking - eg, Walter Benjamin - in contributing to new eschatological frameworks that privilege the art work, and the aesthetic, as the site of recurring ‘Revelation’ that brings together ‘ruination’ and the redemptive.
Time’s crises or gaps (Hartog)
Temporalities of Revelation as embodied afterlives - or ‘revealing’ (Warburg)
Self-revelation of the artist – a self-revealing
Revelation – a ‘universe’/worlds in which continuous creation occurs.
A first step is to question the dichotomy between a supposed truth revealed by faith and a supposed truth acknowledged through reason. In this sense Paul Ricoeur gives us a number of powerful insights.
First of all, his text allows us to unfold the biblical notion of revelation, detaching it from the authoritarian perspective of a body of unveiled truths controlled by the church or some other Institution. Ricoeur is interested in going back to revelation as a polysemic and pluralistic category rooted in experience. Revelation precedes theology and even tradition. It cannot be trapped into any dogmatic, unilineal message coming from a transcendent God. It is a much more complicated and dynamic relation that pervades all moments of everyday life.
According to him, a hermeneutics of the Sacred Scriptures offers at least five different kind of revelation modes: 1) the prophetic one; 2) the one embedded in the narration of historical events; 3) the prescriptive one of the Torah, that informs everyday rituals and cults; 4) the wisdom discourse, often arising at the limit-point of extreme suffering (as in the Book of Job); and 5) the lyric invocation of the Psalms, with its hymns of praise, supplication, and thanksgiving.
This polyphonic variety of revelatory modes are not just a rhetoric around a dogma. They are the way revelation is perceived by believers, with or without the mediation of philosophers and theologians.
I will focus on the second mode, the historical mode. From this perspective, revelation is not just prophetical; it is also part of the narration of historical events. It engenders history through some unveiling moments. In other terms, the biblical way of grasping the temporality of the past needs the manifestation of transcendental events that mark, shape and orient the whole narrative.
In this sense, the way modern historiography has taken advantage of the term “revolution” is deeply indebted with the biblical narrative of revelatory moments in the history of the people of Israel. Revolutions and revelations are both history-making moments. Nothing to do with a prophetic vision of a history dictated from above, where God is the “dictator” of the events. Here God is just an actant among other actants. God’s interventions orient and mark the narrative, in a radically different pattern from a predefined design or a providential teleology. No dialectics can put together narration of history and prophecy. A “gulf of nothingness” –as André Neher puts it- separates these two modes of revelation.
Scientific thinking has questioned the body of truths related to revelation with two main objections. The first one has to do with objectivity, the second one with subjectivity. From this perspective, a revealed truth is not objective since it does not conform to verification and falsification. It is not transparent. And, at the same time, it denies the subject a control of his /her own consciousness/ It is not autonomous. Reason therefore has to reject any attempt to get to hidden truths through revelation.
Nowadays, when both claims of transparency and autonomy in science have been questioned and redefined, the revelatory mode -freed from its authoritarian pretensions- can open up to more fruitful paths. It can become a poetic discourse that works through and in-between the grasps of the scientific discourse. Revelation can express truth in terms of manifestation rather than demonstration, allowing a poetic re-description of the world and a belonging to the world that scientific discourse has lost.
This more complex category of revelation has a direct repercussion on the idea of Apocalypse itself. Doomsday is not anymore the inevitable end of times unfold by prophecies and oracles. It can become a poetic act of imagination that shakes established historical patterns and shared beliefs. Prophecy (the word) is not just describing the end of history (the world), since prophecy itself is embedded in history, the word itself is embedded in the world. God is in the events, in history, rather than in prophetic words.
This hermeneutical opening of the notion of Revelation has a powerful impact on the eschatological structures that have fashioned western understandings of space and time, both as a religious expectancy of a second coming and as its secular version of a catastrophic extinction. Paradoxically, an extended understanding of revelation -beyond prophecy and institutions, beyond both religious and scientific dogmas- is a crucial opening to imagine a world beyond the Apocalypse and beyond apocalyptic narratives.
Revelation in truth and fiction/ Genre of apocalypse/ Literary truth vs literal truth(claims).
I’m interested in how the apocalyptic present may be grasped in terms of genre. A genre approach, understood broadly as in the new historicism of literary studies (Michael McKeon, Mary Poovey, Catherine Gallagher etc), is uniquely suited to capturing the changes in credit, credibility, probability/ verisimilitude and plausibility that define our time. One broad shift here to me seems to be a shift from literary to literal truth claims, that is, a growing desire for literal truth and concomitant decreasing tolerance and capability to understand the very particular truth claim of literary genres. Firing a school director for pornography in Florida for showing Michelangelo’s naked David in art class (spring, 2023) may as much be part of this shift as the mainstreaming of conspiracy theories, the cynical ressentiment of right-wing populism, but also the strict tying of legitimate fiction to identity in so called “woke” art politics and the transformation of literature into (post-apocalyptic) scenarios of the future.
One may begin to theorise this shift with Kaup's (2021) analogy or equivalence between new ecological realism and post-apocalyptic fiction, which amounts to an equivalence between ontological realism and poetological realism, sparked by our apocalyptic present. Here the emphasis is on the unveiling of truth as realization by the medium of fiction. Ricoeur (1977), on the other hand, presents an account of a poetological unveiling of truth as revelation, while Horn (2014) may be placed in between the two. All three authors present an understanding of genre that entails a relation between the genre of science and genres of fiction/ the imagination. Horn and Kaup depict a certain historical shift in genre: For Kaup, the speculative realism of (post)-apocalyptic fiction is characterised by a different kind of verisimilitude than its 18th century predecessor: ‘Truth-likeness, or believable truth – the unique standard of novel realism, where fiction becomes a higher form of truth-telling – can thus be appreciated in a new futurist form … tailored to the needs of our own time’. This contemporary - somewhat underdeveloped - kind of verisimilitude relies on the one hand on Suvin’s (1979) criterion of cognitive estrangement and on the other on ‘risk scenarios’ that are placed somewhere between the predetermined biblical apocalypse and the open future of modernity.
For Horn’s (2014) Future as catastrophe scenarios are equally central, but she offers a historical account of this genre via the figure of the Romantic last man. As antagonist and counterdiscourse to modernity’s progressive mindset of the open future, the last man represents the secularised apocalypse. The position of lastness is necessarily fictional, projected into the future. But where Jean Paul’s poem Speech of the dead Christ (1796) serves as warning and critique that emphasises its hypothetical and fictional character – an apotropaic gesture that seeks to effect its opposite – Horn sees the fictional character of John Martin’s 19th century apocalyptic paintings marked by the depiction of an impossible viewpoint: the human witness to the extinction of humanity. Byron’s (1816) poem Darkness moves from fiction as impossibility to fiction as possibility: an imaginary extrapolation of a known sample, mirroring the statistical extrapolation of the probability calculus. Placing these developments into the broader generic differentiations elaborated by the work of McKeon and Poovey would have given this analysis more depth. But what is intriguing about Horn’s last man is the embodiment of revelation as the temporal structure of the future perfect: to the last man is revealed what ‘will have been’; the accomplished future. Only in hindsight is the ultimate truth revealed – not as fate and divine providence, but as recognition of the contingency of the end at a point in time where it will be too late to change it.
Although from a different angle, Ricoeur’s (1977) hermeneutics of revelation also centrally revolves around revelation as contemplation/ comprehension that fundamentally depends on subjection. For both Horn and Ricoeur revelation cannot be divorced from testimony and only be obtained by surrender. But where Horn’s historical account of the figure of revelation (at least in the Byron example) entails an analogical relation to knowledge, Ricoeur proposes a poetological account of revelation that is structurally opposed to knowledge (as well as theological dogma): ‘In none of its modalities may revelation be included in and dominated by knowledge. In this regard the idea of something secret is the limit-idea of revelation’. Against the philosophical idea of truth as verification and the Cartesian sovereignty of consciousness, revelation reveals truth as manifestation and depends on the self-implication of the subject in his discourse through testimony. This revelatory function inherent to poetic discourse captures its dependence on a world/ secret revealing itself to a subject bearing witness, that is, both participating in and distancing itself. The superiority of poetic revelation to ‘propositional knowledge’ appears to resonate with Kaup’s account of the ontological superiority of post-apocalyptic fiction to theoretical statements, even of the new realist kind, due to narrative enactment and emplotment. Yet for her the imperative of realism follows from existential threat, and post-apocalyptic agency from destroying and remaking the whole world: here fiction seems to be engaged more in realization than in revelation.
These authors present the kernels of related yet different approaches to theorise generic transformation pertaining to the apocalypse and thus may serve as starting points for an analysis of the shift from literary to literal truth claims marking the present.
For me, revelation is of key importance to differentiate apocalypse from other forms of radical, cataclysmic, or catastrophic change. A good starting point is the biblical apocalypse, not only because it an Urtext and actually means “revelation” but also it illustrates that revelation should not be conceived of as the revelation of a content, which would equate to what Ricoeur calls “dogma”, but a structure, that is, a process with a very particular temporality. The Book of Revelations does not reveal the fate of humanity and each individual at the end of times but a process or narration (I think it would actually be interesting to think, if we talk about genres, about the epic). Hartog and Agamben (the latter for me more incisive) make clear that revelation is not a unique event at the end of a time conceived in linear terms but all of salvational history (the end, the time that remains, begins with the Passion) is an anticipation and fulfillment of a past that starts with the expulsion from Paradise (that is the beginning of human history). The end and the aftermath of history is radically open because it effects the cancellation of time: revelation is not a sort of prognosis but the opening of something radically new. Revelation positive truth, i.e. a form of knowledge, is only thinkable in a secularized world and human claims to dominate the world and time.
Ricoeur and his biblical “genres” is highly interesting because it presents different modes and modalities of revelation without a semantic content and centers on the notion of secret (connections with the ghostly, the ‘secreted’ abject).
#Revelation – Future directions?
Build on research frameworks/questions
Expand scope for new cross-disciplinary
International Call for Papers
Conference on ‘Revelation’ and other outputs.
Prepared by Juliet Simpson: 19 July 2020
CAPAS #Group Revelation