Jesús R. Velasco | Revolution and Transmigration

By Jesús R. Velasco

I do have a few questions about how a movement becomes a revolution. I will start this line of questioning with one of the lost meanings of the word revolution —revolution as the process of soul-transmigration. This meaning comes from theological thinking, and maybe allows us to look at the interstices that inhabit the time between the uprising (the passion and death of the old political body) and the moment of revolution proper (the moment in which the political body has renewed itself, become other different than the previous body, rebirth), this empty time during which the old is already dead but the new has not yet risen.

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The careful considerations Koselleck gave to the semantics of the word Revolution left aside one of its meanings in history. Of course this represents no criticism on my part, and there are certainly many other marginal uses and meanings of the word that escaped and will escape us all. But I want to mention this one for a particular reason: it is of theological character. For revolutio was also used as as synonym of transformation in Augustin of Hippo. He uses it in De Civitate Dei (22:12), and De Trinitate (12:24) to talk, in a very beautiful manner, about the transmigration of souls from body to body, taking new forms. He considers this doctrine of the soul ludicrous. Half jokingly, he wonders whether the philosophers, like Porphyry, who defend such transformation are talking about souls in search of a body, or rather of souls escaping those miserable bodies time and time again. Half jokingly as well, he wonders how can a soul remember the incredible amount of things that happened to all those bodies from which it flies away at their death. Those migrations of this single soul from body to body receive the name of revolutiones.

Yet, Augustine manages to put this revolutionary thinking on the transmigration of souls in the economy of theological debates —and, indeed, it will become central in future debates on the relationship between the individual soul and the collective or universal soul.

It is just an anecdote. Or maybe not. Maybe it is a metaphor. A revolution is a body change, a transmigration, a renewal of the soul from a dying body to another body that has to die as well. A cyclic experience of formal renovation, while the substance remains the same —the fugitive soul that has too much to remember.

This soul remembers, indeed, the events, the ones linked to the bodies it inhabited. But, does this fugitive, revolutionary (in that sense) soul, remember the transmigration itself, the very experience of revolution, the instant that “flashes in a moment of danger”? The time of the revolution that messes time altogether? Like Walter Benjamin —again— we may remember this “poetry of the revolution” rhymed by none other than an eyewitness:

“Qui le croirait! on dit,

qu’irrités contre l’heure

De nouveaux Josués

au pied de chaque tour,

Tiraient sur les cadrans

pour arrêter le jour.” (Theses, 15)

The time of the revolution, the transmigration proper, is natural time stopped up, a hiccup in time, the space between two printed columns —which in the typographical arts receives the name of gutter. Natural time may stop, but another clock keeps ticking, or starts ticking, at any rate —the time of history. For Koselleck, those times are separated from each other, they look at different places, like the two faces of Janus.

The time of the revolution is also the time of the prophecy. It is the revolution to come. The revolution to happen. Or the revolution that will never happen. A prophetic series of statements that criss-cross the history of the revolution —and the meta history of the concept of revolution.

While revolution is in synchronicity with historical time and prophetic statements (and indeed the plasma that feeds history and prophecy). While revolution is the marker of periodization, of accelerations and decelerations of time, of the reorganization of the calendar, and the generation of the master narratives. While revolution is the ultimate political object of desire —one could legitimately ask the question —what is the kind of modality of revolt that stays in sync with natural time? What is the modality of revolt that does not stop the clock, does not accelerate it, does not replace it, does not —indeed—constitute any form of transmigration? What is the form of revolt that seeks for social justice here and now, in this time, in this calendar, in this particular time zone?

I do not have an answer to these questions. Part of the research project of 13/13 is to be able to find some answers —maybe to reimagine revolution altogether, the Revolution with a big capital R. Maybe. But, can this revolution-other learn anything about revolution itself by looking at the revolutionary experiences that occur in time? At movements of insurgency, upheavals, the dangerous situation itself?

During some of these minor events, we have been able to see —in Spain, in Greece, in Tunis, in Egypt, in North Dakota and other places of the US— something that cannot be silenced, namely the formation of micro-assemblies with pedagogical purposes and horizontal teach-ins.

Who is —finally— in charge to call the revolution a revolution? The revolutionaries themselves? The new state (a political body) arising right after the death of the old state? Is the new apparatus that calls itself a revolutionary one?

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