Tree of Life: 8

Benjamin and Whitehead’s respective theologies, which are startingly similar despite neither having heard of the other, presume the immanence of the messianic order within the natural and vice versa.  (Whitehead: It is as true to say that God is immanent in the world as it is to say that the world is immanent in God.  At the same time: it is as true to say that God transcends the world as it is to say that the world transcends God.  In short, the two orders don’t collapse into a homogeneous identity.) Their interaction is neither strictly bottom-up or strictly top-down.  They exist in a relation of reciprocal quasi-causality.  They are like two axes of a single reality, or two constantly shifting poles of an absolute potentiality: the messianic order an axis of intensity in which the desire produced at all points of the natural order’s timescape is gathered and compressed into a procession of pure satisfaction, the natural order an axis of extensity comprised of a plurality of disjunctive occasions that can enter into contingent nonlocalizable relations with one another through the agency of the messianic order.  Every spatiotemporal occasion in the natural order is shot through with the force of the messianic procession of universal history, the direction of which is not for-ward but ana-ward.  Within every natural occasion, then, dwells a revolutionary chance in the fight for the oppressed past which can or cannot be seized.

At the end of the mystical sequence, the film returns the viewer to older Jack’s contemporary Houston.  He has come down the elevator (down the axis of intensity) and is on the ground.  He smiles a secretive smile, almost a smirk.  Something has happened to him.  Something good, something restorative.  But what?  One could say that he has had a vision.  That by luck or grace he has caught the messianic procession at the precise moment of its flitting by in an otherwise ordinary spatiotemporal occasion.  In this respect, he is a recipient.  At the same time, it appears that he has not been idle.  He has been remembering the past.  And this very act of remembrance, sparked by the occasion of the anniversay of his brother’s death, has itself achieved something in the anagogic direction.  Benjamin notes that remembrance can decreate the past that was and create the past that was not, that it can liberate the element of indestructible life buried in the past’s empirical inalterability.  Benjamin’s idea is thus somewhat Kantian: just as Kant declared time and space to be empirically real but transcendentally ideal, so Benjamin declares the past empirically closed but transcendentally open.  The Tree of Life thematizes the weak messianic power of remembrance, not to mention the good luck of managing to read the spatiotemporal occasion for the flashing up and flitting by of the anacession of eternity.


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