For a long time now, we have been awaiting the end of the world. Indeed, the promise of the end of the world has been for quite a while the archetype of all our promises. Every promise made waits for a day, for the last and final day, for the dead-line, which is in fact the day of the end of the promise, the day of the end of the end. Even promises of love – love that cannot wait and that strives for eternity, even if the striving itself takes but an instant – even these promises are made following the formula suggested by Peter Handke – “till the day you do part”. We are still awaiting the end, either of the world or of our being haunted by the end.
The day of the end of the world – the coup de grâce of the world – has not yet come. However, the day arrives everyday, which also implies that the day ends everyday. “Day” means nothing but arriving and ending everyday, day by day. And if the end of anything, which also includes that of the world, is bound to the arrival of a day, we should then admit that the end of the world arrives every day: that every day the world ends. This is a way of saying that the world is finite, but also that the promise of the end of the world reveals the world’s finitude.
The book of John titled Apocalypse, which has been read for centuries as one of the major narratives about the end of the world, is indeed a narrative revealing the world’s finitude. What does this book relate if not how the promise of the end of the world makes possible the counting of time in epochs and kingdoms, the calculation of time according to the idea of a chronological succession of before and after? It is on the basis of the promise of the end of the world that finitude becomes a question of arithmetic counting and moral accounting. From the perspective of the end of the world, everything that came before, along with the whole of history (that is, all the times), becomes visible at the same time. At the end of the world, the partition of time into different times is replaced by a scheme, whereby all times are joined together in a history, which itself cannot be divided and which is said to be the only possible and necessary one. The Apocalypse is the promise of a history without parts, without differences, without the “each one”, resembling all finitudes but excluding finitude itself, and, above all, the day. This is the vision of Macbeth, who dreams to “be-all and end-all”, a formula through which Shakespeare showed how the mad desire to be-all cannot be dissociated from the violence of the will to end-all.
Apocalypse, the book of Revelation, is narrated in a tone of exaltation before the end, the “apocalyptic tone” that Kant would denounced in one of his short essays and that not even Derrida could get rid of in his thinking of the time “to-come”. But this book is not only a recitation in a certain a tone. It is the presentation of what we should rather call a method, the apocalyptic method, which has been adopted since time immemorial in philosophy. What the apocalyptic method proposes is the path of and toward the end as the only way to regain a sense of the world, more meaningful than the world itself.
In another text entitled “The End of All Things” (Das Ende aller Dinge), Kant saw quite well, albeit without making it explicit, the methodological sense of postulating “the end of the world”. Keeping the ambiguity of the expression “the end of all things” that means both the end – finito, basta – of all things and the finality or the purpose of all things, Kant recognized how the threatening promise of the end is the “means”, he says, for arriving at the moral idea of a ultimate finality of all things, culminating in the moral sense of the world. In this way, the apocalyptic method demonstrates how the promise of the end of the world reveals the finitude of the world not only as a line of counts and accounts but also as a line of finalities.
The apocalyptic method adopted since time immemorial in philosophy reveals the finitude of the world though betrayal. The finitude of the world is betrayed when it is “regained” by means of the demoralizing production of ends without end. And even when philosophy proposes a new formula for recovering the betrayed finitude of the world – namely, the phenomenological formula announced by Edmund Husserl at the end of his Cartesian Meditations that reads: “we shall lose the world through epoché for the sake of regaining it in a more universal philosophical meditation” – the matrix of the apocalyptical method is reinforced. It seems that there is no way left to reveal the finitude of the world if not at the end of the world. This is the trap at the core of the long history that promises something better and higher than worldly meaning.
The apocalyptic tone is spreading today. We hear it everywhere, stated in different accents. This tone accompanies wars for and against capitalism, for and against the end of the world, for and against the death of God and a reencounter with the lost God. The sentiment of the world is the one of finding itself in the middle of a race speeding towards its end: no longer the end of art, of history, of philosophy, of man, but the end of all resources pertaining to the world, the earth, the planet.
To speak about the end of the world is to speak about the biodegradation of the world, of the earth, of the planet, as a result of the capitalist equation proffered by Macbeth: be-all and end-all. It is to speak about the speed with which the excesses of exclusion and alienation, of inequality and injustice move; it is to speak of such an accelerating speed that the oppositions between the human and the inhuman, the rational and the irrational, the alive and the dead are annihilated. The sentiment of the world is one of already having arrived at end of the world. Everywhere it seems that the world has ended, albeit this time without any promise of the future, which, in its turn, has also been degraded.
The end of the world has already arrived. It arrives every day. Every day we meet the refugees of the end of a world. The end of a world demands of us not to reveal it – how to reveal what does not hide itself? – but to take care of it, so that each one of us would become its guardian.