Of God and of the instruments of his will, I sing,
With celestial influence and passion from the deep,
A man, no less, myself, an organ of the Lord of Hosts,
Spurred on by the applause of fate and by the music,
Which ever intones the curves of the earth,
And enchants the feet of those proud wanderers
Whose legs provide the measure of its soil.
I sing, then, by divine decree, not as a self,
But simply as a poet, supplied with an ephemeral voice,
As I descend into the hearth of Erebos,
And crawl into the decaying pages of history,
Which once opened the manifest Book of Life.
That by resurrecting the story of another,
I may, for a moment, experience the suspension of my own,
And unite what was with what is yet to be.
Thursday, July 31, 2008
Of God and of the instruments of his will, I sing,
On that mythical day, on which it is said that myriads of souls not yet born traveled all the way from the underbelly of time to the foot of Mount Sinai to hear the divine word, I who had been alive to witness the parting of the Sea of Reeds with my own eyes, was sleeping. So tired was I from a week without sleep that I slept through the thunder and the lightning, the bellowing of Adonai and the responsive cry of his people. I was not awake to accept the yoke of the law. Yet in my oneiric slumber, I dreamt that I was there, bowing, face falling to the earth, hands lifting to the sky; and that when Adonai spoke, my heart ceased, and when he paused, it resumed, coming back to life. I dreamed that the mountain was held over my head by a celestial longing, sheltering me from the golden rays of the sun. I dreamed that the mountain spoke and the ground echoed its utterances and the world shook, but the trees stood fast. So vividly did I dream, that I do not know if I am now awake. But I hope not.
Thursday, July 24, 2008
Friedrich Philosophicus of Tübingen: It is as you say, then, Yehudah.
Y: This argument is quite sophistic, especially coming from a man who allegedly spent a great deal of time arguing and refuting sophists. For according to Socrates' espoused views, in order to judge in any matter one must possess knowledge of that matter. Only the prophet may distinguish between true and false prophecy. Only a doctor may separate the good doctor from the bad one. How then, is Socrates able to judge that the men he comes into contact do not actually know what they claim to know. How can Socrates, in short, say that such men know nothing, and at the same time claim that he himself knows nothing? For if Socrates knows nothing, by what authority can he disprove his interlocutors who claim knowledge for themselves?
F: By reason, this seems likely.
Y: We see, then, that Socrates, at least the way Plato portrays him in his Apology, is nothing but a skeptic. And we also see that his skepticism cannot hold up. Since all skepticism which is unmitigated and dogmatic inevitably collapses upon itself, just as a band of thieves, once it has stolen all it can from the innocent, rips itself apart out of sheer greed, it is no coincidence that Socrates can do nothing but die. And one of his friends subtly points this out in Crito. Socrates refuses to escape from his death not because of any commitment to justice, but simply because he is lazy. Do we agree?
F: Assuredly, unless the poet lies.
Y: Of course, brother, Socrates does make many positive arguments in other dialogues, concerning beauty, love, the soul, etc. But it cannot be ignored that whenever Socrates is at his most profound, he is often also being a wise-ass. Socrates treads the line between wisdom and cunning. But is Socrates' cunning an enemy to wisdom or an asset to it? I guess the answer to this question depends on how we understand the complicated role which Socrates plays for Plato, the writer of the dialogues. What say you?
F: This seems likely enough.
Y: One possibility is that Plato uses the dialogue form precisely so that he can make wise-ass arguments, but instead of taking the blame for them, can simply say, "Socrates said it, not me." Another possibility is that Plato uses the wise-ass moments in Socrates as a way of inviting us to challenge Socrates just as Socrates challenges his interlocutors. And yet another option: Socrates isn't a wise-ass, since in a paradoxical way, being but a mere character in a dialogue, his words and actions must are not real, and thereby are not ingenuine either. That is, within the frame of a dialogue, Socrates' words may be excused, even if otherwise they could be seen as annoying, petty, and self-important.
F: This dialogue is over. Since we only agree and since you do not let me speak.
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
--Reb Yitzhaq HaRodef
"What does the text say of this, but what birds say of their hunters?"
--Reb Yaakov ben Yitzhaq HaRodef
"It says what hunters say of the birds saying of their hunters. Does it not?"
"Who, but the text can answer?"
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
The dog either drools with excitement or pisses himself with terror, depending on whether he expects the man entering his house to be a friend or an enemy of his master, while the child similarly cries out in exclamation or for help, depending on whether it believes the messiah at the door to be a restorer or a destroyer of worlds.
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
Of this, Rav Ehyeh ben Self said,
"Without the receiving of the Torah, no giving of the Torah could be possible. As the Psalmist proclaims, 'Blessed is the One who hears prayers.'"
Monday, July 14, 2008
the imprint of an angel’s finger above my lips?
And soon will know, when the same angel of death
removes his index governing my breath?
For I know many things as a result of my forgetting:
the creak of a wagon wheel, the hum of a radiator,
the heavy silence of anger, the heavy silence of love.
But I do not know what I do not know,
since knowing what I know, I do not dare to know.
What I knew was nothing and nothing will I know.
Yet now, I have forgotten nothing, plunging into life,
into self, and detailed darkness,
distracted by the imagined fragrance of the stars
and by the thought of how I smell to them,
and by the prospect that everything makes sense and grants consent to me.
And so I’ll say, while I’m alive and beclouded by the vividness of this earth,
I would rather bask in the poetry of what is, than the truth of what’s to be.
Thursday, July 10, 2008
For ages, the sages have wondered how Adam and Eve could be held accountable for disobeying God, since before eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil they had no knowledge that what they were doing was wrong.
But now it becomes clear that they already had knowledge of good and evil before eating from the tree. Since, having been created in a hurry, in God’s image, they already possessed much of the knowledge that God already had.
The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Tree of Life possessed no powers that Adam and Eve didn’t already have. God could not have been worried that Adam and Eve would be like him, since he made them already in his image. Rather, God was worried that if they ate from the trees, they would know that the universe was incomplete and that God’s glorious work had been interrupted by the setting of the sun.
Thus, God banished them, leaving us to think, up until now, that God had intended to create the world in six days, as if a sheer six days would ever be enough time to create a complete world.
Tuesday, July 8, 2008
Now, thankfully, this dichotomy is not so markedly true, and there remains a way to synthesize heaven and earth, love of God and love of Man, dynamic striving and firm commitment, mysticism/nihilism/antinomianism and materialism/rationalism/positivism. But before sketching out why and how such a middle ground is achievable, let us see whether this dichotomy is not simply born out of a disappointed faith in man, but rather additionally out of a disappointed faith in God.
Imagine, for a moment, that the tension between heaven and earth plays out not only for us, but for divinity as well. Thus, just as we must decide between a life of meaningful thinking and rightful doing, God must also elect between the two. For God, the earth is his heaven. And as he stares contemplatively at the earth above (existentially, for God, earth is higher than heaven), he stumbles into a heavenly well. That is to say, he forgets his obligation to be Master of the Universe. Just as the mystic seeks to lose his I-hood in ecstatic experience, God desires the same. But leaving behind his Godly ego, God forgets his duties to judge the wicked, reward the just, revive the dead, etc. So ensnared in the aesthetic and transcendental experience of existence, God is paralyzed, or perhaps, worse, God acts unintentionally or wrongfully. He mistakes the laws of earth for the laws of heaven, just as the mystics mistake the laws of heaven for the laws of earth.
Man being in the image of God, or God being the reflection of man (Xenophanes famously said that if humans were horses, God would have hooves), this scenario is not entirely absurd. Indeed, if we understand humans and God to be in covenant and to shape each other as only Others can (Philosophy from Kant to Sartre has stressed the role that an a priori existence of a not-I, of an Other, plays in forming who we are, and indeed, in allowing us "to be" or "to be conscious of our being"), then the trade off may have originated in earth or in heaven and inexorably assimilated itself into the other realm. That is, the trade off either originated in God's very creation of the world, or emanated from man's pursuit of his free-will in opposition to the will of God. (Of course, logically and paradoxically, that we should violate God's will must also have been part of God's will).
Now we can see that on some level, the question of theodicy is one of anthropodicy. A.J Heschel makes this very point in God in Search of Man. And the subscribers of the aforementioned dichotomy do not simply express a dismay at the inability of philo-sophy, of love-of-wisdom, to prevent atrocities, but at philogeosy (God's love of earth, a love that renders him impotent) as well.
Now, to zoom out and solve the problem of this either/or, which if unmediated, would be sure to cause us disappointment.
Fichte, an ethical idealist, offers us the groundwork. According to him, reason alone, philosophy alone, meditation alone, can prove nothing. Theory cannot prove that there is a God, that we are free, that knowledge of anything can be attainable, that there is a moral imperative. Theory cannot prove anything precisely because what it seeks to prove can only be proven while it's in motion. Thus, we prove that there is a God by acting as if God existed. And in so acting, bring God that much closer to the reality we desire our concept of him to posses. We cannot prove that we are free, since so long as we are in our armchairs thinking about freedom, we are not. Yet by acting as if free, by seeking to do the moral thing, dictated not necessarily by political laws, but rather by our consciences, we bring ourselves that much closer to freedom. Though we don't possess any pre-suppositionless first principle of philosophy, by questing for a system of knowledge, we intimate ourselves to the reality of the possibility that there is a system of knowledge with a first principle, and in so doing, climb the asymptote that separates us from it.
Thus, by striving to prove what we can only believe, by seeking to incarnate in ourselves and our world what we can only observe from afar in the shadows of the milky way, and in attempting to instantiate through works, moral and artistic, what we hope to already be built into the the fabric of existence, we are able to "bring heaven down to earth" and earth up to heaven. In bridging the two, we save God from facing his either/or. We redeem God, allowing him to find meaning in redeeming our world.
Sunday, July 6, 2008
But just as we are aware of the division between things as they seem and things as they are in themselves, so is God. And just as we lament our inability to have certainty about anything, God bemoans the fact that he can only see reality, but never reality as it seems to us, his creation. For us, we struggle to break out of a world of time and space, of determinism, fatalism, and even nihilism. For God, the struggle is to break out of a world governed by total freedom and optimism. God wishes he could possess a tinge of nihilism, enough that would allow him to doubt his world, his goodness, and bring him to act. For God would long to be a humanist if only he could bring himself to disown himself, even if only in part. But such would require that he see himself only as he seems and not as he really is.
For us, we are able to glimpse the world of things in themselves through moral living and through an encounter with the sublime, which we often find in observing nature or a work of artistic genius. For such experiences reveal a hint of purposiveness in the universe. For God, a peek into the world of things as they appear comes in moments of arbitrariness and angst, when purpose seems to slip away. Such moments are rare for God, but they come, whenever someone does something really absurd to try to get God’s attention. Back in the day, when people offered sacrifices, erected temples, built towers and totems in dedication to the gods, God was amazed by all of this, and was heavily involved in the world, since such rituals on the part of human beings made God see the seeming ridiculousness of his universe. Over time, however, human beings have sought less and less to gain God’s attention through ritual and have resorted instead to seeking out reason and enlightenment. Now that people are less “superstitious,” no longer making pilgrimages in search of the Holy Grail or kissing the bones of saints, God is less on edge about the chanceness of his creative enterprise. But every now and then, when, for example, Jews circumcise their boys or shake the lulav and etrog in their huts, when Catholics take the Eucharist, pronouncing a wafer the body of Christ and a cup of wine, his blood, when Charismatics speak in tongues, when Muslims refrain from eating pig and Hindus from cow, God somehow becomes more attuned to the world of things as they appear, and out of the totality of being jump these isolated and unaccounted for images that threaten the entire order of the universe.
Before the industrial revolution, when one could see the stars clearly every night and sunrises every morning, it was no doubt easier to raise one’s eyes to a beyond, to a possibility of a world of things as they are. Now, with nature no longer what it was and modern and post-modern art in rebellion against such notions as order, beauty, and goodness, our view of the noumenal is much more scant. It seems so difficult to see things beyond the way they seem, that we have even given up on the notion of “things in themselves” altogether. We live in a world that has ceased caring about things in themselves and has begun to call things as they appear “things themselves,” at least since Husserl, as if to say that our reality is entirely how we construe it, with no primordial source behind it.
Perhaps, too, in heaven, the angels have urbanized, and it has become harder for God to see the sacrifices down below, the suicide bombings in the name of Allah and the 70 virgins, the banning of Harry Potter or the peyote circles in remote wastelands.
With a large part of humanity that has given up on a world besides the physical and a God who is a blind to a world beyond the spiritual, it becomes clear why there is a “seeming” disconnect between God and the world.
God knows whether and how such a divide will ever be bridged.
Said Aristotle, “Cause of Causes, Who requires you to do this?”
Replied the First Principle of Philosophy, “One day there will come a man who will grasp the ideas behind these words and derive pages and pages of philosophical insights from them.
Said Aristotle, “Being qua Being, reveal this man to me.”
Replied Being qua Being, “Turn around.”
Aristotle turned around and found himself in the back of Heidegger’s classroom at the University of Heidelberg. Aristotle could not follow the discussion and felt dizzy. At a certain point, one of the students asked, “Herr, Heidegger, how does your distinction between the factical and the existential or the ontic and the ontological bear out in terms of the relation between one’s thoughts and one’s actions?” Heidegger replied, “This distinction is one given to us in the works of Aristotle. Aristotle’s life may summed up as follows: Aristotle was born. He thought. He died. What matters is that he thought. This is the unveiling revelation given to us by Being through Aristotle.” Then Aristotle felt relieved.
But Aristotle turned back to face the Ground of Grounds, and he said, “You have such a mind, yet you give the question of the meaning of Being through me?”
Replied, Thought Thinking Itself, “Shush. This is the way my thoughts ascend me.”
Replied, Aristotle, “Reason of the Universe, you have shown me his insights, show me his life.”
The Reason of the Universe said, “Turn around.” Aristotle turned around and saw Heidegger shouting, “Heil Hitler.”
Said Aristotle, “Source of Sources, such is his knowledge and such his life?”
Replied Being, “Shush. This is the way my thoughts ascend me.”
Friday, July 4, 2008
And here it is, as I have heard it told by the great Hebrew novelist and storyteller S.Y. Agnon: When the Ba’al Shem Tov [Founder of Hasidism, 1698-1760] had a difficult task before him, he would go to a certain place in the woods, light a fire, and meditate in prayer – and what he had set out to perform was done. When a generation later Dov Baer, the “Maggid” of Meseritz [1710-1772] was faced with the same task, he would go to the same place in the woods and say: We can no longer light the fire, but we can still speak the prayers—and what he wanted became a reality. Again, a generation later, Rabbi Moshe Leib of Sassov [1745-1807] had to perform this task. And he too went into the woods and said: We can no longer light the fire, nor do we know the secret meditations belonging to the prayer, but we do know the place in the woods to which it all belongs—and that must be sufficient; and sufficient it was. But when another generation had passed and Rabbi Israel of Rishin [1796-1850] was called upon to perform the task, he sat down on his gold chair in his castle and said: We cannot light the fire, we cannot speak the prayers, we do not know the place, but we can tell the story of how it was done. And, the storyteller, adds, the story he told had the same effect as the actions of the other three.
This story, which Gershom Scholem, the great historian of Jewish mysticism, recounts, gets at the center of what history is. The ancients had their temple rituals and the medievals had their sacraments. We moderns have our histories. As collective members of a secular and technological age, we are unable to free ourselves from the scientific paradigms that govern our experience and cloud our faith with skepticism. We no longer know the prayers or how to light the fire or even where to go. But we are able to tell the story of those for whom faith was a precondition of experience. And in telling the story, in believing that others could believe, we ourselves take the leap of faith. The previous ages found meaning in space, but we find it in time. We enter the woods to say our prayers and light our fires when we enter the library archives and when we fill them with our own writings. If it is enough that Rabbi Israel Rishin told the story of his forefathers, it is enough that S.Y. Agnon told the story about Rishin telling the story, and it is enough that Scholem told the story about Agnon telling the story about Rishin telling the story. In every retelling, the story changes slightly with its storyteller. But in effect, the truth of the story is preserved, since the story is itself simply about telling the story. No matter who tells it or how, the story remains. Historians, the “scientific” bards of the modern age, may revise their stories as certain facts come into and out of favor and as modes of causal analysis change, but the ultimate importance that they serve in all of their writings and rewritings is not so much in the stories they tell, but in the fact that they tell a story. The historians tell the story of humankind not as omniscient narrators, but as characters. The histories they write do not capture the plot so much as they drive it.
Faith that all of the conflicting histories will resolve themselves into one historical truth and that all of the characters on the stage of history will come together in unity, a Hegelian transmutation of Smith’s notion of the “invisible hand,” is dogmatic if we conceive it to mean that a conscious absolute spirit operates within the world as its driving force. To posit that history is moving toward an “end of history,” and to claim knowledge of what such an end of history entails is unduly orthodox. But to believe that the story will continue and that every telling of the story is an end in itself— that history, in a sense, occurs so that it may be told and retold —this is the courageous leap that the historian must, on some level, make. The historian cannot prove the truth of such a claim except by accepting it. Only by striving to tell the story does the historian show that history is the telos of history.
Thursday, July 3, 2008
This seems rather odd, at first, given that psychoanalysis claims to understand consciousness and the inner-symbolic structure of the psyche. Yet further reflection leads us to notice that psychoanalysis can only make its claims to knowledge by arguing that it is an objective science. And so, while psychoanalysis focuses on subjectivity, it does so at its desk, observing its "cases" reclining on distant sofas. Psychoanalysis seeks to untie itself from its subject in order to know it. How gloriously paradoxical! How senseless one would be, on the one hand, to study a subject one has no interest in, yet how doomed one would be, if one was so invested in one's subject so as not to be able to reflect upon it.
There is, I believe, a solution to this paradox, and one which extends beyond the bounds of mere psychoanalysis. And that is that the untying which psychoanalysis seeks to accomplish is not simply an untying of itself as a science from its "patients," but an untying of the patients from themselves. If both subject and object are untied, somehow they are able to meet in the atopological between, a between as easy to miss as the Hogwart's Platform 9''3/4 (See J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter).
Analysis of anything, be it of the psyche, of the divine, of culture, music, geometry, algebra or rhetoric, succeeds when subject and object are able to untie from themselves and from each other in order to meet in non-space. I use the metaphor of space, simply because space is most obviously relational. Something is here in relation to this over there, but it is never here in virtue of itself. Hereness and thereness are contingent and contextual, but analysis brings them to an ec-static level.
Thus, analysis, though it often seems dry and forced, can, if it succeeds in doing what it's name suggests, truly un-knot the obvious and open up the secret. And this, I add as a footnote, is why religion must be critical and analytical if it is also to be spiritual. For spirituality is not opposed to analysis. Rather, it is what analysis, what thought, what deconstruction, make possible. The mystical experience is founded on doubt and skepticism, and this is what makes it especially powerful. For in the words of Franz Rosenzweig, "the mystic and the atheist shake hands."
For if the wound is that which cannot close, or which, upon closing, leaves a trace, a sign, a memory, in its place, is the wound not something necessary for our self-consciousness? For without a wound, that is, without a past, who are we? Without the wound of heritage, the wound of history, the wound of temporality, do we not become simply still-lifes in a stagnant, albeit beautiful painting? We would "be," if we can even use that verb, like a vibrantly painted pear that has no knowledge of the painting in which its presence is illuminated and no knowledge of its creator in whose absence its vitality is substantiated. Thus, the wound, opens us, in its opening, not to be the fruit that hangs in paintings and on trees, but to be the painters and pluckers of such fruit. The wound, the opening, out of which the inner "elements" flow, brings us out of hiding and into a "there," into a context. The wound is our pretext. Trauma is our pretext. The life-force that grounds us and is begrounded by us is not, then, dirt or clay, water or fire, or even energy, but trauma, understood as the wound.
Now, if in Christian theology, the wound of Christ, functions as a symbol of his selfless suffering which makes possible salvation, it becomes evident why such an image is powerful, moving, traumatic. The wound signifies all of the problems that accompany a state of post-Edenic falleness. The wound signifies suffering, evil, death. The wound of Christ is traumatic, not simply in its graphicness, but in its allusion to the primordial wound, the wound man supposedly caused to God when he disobeyed him and lied to him (evidenced by the line, "And the LORD called out, 'where are you?'") and the wound God assuredly caused to man, when he banished him. With the repetition of the wound in Christ, the underlying meaning is not salvation in the obvious, orthodox sense. For since Christ's death we do not live in Eden, we do not live in the garden of innocence so awesomely painted over the centuries. Christ's wound offers salvation not in a return to Eden, for Eden is a world free of wounds altogether, but salvation through being wounded, salvation through accepting memory, suffering, death, change. What it means to find salvation in Christ, then, is not to be transported into Eden, not even in regards to the soul. Rather, the salvation that the wounded God-man offers is one in which Eden becomes a wound of which we are proud, a wound on whose existence we depend for our being. Christ's acceptance of death, of the wound, offers us an opportunity to reject with joy any longing for eternity, immortality, concepts which exist only in the mindless world of the painting, and encourages us to find redemption in the wound in itself. We must become attuned to our wounds, and we must do so, never once and for all, but progressively and repeatedly. And we must do this not as despairing and troubled children "traumatized" by the wound, but as heroes "dramatized" by it, brought to life by it, "ekked" on by it.
Wednesday, July 2, 2008
For in Greek, a verb closely related to the noun letheia, forgetting, is lathonai, which means to escape the notice of. We might say, then, that truth is not unhiding or unforgetting, but simply noticing.
Truth is what we notice. Or to put it more powerfully, what we notice is truth.
Tuesday, July 1, 2008
Literature draws words from the world and assembles them or frames them. In a sense, it purloins them from language. Literature says, "Out of all the possible words which make up the ever altering universe, I am telling you to look here, at me, and find an example, a blueprint, a representation, in my finite words, in my beginning, middle, and end, a basis for relating to all that I have left out." Literature says, "I am the epigram to life. Do not overlook me for the narrative. Do not dismiss me as fiction posing in a shop window as you pass on to reality! I am the meaning." Literature says, "Do not ask from where I gather my authority. Do not seek out my origins, which will lead you only into darkness, but simply accept me as I am, a text, in your hands. Only do not merely accept me. Rather accept me by challenging me."
Literature is an illicit letter, illicit because in its finititude and framing, it has undermined the authority of language. For literature is always unfaithful to the law, to ideology. No matter what motivations drive literature, its letters always disseminate that its meaning is engaged in an affair with something besides the letter of the law. Literature, in its illicitness, in its subversiveness is guilty of a crime. Perhaps, guilty is too strong a word. Rather, it is framed of a crime. (We are always guilty of the crime of framing). The crime of literature, however, is never detected by those against whom it does violence. For the laws which literature, in its sheer presence, dissolves, are blind. Blind justice cannot see the letter whose contents spell mutiny for the law. And blind justice does not want to see. For if it saw, it would indeed be undone. Its tenacity lies in the fact that it is oblivious.
Literature, on the other hand, thinking itself to be invisible because it is unseen by the law is vulnerable to theft. Literature, when its letter is stolen, cannot protest, since in protesting, it would call attention to itself, awaken justice, and bring down judgment upon itself. And furthermore, it cannot prosecute anyone of theft, since to do so would be to invoke the law, a bond to which it itself has repudiated in its very act of existence.
Those who purloin literature, or the letters of literature, are bound to have their letters purloined in turn. For in so far as letters exist, they inexorably give way to purloinery. Which is why, Lacan tells us, the word "purloin" also means "prolong." The cycle of theft can never be escaped, since in so far as we as selves are creating, we are stealing. Even when we put words in quotes, we are putting them in quotes. We are choosing them out of all the other words and phrases.
If in the beginning, according to one purloined letter, God created the world with words, with speech, this suggests that God purloined from language, and in so purloining, in so framing, gave way to existence. Thus, from the dark and void depths of language itself, God spoke, "Let there be light." There was light not simply because God said so, but because God didn't say all the other things that God could have said. God didn't say let there be sand or ^*T%()% or *&^^5^).
But creation, too, if it is a kind of framing of infinity in finitude, can never cease.
For as authors, readers, interpreters, and indeed, mere characters on the stage of nothingness in which all things appear simply as holes in the nothing, we are always creating in our very act of perceiving, existing, comprehending, and feeling. And we are creating because we are purloining. Because we are signifying the unnamed signified.