Thursday, July 06, 2006

Repetition and the World of Prayer

Some thoughts are radically unavoidable: As such the idea of repetition doesn't cease to strike me as profoundly troubling, the whole dynamic of life as a mere process of repetition. It does sound indeed strange. That's but an echo of life as a neoclassical portrait, yet so often I've heard the idea springing forth from within the deepmost whimsies of Rosenzweig and Kierkegaard. The denial of this so-called repetition all too common in modern times is nothing but an attempt at the loneliness of absolute freedom, at a naturalistic spirituality and heathen nature of a pagan and plastic world. Obviously the idea couldn't have been foreign to Levinas and Heschel, and most certainly not to Heidegger.

Repetition is the acknowledgement of the world as a gift possessed with necessarily objective existence in a phenomenological sense. It's a self-attachment to the world in order to escape the fatal sense of alienation inherent to our otherness. It seems as though we're but merely imported into this world, yet the physical matter we're made of entirely belongs to it. We also have a physical attachment and "desire" to it that makes us aware of our (even if artificial) belonging to the animal world, one that doesn't necessarily recognize itself as the world in the natural predisposition it derives from itself. The human world is an entirely different mode of creation, one that acknowledges itself precisely insofar as its own otherness is collectively beknown. Repetition is a natural rule (both in theology and biology) and novelty is that particularly human creaving for permanent innovation (worlds being destroyed and constructed but not created all the time, the Midrashic view sees) and re-placement. Synthesis of the process between creative natality and "technical" mortality; therein there's nothing particularly creative or productive about death (in the world of the natural sciences).

The theoretical impossibility (of the synthesis) is what makes the human world liveable to social beings, in the rather anthropomorphic sense of Aristotle. Just as Bergson realized with despair that negation is an impossibility in nature, I would dare to express that in order to remain fully human the world must absolutely reject the linear idea of completeness and its aim towards perfection (in urbanization or civilization), as no human-made artifact has proved itself timeless or totally indispensable for life under normal circumstances more than the nature itself is, and obviously the humanity of humans. No tool or machinery could be defined as perfect, certainly not in 2006. The technical impossibility of perfection is not simply a theological dish-washer, but the loftiest level of awareness available to selfhood as we know it today. Despite the rise of modernity in the technological sense of the word, we're still unable to create life or beings, hence not in vain Shestov mentioned that we're already (and definitely) cut off from the source of life itself (which Heidegger attempts to regain, for once more degenerating into a plastic world), this phenomenally speaking means that there's always a certain category of mystery to the whole enterprise of living, or rather of becoming and being become.

The biblical account teaches how formal covenants, rituals, ordinances and travails (from Noach to Yehoshuah) are necessary in order to set history in motion. It's almost a proto-Humanist moral responsibility. Living itself was a becoming, some sort of textual journeying both from the perspectives of doctrine and identity (we see it in the name-changes of Avraham, Yaakov and Yehoshuah). Here comes in handy Augustine's maxima of "I've become a question to myself" (or I AM become a question to myself). In this process of becoming (that suggests translation of locations) only the routine of repetition (both of organic and inorganic rituals) allows us to create that fictitious space (Merleau-Ponty & Edith Stein) between our physical bodies and our perceptive existence -a Zero point. This is exactly what permits us remember what we're in broadly spiritual terms (spiritual conveyed in the sense of the German "geistlich") and not to lose ourselves in the animal world. Because when a human person becomes animalized, he doesn't become animal but merely inhumane.

Repetition and discourse are the only reminders of a glorious past (or a journey back into divine history) of an allegorical dimension. These activities constitute the most perfect embodiment of humanity in its attempt not to find a human meaning in society and history (the malais of the 19th century), for society is in need of meaning itself and historical meaning is forcibly arbitrary and organically independent from the categories of consciousness at play in the making of modern man. Hence the total elimination of prayer and ritual in the Kantian system had tragically fateful consequences; it turned into the most inhumane form of philosophical discourse (unlike Lessing's). No progress in reason (critical or analytical) can replace the discontent of a society, a human society entirely devoid of symbolism, of the only external manifestation of inner-meaning. It can only mean disattachment and oblivion, that when an obsession (as in contemporary secular education) can be interpreted but as a chronic symptom of alienation. Alienation means not only being alien, but alien to something to which one previously belonged, even in a cultural fashion entirely. With this I'm making a call for a martial court to the whole of Idealistic philosophy and also to the psychologism of modern Theology since Schleiermacher. Both not condemned in their historical contexts but conceptually in an almost post-structural fashioning. The end of symbolism is the most extreme form of functionalist revisionism, and by symbolism I am not meaning necessarily the institutions of modern states. The institutions can be replaced manifold times only to be overthrown there and again, because all human forms of creativity are rooted in discontent; one of the most important messages of the Biblical canon.

By repetition I don't intend to make a political statement of an ideal world whose order must be kept untouched to assure stability or of a chaotic world that needs to be thoroughly reformed. My position is that we define as critical; even when the meaning of the word has been unarguably transformed so very often since Kant. Repetition in my sense is shamelessly ANTI-HUMANISM. Because Humanism in its search for sources of truth within the cultural and critical disciplines that shifted the empasisof the primal question of being (the Greek one of course) to the question of knowledge. As though taking for the granted both life, being and world were free gifts from nowhere. The metaphysical surrendered to epistemology, since it was of little concern to natural philosophy (rubric under which science worked for a rather extended period of time), creating a storm of repression from within the surprising inherent to the question of being and meaning that simply and suddenly burst out in the horrors of the 20th century.

Unarguably following Heidegger, I could blame this horrendous misconceptions on Aristotle, father to the whole Western tradition of metaphysics and logic. Yet it seems to me as though the late Classical world put an ethical (albeit unenligthened) effort in secluding humanity from the extent of its vertiginous freedom. A freedom that chokes, just as the world before having "solid ground" was a totality of "mighty waters" (which God felt ought to separate from heavens and to "speak out" the creation of the dry earth in order to introduce a notion of fragmentation, a separation from "infiniteness" which is a totality and can't be a part of anything, running the risk of automatically becoming "finite"), yet after the sin of Sodom and Gomorra, the cities were thoroughly sunk in mighty waters too, the same waters through which the Israelites crossed into the wilderness. A few hundreds of years ago philosophy was concerned with enlightening man from the clutches of the past. Today our task is to protect him from the abyss of mighty waters; a "Fall" in the sense of Foucault and second to none except the Original Sin, the first "Fall".

The one in which Adam replaced the repetitive routine of Paradise with and for the sake of epistemology. An epistemological query that would remain unfinished to this day and shaky in the most civilized, cruel and violent of all centuries. A century that has replaced the sword with concentration camps and medical experiments. In the aftermath we desperately seek proofs for the existence of man, but we can't find them (not because of a precarious posthuman manisfesto) for tragically modern man dehumanized itself by thinking alone. The Classical men reflected upon things only in the company of friends and the Biblical man did it with God. Anything that couldn't be openly discussed either didn't exist or existed but didn't rise to the ranks of "human things". As Lessing himself, who never discussed things in the sense of being modernly false or true, but simply within the context of their implication in the world. E. Bloch phrased it beautifully when saying "The Church is the community of God tomorrow eternally disatisfied with the present", the "real" man is to be found in a happier future, that doesn't necessarily mean a wealthier or more comfortable world.

The answer to questions human by nature is really in the disguise of questions and conversations. For this very reason the answer is naturally existential, not secular or religious. Respect in which Lessing might have foreshadowed post-secular philosophy in a sense that Schelling, Rosenzweig and Bonhoeffer did not. Nevertheless I wouldn't like to call this philosophy "post-secular", but rather authentically human. The human is the striving, the living, the hope.

The writings of the Prophets show to which extent we would be destroyed by the weight of the answers we demand, being unable to live them or simply to withstand them. It isn't in vain that the Midrash tells us, that Moses of his own accord shattered the first set of Tablets of the Law, for this had been the only set engraved directly by God (all in all the Bible mentions only two occassions when God created things by "acting", Man and the Tablets of the Law. Everything else had been created by acts of speech). The second set (whose maximae are well to known to us as the foundation of moral and legal thinking in the Occident) was engraved by human hands; for a world at whose foundations justice by itself stands, couldn't sustain alone. A world entirely devoid of symbolism (and by detour of dogmas) would be an Auschwitz world, reason for which the particular repetitive nature of prayers, social rituals and study (in any form or style) of the canonical books is necessary for the improvement of our civilization (not solely for its survival, our religion is not civilization alone) for secularly speaking the Biblical message in the context of the Ancient Near Eastern cultures is to rise beyond civilization, like the 20th century expected to rise beyond history through the making of history itself.

Theologically speaking my thesis is that IT IS PRECISELY THE DENIAL OF FREEDOM what makes us so particularly human and civilized. Denial of freedom not in the sense of being unfree in relationship to other humans but to the freedom granted to us as an intellectual virtue, rather than as a capacity. Restraint is the only element in action that makes the social contract possible, even when often times it means no action at all (but not attempting to turn Nietzschean). Repetition is in Kierkegaard the highest virtue worthy of imitation, not only because it demands intellectual responsibilities but because it's the loftiest reminder of an exclusively direct connection to divinity. Praying is renewing a covenant that makes us holy and unheathen even in the most unabstract earthly form.

Just like today, a world both religious and secular devoid of repetition and formalized symbols is the beginning of an anti-world. By this I mean a space between human beings whose collective identity is but alienation. Yet we wonder what's wrong with this phenomenon in the light of homelessness typical of the modern thinker, for we understand it's particularly unhealthy theologically to feel too much at home in the world; yet alienation is particularly estranged from the world in a sense that homelessness is not. Homelessness is a celebration, whereas alienation is a tragedy.

In order to preserve the world as it could potentially be, this species of heathenism must be absolutely erradicated because it's plastic and anti-worldy instead of merely worldless. Repetition and ritual are the only possible strategy. Second only to a philosophy of the human person in which the fleeting moment typical of the thinking activity will run in the direction opposite to traditional philosophy. We must strive to arrive at a certain worldliness from within the very core of Logos, of our wordliness and back to Logos (worldliness and measure as well). Our struggle is to make the world merely unanimal, not perfect or free.

Was the Nazi regime an spotaneous out-burst of freedom? Unfortunately most of us acquainted with the thought of Heiddeger must positively answer to this question. That's why we must step over the ashes of ontology in order to make space for an entirely human philosophy, a philosophy of ethics and action. That is to say a tradition much more biblical and much less concerned with beings that with action, lives and humans. A commitment to a philosophy that isn't religious or secular. We must keep ourselves above all aloof from the mighty waters for as long as we're granted this free earthly existence (or rather not costly). The Hebrew poetess Zelda doesn't offer a recipe for it, but rather an equation:

"Death will take the spectacular difference
Between fire and water
And cast it to the abyss."


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