Tuesday, October 24, 2006


Several thoughts actually hinder me from thinking and writing as it should be, perhaps in particular because my reading habits have significantly decreased; this is no troubling matter for I am distancing myself and acquiring a vantage point that eventually allows me to ask entirely human questions, questions of understanding instead of theoretical problem-solving hints. This greatly differs from what I had considered philosophy to be in those days when I dwelled under the pine tree in the company of Giorgia - my first teacher. I believe our way of arriving at this "understanding" no longer matches but it is her to whom I owe the life of the spirit.

I'm also but very vaguely philosophical because I'm alien to the system, yet unlike Nathan I do see a need to read systematically not in order to make statements or write "systems" but to have a rather comprehensive overview of a problem by means other than Logic. This is meant obviously in the formal sense, human questions are asked by different Logics and that is what I've learnt from Heller and Simmel. I insist on the model of the photograph which must be looked at from many diverse vantage points within and outside the universe but by no means from all of them; that would be a systematic overview which in turn would eliminate the radical freedom in the idea of the individuality; this nevertheless requires many different approaches and certainly extensive readings more than anything in political theory. It is always daunting that one finds the sources of inspiration in Kierkegaard altogether engaging in the Protestation that gave us Modernity and that indirectly was midwife to the technological imagination; the daunting part comes when (as I saw in a book recently) that the idea of the individuality (not in the political sense) is as old as the Western canon and that can therefore be pinpointed from the writings of Prophets, Greek poets and Roman statemen.

I would certainly like to agree with this entirely, but the truth is I haven't looked up into the matter. It seems to me the concept of individual is quintessential for the rise of the religious imagination and played a pivotal role on the development of thinking structures out of pre-rational narratives. This individual in any case couldn't have been too political, but it could have certainly contained a fiction that could be used as a lethal weapon against certain modes of criticism that follow the thread of the modern narrative; the rise of the individuality certainly doesn't come unaccompanied by some sources for freedom which basically rests on a relationship of tension. Freedom is certainly the necessary consequence of politics or at least the desirable consequence; but in turn cannot be made an end in itself because freedom as a whole lacks power to liberate at all. I really wanted to write something else, but it should suffice for now... I need to read. I just thought for a second that an early beginning implies an early end and yet when I'm not able to speak about this with a translation of personal experiences it haunts me.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Women in Dark Times: Hannah Arendt, Agnes Heller, Eveline Goodman-Thau

My thanks are due to my colleague Silke Wahle for her wise comments which motivated me to change this essay from scratch, to Agnes Heller for living inspiration, to Eveline Goodman-Thau for her companionship in thinking and reliance on me; and to Jerome Kohn for sharing important pieces of the life of his teacher Hannah Arendt with me with so much cordiality and kindness. But more than from any of them I learnt from the life of the mind.

To Dr. Ralf Balke
Who has supported the philosophy, the man, the ideas, the struggle and the life

"For the same reasons this, is all in a certain sense true, and in a certain sense false"
-St. Augustine

Women in Dark Times: Hannah Arendt, Agnes Heller & Eveline Goodman-Thau

In memory of the Jewish philosopher Hannah Arendt
100 Years 1906 - 2006

Humanity is usually understood these days as a form of education that is often available only to the few privileged who do not need worry about pursuing a lucrative career and to those feeble-minded whose spirits are filled with worldly questions and doubts; accordingly most of us were raised up to believe that the "humanities" person is that who has attained an academic degree and that most likely is a jobless cynical reformer of the world or one of those "intelligentsia" people who have understood the world and have formed cults from within the academic halls with initiates and converts; the latter are also known as ill-stricken by the Ph.D syndrome.

It has not always been so; for the German dramatist Lessing for example, humanity did not mean an academic degree but rather experiencing the world in anger and laughter, experiencing the artifacts that complement our life on earth only in regard to their effect in the world; for Hannah Arendt and Karl Jaspers it meant to include those who were pariahs and outsiders and the mentally-ill; and even St. Augustine had his own thoughts, he believed that humanity was the community of believers bound by sin. In fact they might have been talking about humanity as the mere quality of being human.

Being human is one of the greatest tasks of the 21st century; whose predecessor the 20th had failed in attaining by declaring as some self-proclaimed intellectuals did, freedom not only from God -who was declared dead not by the old crowd of unbelievers and heretics but by the theologians and men of faith, but also from the human. "We are living in a post-human world", so said a British artist who drafted the "post-human manifesto" and surrendered with his weakness for life, his feelings, his pasts, his memories, surrendered to the technological imagination and called for the day when the last bound left to men with earth will disappear - the creation of life. By then people will be able to dwell on cities removed from the earth -the quintessence of the human condition[1], removed from the sight of nature and from injustice - all the houses will look alike, the funerary and the kindergarden, the concentration camp and the church.

A world eminently just and egalitarian, a world in which all people will be one and the same. This could be perfectly translated into a modern library where the lives of the authors and the suffering they endured in their promethean task has been turned into numbers of a catalog, properly stored and carefully updated with new sticker-labels into tidily sorted-out boxes. "Humanity" has become 00456, "Natural Landscapes" is called 06543 and "History" falls under the rubric TL4301; does it not resemble in some way the world of Auschwitz? Whereby Moshe and Frieda were 04567 and 04566, the beautiful girl with the red freckles was 05678 and the neighbor was known as 07880.

I am not exercising here a Marxist critique of capitalism or fingering at the discontents of neo-liberalism and calling for the retrieval of an ancient glorious past. I am just making sure while I write that we are living in dark times; yet for those of us "newborn" of this generation the difference is hardly noticeable, we have not known any other world but instead are often faced with the most serious questions of contemporary philosophy that no matter what their content is, finish with "....of the human world, if it is going to have a future at all". Perhaps you can call this a form of anarchy, political disappointment or the simple ranting of an overqualified and jobless youth. I am just pointing at a world where our language has been rendered ineffective; in fact we all have a language we call a mother tongue, that we associate with our childhoods and memories, with the first love and whether it was the movies or the poems or the songs in the radio, it immediately become a referential point for what we are, that language is indeed what we are.

Yet the language is no longer fit to describe the world, reason for which we can often fail to observe the sombre character of our age; this language we speak and that expresses our desire to love, to live, to enjoy, is not a humanizing language. Perhaps it is good for McDonald's and Seinfeld, but it is not the language of Shakespeare. It is some form of esperanto in which you can say "SOS" and "breaking news" like you do in a morse code that allows only a certain number of combinations; it is not a language to write sonnets and certainly not a language to write history. "And God said, let there be light. And there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness"[2]. If this was the same language God used to create the world, no wonder the theologians have reached a verdict and hastened his execution; but perhaps that is the only proof of the divine shadow, it is a quest for language. If indeed we would speak that language then we could create life afresh and send God on paid retirement.

Dark times in the other hand are not something you can unfeignedly presence or ward off with a hand, they simply dawn on us all of a sudden - "As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. Then the Lord said to him, "Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years" [3]. Dark times might sometimes also resemble the sleep of a baby, because humanity seems not to have reached its adolescence and the uninterrupted sleep of the infant continues unhindered by catastrophes, bombs, exiles, genocide, poverty, injustice. He might know better, and deliberately not awaken. Hannah Arendt said in her last public appearance: "We may very well stand at one of those decisive turning points of history which separate whole eras from each other. For contemporaries entangled, as we are, in the inexorable demands of daily life, the diving lines between eras may be hardly visible when they are crossed; only after people stumble over them do the lines grow into walls which irretrievably shut off the past. At such moments of history when the writing on the wall becomes too frightening, most people flee to the reassurance of day-to-day life with its unchanging pressing demands." [4] They always come uninvited like a stranger at a feast[5].

Humanity in Dark Times. But couldn't this be somehow a deception? One could just as well claim in a very Christian sense that the times have been dark ever since Eve and the apple, which turned all knowledge into falsehood. Literature shows that exiles, homelessness and specially darkness have accompanied humankind since its earliest memories in Homer and Hesiod; darkness is not a prodigal son of the modern imagination. Poor Odysseus had been trapped for long with the nymph inside the cave and no light reached them. "Then the Lord said to Moses, "Stretch out your hand toward the sky so that darkness will spread over Egypt- darkness that can be felt" [6]. Yet dark times contain a magic elixir of creativity and human power, one of the starkest driving forces for progress and improvement of one world upon the other, but the deliverance from evil does not go unpaid; the creativity of dark times comes with the boredom that always follows their end.

Freedom remains one of the most sought-for commodities of the human race, but its achievement rarely turns out to be a source of happiness; the prophet has promised that "The spirit of the Lord God is upon me because God hath anointed me to gladden the humble; he hath sent me to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and to those bound a complete opening of the eyes" [7]. The opening of the eyes is perhaps the most paradoxical description of what the modern world is, because the opening can remind one of Hesiod's words that nearing the end of times children will be born with their eyes wide-open; so open from such an early age to realities of many different kinds and manifold truths that can eventually cause blindness and this blindness in itself is a double-bind, curse and blessing but unavoidably comes in the company of the most abject darkness. "I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them." [8].

Immediately thereafter we turn to the experts for advise and bring about an Exodus from the aridness and crumbling structures of Athens in a pilgrimage toward Jerusalem; we want to unearth the ever-alert prophets and renew the works of Creation. We want answers but they cannot be given to us, we could not live them yet we proclaim "They answered: Your servants have come from a very distant country because of the fame of the Lord your God. For we have heard reports of him: all that he did in Egypt" [9], as though we were before the Delphic oracle bringing sacrifices for the burnt offering to the Gods and demanding the prophetic vision just like Oedipus did, brining upon himself endless misery; the prophet scorns us and responds by saying "but where is the lamb for a burnt offering? God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering" [10]. We've been mistaken once again, a sin replaced with a crime. A world-Christology does not seem to be of much help here.

This is where we turn to the Jewish philosophers of the 20th century, and despite controversies and historical arguments, disagreements and bans, we find a group of women who lived through times darker than ours and that throughout their lives did not cease to call the world to a court, not to pass judgement and a verdict on its end like most of the philosophers, the theologians and religious traditions did but to teach you us that it is not in the courts but in the minutiae of everyday life that we are called to pass judgement. Faculty that has obviously falled into desrepute following the horros of the 20th century which hold very little significance for us today other than the way (often unnoticed) in which they shaped the modern mind that creates the modern world.

They are not rooted on any philosophy -for its demise has been advertised since the rise of modern science and the technological imagination as the supreme ruler, ideology, but on the long-forsaken faculty of thinking, it is only in thinking what we are doing that the world can be made a better place. No promises of a glorious past or of redemption in the distant future; the answers do not lie anywhere and the questions cannot be formulated in the yesterday or tomorrow, in heavenly kingdoms and utopias but only today, right now and in this world. They who lived in that world of European Jewry and that perhaps were their last representatives,a culture that echoes today only in very dim and feeble memories. This is the world they loved, they love this world. And as a philosopher the only thing left to you is your love's work, and this love quintessentially is the only salvation from the thoughtlessness of the technological man; the one who no longer awaits anything, no longer hopes, he is in himself a terminated project, an artifact, an object of instrumental value.

This is the legacy of Hannah Arendt, one of the forerunners and bearer of a philosophical revolution that did not pretend to reform the world, but to show us that it cannot be repaired by eliminating its frailty, since it is actually this frailty and lacking in something what makes it livable and different from the concentration camp. Hannah Arendt was not a typical philosopher and today one has a problem trying to classify her into something that belongs only in the categories of a world that no longer exists, of a world in which she perhaps did not live either. She is no prophet of any sorts but she speaks in the words of the prophet through the only language that we moderns can grasp - the language of reason, that of philosophy and the books, but she is no philosopher of the books. Hannah Arendt philosophized because she wanted to understand and she went wherever her thinking led her showing us even in her mistakes and misunderstandings the limits of philosophy, the limits of humanity and the rich-well that springs from the life of the mind.

She who studied under some of the most brilliant minds of the 20th century and saw the public eye much more than most of her contemporaries had a concern which was not simply that of a Platonic philosopher calling for interlocutors and discussions; she believed that this understanding will never bring us to the answers but the process shall make some space for reflection "when the chips are down". We shall be able somehow to recover the world we have turned over to the hands of machines and artifacts, "the recovery of the public world". She was a political scientist because it was in her view not Man but Men in the plural who populate the earth and they are the only ones from whom a solution to the frailty of this world might come, not by eliminating it in the search for an ideal world but to recognize that this world in fact is the only one we have in our possession and until some answers will come from heaven we must engage with this world; the frailty can only become a gain - a kernel of sociological faith. We can only achieve it by thinking, thinking not as a consequence of philosophy but a companion, and acting in the world not as something deliberate but as the obvious consequence of our thoughts; this is what she meant by recovering the public world. She found the first sources of this plurality not in the Greek historians or the Christian fathers but in the Bible, "And God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female created he THEM" [11].

When Hannah Arendt wrote the book that caused her utmost disrepute (Eichmann in Jerusalem) she was not simply accusing or defending anybody but claiming something much more universal than her many detractors have seen; she was not playing the historian or the judge but showing that after the concentration camps the categories we had for judgement had fallen into a disrepute such that it was necessary to unearth all of our traditions since the beginning of the memory and use them to move in the invisible space of the mind; this has proven our major difficulty in understanding her because for most of us anything intangible and not immediately visible is often demised as unworthy of inspection, but everything there is in the world belongs to invisible images, the way we get to know things, how they are constructed and disappear. She maintained altogether the vision of the uniqueness of Auschwitz and the extermination of the Jewish people; this phenomenon can only be dealt comically, there exist no pre-established categories to describe the monstruous deeds, no rationale can be brought forward politically or philosophically, at least not anymore.

She called for a recovery of the memory and as early as 1929 she wrote "It is memory and not expectation that gives unity and wholeness to human existence"[12]. The cause of her major disrepute is not only the crooked interpreters but also that there is no discussion as heated as the one on a book no one has read. Hannah Arendt thought that we should stop for a second the over-academizing and speculating at our universities and look at the world, turn around - like Moses did in the wilderness and met God; to realize things do not look like they did before and who if not she understood, she who had lived in that world which preceded ours.

She was the daughter of a philosophical revolution that started in the 19th century as the Jewish thinkers became aware that the course taken by Modernity since its painful and glorious birth will lead not only to its destructive power but to its endlessness, this intellectual Genesis and Exodus that had become apparent with Spinoza. It would blur forever the lines of history and condemn humanity to a blind world in which things will seem just what they were; "there's presence but no real essence" (Agnes Heller). But there is no more Hannah Arendt and the universities continue their programs, teaching Aristotle and Heidegger to people that are grandsons of Holocaust survivors and who saw the world crumbling before them, they saw the lines that divided not life and death, but beginnings and ends; now we can only speak about ends of every possible thing on earth.

Hannah Arendt wrote in her last book: "Hence the possible advantage of our situation, following the demise of metaphysics and philosophy would be twofold. It would permit us to look on the past with new eyes, unburdened and unguided by any traditions, and thus to dispose of a tremendous wealth of raw experiences without being bound by any prescriptions as how to deal with these treasures; "Our heritage comes to us by no-will and testament". The advantage would be even greater had it not been accompanied, almost inevitably, by a growing inability to move, on no matter what level, in the realm of the invisible; or to put it in another way, had it not been accompanied by the disrepute into which everything that is not visible, tangible, palpable has fallen, so that we are in danger of losing the past itself together with our traditions" [13]. And late in her life she said that judging as the political consequence of thinking may indeed prevent catastrophes, in the rare moments when things are at stake[14].

But this is not to be done only in the academia and in classes and seminars on ethics and "life-management" but in everyday life, aspect in which she leaves altogether the Western traditions of philosophy and thinks like the Sages of the Talmud; she does not want answers but rather desires those fleeting moments stricken on us by the routine in which we can surely distinguish good from evil. Not from a religious or moral standpoint, but simply from the perspective of the community life, what is good for us, a social contract that lies beyond politics and then becomes philosophy again after having passed through the world; it was she who claimed that one must think with body and soul or not at all. Prof. Jennifer Ring said in 1997 that it was Arendt who came closer to thinking as a Jew (something downplayed by intellectuals anywhere in the world today) in that she related the life of the mind to the life of the community[15]; but in a world ill with a contingency for philosophical understanding Prof. Ring has become a lone voice, the current trends in the "professional" thinking world are simply theoretical speculations that resemble the sleep of a baby, and that imaginary flight into a distant past that in itself caused the ills of modernity; not because modernity is an ill-artifact but because since its base is freedom one can as well use it to save mankind from tyranny or just as well to completely destroy it, yet without noticing that anything changed. The grass still grows next to the gas chambers in Auschwitz and children can still play undeterred in Chernobyl. A popular song of Shabbat reads: "He shall summon freedom for the son and the daughter, he shall guard over you as the beloved one; pleasant are you names and they shall never cease, for in the seventh day they shall dwell and rest"[16].. only that there was no seventh day in Auschwitz.

A philosophical system that cannot be a guide in the blindness of our interesting times, that fails to approach what happens in the world, is not worthy of pursuance. Jerome Kohn, a former student of Arendt and editor of a book recently published on Arendt wrote in the introduction: "Young men and women in many countries have begun to understand that being at home in the world requires rethinking the past and reconstituting its treasures and disasters. They recognized that "thinking without fences", in Arendt's phrase, it the condition under which the will to act still makes sense to them. These youths, who turn to "Hannah" (as they call her) as a guide they trust, will find the difference and urgency of what faces them nowhere more decisively than in her writings. Those are addressed to the "newcomers" as Hannah Arendt called them, on whom the future of the human world, it if it to have one, depends"[17]. It is in our hands to recover the Jewish Arendt "in this world" and use those legacies; Arendt never wanted to be a philosopher of the institutions but a thinking companion, and in companionship one can always choose the good and reject the rest; companionship is the only way left to us to think, whether we use philosophy to achieve this at all or not, the important thing is that we try.

Hannah Arendt was not alone in her efforts but instead those have been silenced by the old Platonic adage "the beautiful must be the good"; one is reluctant to face a world that excels any other in paradoxes; the destruction of the thin layer of ice on which our freedom rest is just across the street, knocking on the door with a friendly eye and us left without any protection other than skyscrappers and the cable TV. Two women have joined her efforts; a social philosopher and a religious thinker - Agnes Heller and Eveline Goodman-Thau. Quasi-contemporaries of Arendt, Jews, Holocaust survivors and therefore reminders of our situation; even when they are not blind completely, but struggle everyday to shut off the shadow in order to bring us closer to that light the God of the narrative created with language on day one. Agnes Heller and Eveline Goodman-Thau live today sheltered by the language their access to traditions and people unknown to us provide them with, their voices cry out in the dark and lead us somewhere, to a place where a voice can be heard at all; where language is something more than the SOS code for buddies and e-bay.

But their voices aren't heard, people want philosophy but not ethical questions; of what interest are they anyway? We want to write books that will have numbers on them and after our demise will be buried in the library storehouse until the next colloquium; right thereafter we will place them back into their shelf-grave and join the choirs of murderers and clowns; but we are not guilty, we do it only to protect our sanity even if we are giving up our humanity on the way.

Agnes Heller is a professor of philosophy at the New School in New York but no students flock in mass to her classes, certainly not Jewish students; we only want the new stuff, the fun stuff... because in our insecure world we have no time to hear those antiquities on paper, we need to reinvent our world before it will collapse. Her books do not exist in the Hebrew language, her name does not ring a bell for anybody but for those lunatics that waste their time and miss out on the last chapter of the soap opera. A former student of one among the greatest sociologists of the century, a dissenter of Hungarian Communism, Marxist at some point and today a more refined conservative thinker. It was Heller who first recognized the obvious, that one needs to ask whether modernity will survive or not, because its death wish plays a major role in the modern imagination. She is no philosopher of books, but a philosopher of the obvious and in a world turned so abstract then one needs thinkers like that; the obvious of life has become so estranged that one can only see the sparks of humanity from within the stickers with the numbers that differentiate one creature from another, the only thing that differentiates them.

Heller pointed out the wonders of radical thinking; one needs radical thinking, no? Well there the obvious is being stated again. But she goes on to clarify that this is because liberalism is boring and conformist, it never asks new questions, but radical thinking is very Socratic, it makes people angry and irritated. But she's no professional radical like our country flows rich of, radicals who are radical for the sake of modern show. Not a theatrical act a-la-Dante but a TV interview that will fade away as quickly as genocide in Darfur and the birth of a million new babies. What is it that bothers Heller about professional radicals? It is that they seem to know the answer before they ask the question; has anybody ever wondered what is there to it in the secular political parties of our continents? A radical is a living critique of society, and critique is not a symptom of failure but of renewal; a society that cannot be criticized becomes soon a regime. Critique builds bridges in between us and the artifacts of the world. Heller is a radical, because she questioned the nature of justice and inequality, not because she thinks those artifacts will evaporate one day, but because criticism shows that anything on earth can be improved upon with common effort; was is not also common effort what brought the Nazis to almost succeed in their enterprise to wipe out European Jewry? Not alike Hannah Arendt, Heller is someone who thought because she saw the obligation, the duty. She thought and she thinks because she loves.

In an interview from 1997 she said: "My work is my whole life. I would start with my experience of the Holocaust. My father was killed and many of my childhood friends. So this experienced exercised an immense influence on my whole life, particularly on my work. I was always interested in the question: how could this possibly happen, how can I understand this? And this experience of the holocaust was joined with my experience in the totalitarian regime. This brought up very similar questions in my soul-search and world investigation: how could this happen? how could people do things like this? so I had to find out what morality is all about, what is the nature of good and evil, what can I do about crime, what can I figure out about the sources of morality and evil? That was the first inquiry. The other inquiry was a social question: what kind of world can produce this, what kind of world allows such things to happen? what is modernity all about? So it was ideas like these that interested me, and very passionately from the beginning onwards. And I felt I had a debt to pay as a survivor. Writing moral philosophy and philosophy of history for me then became a way to pay my debt as a survivor to the people who could not survive. So in this respect my philosophy became a sacrifice but a sacrifice I enjoyed. And this is not contradictory, I can sincerely say my whole life became a sacrifice to pay my debt and simultaneously enjoyed writing philosophy. For example, the great painters enjoyed painting the crucifixion of Christ, the greatest possible suffering. And they did it by putting color on the canvas. And this apparent contradiction is what what characterizes my life: the things that I have done have been a sacrifice to pay a debt I owe and the ways in which I have done them has been the enjoyment I have derived from philosophy". [18]

Agnes Heller has received prizes that once were awarded to Hannah Arendt, and by means of her critique she has been one of the only people who reached international status to deal extensively enough with Arendt's legacy. Hannah Arendt turns a hundred-years this month and in November one among many conferences will be held in Germany to commemorate the event. In one of them Agnes Heller will receive a medal for her contributions to philosophy that comes with a different undertone, specially for Heller since she has received any possible honor and award that philosophy can bestow - except fame, that is something a thinking companion can never aspire to, it is a gift only awarded in posterity when they will find out the answers if at all while we remain searching.

She will receive a prize from an institution that does not belong to any institution other than the faculty of thinking, and that alike Heller has the only purpose to pay a debt to the world not by bringing back the students and teachers who were murdered but by creating a living tradition that will protect our souls and minds for whenever it will happen again. This institution is headed by no ordinary thinker, Heller's contemporary Eveline Goodman-Thau; a foremost religious thinker. Someone who has lived in Jerusalem for some 50 years and has spent more than half of them thinking, thinking life. Both Goodman-Thau and Heller represent Hannah Arendt not in that they formed an Arendt-lobby but in that the life of the mind is what feeds them life itself; but not many read Goodman-Thau because her language is foreign, her appearance and her words are burdened by the fog of the remembrance, of the oblivion, of love's work. Eveline is a teacher unlike most because she doesn't want to teach you, to instruct you, only you can find the instruction yourself but she wants to be a companionship, a partner and a source of clarity in the obscurity that the knowledge of the past with its treasures and tragedies instills in her. Her teaching is all translation, her work is a big enterprise of translation - Trying to find a language that will create life, that will celebrate life. At times it all turns blurry and you lose the thread but it is a matter of persistence, of desires.

It is with her that I wiped away the dust from the books and saw the human being behind them, the reality that unfolds with terrible pangs before us yet hiding behind screens of unstoppable cars and modern machines, of insurmountable libraries and files. It is that everyday life that one discovers afresh. It is an hermeneutics of the experience, in that by interpreting the text one creates a present presence from an old sentence, one creates and creates and creates; no matter what, the issue at stake is not to destroy. But her living room doesn't hear the voices of the students, her voice remains ignored because often comes attached with the knife of the memory and we don't want to remember, we know all about that. Who cares about what happened in Vienna in 1934, we all have our problems; what does really philosophy have to do with anything? It is designed for rich useless people, on second thought also the concentration camps were but not exclusively, what matters is that they also went there and because of that Goodman-Thau lives beyond her seventies and thinks.

From an published text of Goodman-Thau:
"The edifice of the world is supported only on justice, certainly the edifice of the Jewish heritage; every book has been chosen and placed with love and care. Every book is after all somebody's life, but now all what counts are the numbers, the catalogs. Men and book are numbers alike, perhaps it is difficult to grasp - but how do they then grasp their content? You want to see the other side, to understand others, to appreciate them, but how much, how much compassion is one capable to summon up? Is that the meaning of survival: To tend to your compassion?" [19]

Her legacy is not that we all must become survivors of some sort, one can spare himself those horrors, but instead her voice is pointing toward one difficult truth; that it is in this suffering from the world that one can really experience life, one needs to think a little bit and decide for himself. You cannot escape those choices, those sufferings, and you shouldn't; like Arendt, Heller and Goodman-Thau. Kafka illuminates for us: "You can hold yourself back from the sufferings of the world: this is something you are free to do and is in accord with your nature, but perhaps this holding back is the only suffering that you might be able to avoid" [20]. In making those choices you become part of the world, you live among others, you live one of many truths and even though it can be daunting soon it turns into a bliss. It is this gift that is only given to the pariah and the outsider, to the one who refuses to fall into this logic categories that also produces catalogs and boxes into which every human being on earth can be caged. It is an ever-lasting comedy whose last act never comes.

It has nothing to do with being a woman or with being a Jew, but rather with being so entirely human as to become abnormal in our eyes, already deformed from the plastic trees and pentobarbital-fed gardens that unfold before our gates as though forming a dead landscape. Nature has died, make space for the new human being!, well if he's human at all.

It is about maintaining a dialogue and it is about being a witness. These women cannot solve the troubles of the world, perhaps they are not to be solved; but unlike us they remember what it looked like when speech was available, when not every word of was an electronic translation.

They bear silent witness. Like the Tzadik that renounced his paradise in order to burn in hell with the rest of the inmates; he prefers to stay with us but will not derive pleasure from the world nor provide it relief. He can only bear witness. And more than loving the world, it is philosophy who becomes a witness of the world, it writes on the memory words that no one can pronounce, it writes sparks of fire within the imagination and save one from the exhausted modern mind that can only imagine a death wish, but not naturally produce it because the technological imagination has not been able to overcome the weakness of people for remembering their history; every corner of the world has a human weakness and an imperfect world is indeed the only one we could be able to live in. The Jewish philosophers are these witnesses, and they are called philosophers not because of the Ph.D syndrome but because they have used revelation and prophecy, this is no compliment or exaltation; it is simply the use of the raw materials of the invisible world. Their prophecy is not prophetic and their revelation doesn't reveal anything new. It only shatters the hollow-ware of the blank pages and write on them over and over. This love's work can be done for as long as one lives, if he lives at all. Hannah Arendt is no longer to teach, she can only be read in a library; Heller and Goodman-Thau live but do not want to write everything they think, because otherwise who will come to listen to their stories? They have no autobiographical legacy, that is unimportant - the facts of one live can be so particular or not, it is irrelevant. But when one has been a philosopher for most of his life looking back there's no past to recount (Etienne Gilson). Other than memories of all sorts one can only leave a testament behind; and their testament is the possibility so entirely human to start anew, to think. This testament comes in the form of one's love's work.

And after they will be gone perhaps the last bridge to connect us with our past and the past of our minds will disappear forever, throwing us into the abyss of our freedom, into an inability to make choices because they are themselves invisible in a world not too visible; they are what makes us different from other species, they are what gives us a world to live in - a token of eternity, of things we can build, build, build, until something rather nice will come out. It is not about coping with life, for who really does by his own choice in the mature age? It is about regaining our vision, and wanting to understand what we see... because once one can see again it is only the beginning, nothing has been solved.

Kafka wrote in his diary: "Anyone who cannot cope with life while he is alive needs on hand to ward off a little his despair over this fate... but with this other hand he cannot jot down what he sees among the ruins, for he sees different and more things than the others; after all, he is dead in his own lifetime and the real survivor" [21]

This philosophy is about choices, reason for which is called thinking. Just like humanity is not merely a form of education, thinking isn't the material activity but the consequence, it is a new beginning. And precisely because these three women longed for those beginnings, for the shelter of light they started to see with the eyes of humanity: "God full of mercy, who dwelleth on High, cause the soul which hath gone to its rest to find shelter under the wings of the spirit, among the souls of those and pure as the firmament of the skies, for they have offered charity for the memory of his soul; for the sake of of this, conceal him in the mystery of thy wings forever, and bind up his soul in the bond of life; may the Lord be his inheritance, and may he repose in his resting-place in peace"[21a]. Sometimes a vision can be heard only after terrible efforts. It is not a coin-machine for candies, and not even candies are there in store.

The paradox of our freedom is that all these things are possible, both the destruction and the creation; but the freedom itself is not a foundation; freedom alone can be followed only by the most terrible form of disappointment and discontent, it must be used in the same utilitarian way that one applies to thinking or to his own life, as a means for something. Freedom only opens an abyss. This is obviously not a denial of freedom but a warning! It is only a call for responsibility and judgement, and even when these things cannot be learnt from life so easily at times one needs to hear, just like when God promises through the prophet that he will bestow freedom to those who hear, and if they don't then the freedom will come by water and fire, written on Rosh Hashanah and sealed on Yom Kippur.

Once more we hear the words of Goodman-Thau: "Now it is only a matter of time. The breach is there already, soon it will become another time breach. Not simply a temporal breach, but a fresh demolishing of what I built over the years. Not because it is still standing but because it stands for something. Not for me, but for all those students of Hermann Cohen that are no longer there, for all those books that were never written, all those lectures that never took place. Conferences, symposia and colloquia, all those things cannot bring people back nor evoke the memory unless a living tradition is created by those who are living, created by those still surviving. Unless a voice out of the empty space and the silence rises to reach all those who were murdered, unless the lesson of Auschwitz is learnt so that it will not happen again... But it does happen again every day, every hour, right here, but now right before our eyes. "O foolish people, and without understanding; which have eyes and see not; which have ears and hear not". What is the point of all the books and all the speeches? But when they all plunge their ears, you up there do hear. Through the tears we shed together the waters above can encounter the waters below. We channel open-ended pathways again."[22]

It is no longer a question of theology, it is a question of responsibility. A certain German thinker spoke about Hannah Arendt and Hans Jonas as "philosophical theologians of the world-responsibility". Tirelessly has Agnes Heller repeated that "curious as we are, we do not know when, how and where we are to arrive, or whether we will arrive at all; what we know for sure is that the next installment of history will be written by us"[23]. This is not a pessimistic warning, but rather a loving warning; if the technological imagination will write the next chapter of human history then even the beautiful will disappear and there will be no longer any good to choose from. Because Arendt did and Heller and Goodman-Thau do bear witness to what it means to be entirely human again their witness cannot be silenced by the books and the libraries and the prizes, their legacy is a living legacy, reason for which one often fails to see it so clearly from the books; it is not a solution but rather a realization, a difficult one. Gillian Rose said once "I've told you the tale, the Midrash is not beautiful, it is difficult"[24]. We're given choices and that's the secret of freedom's power to both annihilate and construct anew.

"This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live". [25]

Because Arendt, Heller and Goodman-Thau chose life they're women from dark times, they've paid their debt and as long as they lived in a conflict never resolved it can be said that they truly live to use the closing sentence of Stefan Zweig's autobiography. Arendt has her answers now perhaps, Heller and Goodman-Thau are still asking. asking about solitude and loneliness - the solitude of the thinker and the loneliness of oblivion; modernity enables both and it is our task to choose. This is not a celebration of the irrational, but of everything that is uniquely creative and vivifying in humanity. Can we perhaps leave the TV for a second and recognize ourselves in their radical madness? Elie Wiesel said once in a novel that Messiah will never come, but that we have to wait in any case because it is a little late; is it also a little late for us to be "hourly" as in the lines of Goethe? Only time has the answers, but for sure we are the ones to discover them with the risk that once we find them there might be no one left to live them on. Books are simple numbers of an ISBN system; can we start to believe that perhaps it is not freedom that will makes us free, but our actions, and that they need to be reconsidered once or twice? Are we able to live with all this? with Arendt, Heller and Goodman-Thau as companions?

Perhaps an ideal world like that promised by Stalinism and the Nazis and nowadays prompted by Islamic terror, could be an answer; but once the utopia would come boredom would settle in and mass suicide would become the rule.

In the last days of her life Hannah Arendt found prophetic inspiration for herself in the words of Cato, a Roman stateman: "I feel like a man nearing harbor after a long voyage; I seem to be catching sight of the land". I still house the fearful doubt that at the end of our lives we will feel having journeyed at all; I can only conclude with a poem written in 1975, the year of Arendt's death:

Perhaps someone has seen
The birth of radio and TV
The conquest of the moon and
The plastic heart, the electric too
And yet he doesn't know
Happiness, or Unhappiness
(Ugo Canonica, Switzerland)

[1] H. Arendt, "The Human Condition"
[2] Genesis 1:4-5
[3] Genesis 15:12-13
[4] H. Arendt, "Home to Roost", public speech 1975.
[5] Sentence used by Arendt referring to Martin Heidegger
[6] Exodus 10:21
[7] Isaiah 61:1
[8] Isaiah 42:16
[9] Joshua 9:9
[10] Genesis 22:6-8
[11] Genesis 1:27
[12] H. Arendt, Ph.D dissertation, "Der liebesbegriff bei Augustin"
[13] H. Arendt, "The Life of the Mind"
[14] H. Arendt, "Lectures on Kant's Political Philosophy"
[15] J. Ring, "The Political Consequences of Thinking: Gender & Judaism in the work of H. Arendt"
[16] Dror Yikra, zmira of Shabbat.
[17] H. Arendt, "Responsibility & Judgement". J. Kohn ed.
[18] A. Heller, interview with Csaba Polony, 1997
[19] E. Goodman-Thau, "In the Ark of Innocence", A. Akkermans trans.
[20] F. Kafka, The Octavo Notebook
[21] F. Kafka, Diaries
[21a] El Ma'ale Rachamim, Jewish prayer.
[22] E. Goodman-Thau, "In the Ark of Innocence", A. Akkermans trans.
[23] A. Heller, "Can Modernity Survive?"
[24] G. Rose, "Love's Work"
[25] Deuteronomy 30:19

Midrash & Modernity

Women in Dark Times: Hannah Arendt, Agnes Heller, Eveline Goodman-Thau

In memory of the Jewish philosopher Hannah Arendt
100 Years 1906-2006

100 years might have seem rather insignificant to the Greek historians and the Jewish saints, no less to St. Augustine, Kant or Hegel who counted in the hundreds and the thousands before the advent of pocket-size machines that could perform advanced operations on the tens and hundreds of ciphers. For us those interesting artifacts seem to have a lot less relevance when it comes to speaking about our history; thereby we cannot speak of the world as we knew it, because we did not and rather say that such and such was the world as they knew it - speaking of Moses or Duns Scotus, of Hildegard Von Bingen or Spinoza.

To us some hundred years represent the advent of our world, one so terribly original and authentic that has no referential point to anything else, a world that in its comfortable double-seating stands alone and strayed from all possible worlds before and after, not because it is actually a palace of wonders but because altogether with the most remarkable achievements of mankind also contains the most unremarkably broken promises. We do not dare to call ourselves modern, because so did the Greeks in times of Pericles and the Encyclopedists. We go by the alias of "Sons of the Modern Age", just like some others before us went by "Sons of Israel" or "Daughters of Benedict". No matter who you are, it is important to have a father, isn't it? Even if his birth-control methods bewilder the most innocent eye and irresponsibly gives birth -and takes pride in the pangs of birth, to the murderer and the saint, to loving husband and respectable citizen who does not oppose dictatorship and terror or to animal-rights activists who do not hold a grudge before depraved governments and bureaucratic injustice. A father cannot be denied, not even if he has no second name of noble origin and as a first name he bears the generic one of "Modernity".

No doubt he is an open-minded father, who granted us deliverance from church and monarch alike, set us free. So free that even God is himself free of all liability. That, of course when one does not take notice of the old crowd of unbelievers and heretics replaced by the theologians claiming that God is dead. This free world was the one Hannah Arendt described with the old Chinese adage, "Interesting times are always a curse". The advent of the technological imagination shares a throne with genocide, the cure for malaria with the widespread of AIDS and equal-opportunity education with global hunger; no world more interesting than this, it is a fact. Once released from dead old God we bear all the responsibility upon our shoulders; like that Polish rabbi who scorned his son for mocking the heretic of the village who smoked on the Day of the Atonement and rode on the Shabbat. "Those who deliver themselves from God are the real heroes of the world, because they are themselves alone responsible for all suffering and joy". The prophet Jeremiah warns us that if we do not receive freedom by listening to the word of God, then we will receive it, yes, by sword, by famine, by hunger, by devastation, in the hands of the Kingdoms of the earth. Perhaps that was the freedom we received as a free gift from nowhere in the last hundred years that have fastened their pace more than any billion of years but have witnessed more changes and revolutions and horrors than any other century.

Another prophecy by Isaiah says that the Lord will release the captives and the heart-broken and will set them free with a "total opening of the eyes" and Hesiod foresaw that "in the end of times children will be born with their eyes wide-open". This openness can be at times so bright as to cause one blindness -none of the Israelites could bear the presence of the "light" amidst their midst, not being sure at all whether it is a curse or a blessing. The mystery of blindness permeates the earliest memories of humankind: The rabbi who put his eyes out of the sockets to avoid the temptation of Satan in the guise of a woman, in the Biblical story of Lot the men of Sodom gathered before the gates of the house pursuing the angels and "they struck the men who were at the door of the house, young and old, with blindness so that they could not find the door"; the miracle of Jesus healing the blindness of an old man or the cycle of Oedipus in the Greek tragedy. In the Greek world Eros -God of Love, was the first-born Light that is responsible for the coming into being and ordering of all things in the cosmos and is often shown blind or blindfolded; he was also called ελευτεριος (eleutherios), "the liberator". The poetess Sappho often described him as "bittersweet" and "cruel".

Now Eros shakes my soul,
A wind on the mountain falling on the oaks (Sappho)

The Book of Deuteronomy reads "The Lord will afflict you with madness, blindess and confusion of mind". It is this madness in fact what best characterizes our world,
an Exodus from the philosopher's explanations of the world and truth to the truths and revelations of the prophet; the philosopher can no longer explain the world if he is not a prophet of some sort. A world in which we no longer make attempts at being civilized or enlightened, the major concern of this sombre age is "learning anew to be human". The last hundred years experienced the atomic explosion, the concentration camp, the technological imagination, totalitarian regimes swearing an oath to wipe out the earth at their will, environmental pollution, the liberalization of the sexes, and many other "constructions" in the social dynamics that claim an ancient past but are simply reactions at the root of modern man's discontent, the discontent with modernity which is in itself the most important creative driving force of modern man. Athens became arid and desolated and a sudden emigration forced the prophets into a state of permanent alert and no slumber, "for the guard of Israel will never sleep nor slumber", only taking into account Israel acquired a new father. The prophets awoke from their millenarian sleep and summoned the academics and the politicians and the citizens emulating Socratic discussions and summoning interlocutors! But most of their interlocutors soaked in the blood of the concentration camps and the revolutions, they fell into the oblivion triggered by the opportunist who can only find grace in another of his kind. It only took a hundred years for humans to do what God in a second did in the Midrash: "To create worlds and destroy them". But a hundred human years to a second of God? Perhaps this is actually the meaning of emancipation in the fuller sense; an ability to destroy.

All of us were born long after this happened, without enough time for a wink of the eye and a reminder of that world that was destroyed by the imagination of modern man, by modernity - the human condition of wanting to repair the frailty of the world by escaping the earth, by overcoming the human, the condition and the world. Perhaps believing we could be cured from the human condition in a past world or in a future world, but in the meantime not having any other one to live in. All this has been pondered in academic halls and newspapers and taxi cabs and supermarket lines, all this has been discussed and memorials erected and countries liberated, children adopted and opportunities given. Not all the promises of modernity have failed, perhaps only our expectations did. But our blindness remains.

That is where three Jewish women, contemporaries of one another have left us a message in the language of the prophets but with the words of the philosophers, those we can grasp in our limited imagination. These women were by no means philosophers voluntarily, in our generation one does not become a philosopher because he thinks he is servicing humankind with it. They do not want to proclaim a New Testament of Bible and philosophy to mend the modern world we received also by no means voluntarily. They do not write out of certainty or sureness of the self, it is completely unnecessary; they write out of moments of anger and despair that have no names -for in the Creation everything had a name, every creature was named by man. They are not rebelling against reason or trying to halt the crumbling structures of Athens. These women lived through persecutions and terror, regimes and smell the breath of death from close-by, it did by no means turn them into saintly martyrs or exemplary novelties from a paleontological collection at the museum of Western antiquity; but it gave them an obligation.

An obligation to understand, a task as instrumental as life itself, to understand not in order to provide the answers necessary to mend the world's frailty, but rather to understand that this frailty is what makes the world what it resembles now and that one must learn to live with the discontent, because if there is anybody at all who will write the next chapter of history that will follow modernity, it is certainly us. They have not come to cure us from our blindness, but to remind us it was once possible to speak and see. Not claiming a return to that world of the past, but to realize that the possibilities of humankind supersede and overcome ultimately the technological. They're teachers of the invisible, that which to us has become so detached and impossible; the utilitarian claim that only the tangible must be of any importance by which the technological imagination has replaced humanity with terror and humane behaviors by bureaucracy and despotism. One a political philosopher, the other a social philosopher and the third a religious philosopher.

The epicenter of their concerns is not simply philosophy or that new branch in the library's catalog called "Biblical thought", but unearthing the long-forgotten faculty of thinking which the inability to move among invisible space typical of the modern world, turned into ideology and philosophy. It is clear to most people to do that in order to act one must have an ideology or a philosophy, but what about thinking? Did we forget that the consequence of thinking are action and politics? Not the consequences of ideology and philosophy? That the world is something that must be loved instead of survived?

This is where their real worth is, their love's work is philosophy. The care of the irresponsible father was replaced by the guilt of the caring mother, one sin replaced by an epiphany. Philosophy more than anything else, even more than a desire and despair is an act of love; this notion being as old as both Plato and God. To love is always a dialectical damage, it might be merciful or it might be merciless. Yet this dialectical possibility is available only to the beloved, the newborn and the world. Not to the philosopher, who sees the fruits of his labor in the invisible structures built upon a world already old, they do not want to market any new commodities for ideas have existed for as long as humankind has. Philosophy is not a profession or an academic degree, it is what you realize you have when you journey along this Exodus: The realization of what you lack after you thought, then comes the desire; so said the poet Wallace Stevens: "The priest desires... the philosopher desires and not to have is the beginning of desire".

The work of love is the thinker's solitude -not his loneliness, in which the free beloved -the world, sees the light that blinds and the loving philosopher is bound to his condition. But as long as the thinker isn't lonely, as long as he can discuss and experience he can overcome even his own philosophy and throw himself into life even if that means death in earthly terms. The choice of philosophy is irreversible, and the struggle against the prophet runs along this thread. The philosopher is trying to unearthen the real world but the prophet is warning him that he won't be able to live in it. But the philosopher insists and he finds himself chained to the abyss, because the reafirmation of his individual freedom requires a source of truth, which to the philosopher is already impossible and in his interpretation of meaning he has died himself to life, but in that sense he's become deaf to the prophet therefore bound to see everything by himself without an audience, and in fact he's the real survivor.

To tell the work of Love is a metaphysics of the experience, in which the philosopher uncalls himself for his quest and in doing so experiences the negation that feeds him life. Midrash is the work of the lover and philosophy is the result of the beloved's care, of the beloved's ignorance and poignant questioning. The philosopher doesn't want to philosophize, but he's left with no other option. Because the beloved is not always present to construct together worlds anew to protect both from the mighty waters. The beloved is a free citizen and the philosopher is the slave. Philosophy is the prayer of Kafka, Benjamin and Arendt - attentiveness. The philosopher isn't satisfied with it, he wants to capture the photograph of our earthly life and redeem it before us. Freedom lives in a prayerless world, that the philosopher rejects. He wants lively discussions and dialogues, because he knows God created the world by acts of speech and not by translations, but he is unable to speak. In a sense he is only granted to love alone, and in doing so all philosophy is already antidemocratic and elitist. On account of that the philosopher wants to think, but he cannot do so alone therefore he calls upon himself the three freedoms; he envies the prophets. He needs the beloved to write the Midrash of Love, but the beloved doesn't need him because he's himself already free, therefore thoughtless, irresponsible and evil. The lover loves his evil because it reminds him of good, there's a presence but no real essence. The philosopher loves art because in Greek it is acting and creating, but he is unable to do so for as long as he is loving in philosophy, he must radically think instead. But it is this illusion of love what creates the narrative, the philosopher and the philosophy. This is the work of love, to unearthen language, as to be able to love not the beloved alone but in general. The beloved is jealous and chains himself to protect his love from the waters, he cheats Eve and turns all knowledge again into falsehood and deceive, by answering questions no one asked. The lover runs after the beloved in motionless silence, the beloved answers in impossibilities.

World and philosopher have chosen themselves for philosophy, the former criminally and the latter consequentially. Their love's work is writing the Midrash of Love which becomes impossible in translation, speech is necessary, but their love's work is in itself the Midrash of Love. Not only the political philosopher loved the world, also the social philosopher and the theologian love the world. Their words keep echoeing to us in the mouth of the poetess Zelda:

"Your flitting eyes-
Smal birds sipping nectar.

When you wept,
The King did not hear.

When you fell,
The world didn't revert
To void-and-chaos.

Mephiboshet, you dreamt
Of a more innocent friendship.

You abhorred the wisdom
Of the ancient serpent,

O son of Jonathan." (1977).

Thursday, October 19, 2006

George Steiner

"Any coherent understanding of what language is and how language performs, any coherent account of the capacity of human speech to communicate meaning and feeling is, in the final analysis, underwritten by the assumption of God's presence".

"One of the radical spirits in current thought has defined the task of this sombre age as "learning anew to be human."

"All serious art, music and literature is a critical act. It is so, firstly, in the sense of Matthew Arnold's phrase: "a criticism of life". Be it realistic, fantastic, Utopian or satiric, the construct of the artist is a counter-statement to the world. Aesthetic means embody concentrated, selective interactions between the constraints of the observed and the boundless possibilities of the imagined. Such formed intensity of sight and of speculative ordering is, always, a critique. It says that things might be (have been, shall be) otherwise.

But literature and the arts are also criticism in a more particular and practical sense. They embody an expository reflection on, a value judgement of, the inheritance and context to which they pertain."

"A real presence is a critique in action". "Criticism makes the past text a present presence".

Saturday, October 14, 2006


The mornings come often accompanied by bloated epiphanies, by a vacuum in the air that is followed by a particularly white smell. Mornings are always great disappointment for the moderns, what separates the divine and the profane, the deeds of criminals, sin and life, in the mornings we must hide in urbanity wearing faces of decay, weary from themselves.

It comes in the form of an antithesis that for the philosopher means only despair, with acts of speech that create hindered by an empty odor of freedom, by a negation. We awaken to the artifacts of the world and experience the democratic effect of that technological imagination meant to constitute the liberties of democracy, whereas the philosopher has experienced this is a world by all means antidemocratic in which the thinker's sermon only resembles the negation of reality, the innermost necessity and rather desperate crave to distance oneself from the world of visible phenomena. A man searches for the cross, he wants to escape the powerful nature of reality, he wants to escape life because then answers might be given to him. His flight is no longer possible, he is faced with Kant's dead nature.

Last night I imagined again our Midrash, in which he sat idly by the dim light of candles at the table with his wife and sang Biblical verses to his children; he was still young and strong with the knowing smile of silence. It was Shabbat and the modest dishes would come in the disguise of earthly palaces, of timely palaces. He would cover his head to give his God due respect; the small young family sings in the dim light "... and he shall summon freedom...."; the fresh smell of tears, of deceive and of a philosopher's love hangs in the air and hovers on the soup plates but it cannot be noticed, because death has a particular likeness to it, and whoever hearkens to the God of Israel knows well his sentence has been written, written in the New Year and sealed in the Atonement Day.

That smell reminds one of contempt, the contempt of bodiliness... of intimacy, the closeness of a flight that surrounds one like pain circumvents the flesh and turns it ripe for love. The philosopher has allegedly deserted all hope, he only lives on the house of memory and language; in a world fed with all possible deceives.

In the other end of the city as friends remind each other of Shabbat and sing the bride's songs just like she does with husband and son.... The philosopher remains aloof with the physicality of his dread, of his body, he aches. And he reminds himself that Easter is not like Shabbat, he dreams about the Passion of the Lord, not because he hopes for anything but because he knows, he remembers.

He remembers the accounts of wisdom and their protagonist Jesus, and do not we all yearn for him and for Socrates? Even in Jerusalem, we remember them well. The philosopher can only think of that protestation that turned him into a useless figure, into a liturgical paradox, into a prayer that finds often the deaf ears of the modern world, into a prayer that has chosen itself to remain aloof from the heavenly gates, into a prayer that translates itself into the loneliest of all possible worlds. The philosophers yearns for Easter again. Lover and beloved are both survivors, like Anje... mute survivors.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

τα εργα

When I started thinking about the Midrash of Love a question attacked me: How is it possible to write a Midrash without a previous conversation, and because the conversation is all about translating I thought my enterprise was apparently much bigger than anything I saw before, I presumed that this Midrash should be written in a time line, therefore additions would be made all along the way. It is interesting I decided to start my Midrash with "he shall summon freedom" because once the freedom has been summoned and we've been granted entire responsibility for the world imminent chaos ensued.

I could only think about this while I made love to him, justly deciding that negatively speaking I created him out of a Midrashic character. The prophet tells us revealing things about this freedom, pointing out the words of God in that as much as the freedom would have been granted to us gratuitiously had we listened, now the conditions have changed. The freedom will be bequeathed to us by the sword and the plague. We will be thrown into the abyss. And only he shall summon freedom.

I said previously philosophy is an act of love, and philosophizing is the work of love. The modern thinker has an unsatiable need to love, therefore he allegedly endeavours to acquire a language to construct, to found and therefore to have the possibility to love. Freedom is only a foundation for the abyss, for blindness. In seeking meaning and therefore being entirely modern the philosopher is denying this freedom by writing a different narrative, a narrative of both thing and world. This denial of freedom is the quest for a foundation, and once this foundation is construed the philosopher will be able to love. He does not want to be free, because this causes him vertigo and blindness, he wants to love without a negation, he wants to love with the beloved clearly drawn before his eyes. But in wanting to see the philosopher is also sinning before God and is therefore condemned to the obscurity of twilight, and perhaps only the beloved can see because he's been set free. Philosophy wants to deny the foundation by eloquently speaking about it and seeking refuge in the vicious power of language, but as soon as he achieves it he realized he's found the Kafkian Archimedean point, to be found only in order to use it against himself.

The good as ultimate commodity resembles the liberal theory, it is boring. Therefore the philosopher can only affirm his essence by means of art, by reflecting about art without being an artist. His reflections conduce him to think that he must withdrawn in order to become Greek-godly even when this is scorned by the prophet. The philosopher then turns to seek evil, in which he finds the art he is seeking, the art of life. In the callous smile of evil the philosopher achieves the view of the prophet... that of postponing the present by the narrative of the future, but because it is modernity this future is simply a narrative and therefore a mode of cognition like Midrash, art, philosophy and science. Evil means for the philosopher life whereas good means only truth, and in his search for meaning he is a lot more content with the view of redeemed life than with that of a redeeming truth which has ceased to interest him.

In trying to achieve life out of the sources of philosophy, the philosopher turns into a philosopher of death, because mortality is the only source of philosophy and this lacking in vitality is the only motivation for creativity. Had the philosopher hearkened to the prophet he would be safely grounded in his idlesome conformism, and a social conformist can never make a philosopher. Life is the only motivation behind this philosophy, even when turning towards death could be the only way to achieve this life. The philosopher thinks his death over and over, whereas the prophet has only gospels. The good news do not satisfy the philosophical mind, and to my demise my Midrash of Love can be written only by the Greeks, because Jerusalem has lost the power to charm the stupefied humanity and in order to build her anew one must journey along the Greeks in order to find the throughway to philosophy so that the exit to revelation can be located anew. The philosopher can never learn to act in Athens, he can only learn about the value of the good in an Archimedean way, only in order to reject it and use this negation against himself.

The work of love is the thinker's solitude, in which the free beloved sees the light and the loving philosopher is bound to his condition. But as long as the thinker isn't lonely, as long as he can discuss and experience he can overcome even his own philosophy and throw himself into life even if that means death in earthly terms. The choice of philosophy is irreversible, and the struggle against the prophet runs along this thread. The philosopher is trying to unearthen the real world but the prophet is warning him that he won't be able to live in it. But the philosopher insists and he finds himself chained to the abyss, because the reafirmation of his individual freedom requires a source of truth, which to the philosopher is already impossible and in his interpretation of meaning he has died himself to life, but in that sense he's become deaf to the prophet therefore bound to see everything by himself without an audience, and in fact he's the real survivor.

To tell the Midrash of Love is a metaphysics of the experience, in which the philosopher uncalls himself for his quest and in doing so experiences the negation that feeds him life. Midrash is the work of the lover and philosophy is the result of the beloved's care, of the beloved's ignorance and poignant questioning. The philosopher doesn't want to philosophize, but he's left with no other option. Because the beloved is not always present to construct together worlds anew to protect both from the mighty waters. The beloved is a free citizen and the philosopher is the slave. Philosophy is the prayer of Kafka, Benjamin and Arendt - attentiveness. The philosopher isn't satisfied with it, he wants to capture the photograph of our earthly life and redeem it before us. Freedom lives in a prayerless world, that the philosopher rejects. He wants lively discussions and dialogues, because he knows God created the world by acts of speech and not by translations, but he is unable to speak. In a sense he is only granted to love alone, and in doing so all philosophy is already antidemocratic and elitist. On account of that the philosopher wants to think, but he cannot do so alone therefore he calls upon himself the three freedoms; he envies the prophets. He needs the beloved to write the Midrash of Love, but the beloved doesn't need him because he's himself already free, therefore thoughtless, irresponsible and evil. The lover loves his evil because it reminds him of good, there's a presence but no real essence. The philosopher loves art because in Greek it is acting and creating, but he is unable to do so for as long as he is loving in philosophy, he must radically think instead. But it is this illusion of love what creates the narrative, the philosopher and the philosophy. This is the work of love, to unearthen language, as to be able to love not the beloved alone but in general. The beloved is jealous and chains himself to protect his love from the waters, he cheats Eve and turns all knowledge again into falsehood and deceive, by answering questions no one asked. The lover runs after the beloved in motionless silence, the beloved answers in impossibilities.

Both have chosen themselves for philosophy, the former criminally and the latter consequentially. Their love's work is writing the Midrash of Love which becomes impossible in translation, speech is necessary, but their love's work is in itself the Midrash of Love.


The freedoms of the world is how I've allegedly decided to name Rosenzweig's "elements", with a double narrative in mind... in one hand I take the narrative of history from the Bible, it's memory and in the other hand the narrative of technology from Heidegger, it's hope. The doubly-binded source of humanity against the backdrop of the doubly-binded nature of modernity. Let's see how this hermeneutic compartmentalization into freedoms fits into our definition of modernity.

The modern world is different from the pre-modern in that it is founded not in traditions but in freedom, whereas freedom itself cannot be a foundation for anything, at least not for anything secure. Hegel and Heidegger provide us with a model based on language - the foundation in itself when achieved is only replaced by the abyss; the German is a lot clearer by phrasing "Grund" [foundation] as the forerunner of "Abgrund" [abyss] which literally means "out of the foundation" or "from the foundation". If the elements are taken out of Rosenzweig's mathematical model of "elements" and translated into freedoms, in order to deliver them from hierarchies in the narrative then God, man and world as freedoms on their own right are empty foundations, in that their isolation cause them to be become merely an abyss for themselves, a vertiginous abyss in which by searching each other those freedoms negate freedom itself and modernity, their denial of freedom comes in the form of quest for meaning opposed to quest for truth. It is a question of representations and not of identities. This hasn't solved my problem.

The problem lies in that the paradox of freedom contains in itself the paradox of truth, namely in the disguise of the possibilities already alienated when we define modernity as an impossibility. The impossibility to mend the frailty of the world turns both positively and negatively represented in thought thus: Positively the impossibility opens an accessible throughway to modes of interpretation, a desperate need for an exit. Negatively it is a struggle between Bergson and Hegel, one by claiming that the possibility of negation does not exist in nature and the other that negation is actually the structure of thinking that gives us modernity. Rightly Arendt said that modern men have a gap with their world. The possibility that both Bergson and Hegel can argue is already a symptom and a consequence of the modern imagination. What we're facing here is that my question of freedoms isn't a question, but a paradox that produces questions, by the sheer force of necessity historically speaking and by the sheer force of utilitarianism technologically speaking. This would have been by no means possible without Kierkegaard and the imperative necessity of choices, the choice of yourself as a philosopher, the choice of yourself as an individual which has become modernly possible. The quest for individuality is part of that Protestantion that foreran Modernity. But the protestation it in itself paradoxical in the sense that it is not limited, it can protest itself and the negation of itself, therefore it has in itself the ability of creation altogether with the ability of destruction. The individual can no longer behold traditions because he is no longer part of the community, he is by himself. This condition is what gives me the opportunity to make radical choices whether neutral or good or bad, the deliberate independence of choice already keeps him from being able to conversate, speech is no longer a possibility. It is all translation.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006


I've been thinking about the choice of philosophy, not of being chosen as a philosopher by the public faces but rather of choosing yourself as a philosopher; this was inspired by reading the interviews with Agnes Heller, that great thinker. Once you choose yourself as a philosopher it seems you've radically made one of the most terrible and fateful choices in your life, because this is one you are not allowed to regret. The modern version of the story might date back to Kant when he said he always returned to philosophy like one returns to a concubine after a quarrel. In a more general sense this spirit might be as old as the Greek world, as old as the first philosophers who burdened by the oligarchy and the different "official" religions sought to defy their pre-rational explanations of the world, in fact enacting the first and most important intellectual revolution of Western history.

No matter how longingly we turn towards Jerusalem, in choosing ourselves for philosophy we remain faithful to the spirit of the Classics; this desire to seek world explanations out of nothingness because of the simple craving to do so is an entirely Greek enterprise. Julius Guttman explained us how the Jewish people did not start to philosophize out of a desire to do so, they simply joined forced with the intellectual traditions of the time and their echoes can be hard to this very day, but philosophizing wasn't a natural alternative for the Jew like it was for the Greek. Absurd enough is that this paradox is not far from the paradox of freedom, one that not only has no solution but does not seek to find one.

Modernity endows us with a different motivation for philosophy - perhaps you can call it Angst, existential despair. Once all the traditions have been destructed and deconstructed to make space for freedom this has become the only foundation on which everything rests, but in itself freedom is not a foundation for anything, is not a goal. The paradoxicality of freedom has been in our minds since Kant, who first discovered the lethal powers of this force. The philosopher of modernity does not seek rational explanations for the world, since the truths inherent to it lie already shattered before our eyes; he seeks a language in which he can communicate and overcome his alienation, the philosopher seeks a language that will permit him to love directly, "language as the house of being" (Heidegger). The modern philosopher yearns for Socrates and Jesus, he yearns for communicability and from within his alienation any form of communicability is translation in itself. The idea was perhaps not new to Rosenzweig and Benjamin but they actualized the tension before us. For the Jewish philosopher there's obviously no natural home in the philosophical language, because it is not home for the Greek philosopher himself.

In Modernity as both philosophy and Judaism attempt to mend the world Athens and Jerusalem both share a sense of estrangement, they share an impossibility. To the same degree that Modernity allows the possibility of Judaism and philosophy to communicate, it also enhances the danger of the alienation from one another. Agnes always says that the modern imagination posseses a double-bind, in which lie its greatest potential and its danger. The fact that traditions no longer exist and that thinking is subject to the pull of the abyss that freedom leaves when turned into a foundation leaves Judaism and philosophy in an equally difficult position.

Were it not for Plato I think perhaps I should found distaste in philosophy since the very beginning. I did start choosing myself for philosophy as the product of an education, but rather of facing Heidegger both as a Jew and a reader of the Classical antiquity. It was Heidegger who convinced me of philosophy and with his hand I opened the gate of Athens, through which I entered as a visitor from Jerusalem - unknowingly. In my glorious return to the Jerusalem of the prophets I entered it as a Greek nihilist, as an stupefier of the human, trading the ethical for the sake of the beautiful as the supreme good. During my adolescence I read extensively Holderlin more than anybody else and wrote childish poems in which I embraced myself as the son of Endymion. In an unknowing way I was myself a critic of the historical imagination disattaching myself from it, in order to create a world of things, a technological one. In interpreting Holderlin I returned to Heidegger, criticizing the Romantics and naturally aiding Modernity along my threads.

In growing up I chose myself for philosophy, and only this year I came to comprehend my doubly-binded tragedy; I chose myself for "in-betweens", which could be translated into a logic of entirely human terms, but biblically speaking I made a choice for both solitude and loneliness both of which this era enabled in the modern mind. It is a choice of love, the work of love.

Agnes Heller - Logics of Modernity

The modern world is based on freedom, but freedom cannot become a foundation. It must necessarily stand on freedom, because it is the product of destruction and deconstruction of all foundations, accordingly modernity in itself has no foundations.

In both Hegel and Heidegger the 'Grund' is not a foundation, for it only opens the 'Abgrund', that is the abyss. Freedom cannot found, therefore the modern world must reinvent itself constantly. The constructed models of the modern world are abstract in the Hegelian sense therefore the narrative that realizes them does not ring true for more than a few decades.

The two constituents of modernity which together constitute the essence of modernity are the dynamics of modernity and the modern social arrangements. The dynamic created the social arrangement - this dynamic consists of the constant and ongoing querying and testing of general concepts; the true, the good, the just.

Modernity, according to Hegel is the only world that is not destroyed, but maintained and revitalized by negation. For this reason it constitutes the end of history. Going against Hegel, Heller argues that in the 20th century modernity can break through the limits of the modern social arrangement and negate modernity itself. The dynamics of modernity can run as nihilism and even end up as fundamentalism.

The paradox of freedom cannot be solved.

The two binds of the modern imagination: the technological and the historical.

The age of technological revolutions is also the age of hermeneutics.

The three logics of modernity:
-Logic of Technology
-Logic of the Functional Allocation of Social Positions
-Logic of Political Power

Logic of Technology: technological imagination is future-oriented, it includes faith in progress.

Logic of Functionality: "There's a gap between the life of modern man and his world" (H. Arendt). In order to have a world one needs to become dettached from the technological imagination, not to abandon it but to create a distance from it.

Arendt would have said that animals have life but no world. In the modern 'animal-kingdom' (Hegel), however, men have become specialized just like animals, but very much against their essence, their spiritual nature. When human beings have lives but no world, they are not living up to their spiritual potential.

Culture is the most accesible contemporary institution of the modern imagination.

Logic of Political Power: Historical imagination appears here as both tradition and ideology.

Modern life, anymore than life in general is not a problem to be solved. Many representative conflicts of modern man do not revolve around the allocation of resources. They emerge from the general malaises of modernity, from the loss of meaning in life, of a secure life path, of faith, of spirituality. The dominating role of the technological imagination itself resucitates the historical imagination.

Men in search for meaning turn to the historical imagination, they restore ancient customs, they discover ancient enemies, recollect ancient wounds which seemed to have sealed.

If one were to approach the limits (of modernity) closely in politics chaos would ensue... for fear of the total destruction of tradition one either establishes limits (in constituting liberties) or turns to fundamentalism. Fundamentalism is a reaction to the paradoxicality of freedom and of truth.

The modern world needs ideologies, yet it also needs critiques of ideologies because ideologies can bring about a closure, in which a world of the historical imagination becomes isolated from the others and also from other logics of modernity. The abscence of ideology would mean that actors, in particular political ones, are left to be enframed by the technological imagination alone.

The double bind of modernity is also a double pull. There is a constant tension between the two imaginary institutions of modernity, the future-oriented and the past-oriented, the problem-solving oriented and the interpretation-oriented, the thing-oriented and the world-oriented, the infinite and the finite. It is in this tension - by means of this tension - that the paradox of freedom is maintained as a living paradox.

Among all the political forms that the moderns have invented totalitarianism exemplified the most extreme form of the double bind. The paradox of freedom disappears, together with freedom itself, in the attempt to unite both forms of the imagination, to totalize them. These attempts failed, at least in Europe. But the totalisation of the imagination is still being attempted.

The double bind is both the greatest danger and the saving power of modernity.

To blame the technological imagination alone for the totalitarian extermination machinery follows from one-sided view of Heidegger's concept of enframing. For something other than the technological imagination must set the task of eliminating a group of people. The problem becomes technological as a result of the translation of an ideological system, an ideologically constructed world of the historical imagination. It is perhaps true that the technological imagination on its own can also become lethal for modernity. The historical imagination on tis own, however, can scarcely threaten modernity.

The double bind is one of the major manifestations of the modern paradox of freedom, the paradox of truth included. The danger of totalitarianism looms large whenever the two binds are united and pointed in one direction. Liberalism and democracy if joined together can perhaps offer spaces in which they can coexist in tension. This is not a goal, but a practice to be kept alive.

Agnes Heller
"The Three Logics of Modernity and the Double Bind of the Modern Imagination"
Collegium Budapest, Institute for Advanced Study

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Definitions of Modernity

Richard Hooker:

Modernity - the sense that the present is discontinuous with the past - is an illusion and this illusion creates modernity itself. What has changed is social memory; we have disconnected most of our practices and ideas from our collective memory of their origins and meanings.

Frederick M. Dolan:
(Hannah Arendt & the Political Philosophy of Jesus of Nazareth)

Modernity, its secularism notwithstanding, just is the attempt to trascend the human world, from the conviction, presumably that there is no other way to remedy its frailty.

George Steiner:
(Real Presences)
It is this break of the covenant between word and world which constitutes of the very few genuine revolutions of the spirit in Western history and which defines modernity itself.

Hannah Arendt:
(The Human Condition)
Modernity is the struggle of men to escape the earth, the quintessence of the human condition.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

A Genealogy of Betrayal

Once again as I wrote previously it took me the whole day to start writing, because I fear losing the oblique angle of the photograph during the entanglements and then simple astray into comtemplative thoughts. That's not what I'm looking for, I'm rather searching attentiveness - the ultimate form of prayer; not just the way in which Hannah and Franz prayed, but even Moses himself - his turning asides. The secret consists in maintaining different oblique angles of the same photograph, angles that are based on multi-sourced memory and not in hope, therefore it is much more of a re-understanding than it is hoping, the story must be told as a striving - using the narrative to postpone the present with the future, not to foresee the future in the present.

The future of the narrative I envisage isn't that of an Aristotelian kind, it isn't logical; by that I mean that the future doesn't necessarily exclude the possibilities of the present and the past as in a true-and-false syllogism, it co-exists with them sharing a thread of time, instead of sharing a space. In a sense I'm returning to Kafka through Benjamin and Adorno, because the magnificence of the tale lies on that particularly human detail-recounting that is the only story-telling that gifts you with a universal perspective, by that I mean the perspective of the dettachment from the human condition - this is possible only by looking at our earthliness either from outside the earth or from the "angle" of a redeemed life.

Because I''ve been dwelling on the question of translation and language, I'll follow Rosenzweig in that all language is a translation, in fact speech itself is a translation of a strangling, of that strangling between a word and a world that can't bear one another. Because of that I can't write the story myself, because it's too unreal to be described by the imagination, it can only be pictured by a narrative of the present. At the same time that it can't be narrated by a first person or by a third person but in a dialogical form, the story must be dialogically hermeneutic for it is the mending of a rationale that can't be provided, therefore it must be replaced with Agadah.

The story can't be told by the characters themselves, therefore the narrator needs to engage the voices of other people, of those who did have a language and interweave them withal so that the voices of the story can be heard only from the autobiographical details that can't be provided. They have been obscured by the demise of speech, they are hindered by shame and outrage, pain even. This is a way similar to that in which Arendt wrote the biography of Rahel Varnhagen, it was an account of Rahel's mind and world, therefore the identification must be so intense as to trascend time and space yet remaining chained to both, the only way in which language will have the vivifying power of mystery, in that twofold source; otherwise its function will be diminished to such an extent that it will be no longer necessary.

The resounding voices of my account are drawn from St. Augustine, Hannah Arendt, Gillian Rose and Milan Kundera; yet they only constitute the mute voices beneath the silence of the Scripture. This is meant to take advantage of a resource that the Jewish Sages have used throughout the times in a unique blend of originality and despair: To confront God against himself, rewriting God and reunderstanding themselves on the way. The voices of my account must be biblical. Must be voices headed towards death, but they shall not be dead themselves whereas the writing itself isn't about death, but about love. Here I return to Rosenzweig to say that only death is as powerful as love and viceversa, in this sense the awareness of death or the actual facing of it, the realizable fear is what makes the love mesmerizing in its truth, truth only to the extent that it becomes a narrative and a personal impossibility. One has to recognize the two sources of humanity, the mortality at the root of poetry and the arts together with the natality inherent in action and that is only negatively represented, by despairingly looking at the photograph without being able to move within, except by means of speech. A speech that is silent and in itself unable to move in invisible spaces.

My thesis with the writing should be that Modernity is that Midrash of Love that can't be told, a Midrash that resembles the face of God in that it is a distancing that brings nearness, it is a distancing that provokes sensuous and bodily unconcealment; this unconcealmente has only two forms, the from of truth and the form of love. The eternal return to the oldest philosophical question of Athens, but that nowadays can be pondered only in Jerusalem, only by the prophets and not the poets, but a poetization of the world. A poetization that is meant to make the world a little unreal as to make it a place fit to be dwelled at. That's why this poetization needs the Scripture's travelling, firstly in order to gain the sharp depth of movement, and secondly in order to become humanized. Contemplation against attentiveness.

The story isn't an account, but an actualization of life, in the same way Rosenzweig thought Kafka's concepts being thoughts in the same way the Bible was. The photograph must have several angles in colour and two angles in black and white, two angles of tears through laughter, two angles of pain and joy, of fearful struggle uphill and liberation. It must pickpocket the characters through their very bones and nude them before the Scripture, so that they can be vanquished and ransacked and raped by mute speech in order to remake themselves. It is a story about an irony that doesn't cause laughter, about a betrayed world. A world that is imaginatively being recreated in reality as it is being written in truth, but truth can only be concealed, so that the story will contradict itself in that it should never be spoken of. It's a "Rede" about silences. It's a story in which both body and soul must write, or not write at all. It isn't a story about hope, it's only about memory.

The tale can't mend the character's world, only make it liveable. It can't provide explanations or answers, it can only justify the conspicuousness and the loss at words when it comes to moral judgement, it's a tale about groundlessness. It's a tale about Shabbat, about mornings, about a dying writer who loves, about a loving husband who dies without either living or dying. It's a story about the body.

These will be companions: St. Augustine's "Confessions", H. Arendt's "Love & Augustine", M. Kundera's "The Unbearable Lightness of Being", Kafka's "The Castle", E. Goodman-Thau's "Miriam", G. Rose's "Love's Work", L. Shestov's "Athens & Jerusalem" and the Bible with Rashi, the Midrash and songs of Shabbat. It's a triple dreamweaving-text to contain and constrain by chains the dreamweaving itself with possible realities and photographs.