'Moses after fasting for fourty days received the law, and Elijah, after fasting for the same period, was granted to see God face to face. But what did Jesus receive, after a fast of the same length?' Julian, 360 AD, 'Contra Galileos, F4', Neumann.
It's been a long time since I've meant to write you this letter, but as I explained to you yesterday there was no possible way I could dare sit and write you, there's really too much I want to tell. In the yearning I find myself often bereft of words and I also explained before that poetry no longer seems to serve the purposes of my truth, instead I most often soak in spirits and only then I can truly experience how unrestrained is everything I could say to you. Yet today was a different story and that's why I want to tell you with intricate details about Jerusalem, although it's clear to me you know the place well. Of a certain philosopher they say that despite all her secular caution regarding the concept of destiny, she clearly embraces the idea of storytelling, not only as a repetition in the imagination, but also as a deciphering of essence and it was this same person who said in a very old manuscript that for Augustine it is memory and not hope what gives wholeness and unity to human existence; therefore I set myself to tell you this story as both of us would have seen it; lastly there's a saying in the Jewish tradition, that when a Jew cannot answer to a question, even if he's a Rabbi he can always tell a story.
It all set off as a pilgrimage with Hegel, 'the most effective springs of historical action and suffering seem to be human interests, passions, and the satisfaction of selfish desires, disregarding law justice and morality'. It is altogether true that the history of the world (and I've taken an interest in the philosophies of history more than in anything else) is one of sufferings and toils under the sun, but why? In some way I think we could hardly make sense of this anomaly of a concept were it not for the simple fact of being Jews and Christians; the history of the world is not simply 'one fucking thing after the other', statement with which Goethe would have certainly agreed. It is rather the story-telling of a fulfillment, it is a sacred story with a finality which can by no means be predicted from the pool of events of the present and the past, all history is in a sense heading toward the future so that it comes by no means as a surprise that Marx and Bloch would agree that 'philosophy must have knowledge of the future or else it will have no more knowledge'. Meinecke and many others before him argued that what for the animals is species is for humans history, their only posession so to speak, so the limits of our world are also the limits of our history and viceversa. Historicism is no different from sacred history, a mere peg in a long series of unaccomplishments in the quest for God so that Providence would be transformed into Progress. The price would be dearly paid though, that of being so entirely responsible for our world, for a world in which we've been left to our devices all alone. The imminent Death of the Christian God as the main heretical imperative for the whole project of the modern world (one in which we write our own history based on principles of contingency) isn't as all-encompassing as we've been forced to believe; I don't quite agree this such Death is a Nietzschean one where God is simply dead 'de facto' because after all Nietzsche fulfills all the requisites to be a Christian moralist and unlike Goethe he's defeated in the end when he recognizes that if were we to obliterate the true world then we would also do away with the apparent world and our lonely wise Zarathustra returns to the true world which in everyday language can mean nothing but God - to me personally this unmediated return to the true world is not possible, not because I believe in 'intermediaries' but simply by keenly observing the spirit of our age. The Death of God in my opinion is found nowhere better than in Hegel, this death is only a movement toward something else, 'change, while it imports dissolution, involves at the same time the rise of a new life, that while death is the issue of life, life is also the issue of death'. The movement occurs in time. For the time being it seems to me almost impossible to reflect on the vale of tears, the sufferings of the world, without falling back upon a theodicy of a sort, even if of the antinomian sort that altogether remains Pauline and in its reversal comes closer to Marxism than to anything we would like to uphold today. Once God has turned totally invisible behind the artifacts of the world, as Voegelin says, the contents of this same world will become the new divinities; 'when the symbols of trascendent religiosity are banned, new symbols develop from the inner-worldly language of science to take their place. Like the Christian ecclesia, the inner-worldly community has its apocalypse too'. In this sense two things become clear to me, that Voegelin is right in arguing that for totalitarian politics to be complete the overcoming of all traditional religion must precede, and secondly that any attempt at the reflect on the treasures of our world 'as it is' can never be entirely clean from utopian mythologies; these are not bad in themselves but do not go beyond offering us a platform to speak, enabling a point of view. We can't restore the world and its politics and philosophies with Platonism, Augustinianism or Hegelianism, it is a futile enterprise. Yet in developing our secular theodicy (normative ethics it's called) I always need to return to Augustine: 'Thus the world is like an oilpress: under pressure. If you're the dregs of the oil you're carried away through the sewer; if you're genuine oil you will remain in the vessel. But to be under pressure is inevitable. Observe the dregs, observe the oil. Pressure takes place ever in the world, as for instance, through famine, war, want, inflation, indigence, mortality, rape, avarice; such are the pressures of the poor and the worries of the state: we have evidence of them... we have found men who grumble under those pressures and who say: 'How bad are these Christian times!'... Thus speak the dregs of the oil which run away through the sewer; their colour is black because they blaspheme: they lack splendour. The oil has splendour. For here another sort of man is under the same pressure and friction which polishes him, for is it not the very friction which refines him?'.
Only under this spell I can tell you my story but not without sharing Jaspers with you: 'Borderline situation is the term for the general unchanging human condition such as situations like that I cannot live without struggling and suffering, that I cannot avoid guilt and that I must die; to indicate an experience of something immanent which already points to trascendence and which, if we respond to it, will result in our becoming the Existenz that we potentially are'.
Then already in my story Lola rings up yesterday and we speak for the first time in some three years, my good old friend from those rye days. We discuss at length the particulars of our lives and the newcomers, the late comers and the uninvited; it seems that very little has changed through the years and we more or less resemble the same, we can't tire from choosing ourselves for our sufferings not without a little utopian taint. After two long hours she agrees that no matter her opinions I should be consistent with my view of not taking any pills from any 'mental health professional' or listening to their soothsaying for that matter; a relentless care for remaining in reality with all the unreality that it involves, the masks, the images, the theatre, the comedies of life... so different from the tragic German philosophies, the expression of 'rationality from the sources of passion'. Compassion even, mere witnessing and very little counsel. Our conversation ends with her sentence: 'You're certainly right, but well in a couple of years we'll meet and we'll either laugh or cry thinking back on whether we chose the right path to live, but I'm sure we're on the wrong path and that's the only motif available to live from'. This comes of course after you write me expressing how unable you're to live, how much you haven't arrived. No matter the bags of tranquilizers and sleeping pills that I encountered, no questions are to be asked, no steps intended. We've agreed to live by the crudest possible form of reality, no matter how little real it appears to us both.
In that mellow and yellow mood I spend the long night thinking on the philosophies of history, and admiring the sacred history of our world, of our lonely world. Somebody said that education is the point at which we decide whether we love the world enough to assume responsibility for it; it strikes home some fifty years later how much we don't love the world and barely are capable of doing it with ourselves. Voegelin is a great companion, because there could be nothing more tragic than a political philosopher of modernity and history from Catholic Austria and writing in a foreign language.The hours waft away with very little despair and the vacuous spaces of world and man are filled with sympathetically sad knowledge, we no longer await for phonecalls. After all hope is a Christian thing too, a Pauline lie and expectation is the Jewish counterpart, one that contains more Angst than I'd be willing to admit to myself and therefore I don't know whether I hoped for or waited in.
I can't force myself to leave the books until the blue colours settle down through the shatters and the little pain on my back reminds me of the turning point, of the becoming and preferring to avoid those utopian images I dwell into a profound sleep at which we're having a party, with many newcomers and he's not at all present, the dancing lasts for hours and we're all drunk and forlorn but quite unkindred by it. Only early in the afternoon I manage to dissipate those thick clouds and henceforth I delve onto the books again and refuse to look out my window. Whatever is desired is nowhere to be found, it cannot be loved, laughed, loathed. Yet one can't sit on bed all day long, one just can't. Not with my frail character. I awake to the philosophical pessimism, and encounter the world deserted, unspaced, the air too thick for us and not enough space for our bodies to swindle with the corpses of our yesterdays. It's too Godless an scenario for me then, I need a magic elixir to escape and thence I seek a refuge with myself. I can't withstand the silence, their silence, the irresponsibility and as far as there's no heavenly spectator of our fool's play this is of very but very little import.
I spend an hour perhaps under the springs of water trying to cleanse my hopeless thoughts, my imaginary funeral parades and ghosts from only two or three years ago, ghosts of famine and rage that have been predicted since the Biblical prophets; yet we westerners cannot predict events based on the present or the past like the Greeks, we can at best totalize the tenses to gain a distorted view of reality that will make our journey endurable. I try to dress up in order to go and encounter my mortal desires, but nothing comes to become me better than the black, as though I were a yeshiva student still, my shirt, my tie and a black velvet skullcap. I turn to grab a small prayer book, this saddens me. L. and me have agreed that once we've agreed about the distancing being the only way to encounter God then no prayers will save anybody, and so I refuse to pray and instead try to live as though one could pray through living like our prophets... but Baudelaire was right, 'Race du Cain, au ciel monte et sur la terre jette Dieu', how could one achieve that whilst housing so much contempt, so much lack of vivacity and curiosity, so much lack of limits in our world - and as I said before the limits of the world are the limits of history and story, what if they break loose?. I felt rather secure about my humiliating position in the sight of un-faith, just so full of lust for some familiarity, for some 'terra cognita', for some damn sacred history. I had previously played the archaeologist, digging up dunes in the Talmudic academies and the theological seminars, feeding myself a faith based entirely on heresy, doubt and hope. A truly blind faith. I couldn't be afraid of these spiritual investments, they were not at all concealed in the everyday, they were always there. I didn't feel as ridiculed in the guise of a yeshiva boy but with the flesh a lot less young and the faith a lot less safe, the streets embraced me in the warmth of a spring twilight and en route to my destination I face my first disappointment: As soon as I leave the block and attempt to cross the street I met the eyes of my former theological classmates in their Franciscan garments and the embarrassment takes me in, albeit not for long... I had deserted those theological securities already and after all no matter what I believed in this modernized world the appearances of one's origin couldn't defeat even a dead Caesar. I proceed walking toward the holiest of all places with my wholly unholy body and open my prayerbook to make sure it isn't Plato's Symposium.
For long months I hadn't been to the Old City, and it seemed as unsurprising as always but rather charged with dryness and very stiff; yet I wasn't sure whether to stop or not at one of the churches on the way and honour my father but I seemed not to have enough time for those moments of decision. As soon as I descended the long stairway and found myself before the Wall or rather close by I really didn't feel anything and tried to laugh with Vitaly's joke about 'praying for the powers that be' for not even the glimmering light of a warm night could turn the stone into anything else. I came close enough as to join all the prayers but couldn't bring myself to open the book and in advance thought of the lies I'd tell if at any rate I'd be ask to join them. I was resoluted not to utter a single prayer. Among the vanishing colours I just walked back and forth searching the known faces, some of which happily couldn't recognize anymore, I didn't touch the stone but came close enough to hear the atavic wailing of the mourners in prayer and in the moment next to the last withdrew as easily as I drew in years ago. I felt to have understood my conflict... for all the years of my occidental life, of my Greek life... I attempted endlessly to build a house of my own and yet it was like Eveline says, 'Fremd in der Welt und zuhause bei Gott'. The years when the powers that be held any power to enchant me and to deceive me were clothed in the most beautiful desires that nowadays weren't replaced by bodies of such, only by passing images in which the fragments of my life are consumed and vanish no sooner than they themselves appear. I had found an uncanny home in that belief, and perhaps once I had turned my back to the only thing that really belonged to me, I'd never lose the familiarity with it but rather and merely the last possibility to unjourney for once at all. I felt less rootless than in your company, but it was by no means an embrace... only a callous rejection of the only possible branchtree of life. I could never be cut off from the tree, but neither an organic part of it altogether.
I hesitated lastly whether to say a prayer or not but eventually sticked to my Kantian dicta, 'live as though you do not contradict yourself and as though the principle could be a universal law', so I didn't open my mouth. Then the familiar encounters started off again, as though the rift of time had no power to unveil my distancing, my new theodicies. The faces embraced me again almost with virile and erotic warmth, and I let myself fall into the formerly known arms but with enough sincerity as to finger at the lack of powers that be in the shiny reflections of the dead walls. I couldn't differentiate myself from them at all and from the distance for the first time I sympathized with the tourists that watched the atavic wailing from so close yet far. I spotted Mirak, the Polish priest from Getsemani and a wonderful scholar on Duns Scotus and Ockamp, the philosophers of the Will. That reminded me how theatrical all this could be, couldn't be... and I understood the problem of my philosophical claim; whenever I say that I want everything from this world as it is, well insofar as desire is involved this is already a problem of the Will and en tour de force an eschaton, a philosophy of the future like all philosophies are since Hegel. The Will was a faculty unknown to the Greeks and to the Bible, insofar as I'm making a claim of a Will-to-something my problem is entirely Western, relying on a dead God and with very little import for the Jewish God I believe to be still quite very much alive. For the first time I pitied myself for not staying in the theological seminar, but then again I'd still be a property of the Austrian catholic church or of the Custodia di Terra Sancta and after all I very much enjoy the reactionary ownerlessness-relationship I withhold with the city, with the Jewish God, with G. or with you. I wouldn't miss out on the simple dinners.
I turned to the tourists again and I felt to be one of them. I imagined myself to be one of the blond Protestant children with cameras larger than their penis and not really having anything to protest, certainly not in our country. I watched some of my correligionaries with pure contempt and some others with mere desire and somehow envied myself back then, when I still left notes at the wall and prayed atavicly. But you see? My compromise with reality holds onto my with such dread that the pleasure is hardly something I could describe to you. When looking at it from a far it seems as though their God is as dead as ours, Christians, yet their souls aren't. Then I got used to the joy of recognition and parted without looking back, parted. But not alone, rather in the company of all those Torah scholars heading toward my Sabbatical dinner, not expecting any major thrills, or accepting them. Walking through the Old City again engaged in conversations about the Kingdom of God I encountered the tourists once again, now being shaggled at the tiny Arab shops and in their dumbfounded smiles I sympathized with them again, I felt to be rather one of them. Then I could laugh over my despair again, as my Talmudic friends started to enquire about my whereabouts which I localized at a window in Mt. Scopus drinking coffee with E. or G. and my whole thinking business, this wasn't the laughable matter but rather their despise at the philosopher for being 'that kind of people who are always trying to demolish the meaning of life in order to see what hides behind it', and I only laugh because it was only after long days studying the Talmud in the company of Helen of Troy that I realized how little curiosity the Greek gods had and how through their ways I jumped out into the abyss of Western philosophy and no later.
A sincere feeling of holiness then really took me in, walking into a Jewish home and remembering (not hoping for) the Shabbat with her warm smells confunding themselves in the pinkish breeze of the warm night and its rain drizzle. I could remember all the songs by heart and even the order of the dishes, the prayers. A young man walked by my side all the way from the Wall and surprised at my heretical imperatives wondered whether I be Jewish or not; this would have angered me terribly years back, even while in yeshiva but not now, after all the securities have been loosen. The same man to whom this unfaithful servant had to instruct in all the Hebrew prayers and the songs, whether they be Lithuanian or German or Italian. I occupied my place by the table and took delight on the old Polish dishes and they reminded me so much of Eveline's sincerity, not of yours or mine which is of a different kind, a more Catholic kind of thing. I sang the songs and forgot about all of you for a long time, the Kingdom of God and the loud laughter seemed more important to me then, the eternal return of Nietzsche but applied somewhere else, to the dreadful home-back-coming. 'He's a philosopher' my host remarked, and him I know for long years, even before I was a philosopher but rather a 'Talmudist' who 'knew Greek well', and he also remarked how many times I've tried to forsake Jerusalem, for Vienna, for London, for Berlin, for Zürich... ever without success. Even if I didn't like any of this, I was so familiar with it that I could at best know my lines in advance, all of them. You didn't exist then.
Suddenly my ears caught on the most undesirable information, and in that moment I laughed with God again and was reminded of being the same old Leo, holiness bereft. My familiarity vanished and only the contempt of my laughter remained. At the top of the long table and far away from me sat a young man who attends that yeshiva I had been too. We had had a Platonic affair in letters, having become acquainted in some list whereby young religious men struggling with their desires (and you know what I mean) spoke freely about their problem. Soon he realized that we had been attending the same yeshiva and casually we spoke, and so the dinner vanished from my eyes in importance and I could only remain fixed on his tranquility. I envied him so much, being so eloquent in the Kingdom of God, so well presented in black coating and tie, so much wholeness... unlike my fragmentary existence. We kept singing although by then I couldn't address God anymore, I could only laugh silently. Soon he took leave of the party and even before I could manage to say anything. But as I found myself in the street hovering on the paviment under the sweetest breeze I saw him coming my way.... then I kept my position under the drizzles of warm water and we just talked with the callous smell of the difference.
I refused to believe my ears so I asked him for his name, and then I insisted that we knew each other for sometime... and then the Leo pronounced his name clearly enough as though God himself didn't know it, the Book of Proverbs says 'The sluggard claims: There's a lion in the streets, he'll devour me'. My black-hated interlocutors was bewildered enough as to swiftly fall upon my shoulder and weep his disgrace a little, to mourn the mockery or the threat in the sense of Brecht's Germany... I didn't feel ridiculed but rather betrayed by God in his very own house. It's the recurrent pattern. The night was so beautiful that weren't for this miscarriage of holiness I'd be led to believe the world is already redeemed, but luckily it isn't. We had a mixture of embarrassment and revelation... from all possible scenarios, I turn up before God on his holiest day for the first time in many long months, the fatefulness of the night leads me into an old acquaintance for dinner and then to the discovery of an unknown Romeo from the very house of the Lord of Hosts! Our God! In this case it might be true that the old theology got it right, philosophy is thought but not spirit and revelation has as much power to enlighten the human mind as reason and perhaps even beyond. Every encounter is a revelation, and each time God laughs I hear him well and I distance even more so that I can catch a glimpse of eternity, or what the Germans call the legitimacy of immortality.
Upon landing home a message from G., which didn't make me happy at all, it only reminded me that we all live in this fleeting moment and we can't lie. What did Jesus receive after the long fast? Perhaps no less than us, a mere circumscition of the heart!
'They know and do not know, that acting is suffering
And suffering is action. Neither does the actor suffer
Nor the patient act. But both are fixed
In an eternal action, an eternal patience
To which all must consent that it might be willed
And which all must suffer that they may will it
That the pattern may subsist....' T.S. Eliot