Saturday, May 18, 2013

an unexpected poignancy

Yesterday, I posted this:

Professor Agata Bielik-Robson

My coming to that webpage, which announces and links to her seminar paper, was one of those tangential internet things. Something led to something led to something.  

I read her seminar paper

Mysteries of The Promise. Negative Theology in Benjamin and Scholem

and was unprepared for the effect it would have on me.

For most of the essay, I was simply trying to follow the argument, stopping many times to reread paragraphs in order to absorb the subtleties.  For most of the essay, the intellectual part of my head was engaged. I was transfixed by Professor Bielik-Robson's critical unfolding and analysis of the debate between Scholem and Benjamin -- their different approaches to God, nothingness, revelation, trace, bare life, and Kafka.

It would be an injustice to her paper were I to offer a summary or paraphrase of its contents. This stuff is too deep for a generalized compression. And what happened to me while reading it happened as a result of reading the whole thing. So, what I have to say about its effect on me is all I will say, and should be taken as a kind of whispered gesture of invitation to others.

On pages 16 and 17 (of 19), I read the following, which began to alter my orientation from the intellectual to the emotional:
It is not power which is concealed and radically transcendent – but only life, the ‘mysterious hidden life of God.’ God, therefore, reveals himself as indeed meaningless – but not as a Nothing-of-Meaning or the capriciously inexplicable power issuing ‘commands that command nothing,’ but as an autotelic Pleroma of eternal Sabbath, delighting in its own absolute uniqueness.

Also on page 17 is an excerpt from Zohar: The Book of Splendour. That text worked upon me in a peculiar manner. I felt an existential weight being gently displaced by something else. A kind of metaphysical buoyancy occurred. A floating quality that also sent invisible strings into the organic, the lived, the psychological. 

The suggestion of "Sabbath" struck me with a poignant force. 

Yet a dreamlike effect, as though the word was haunted by a heretofore unrecognized je ne sais quoi. For a few moments (who knows, maybe a lasting thing), I felt myself opening to a new and uncertain sense of the quietly festive. One struggles for words.

It was as if I had been graciously and strangely adopted into an old Jewish family.

1 comment:

  1. I tried to read the paper, and won't pretend to have understood it entirely, but something in me wanted to reach back to Kafka, seeking an understanding of this Sabbath, here, a quote from The Hunger Artist:

    “But you shouldn’t admire it,” said the hunger artist. “Well then we don’t admire it,” said the overseer,
    “but why shouldn’t we admire it?” “Because I have to fast, I can’t help it,” said the hunger artist. “What a
    fellow you are,” said the overseer, “and why can’t you help it?” “Because,” said the hunger artist, lifting
    his head a little and speaking, with his lips pursed, as if for a kiss, right into the overseer’s ear, so that no
    syllable might be lost, “because I couldn’t find the food I liked. If I had found it, believe me, I should have
    made no fuss and stuffed myself like you or anyone else.” These were his last words, but in his dimming
    eyes remained the firm though no longer proud persuasion that he was still continuing to fast.