Future, Present, & Past:

~~ Giving itself latitude and leisure to take any premise or inquiry to its furthest associative conclusion.
Critical~~ Ready to apply, to itself and its object, the canons of reason, evidence, style, and ethics, up to their limits.
Traditional~~ At home and at large in the ecosystem of practice and memory that radically nourishes the whole person.

Oυδεὶς άμουσος εἰσίτω

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Three addenda to mikras endeixeos

These are more or less just notes to myself, but since they are occasioned by the previous post, they may as well be posted too.

I had written:
Hillel’s lesson is not that “the rest” is negligible.
Hmmm. It is difficult to think of Hillel or Shammai and the English word "rest" without thinking of the Sabbath. Of course it's "just" a pun, and a cross-language one at that. Nothing serious there, right?

George Herbert:
The Pulley

When God at first made man,
Having a glass of blessings standing by,
“Let us,” said he, “pour on him all we can.
Let the world’s riches, which dispersèd lie,
Contract into a span.”

So strength first made a way;
Then beauty flowed, then wisdom, honour, pleasure.
When almost all was out, God made a stay,
Perceiving that, alone of all his treasure,
Rest in the bottom lay.

“For if I should,” said he,
“Bestow this jewel also on my creature,
He would adore my gifts instead of me,
And rest in Nature, not the God of Nature;
So both should losers be.

“Yet let him keep the rest,
But keep them with repining restlessness;
Let him be rich and weary, that at least,
If goodness lead him not, yet weariness
May toss him to my breast.”
“Rich and weary;” one could do much worse than this for a close approximation to how Joseph Soloveitchik, possibly the greatest rabbinical thinker of the 20th century, reads Genesis 1 and 2 in his little classic The Lonely Man of Faith. According to Soloveitchik, the fact that Genesis 2 seems to start over after Genesis 1 is not an accident of redaction. The Bible tells two different creation stories, with two versions of man, because the human being is as it were divided, or, better to say simply, is two: the “majestic man” of Genesis 1 (“rich”), and the “covenental man” of Genesis 2, of whom it is said it is “not good” that man be alone, who is to tend the garden and not just to have lordship and dominion over the creatures of the Earth (“weary”).

Herbert in this poem deploys the English “rest” with painstaking and overt equivocation, using the slippage of meaning as a feature. “Rest” as residue, remainder? Or “rest” as peace, stillness, rejuvenation? “Rest” in the latter sense is withheld by God, in this reversal of the story of Pandora, and “the rest” of His gifts -- except rest -- are bestowed in order to assure that the tension between richness and weariness may assure that man will seek out God and not “rest” content with creation.

One would want to think this through with special regard to the Sabbath. I am thinking especially of the titular essay in Desmond’s collection Is There a Sabbath for Thought? Is perhaps the ostensible “quietism” of Wittgenstein more a sabbatarianism? A promise of or an aspiration for, not silence, but rest? And might this rest perhaps punctuate, structure, and order the “work” of philosophy, rather than provide its culmination?

Regarding this --
μικρᾶς ἐνδείξεως – the “little teaching.” The word “teaching” here might be better given as “indication” (the root is the same as “index,” or pointing)
The place of the indexical in Wittgenstein is fraught – early on, he seems to say that the indexical is the basis of all thinking (atomic terms “pick out” features of the world, e.g. redness, such that the relation between terms and feature is simply indexical – a kind of “thisness” or haecceity). Later, Wittgenstein famously gave the imperative: “don’t think; look!” (Investigations 66), which hinges upon the indexical in a different way.

These meditations on the “little teaching,” trace, hint, indication, sign, all belong among the almost endless commentary that has been generated by the Hasidic story passed on from Scholem to Benjamin, from Benjamin to Bloch, and picked up by Agamben to become a source of continual academic speculation:
The Hasidim tell a story about the world to come that says everything there will be just as it is here. Just as our room is now, so it will be in the world to come; where our baby sleeps now, there too it will sleep in the other world. And the clothes we wear in this world, those too we will wear there. Everything will be as it is now, just a little different
And because pairing Zen with the Rabbis is something I like to do -- though obviously the resemblance here could be meta-critiqued til the world to come -- I'll end with a nod to the Compendium of the Five Lamps, via D.T. Suzuki:
Before a man studies Zen, to him mountains are mountains and waters are waters; after he gets an insight into the truth of Zen through the instruction of a good master, mountains to him are not mountains and waters are not waters; but after this, when he really attains to the abode of rest, mountains are once more mountains and waters are waters. (Essays in Zen Buddhism, First Series, p. 24)