AN ANTHOLOGY OF THOUGHT & EMOTION... Un'antologia di pensieri & emozioni

Friday, 27 January 2017

L'ENFANT ABDIQUE SON EXSTASE...

...MAIS L'HOMME N'ABDIQUE PAS
je te prie de m'écouter

The power of man's imagination is greater than all the poisons –
No need for cocaine. Everything is a drug for the man
Who chooses to live on the other side.

A poetic force leads the phantoms of reverie
My poetic force animates all my senses;
Reverie becomes for me polysensorial.
From the poetic passage,
I receive a renewal of the joy of perceiving,
A subtlety of all senses -
A subtlety which bears the privilege
Of a perception from one sense to another,
In a sort of aroused Baudelarian correspondence.
Awakening, my heart beats
Ah! How a passage which pleases me can make me live!

I learn that the poorest objects are sachets of perfume,
That, at certain times,
Internal lights render opaque bodies translucent,
That every sonority is a voice.
How the cup from which I drank as a child rings!
From all over, coming from all objects,
An intimacy lays siege to me.
Yes, truly I dream while composing,
I soar highest, no one can reach me!

The reverie which works poetically
Maintains me in an intimate space
Which does not stop at any frontier
– a space uniting the intimacy
Of my being which dreams with the intimacy
Of the beings which I dream.

It is within these composite intimacies
That a poetics of reverie is coordinate.
The whole being of the world
Is amassed poetically around the
Mind of the dreamer: my mind,
A beautiful mind.

I am a dreamer, and through my fantastic dream
I reach my creative ecstasy.
With or without you. With you, if you so wish…
See me flying among clouds of heaven? See me?
I’m gone.

Like a painter who likes to live
The object in its ever particular appearances,
I will be able to return the dream
To the picturesque life of my mind,
A manifest psychic activity
In a world homogenous with my being,
Where everything is welcome
And my imagination travels the universe.

TESTI D'AMORE

Che cos’è l’amore?

L’amore è desiderio che attrae e unisce gli esseri viventi e coscienti in vista di un reciproco bisogno di completamento. La sua natura è paradossale. Nell’amato infatti si cerca contemporaneamente
l’identico e il differente, l’altro se stesso e l’individuo diverso da sé, la fusione senza residui e il rafforzamento della propria personalità. Se l’altro non mi somigliasse, se non potessi rispecchiarmi in lui e riconoscere nei suoi pensieri e sentimenti il riflesso dei miei, l’amore non sorgerebbe, ma non potrei amarlo neppure se mi somigliasse troppo, se fosse un mero duplicato, un’eco monotona e ripetitiva di me stesso. [...]


Per durare l’amore deve rimanere incessantemente in bilico su un pericoloso crinale, rinnovare gli stati di equilibrio. Esso costituisce una delle passioni più potenti e sconvolgenti. È gioia incostante, che ha bisogno di continue rassicurazioni, espansione di se stessi oltre i vincoli della mortificante quotidianità. Sensazione di crescita, di arricchimento e di liberazione dalla chiusura nel proprio io rattrappito. Insieme però, se non adeguatamente ricambiato, rappresenta anche un tragico fattore di distruzione e di autodistruzione. In rapporto al piacere sessuale, assume il carattere dell’eros, che si manifesta in un mobile gioco di seduzione, in cui ci si sottrae per concedersi e ci si concede per sottrarsi. In termini religiosi infine il cristianesimo ha fatto dell’amore unilaterale e gratuito di Dio per l’uomo, di Gesù che sacrifica la propria vita per la salvezza dell’umanità, la base della fede e, dell’amore dell’uomo per il proprio prossimo, compreso il nemico, il comandamento più grande.

da Remo Bodei, Che cos’è l’amore?,
Enciclopedia Multimediale delle Scienze Filosofiche


* * *

Oggi, come nel passato, la filosofia non può ignorare l’amore, la funzione che esso svolge nella
vita dell’uomo contribuendo a determinarne il senso. Insieme alla letteratura e alle arti la filosofia
fornisce una rappresentazione della varietà delle concezioni dell’amore che si sono affermate
nella storia e – in una stessa epoca – all’interno dei diversi gruppi umani.

Se più spesso con “amore” si intende il legame tra due persone, di “amore” si parla anche a proposito di altri soggetti, oltre a quelli implicati nel “rapporto a due”. Così, vi è amore dei genitori per i figli (e viceversa), come vi è amore verso entità ideali quali il bene e la giustizia, o verso entità collettive come il proprio paese, la propria nazione.

Vi sono poi l’amore di se stessi e l’amore del “prossimo” o addirittura dell’umanità intera, l’amore dell’uomo per Dio e di Dio per l’uomo.

Vi è inoltre “amore” per gli oggetti (come i beni materiali di vario tipo) o per determinate attività (il gioco, il lavoro, il cinema, ecc.): amori che talvolta possono divenire altrettanto assorbenti della “passione d’amore”, se non di più, sino a trasformarsi in vere e proprie ossessioni.

L’amore come rapporto a due – che è l’idea di “amore” di cui si occupa oggi prevalentemente la filosofia – attiene essenzialmente a un desiderio che si rivolge ad un’altra persona, si caratterizza per una forte tonalità sentimentale e si basa su una sorta di identificazione affettiva con l’“altro”, sul desiderio di “unirsi” a lui, di costituire cioè con lui un rapporto autentico, paritario, fondato sulla reciprocità di sentimenti, sulla tenerezza e sulla sollecitudine.

Forse ci potrà sorprendere che questa concezione, propria del cosiddetto “amore romantico”, fosse quasi sconosciuta prima del XIX secolo e che nella filosofia e nella cultura all’amore siano stati spesso riconosciuti altre finalità e altri caratteri.

Appare tuttavia più inquietante che quel modo di intendere l’amore, pur ancora così diffuso nell’immaginario di molte persone, si stia indebolendo e dissolvendo, o, almeno, stia profondamente
cambiando sotto la spinta dei mutamenti in corso nella nostra società.


L'allentamento dei legami d'amore

di Zygmunt Bauman

Nella sua interpretazione ortodossa, il desiderio va curato e coltivato, implica una cura prolungata,
un difficile negoziato senza soluzioni scontate, qualche scelta difficile e alcuni compromessi
dolorosi, ma soprattutto – e cosa peggiore di tutte – comporta procrastinare il suo soddisfacimento,
il sacrificio senza dubbio più aborrito nel nostro mondo fatto di velocità e accelerazione.
Nella sua radicalizzata, condensata e soprattutto più compatta reincarnazione sotto forma di
voglia, il desiderio ha perso gran parte di tali fastidiosi attributi e si è concentrato maggiormente
sul proprio obiettivo. Come recitava il messaggio pubblicitario di una famosa carta di credito,
oggi è possibile “eliminare l’attesa dal desiderio”.

Quando è pilotata dalla voglia (“in una stanza affollata i vostri sguardi si incrociano”), la relazione
tra due persone segue il modello dello shopping, e non chiede altro che le capacità di
un consumatore medio, moderatamente esperto. Al pari di altri prodotti di consumo, è fatta per
essere consumata sul posto (non richiede addestramento ulteriore o una preparazione prolungata)
ed essere usata una sola volta “con ogni riserva”. Innanzitutto e perlopiù, la sua essenza
è quella di potersene disfare senza problemi.

[…] Dopo tutto, automobili, computer o telefoni cellulari in perfetto stato e ancora funzionanti
vengono gettati via senza troppo rammarico nel momento stesso in cui le loro “versioni
nuove e aggiornate” giungono nei negozi e diventano l’ultimo grido. Perché mai le relazioni dovrebbero fare eccezione alla regola? […]

La “relazione pura” tende oggigiorno ad essere la forma prevalente di aggregazione umana,
instaurata “per quanto ne può derivare a ciascuna persona” e “continuata solo nella misura in
cui entrambi i partner ritengono che dia a ciascuno di essi abbastanza soddisfazioni da indurre
a proseguirla”. […]

Una delle caratteristiche della relazione pura è che può essere troncata, più o meno a proprio
piacimento e in qualsiasi momento, da ciascuno dei due partner. Perché una relazione abbia
una chance di durare, è necessario l’impegno; ma chiunque si impegni senza riserve rischia
di soffrire molto in futuro qualora la relazione dovesse dissolversi.

L’impegno verso un’altra persona o verso più persone, in particolare un impegno incondizionato
e di certo un tipo di impegno “finché morte non ci separi”, nella buona e nella cattiva sorte,
in ricchezza e in povertà, assomiglia sempre più a una trappola da scansare a ogni costo.
[…]

Investire sentimenti profondi nel rapporto e fare un giuramento di fedeltà significa correre un
rischio enorme: ti rende dipendente dal tuo partner e … la tua dipendenza … potrebbe non essere
e non deve essere necessariamente ricambiata. E quindi tu sei legato, ma il tuo partner è
libero di andare, e nessun tipo di legame capace di mantenere te al tuo posto è sufficiente a garantire
che l’altro non se ne vada. […]

Rapporti elastici e facilmente revocabili hanno sostituito il modello di unione personale “finché
morte non ci separi”. […]

Un’inedita fluidità, fragilità e intrinseca transitorietà (la famosa “flessibilità”) caratterizza tutti
i tipi di legame sociale che solo fino a poche decine di anni fa si coagulavano in una duratura,
affidabile cornice entro la quale era possibile tessere con sicurezza una rete di interazioni umane.
Tali tratti caratterizzano in particolare e forse anche in modo più rilevante i rapporti di tipo
lavorativo e professionale. In un’epoca in cui le proprie specificità finiscono fuori mercato in
meno tempo di quanto ne sia occorso per acquisirle e padroneggiarle, in cui le credenziali scolastiche
perdono di anno in anno valore rispetto al loro costo di acquisto o addirittura si trasformano
in una “equità negativa” ben prima della loro data di scadenza che si presumeva “illimitata”,
in cui i luoghi di lavoro scompaiono con poco o punto preavviso e il corso della vita è
suddiviso in una serie di progetti sempre più a breve termine, le prospettive di vita appaiono
sempre più simili alle accidentali circonvoluzioni di razzi intelligenti alla ricerca di elusivi, effimeri
e mai statici bersagli, anziché alla predesignata, predeterminata, prevedibile traiettoria di
un missile balistico.

da Z. Bauman, Amore liquido,
Editori Laterza, Roma-Bari 2004

* * *
...e poi:

L’amore e l’individuo nell’età della tecnica

di Umberto Galimberti

Nelle società tradizionali, da cui la tecnica ci ha emancipato, vi era poco spazio per le scelte
del singolo e la ricerca della propria identità. Fatta eccezione per singoli gruppi e minoranze
elitarie che potevano permettersi il lusso di avere desideri di realizzazione personale, l’amore
non sanciva tanto la relazione tra due persone, quanto l’unione di due famiglie o gruppi parentali
che, attraverso il veicolo dell’amore, potevano acquisire sicurezza economica, forza lavoro
per l’impresa familiare, avere eredi, assicurare il possesso esistente e, nel caso dei privilegiati,
ampliare il patrimonio e il prestigio.

Oggi l’unione di due persone non è più condizionata dalla lotta quotidiana per la sopravvivenza,
o dal mantenimento e dall’ampliamento della propria condizione di privilegio sociale e
di prestigio, ma è il frutto di una scelta individuale che avviene in nome dell’amore, sulla quale
le condizioni economiche, le condizioni di classe o di ceto, la famiglia, lo Stato, il diritto, la
Chiesa non hanno più influenza e non esercitano più alcun potere, sia in ordine al matrimonio
dove due persone in completa autonomia si scelgono, sia in ordine alla separazione e al divorzio
dove, in altrettanta autonomia, i due si congedano.

L’amore perde così tutti i suoi legami sociali e diventa un assoluto (solutus ab, sciolto da tutto),
in cui ciascuno può liberare quel profondo se stesso che non può esprimere nei ruoli che
occupa nell’ambito sociale.

In questo modo tra intimità e società non c’è più scambio, osmosi, relazione. Nella società
ciascuno è funzionario ed esecutore di azioni descritte e prescritte dall’apparato di appartenenza,
nell’amore ha lo spazio per essere se stesso, reperire la propria identità profonda al di là di
quella declinata nel ruolo, cercare la propria realizzazione e l’espressione di sé. Autenticità, sincerità,
verità, individuazione trovano nell’amore quello spazio che la società, regolata dalla razionalità
della tecnica, non concede più.

L’amore diventa a questo punto la misura del senso della vita, e non ha altro fondamento che in
se stesso, cioè negli individui che lo vivono, i quali, nell’amore, rifiutano il calcolo, l’interesse, il raggiungimento di uno scopo, persino la responsabilità che l’agire sociale richiede, per reperire quella
spontaneità, sincerità, autenticità, intimità che nella società non è più possibile esprimere. […]

Slegato da ogni vincolo sociale cui la tradizione l’aveva connesso, nell’età della tecnica
l’amore è nelle sole mani degli individui che si incontrano e ha il suo fondamento nel segreto
della loro intimità, unico luogo dove trovano espressione le esigenze più personali e imprescindibili.
Contro la realtà delle astrazioni, delle statistiche, dei numeri, delle formule, delle funzionalità,
dei ruoli, l’amore esprime la realtà degli individui che rifiutano di lasciarsi assorbire totalmente
dal regime della razionalità che più si espande e diventa totalizzante, più rende attraente
nell’amore l’irrazionalità che lo governa.

Come unico spazio rimasto per essere davvero se stessi, l’amore diviene la sola risposta all’anonimato sociale e a quella radicale solitudine determinata, nell’età della tecnica, dalla frammentazione di tutti i legami. Sentendosi attori in un mondo regolato esclusivamente da meccanismi, gli innamorati non riconoscono alcuna istanza sovraordinata al loro amore, che non ha
altro fondamento o altro obbligo se non nella loro libera scelta. E se un tempo l’amore si infrangeva
di fronte alle convenzioni sociali, oggi appare l’unico rifugio che salva l’individuo da queste
convenzioni, in cui nessuno ha l’impressione di poter essere veramente se stesso.

È come se l’amore reclamasse, contro la realtà regolata dalla razionalità tecnica, una propria
realtà che consenta a ciascuno, attraverso la relazione con l’altro, di realizzare se stesso. E in
primo piano, naturalmente, non c’è l’altro, ma se stesso. […]

Ma così l’amore si avvolge nel suo enigma: il desiderare, lo sperare, l’intravedere una possibilità
di realizzazione per se stessi cozzano con la natura dell’ amore che è essenzialmente relazione
all’altro, dove i due smettono di impersonare ruoli, di compiere azioni orientate a uno
scopo e, nella ricerca della propria autenticità, diventano qualcosa di diverso rispetto a ciò che
erano prima della relazione, svelano l’uno all’altro diverse realtà, si creano vicendevolmente ex
novo, cercando nel tu il proprio se stesso. […]

Ma quando l’intimità è cercata per sé e non per l’altro, l’individuo non esce dalla sua solitudine
e tanto meno dalla sua impermeabilità, perché già nell’intenzione di reperire se stesso nell’amore
egli ha bloccato ogni moto di trascendenza, di eccedenza, di ulteriorità. […] Una sorta
di rottura di sé perché l’altro lo attraversi. Questo è l’amore.


da U. Galimberti, Le cose dell’amore
Feltrinelli, Milano 2005

* * *
...e poi:

Due nozioni dell’amore

di Nicola Abbagnano

[Nelle] teorie […] ricorrono due nozioni fondamentali dell’amore, all’una o all’altra delle
quali ciascuna di esse può essere agevolmente ricondotta. La prima è quella dell’amore come
un rapporto che non annulla la realtà individuale e l’autonomia degli esseri tra i quali intercorre,
ma tende a rafforzarle, mediante uno scambio reciproco emotivamente controllato di servizi
e di cure di ogni genere, scambio nel quale ognuno cerca il bene dell’altro come suo proprio.
In questo senso l’amore tende alla reciprocità ed è sempre reciproco nella sua forma riuscita:
la quale tuttavia potrà sempre dirsi un’unione (di interessi, d’intenti, di propositi, di bisogni,
nonché delle emozioni correlative) ma mai un’unità nel senso proprio del termine.

In questo senso l’amore è un rapporto finito tra enti finiti, suscettibile della più grande varietà
di modi in conformità con la varietà di interessi, propositi, bisogni, e relative funzioni emotive,
che possono costituirne la base oggettiva. Rapporto finito significa rapporto non necessariamente
determinato da forze ineluttabili, ma condizionato da elementi e situazioni atte a spiegarne
le modalità particolari. Significa altresì rapporto soggetto alla riuscita come alla non riuscita
e, anche nei casi più favorevoli, suscettibile di riuscite solo parziali e di stabilità relativa.
In questo caso, ovviamente, l’amore non è mai tutto e non costituisce la soluzione di tutti i problemi
umani. Ogni tipo o specie di amore, e, in ogni tipo o specie, ogni caso di esso sarà delimitato
e definito, nel rapporto che lo istituisce, da quei particolari interessi, bisogni, aspirazioni,
preoccupazioni, ecc., la cui compartecipazione costituirà di volta in volta la base o il motivo
dell’amore. […]

In questi limiti in cui l’amore è un fenomeno umano, per la descrizione del quale termini come
“unità”, “tutto”, “infinito”, “assoluto” sono fuori luogo, l’amore perde di sostanza cosmica
quanto guadagna d’importanza umana; e il suo significato, oggettivamente constatabile, per la
formazione, la conservazione, l’equilibrio della personalità umana, diventa fondamentale. […]
La seconda ricorrente teoria dell’amore è quella che vede in esso un’unità assoluta o infinita,
ovvero la coscienza, il desiderio o il progetto di tale unità. Da questo punto di vista l’amore cessa
di essere un fenomeno umano per diventare un fenomeno cosmico. [...]

La riuscita o la non riuscita dell’amore umano diventa indifferente ed anzi, l’amore umano,
come aspirazione all’identità assoluta, e come tentativo da parte del finito di identificarsi con
l’Infinito, viene condannato preventivamente all’insuccesso e ridotto ad un’aspirazione unilaterale,
per la quale la reciprocità è deludente e che si contenta di vagheggiare la vaga forma di
un ideale sfuggente.

Due sono le conseguenze di tale concetto dell’amore.

La prima è l’infinitizzazione delle vicende amorose che, considerate come modi o manifestazioni
dell’Infinito, acquistano un significato e una portata sproporzionata e grottesca senza rapporto
con l’importanza reale che esse hanno per la personalità umana e per i rapporti di essa
con gli altri.

La seconda è che ogni tipo o forma di amore umano viene destinato allo scacco; e la stessa
riuscita di tale amore, constatabile nella reciprocità, nella possibilità della compartecipazione,
viene assunta come il segno di questo scacco. Questi due atteggiamenti si possono agevolmente
riscontrare nella letteratura romantica sull’amore.

da N. Abbagnano, Dizionario di filosofia, voce “Amore”,
TEA, Milano 1993


Saturday, 21 January 2017

SILENCE AND THE NARRATIVE OF MISERY


INNER PEACE

We yearn for silence, yet the less sound there is, the more our thoughts deafen us. How can we still the noise within?

...As so often happens, the less sound there is outside, the more our own thoughts deafen us.

When we think of silence, because we yearn for it perhaps, or because we’re scared of it — or both — we’re forced to recognise that what we’re talking about is actually a mental state, a question of consciousness. Though the external world no doubt exists, our perception of it is always very much our perception, and tells us as much about ourselves as it does about the world. There are times when a noise out there is truly irritating and has us yearning for peace. Yet there are times when we don’t notice it at all. When a book is good, the drone of a distant lawnmower is just not there. When the book is bad but we must read it for an exam, or a review, the sound assaults us ferociously.

If perception of sound depends on our state of mind, then conversely a state of mind can hardly exist without an external world with which it is in relation and that conditions it — either our immediate present environment, or something that happened in the past and that now echoes or goes on happening in our minds. There is never any state of mind that is not in some part, however small, in relation to the sounds around it — the bird singing and a television overheard as I write this now, for example.

Silence, then, is always relative. Our experience of it is more interesting than the acoustic effect itself. And the most interesting kind of silence is that of a mind free of words, free of thoughts, free of language, a mental silence... Arguably, when we have a perception of being tormented by noise, a lot of that noise is actually in our heads — the interminable fizz of anxious thoughts or the self-regarding monologue that for much of the time constitutes our consciousness. And it’s a noise in constant interaction with modern methods of so-called communication: the internet, the mobile phone, Google glasses. Our objection to noise in the outer world, very often, is that it makes it harder to focus on the buzz we produce for ourselves in our inner world.

Yet all of us, at least occasionally, reach the point where the motor of thought feels out of control. Thoughts run away with themselves, go nowhere new, and are nevertheless destructive in their insistent revisiting of where we’ve been a thousand times before. So much of Modernist literature is about this buzz of consciousness, emphasising its poetic quality. One thinks of James Joyce, or Virginia Woolf. Some, however, understood how exhausting and destructive it could be: a character who can’t still her thoughts was ‘destroyed into perfect consciousness’, writes D H Lawrence in his novel Women in Love (1920). By contrast, a certain genre of late 20th-century literature — from Samuel Beckett through Thomas Bernhard to Sandro Veronesi, David Foster Wallace and many others — is dominated by a voice constantly trying to explain the world, constantly denouncing the scandal of the world, constantly disappointed and frustrated, but also pleased with itself, pleased with its ability to be scandalised, a voice whose ceaseless questioning and criticising has long become a trap, from which consciousness seeks release in various forms of intoxication, or sleep, or suicide. There is, as it were, a catharsis of exhaustion, exhaustion with the dazzling, disturbing voice of the mind.

Such a mental voice is also a source of self-regard. This is the catch that springs the trap. The mind is pleased with the sophistication of its thinking. It wishes the monologue to end, and yet, simultaneously not to end. If it did end, where would identity be? It yearns for silence and fears silence. The two emotions grow stronger together. The more one yearns for silence, the more one fears the loss of identity if the voice should quieten. For example, when a person contemplates a radical change in life — going to live alone in the moors of Galway perhaps, or to a 10-day silent Buddhist retreat — the more he or she fears it, too, fears the moment of change. So our ideas of silence are tied up with questions of self-loathing and self-regard. The end of the monologue is inviting but also frightening, the way children are frightened of going to sleep.

Our desire for silence often has more to do with an inner silence than an outer. Or a combination of the two. Noise provokes our anger, or at least an engagement, and prevents inner silence. But absence of noise exposes us to the loud voice in our heads. This voice is constitutive of what we call self. If we want it to fall silent, aren’t we yearning for the end of self? For death, perhaps. So talk about silence becomes talk about consciousness, the nature of selfhood, and the modern dilemma in general: the desire to invest in the self and the desire for the end of the self.

Of course, we have strategies for getting by. There are soft solutions such as listening to music, or reading. Consciousness is invited to follow someone else’s score or storyline. We temporarily hand over the controls to another director. But as soon as we stop reading or listening, the mental noise starts again. We haven’t resolved anything or learnt anything about ourselves. We haven’t changed the nature of the discomfort.

More radical, and mortifying perhaps, are solutions involving ritual prayer, rosaries, or mantras. Such an approach feels like a full-scale assault on the self, with an acoustic weapon. Despite, or perhaps because of, my religious childhood, I have never tried this. I’ve never desired a mantra. I suspect, as with music, once the mantra is over, the chattering self would bounce back more loquacious and self-righteous than ever.

Or one might try Vipassana — a form of mediation that goes to the heart of this conflict between yearning for silence and fearing it. Without being too specific about why I originally approached Vipassana — let’s just say that I had health problems, chronic pain — someone suggested that this discipline might help. I had become aware that though my pains were not, as they say, merely in the mind, my mental state had certainly contributed to the kind of physical tensions that, over many years, had begun to make my life a misery.

The first Vipassana retreat I attended, some five years ago now, was in the mountains north of Milan where I live and work. There seemed no point in going further afield merely to sit on a cushion. In the opening session, I was asked to take a vow of silence for the full 10 days of my stay. So, for all this time, I lived in silence, ate in silence. Above all, I sat for many hours a day, as many as 10, in silence. But there were no chants or mantras to still the mind and get one through. Rather, I was encouraged to substitute, slowly and patiently, my normally talkative consciousness with an intense awareness of breathing and sensation; that is, of the present animal state of our being.

It’s fairly easy to concentrate on the body in motion. If you’re running or swimming, it’s possible to move into a wordless or semi-wordless state that gives the impression of silence for long periods. In fact one of the refreshing, even addictive, things about sport is the feeling that the mind has been given a break from its duty of constantly building up our ego.

But in Vipassana you concentrate on sensation in stillness, sitting down, not necessarily cross-legged, though most people do sit that way. And sitting without changing position, sitting still. As soon as you try to do this, you become aware of a connection between silence and stillness, noise and motion. No sooner are you sitting still than the body is eager to move, or at least to fidget. It grows uncomfortable. In the same way, no sooner is there silence than the mind is eager to talk. In fact we quickly appreciate that sound is movement: words move, music moves, through time. We use sound and movement to avoid the irksomeness of stasis. This is particularly true if you are in physical pain. You shift from foot to foot, you move from room to room.

Sitting still, denying yourself physical movement, the mind’s instinctive reaction is to retreat into its normal buzzing monologue — hoping that focusing the mind elsewhere will relieve physical discomfort. This would normally be the case; normally, if ignored, the body would fidget and shift, to avoid accumulating tension. But on this occasion we are asking it to sit still while we think and, since it can’t fidget, it grows more and more tense and uncomfortable. Eventually, this discomfort forces the mind back from its chatter to the body. But finding only discomfort or even pain in the body, it again seeks to escape into language and thought. Back and forth from troubled mind to tormented body, things get worse and worse.

Silence, then, combined with stillness — the two are intimately related — invites us to observe the relationship between consciousness and the body, in movement and moving thought. Much is said when people set off to meditation retreats about the importance of ‘finding themselves’. And there is much imagined drama. People expect old traumas to surface, as though in psychoanalysis. In fact, what you actually discover is less personal than you would suppose. You discover how the construct of consciousness and self, something we all share, normally gets through time, to a large extent by ignoring our physical being and existence in the present moment. Some of the early names for meditation in the Pali language of the Buddhist scriptures, far from linking it to religion, referred only to ‘mental exercises’.

This form of meditation alters the mind’s relationship with the body. It invites the meditator to focus attention on all parts of the body equally, without exception, to guide the consciousness through the body and to contem­plate sensation as it ebbs and flows in the flesh, and this without reacting in any way — without aversion to pain, without attachment to pleasure. So we become aware that even when we are still, everything inside us is constantly moving and changing.

Moreover, this ‘activity’ is not subordinated in the mind to any other. One renounces any objective beyond the contemplation itself. You are not meditating in order to relax, or to overcome pain, or to resolve a health problem, or to achieve inner silence. There is no higher goal but to be present, side by side with the infinitely nuanced flux of sensation in the body. The silence of the mind puts you in touch with the body. Or simply, silence of the mind is awareness of being.

It is hard, at the beginning, to focus, first for minutes at a time, then for hours, on one’s breathing. It is hard, at first, to find any sensation at all in many parts of the body when they are still — the temples, the elbows, the calves. Yet once the mind does latch on to sensation, or when sensation responds to the mind’s patient probing, all at once it becomes easier. Suddenly the body becomes interesting and one’s obsessive interest in one’s own wordy thoughts begins to dissolve. Language melts away and in the silence all kind of changes occur in the body.

The process is neither that of a single switch being turned, nor of a steady continuum, but of a series of small gains and losses; perhaps a larger step forward, then a small relapse. If one is persistent, undaunted, in one’s attempts to concentrate, if one is successful in showing neither aversion to pain nor indulgence in pleasure, then, very slowly, the stillness and silence deepen in an atmosphere of beatitude that is simultaneously and indivisibly both physical and mental. It is as if, as the body is slowly put together and all its component parts unite in an intense present, so the historical self is taken apart and falls away. At no point is it experienced as a loss, but rather as a fullness of existence; something brimful, very ordinary and very beautiful.

The words we constantly use and the narratives we write reinforce a drama of selfhood that we in the West complacently celebrate. There is also much consolation taken in the way in which writing and narrative can transform emotional pain into a form of entertainment, wise and poignant in its vision of our passage through the world, intense and thrilled by its own intensity. Narrative is so often the narrative of misery and of the passage through misery.

What silence and meditation leaves us wondering, after we stand up, unexpectedly refreshed and well-disposed after an hour of stillness and silence, is whether there isn’t something deeply perverse in this culture of ours, even in its greatest achievements in narrative and art. So much of what we read, even when it is great entertainment, is deeply unhelpful.





Tim Parks is a British-born author, translator and lecturer who has lived in Italy since 1981. He has written 14 novels including Europa – which was shortlisted for the Booker prize – Destiny, Cleaver and most recently Dreams of Rivers and Seas. His non-fiction works include Italian Neighbours and An Italian Education, highly personal accounts of life in northern Italy. His most recent book is Teach Us to Sit Still, a narrative reflection on health, illness and meditation. His website: http://tim-parks.com/

Friday, 20 January 2017

PHANTASY IS REQUIRED


Philosophy and Critical Theory
(Excerpt: Philosophy and Class Society)

by Herbert Marcuse

The transformation of a given status is not, of course, the business of philosophy. The philosopher can only participate in social struggles insofar as he is not a professional philosopher. This "division of labor," too, results from the modern separation of the mental from the material means of production, and philosophy cannot overcome it. The abstract character of philosophical work in the past and present is rooted in the social conditions of existence. Adhering to the abstractness of philosophy is more appropriate to circumstances and closer to truth than is the pseudophilosophical concreteness that condescends to social struggles. What is true in philosophical concepts was arrived at by abstracting from the concrete status of man and is true only in such abstraction. Reason, mind, morality, knowledge, and happiness are not only categories of bourgeois philosophy, but concerns of mankind. As such they must be preserved, if not derived anew. When critical theory examines the philosophical doctrines in which it was still possible to speak of man, it deals first with the camouflage and misinterpretation that characterized the discussion of man in the bourgeois period.

With this intention, several fundamental concepts of philosophy have been discussed in this journal [Zeitschrift für Sozialforschung]: truth and verification, rationalism and irrationalism, the role of logic, metaphysics and positivism, and the concept of essence. These were not merely analyzed sociologically, in order to correlate philosophical dogmas with social loci. Nor were specific philosophical contents "resolved" into social facts. To the extent that philosophy is more than ideology, every such attempt must come to nought. When critical theory comes to terms with philosophy, it is interested in the truth content of philosophical concepts and problems. It presupposes that they really contain truth. The enterprise of the sociology of knowledge, to the contrary, is occupied only with the untruths, not the truths of previous philosophy. To be sure, even the highest philosophical categories are connected with social facts, even if only with the most general fact that the struggle of man with nature has not been undertaken by mankind as a free subject but instead has taken place only in class society. This fact comes to expression in many "ontological differences" established by philosophy. Its traces can perhaps be found even in the very forms of conceptual thought: for example, in the determination of logic as essentially the logic of predication, or judgments about given objects of which predicates are variously asserted or denied. It was dialectical logic that first pointed out the shortcomings of this interpretation of judgment: the "contingency" of predication and the "externality" of the process of judgment, which let the subject of judgment appear "outside" as self‑subsistent and the predicate "inside" as though in our heads. Moreover, it is certainly true that many philosophical concepts are mere "foggy ideas" arising out of the domination of existence by an uncontrolled economy and, accordingly, are to be explained precisely by the material conditions of life.

But in its historical forms philosophy also contains insights into human and objective conditions whose truth points beyond previous society and thus cannot be completely reduced to it. Here belong not only the contents dealt with under such concepts as reason, mind, freedom, morality, universality, and essence, but also important achievements of epistemology, psychology, and logic. Their truth content, which surmounts their social conditioning, presupposes not an eternal consciousness that transcendentally constitutes the individual conscious ness of historical subjects but only those particular historical subjects whose consciousness expresses itself in critical theory. It is only with and for this consciousness that the "surpassing" content becomes visible in its real truth. The truth that it recognizes in philosophy is not reducible to existing social conditions. This would be the case only in a form of existence where consciousness is no longer separated from being, enabling the rationality of thought to proceed from the rationality of social existence. Until then truth that is more than the truth of what is can be attained and intended only in opposition to established social relations. To this negative condition, at least, it is subject.

In the past, social relations concealed the meaning of truth. They formed a horizon of untruth that deprived the truth of its meaning. An example is the concept of universal consciousness, which preoccupied German Idealism. It contains the problem of the relation of the subject to the totality of society: How can universality as community (Allgemeinheit), become the subject without abolishing individuality? The understanding that more than an epistemological or metaphysical problem is at issue here can be gained and evaluated only outside the limits of bourgeois thought. The philosophical solutions met with by the problem are to be found in the history of philosophy. No sociological analysis is necessary in order to understand Kant's theory of transcendental synthesis. It embodies an epistemological truth. The interpretation given to the Kantian position by critical theory does not affect the internal philosophical difficulty. By connecting the problem of the universality of knowledge with that of society as a universal subject, it does not purport to provide a better philosophical solution. Critical theory means to show only the specific social conditions at the root of philosophy's inability to pose the problem in a more comprehensive way, and to indicate that any other solution lay beyond that philosophy's boundaries. The untruth inherent in all transcendental treatment of the problem thus comes into philosophy "from outside"; hence it can be overcome only outside philosophy. "Outside" does not mean that social factors affect consciousness from without as though the latter existed independently. It refers rather to a division within the social whole. Consciousness is "externally" conditioned by social existence to the very extent that in bourgeois society the social conditions of the individual are external to him and, as it were, overwhelm him from without. This externality made possible the abstract freedom of the thinking subject. Consequently, only its abolition would enable abstract freedom to disappear as part of the general transformation of the relationship between social being and consciousness.

If the theory's fundamental conception of the relation of social existence to consciousness is to be followed, this "outside" must be taken into consideration. In previous history there has been no pre‑established harmony between correct thought and social being. In the bourgeois period, economic conditions determine philosophical thought insofar as it is the emancipated, self‑reliant individual who thinks. In reality, he counts not in the concretion of his potentialities and needs but only in abstraction from his individuality, as the bearer of labor power, i.e. of useful functions in the process of the realization of capital. Correspondingly, he appears in philosophy only as an abstract subject, abstracted from his full humanity. If he pursues the idea of man, he must think in opposition to facticity. Wishing to conceive this idea in its philosophical purity and universality, he must abstract from the present state of affairs. This abstractness, this radical withdrawal from the given, at least clears a path along which the individual in bourgeois society can seek the truth and adhere to what is known. Beside concreteness and facticity, the thinking subject also leaves its misery "outside." But it cannot escape from itself, for it has incorporated the monadic isolation of the bourgeois individual into its premises. The subject thinks within a horizon of untruth that bars the door to real emancipation.

This horizon explains some of the characteristic features of bourgeois philosophy. One of them affects the idea of truth itself and would seem to relativize "sociologically" all its truths from the start: the coupling of truth and certainty. As such, this connection goes all the way back to ancient philosophy. But only in the modern period has it taken on the typical form that truth must prove itself as the guaranteed property of the individual, and that this proof is considered established only if the individual can continually reproduce the truth as his own achievement. The process of knowledge is never terminated, because in every act of cognition the individual must once again re‑enact the "production of the world" and the categorical organization of experience. However, the process never gets any further because the restriction of "productive" cognition to the transcendental sphere makes any new form of the world impossible. The constitution of the world occurs behind the backs of the individuals; yet it is their work.

The corresponding social factors are clear. The progressive aspects of this construction of the world, namely the foundation of knowledge on the autonomy of the individual and the idea of cognition as an act and task to be continually re‑enacted, are made ineffective by the life process of bourgeois society. But does this sociological limitation affect the true content of the construction, the essential connection of knowledge, freedom, and practice? Bourgeois society's domination reveals itself not only in the dependence of thought but also in the (abstract) independence of its contents. For this society determines consciousness such that the latter's activity and contents survive in the dimension of abstract reason; abstractness saves its truth. What is true is so only to the extent that it is not the truth about social reality. And just because it is not the latter, because it transcends this reality, it can become a matter for critical theory. Sociology that is interested only in the dependent and limited nature of consciousness has nothing to do with truth. Its research, useful in many ways, falsifies the interest and the goal of critical theory. In any case, what was linked, in past knowledge, to specific social structures disappears with them. In contrast, critical theory concerns itself with preventing the loss of the truths which past knowledge labored to attain.

This is not to assert the existence of eternal truths unfolding in changing historical forms of which they need only to be divested in order for their kernel of truth to be revealed. If reason, freedom, knowledge, and happiness really are transformed from abstract concepts into reality, then they will have as much and as little in common with their previous forms as the association of free men with competitive, commodity‑producing society. Of course, to the identity of the basic social structure in previous history certainly corresponds an identity of certain universal truths, whose universal character is an essential component of their truth content. The struggle of authoritarian ideology against abstract universals has clearly exhibited this. That man is a rational being, that this being requires freedom, and that happiness is his highest good are all universal propositions whose progressive impetus derives precisely from their universality. Universality gives them an almost revolutionary character, for they claim that all, and not merely this or that particular person, should be rational, free, and happy. In a society whose reality gives the lie to all these universals, philosophy cannot make them concrete. Under such conditions, adherence to universality is more important than its philosophical destruction.

Critical theory's interest in the liberation of mankind binds it to certain ancient truths. It is at one with philosophy in maintaining that man can be more than a manipulable subject in the production process of class society. To the extent that philosophy has nevertheless made its peace with man's determination by economic conditions, it has allied itself with repression. That is the bad materialism that underlies the edifice of idealism: the consolation that in the material world everything is in order as it is. (Even when it has not been the personal conviction of the philosopher, this consolation has arisen almost automatically as part of the mode of thought of bourgeois idealism and constitutes its ultimate affinity with its time.) The other premise of this materialism is that the mind is not to make its demands in this world, but is to orient itself toward another realm that does not conflict with the material world. The materialism of bourgeois practice can quite easily come to terms with this attitude. The bad materialism of philosophy is overcome in the materialist theory of society. The latter opposes not only the production relations that gave rise to bad materialism, but every form of production that dominates man instead of being dominated by him: this idealism underlies its materialism. Its constructive concepts, too, have a residue of abstractness as long as the reality toward which they are directed is not yet given. Here, however, abstractness results not from avoiding the status quo, but from orientation toward the future status of man. It cannot be supplanted by another, correct theory of the established order (as idealist abstractness was replaced by the critique of political economy). It cannot be succeeded by a new theory, but only by rational reality itself. The abyss between rational and present reality cannot be bridged by conceptual thought. In order to retain what is not yet present as a goal in the present, phantasy is required.


SOURCE: Marcuse, Herbert. "Philosophy and Critical Theory," in Negations: Essays in Critical Theory, with translations from the German by Jeremy J. Shapiro (Boston: Beacon Press, 1968), pp. 134-158. Excerpt, pp. 147-154, footnotes omitted. Originally published in Zeitschrift für Sozialforschung, vol. VI, 1937.

Thursday, 19 January 2017

L'AMORE PER I ROMANZI DI MONTALBANO

Riporto con enttusiasmo questa bella nota dello scrittore napoletano Maurizio de Giovanni, che fa da introduzione ad uno dei romanzi del Commissario Montalbano  (Il cane di terracotta), in cui spiega l'amore per i romanzi del commissario e la loro importanza nel 'dare la rotta' al giallo italiano.
La copertina de Il cane di terraccotta in edizione speciale
Il genio di Camilleri

Lo sappiamo bene, noi. Noi che facciamo parte di questa piccola società segreta; che ci scambiamo frasi in codice («hai visto? È uscito. È uscito, ti dico: l’ho visto coi miei occhi, stamattina, sullo scaffale!»), che ci incontriamo con un mezzo fugace sorriso nei nostri posti silenziosi raggiunti facendo incongrue deviazioni di percorso, perdendo autobus e metropolitane per pochi minuti ma senza rimpianti.

Noi che amiamo il profumo della carta nuova che aspiriamo a occhi chiusi per qualche secondo, prima di percorrere avidi con lo sguardo i mille colori delle copertine alla ricerca di una nuova fascinazione. Noi che ci riconosciamo in treno, sbirciando titoli ed espressioni per intuire storie e personaggi, annotando mentalmente il prossimo acquisto; noi che non vediamo l’ora di condividere il piacere solitario, chiacchierando di amori e passioni come se fossero veri, proprio perché sono veri più di quelli veri. Noi lo sappiamo bene, che un libro altro non è che un biglietto per un viaggio.

Sappiamo che il libro bello è quello che ti porta fin dalla prima pagina in un altro luogo e in un altro tempo, che ti rapisce e ti esclude dal tuo mondo e te ne regala un altro, che ti travolge con una storia di cui tu, lettore, sei protagonista, non testimone. Perché il testimone vede succedere le cose, non prova direttamente tutte le emozioni dei personaggi, non sente il cuore cambiare ritmo e sobbalzare ancora prima dell’evento che leggerà accadere.

È una cosa diversa. Noi non siamo il popolo dell’immagine; non siamo quelli che hanno bisogno di qualcuno che pensi le scene per noi, che premastichi e predigerisca le storie e ci fornisca colori e facce precostituiti. Noi non siamo i drogati dello streaming, quelli che non ce la fanno ad aspettare che la nuova puntata della nuova serie venga tradotta e inserita in palinsesto. A noi le storie piace immaginarle, costruirle, inventarle. Noi lavoriamo insieme all’autore, lui racconta e noi vediamo.

Il libro che avete tra le mani contiene appunto un viaggio. Perché l’uomo che ha inventato questa storia funziona così: vi trascina via già dalla prima parola.

Se i romanzi belli sono quelli che vi inghiottono come le sabbie mobili, quelli che vi fanno leggere un’ora e poi guardare sorpresi l’orologio perché vi sembrano passati solo cinque minuti, ebbene il signore che ha scritto questa storia sa come fare i romanzi belli. L’ha saputo dall’inizio, e anzi le prime storie (questa che avete in mano è del 1996) hanno la forza della conoscenza in corso del personaggio, qualcosa di cauto e di ansioso che conferisce ulteriore verità, perché il lettore e chi racconta condividono ansia e curiosità e questa condivisione è una gran bella forza motrice.
I primi quattro titoli dell'edizione speciale
Se i romanzi belli sono quelli che da un lato vi fanno correre per vedere presto come andrà a finire la storia e dall’altro vi fanno guardare alle pagine che rimangono come un tesoro da centellinare piano, allora il signore che ha scritto questa storia ha il dono di amministrare la vostra frenesia, costringendovi di fatto alla seconda e alla terza lettura per ritrovare, ancora e ancora, la stessa identica atmosfera.

Se i romanzi belli sono quelli che funzionano come un orologio, con un meccanismo perfetto che non lascia dubbi o buchi alla logica del più esperto lettore, ma nel contempo trasudano l’imperfezione e la follia che animano il complesso mondo delle relazioni sentimentali, ebbene il signore che ha scritto questa storia ha l’istintiva misura delle dosi per avvinghiare chi lo ascolta in un abbraccio che non si può sciogliere fino all’ultima parola e all’ultimo doloroso e sorridente sospiro.

Perché, sapete, il signore che ha scritto questa storia ha saputo iniziare una nuova stagione del romanzo nero italiano, e ancora ne traccia la rotta con la forza luminosa di un faro nella nebbia. Non che prima di lui non ci siano stati grandi autori, Gadda e Veraldi, Eco e Fruttero e Lucentini hanno avuto voci enormi e importantissime; ma lui, lui ha reinventato tutto.

Il signore che ha scritto questa storia che avete tra le mani ha parlato con la sua lingua come se stesse davanti a un fuoco d’inverno o d’estate su una terrazza all’ombra, un bicchiere di vino in mano e un piatto davanti, il mare fermo ad ascoltare a pochi metri; con una voce rasposa e senza tempo, un gesto della mano a sottolineare i passaggi, il volto atteggiato a simulare le espressioni. Il signore che ha scritto questa storia parla alle ossa e allo stomaco di chi ascolta, non propone vacui esercizi intellettuali né ritiene di poter spiegare il fine ultimo dell’universo. Racconta storie, e chi sta ad ascoltarlo sa che una storia è una storia, e non la dimostrazione di una tesi; quindi può finire in qualsiasi maniera, ed è questa l’origine della tesa attenzione con cui si leggono i romanzi di questo signore, e quello che avete tra le mani soprattutto, perché tra queste storie è sicuramente una delle più belle.

In questa storia seguirete il protagonista ruvido e sensibile, intelligente e spontaneo lungo le vie intense e semplicissime della sua città. Comincerete a camminare al suo fianco in una mattina smèusa, divisa a metà tra sole e pioggia, il modo migliore per definire l’incertezza di quello che poi succederà.

Dovrete ancora immaginarlo, il protagonista, come l’ha pensato il signore che vi racconta la storia, capelli folti, baffi, vicino ai cinquant’anni e vagamente somigliante al Pietro Germi de Il ferroviere, lontano quindi dal favoloso attore che lo ha interpretato nella scatola magica. Lo immaginerete camminare per strade e sentimenti, al cospetto di criminali migliori dei burocrati e di feroci assassini col sorriso sulle labbra. Lo ascolterete nelle sue difficili conversazioni telefoniche notturne, tese a mantenere in piedi il suo amore imbalsamato dalla distanza. E lo vedrete mangiare con gusto, assorbendo attraverso la bocca e lo stomaco la terra selvatica e stupenda che ama respirare e calpestare.

Attorno a lui va nascendo quel mondo che la nostra società segreta imparerà ad amare forsennatamente, riconoscendo con tenerezza facce e voci e luoghi come quando si torna in vacanza nello stesso posto dopo un anno di lavoro e di tristezza; troverete un Augello insolitamente nervoso e spaventato e il riservato Fazio, il litigioso dottor Pasquano e l’irresistibile Catarella, e capirete rileggendo quanto corpo e quanto sangue vanno assumendo nel cuore del proprio creatore. E Vigàta, aria terra e mare, Vigàta sapore odore e calore, Vigàta di strade e di campagna, di spiaggia e di silenzio.

Proprio nella storia che avete tra le mani, la terra si fa fisicamente protagonista. In essa si apre una caverna che è un passaggio nel ventre, un ingresso nella passione. Una caverna che è un deposito di armi, un arsenale dell’esercito irregolare che comanda il respiro degli abitanti di un’isola meravigliosa e disgraziata, ma che è anche stanza da letto per innamorati poveri e felici. E che è tomba di un antico amore, che ancora respira e ancora racconta la propria storia disperata a cinquant’anni di distanza. La grandezza del signore che racconta questa storia, sapete, è proprio qui: nella semplicità innocente con cui unisce passato e presente, in una immobile freschezza che è il senso dell’amore. Perché le storie nere, quelle davvero nere, sono fatte soprattutto d’amore. L’amore che devia dal suo corso, impattando in ostacoli come la gelosia, l’ossessione, l’invidia, e prende una strada diversa che spesso sfocia nel sangue.

La telefonata del vecchio compagno di scuola Gegè, l’inquietante incontro col Greco, terribile capomafia e fiero avversario, costituiscono in realtà soltanto la premessa necessaria, la porta d’ingresso attraverso la quale il commissario protagonista, che ha ancora nelle orecchie la recente lettura del suo quasi omonimo autore barcellonese, dovrà imbarcarsi per un viaggio nel tempo. E viaggerà, eccome se viaggerà, alzando veli impolverati che coprono passioni addormentate e feroci.

Un’indagine nel passato può svolgersi solo attraverso il ricordo. Il commissario lo sa e quindi andrà a cercare la memoria dei vecchi, e si metterà a guardare la sospensione tra un passato di sangue e amore e un presente di amore e sangue. Anche il suo stesso sangue, e quello di chi gli è caro. La storia che avete tra le mani, sappiatelo, non assomiglia a nessun’altra, come le grandi storie debbono fare. Se guarderete bene, troverete colti riferimenti a grandi autori e anche a culture lontane ma vicinissime alla terra da cui nasce, a filosofie antiche e a simbologie mai dimenticate; ma è una ricerca che potrete fare non prima della terza lettura, perché la prima vi trasporterà frenetici alla scoperta dei misteri e la seconda vi avvolgerà nelle morbide spire di un’ambientazione tuttora insuperata nella narrativa italiana.

Il signore che racconta questa storia e il suo protagonista, insomma, danno il meglio nelle pagine che leggerete. Certo, nei tanti romanzi successivi quel mondo lo conoscerete a fondo, in lungo e in largo; ma così nel profondo, accompagnati dall’odore di buio e di terra, non scenderete mai più. Mettetevi comodi e state ad ascoltare il signore che racconta: scoprirete quanto viva può essere la morte, a distanza di più di mezzo secolo, se non riesce a interrompere l’amore; e quanto può essere partecipe e addolorato lo sguardo consapevole di un cane di terracotta.


Andrea Camilleri e Luca Zingaretti

Camilleri e i vent'anni di Montalbano. Parla l'editore Antonio Sellerio

Nel 1994 usciva il primo romanzo del commissario. Ora le sue storie tornano in edizione speciale. Per celebrare un fenomeno editoriale che ha catturato il nostro immaginario. E ha cambiato il giallo italiano.


Salone del libro di Torino, Antonio Sellerio sta in piedi dietro una pila di libri insolitamente colorati, che fa contrasto con la marea di copertine blu che li circonda. I titoli sono quelli dei primi libri di Andrea Camilleri in cui compare il commissario Salvo Montalbano: La forma dell'acquaIl cane di terracottaIl ladro di merendineLa voce del violino, riediti in un'edizione speciale per festeggiare i vent'anni dall'uscita del primo titolo, La forma dell'acqua appunto, che uscì nella primavera del 1994.

In questo ventennio, Montabano è diventato un fenomeno editoriale globale, il personaggio di due serie tv ben fatte ed estremamente popolari (quella con Luca Zingaretti e, più di recente, Il giovane Montabano con Michele Riondino) e una sorta di compagno di viaggio per chiunque legge gialli: una volta l'anno, puntuale come il film di Woody Allen, la nuova avventura del commissario arriva in libreria. E pazienza se sappiamo che morirà, perché tutti prima o poi devono morire anche nei romanzi: ci basta sapere che per ora la morte di Montalbano, già scritta da Camilleri, sta chiusa in cassaforte, a Palermo, e la sua fine non è prossima.

I numeri delle vendite sono impressionanti e quasi Antonio Sellerio, figlio di Elvira ed Enzo ed erede, insieme alla sorella Olivia, di qualcosa che non è una semplice casa editrice, ma una ben protetta roccaforte di cultura, non vorrebbe tirarli fuori di nuovo: 21 romanzi vuol dire finora 15 milioni di copie vendute in Italia e traduzioni in tutto il mondo (“Oltre che da noi, ci sono paesi dove va molto bene, come la Germania e gli Stati Uniti”). Per non parlare della televisione: dal 1999 il commissario è anche un personaggio tv con il volto ormai familiare di Luca Zingaretti, e persino il prequel – che è sempre rischioso – interpretato da Riondino è andato benissimo. I numeri, diffusi dalla Palomar di Carlo Degli Esposti che produce entrambe le serie sono impressionanti: il calcolo è che in questi anni, in tutto il mondo, Montalbano in tv sia stato visto da oltre 800 milioni di spettatori.

Spiegare perché Salvo Montalbano, e non qualche altro dei tanti commissari che affollano gli scaffali delle librerie, sia entrato nell'immaginario popolare, è cercare di dipanare la nebbia che avvolge la fortuna letteraria di un personaggio, in qualche modo sempre imponderabile. Il suo stesso editore una vera risposta non ce l'ha, piuttosto delle notazioni a margine.

“Quando Camilleri propose a mia madre Elvira La forma dell'acqua e poi Il cane di terracotta non voleva scrivere altro. Fu lei a chiamarlo, perché i libri andavo bene, e gli chiese: 'Quando mi dai il terzo?'” e così nacque davvero Montalbano come personaggio seriale".

La squadra di Montalbano, nella serie TV
La popolarità è cresciuta nel tempo; certo l'effetto tv ha potenziato il tutto, ma Antonio ricorda che già nel 1998 (il debutto su Rai2, con Il ladro di merendine, è del 1999) ci furono sei libri della serie in classifica tra i più venduti. E cita un altro episodio. “Camilleri fece un libro per Mondadori. Si chiamava Un mese con Montalbano e a Segrate fecero una copertina blu che somigliava alle nostre. Addirittura ci misero una foto scattata da mio padre Enzo. Questo paradossalmente ci favorì, rese i nostri libri successivi più riconoscibili anche a chi prima non aveva mai comprato un libro Sellerio”.

Sull'amore per Montalbano e il modo in cui ci ha accompagnato negli anni, l'editore puntualizza che, senza mai diventare 'politico', Camilleri ha saputo raccontare – con un libro l'anno – i cambiamenti del Paese: “Ci ha raccontato la mutazione antropologica del berlusconismo, l'immigrazione, la crisi” spiega Sellerio “e l'ha fatto con una lingua unica”.

Proprio sulla lingua, che è l'aspetto peculiare della letteratura di Camilleri, lo stesso scrittore spiegò nel 1998 che l'uso del siciliano nelle sue pagine derivava dalla convinzione che “l'unica mia voce possibile sarebbe stata quella che io parlavo in famiglia, sia pure con le differenze che ci sono tra il parlare e lo scrivere. Il tessuto base era quello del parlato familiare, un intreccio di dialetto e lingua italiana».

Un atto di coraggio letterario che ha pagato al di là di ogni aspettativa, in qualche modo cambiando il panorama del giallo italiano. “Si, credo che l'attenzione di Camilleri per la lingua sia stata d'esempio per tutta una generazione di giallisti. E' per questo che, credo, Salvo Montalbano è il più importante personaggio seriale della nostra letteratura”.

Statua del Commissario Montalbano, a Porto Empedocle

Fotogramma dalla serie TV: Montalbano a Marinella

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

THE SABBATH AND RABBI HESCHEL

“Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel” by Pamela Chatterton-Purdy. Based on a photo from March 21, 1965, this mixedmedia piece shows Heschel arm-in-arm with Rep. JohnLewis, Ralph Abernathy, Martin Luther King Jr., Ralph Bunche,
and Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth during the march from Selma to Montgomery.
In 1951, the Jewish philosopher Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972) published a small book¹ that has inspired a whole new generation of Christian theology concerning the Sabbath. J. A. Sanders suggests that Heschel's "influence on Christianity, especially since the publication . . . of The Sabbath and Man Is Not Alone, has been remarkable."² In fact, some Christians are using Heschel's ideas to call Christianity back to the Sabbath. For instance, Philippe de Robert notes that while
the sanctification of time is characteristic of biblical thought and of Judaism . . . , it can be asked, however, what has become of this conception in Christianity. Is there a place for Sabbath in our spiritual life? . . . Abraham Heschel says that Jewish ritual can be characterized as "an architecture of time." Is there not a need to rebuild such a structure, to order our time, which has been dislocated in function from the sabbatical rhythm? Isn't the sanctdying of time to first enter into a discipline of personal prayer, comunal worship and family renewal? Isn't this wisdom that has been lost, and that we can learn anew from Judaism?³ 
Perhaps what has made Heschel's view of the Sabbath so revolutionary is the practical nature of his approach to the subject. Instead of focusing on the importance of avoiding the retribution of an offended God, he focuses on the advantages to be gained by keeping the Sabbath and the disadvantages of not keeping it. He demonstrates that we could be missing an extraordinary - possibly even necessary - experience by allowing the Sabbath time period to come and go without benefitting from it.⁴ In fact, he even goes so far as to suggest that the quality (and quantity?) of human existence is jeopardized by an absent-mindedness of the Sabbath in our exploitation of time to conquer space:
How proud we often are of our victories in the war with nature, proud of the multitude of instruments we have succeeded in inventing, of the abundance of commodities we have been able to produce. Yet our victories have come to resemble defeats. In spite of our triumphs, we have fallen victims to the work of our hands; it is as if the forces we had conquered have conquered us.⁵ 
In spite of all the Jewish and Christian commentary on Heschel's writings, less discussion about his views on the Sabbath has taken place compared to some of his more philosophical works. In fact, there is no published critique of The Sabbath. Christian writers' references to the ideas in this work seem to be done with little or no question as to their relation to Scripture.

Is it really safe to assume that Heschel's view of the Sabbath is grounded in the OT? Actually, the book makes no explicit claim to be an  exposition of the OT teaching on the Sabbath. Thus, the problem is not with the claims of the author (since he makes none concerning the biblicity of the work), but rather the problem is that the work continues to be used by Christian theologians without any explanation or critique of its relation to Scripture. In order to address this problem, a comparison will be made between The Sabbath6 and Scripture, especially the OT, on their views of time, holiness, and the Sabbath.

Heschel's Understanding of Time, Holiness, and the Sabbath
Time 

In an allegory regarding the origin of the Sabbath, Heschel suggests that time was "one," "eternal," and "transitory," preexisting the spatial aspects of creation.⁷ The process of creation, however, divided time into seven days whereby it "entered into an intimate relationship with the world of space."⁸ But in humanity's experience, time and space become antagonistic.⁹ Human nature tends to favor space over time and we are the worse for it. This is not to say, however, that Heschel denies the value of space. He affirms both as long as each are given their due significance.¹⁰

But, though space cannot be replaced by time, time gains the priority due to the fact that "it is not a thing that lends significance to a moment; it is the moment that lends significance to things."¹¹ Heschel goes on to show that this is demonstrated in the religion of the OT, which emphasized time over space.¹²

According to Heschel, time gains a superior significance in religion due to the special relationship between it and holiness. Thus, time gains its significance over space in that it is a "means" of attaining holiness.¹³ "Time is the presence of God in the world of space, and it is within time that we are able to sense the unity of all things."¹⁴ In the words of one of his commentators: "It is a form of the Shechinah."¹⁵ Thus one cannot help but ask how Heschel distinguishes between time and ultimate reality, between time and God.

Holiness 

Heschel wishes to emphasize that "holiness is not an unearthly concept."¹⁶ He sees no "dualism of the earthly and sublime."¹⁷ Rather, "all things are sublime."¹⁸ Anything in the universe that obeys God's command to exist is holy; by existing, humanity is in "contact with His will."¹⁹ The implication of this view is not always explicit, though in at least one instance Heschel is quite clear that "man is the source and the initiator of holiness in this world."²⁰

Notice that Heschel's emphasis is on the activity of the human. Perhaps Heschel views holiness as "innate" or "potential" in the works of creation, which would include humanity. Of course, Heschel could be trying to emphasize the attitude of the human, rather than the behavior, but the "source" is still the human.

Sabbath 

Probably the most significant element of Heschel's view of the Sabbath is its potency for the sanctification of its observers. Heschel says that "something happens to a man on the Sabbath day."" On the Sabbath neshumuh yeterah ("additional soul") is given to the worshiper and it is removed at the close of the Sabbath.22 In another statement he adds: "Nothing is essentially required save a soul to receive more soul. For the Sabbath 'maintains all souls.' It is the world of souls: spirit in the form of time. . . . Every seventh day a miracle comes to pass, the resurrection of the soul, of the soul of man and of the soul of all things."²³

Heschel defues this extra "soul" through a statement by Rabbi Hayim: "We have seen the tremendous change that the holiness of the Sabbath brings about in the life of the saint. The light of holiness blazes in his heart like tongues of fue, and he is overcome with rapture and yearning to serve God . . . all night and all day."²⁴ In other words, through the Sabbath, the human soul connects with the divine soul in the form of sanctified time:
What is the Sabbath? Spirit in the form of time. With our bodies we belong to space; our spirit, our souls, soar to eternity, aspire to be holy. The Sabbath is an ascent to the summit. It gives us the opportunity to sanctlfy time, to raise the good to the level of the holy, to behold the holy by abstaining from profanity.²⁵ 
It is in this realm of holiness that the human can interface with the divine. The source of change is not from outside, but from within: "For Heschel, the human psyche undergoes a "self-transformation." In poetic reflection on the discouragements of the weekdays, Heschel exclaims: "All week there is only hope of redemption. But when the Sabbath is entering the world, man is touched by a moment of actual redemption; as if for a moment the spirit of the Messiah moved over the face of the earth."²⁶

It can be said that Heschel sees time as a means of attaining holiness, where it is the innate presence of the divine will being accomplished in the life of creation. The Sabbath is the point where humanity sanctifies time and the individual transforms the self into a state in which he or she communes with the divine. How, then, does Heschel's view compare with Scripture?

Time, Holiness, and the Sabbath in the Bible 

The most significant and positive comparison between Heschel's view of the Sabbath and the Bible is ironically in the NT accounts of Jesus' liberating the Sabbath experience from burdensome regulations ("the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath," Mark 2:27)²⁷ Heschel is in agreement with Jesus' spirit of freeing both Jews and Christians from making the Sabbath a drudgery that is far from a "delight."

There are, however, some contrasts between Heschel's view of the Sabbath and that of the Bible. Three issues best describe this contrast. Before looking at these, however, it should be noted that Heschel never claims that his view is biblical. He uses Scripture when it appropriately emphasizes his thought, but there is no indication that his view is intended to be a biblical theology of the Sabbath. Rather, it might be better described as a Jewish philosophy of the Sabbath. The validity of Heschel's views, in light of his apparent intentions, is not being questioned or criticized. What is questioned is the validity of using Heschel's views as biblical theology.

Time vs. Space in Genesis

 To begin, Heschel's argument is founded on the idea that the significance of the Sabbath lies in its creation in time, whereas all other aspects of the creation process took place in space. While the creative process that took place during the first six days was called good, the Sabbath was pronounced "holy."

It would, however, be difficult to support from Scripture the idea that the seventh day was holy simply because the Sabbath involved "time." Genesis 2: 1-3 states that the seventh day was blessed and sanctified "because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made." Thus, it is God who sanctifies the day, not its temporal nature. The focus of this narrative is on God, not time. And it is his "finishing" and "resting," rather than a movement from spatial to temporal realities, that is emphasized. If Heschel's philosophical suggestions concerning space and time are supported by this narrative, they are definitely not central to the thought being expressed.

Further, Heschel argues that the designation of "good" for what was created on the first six days and the holiness bestowed on the seventh demonstrates a hierarchy of the time/space dimensions. But can it be demonstrated that God's "work" on the six days is limited to space, whereas his "rest" on the seventh involves only time?

In this context, the word "rested" (from shabat) means "to cease," "to stop working." But this "ceasing" was because God had "completed His work." He was not merely taking a break. Thus, God sanctified the Sabbath, not because of his inactivity, but "because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made [completed]." Therefore, sanctification does not appear to be the result of a shift from spatial to temporal dimensions, but rather it comes as a result of God's celebration of the completion of his work.

Heschel rightly argues that labor focuses on space, whereas rest does not. This must be granted. However, the text does not support the idea that space or time are the causes behind the declaration of holiness in regard to the Sabbath. Rather, the text suggests that it is the celebration of the completion of Creation that prompted God to sanctify this day.

Time, Sabbath, and Holiness in the Old Testament 

Although there is a connection between the Sabbath and holiness, there is no evidence to support the idea that time serves as a medium for holiness any more than space does. If this were the case, why do the terms "holy" and "most holy," as they are used in Scripture, almost exclusively refer to things or places? Heschel's explanation for this is that it is only through their relationship to time that these things are made to be holy. Contra Heschel, the OT suggests that something's relationship to God is what makes things, time, and people holy.²⁸ All holiness, whether of time or any other manifestation, is derived from God, the only one who can claim to own this unique quality. As Scripture says: "There is no one holy like the Lord, indeed there is no one besides you" (1 Sam 2:2).

Regarding the Sabbath and holiness, Heschel's view consists of two conclusions: that by keeping the Sabbath holy humans are sanctifying time,²⁹ and that through this process of participating with holy time humanity achieves holiness for itself.³⁰

First, the Sabbath commandment does not say that humans sanctify time, including the seventh day. Rather, it says to "remember" the Sabbath day, "keep" it holy, and "guard" its holiness (Exod 20:8). The Sabbath was not instituted by humanity, but by God (Gen 2:l-3) with humanity in mind. Therefore, if we are to benefit from the Sabbath, it must be remembered. Furthermore, the Sabbath was not made holy by humanity, but by God (Gen 2:3). Thus, humans must keep it holy. That is, its holiness must not be jeopardized (profaned) by working, pursuing our own pleasure, or doing evil (Exod 20:9ff; 31:14ff; Isa 58:13-14; Ezek 23:38). Of course in this sense, humanity affects the Sabbath's holiness by arming it or denying it through personal experience, but nowhere does the OT state that humans make it holy. Therefore, the OT does not seem to support Heschel's view.

Second, concerning the holiness achieved by humans through the keeping of the Sabbath, God states: "You shall surely observe My sabbaths; for this is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the Lord who sanctifies you" (Exod 31:13, emphasis added). Thus, it is not a holiness that I achieve for myself, but as I keep his Sabbath holy, God promises to make me holy. Therefore, the Sabbath is a promise of redemption.
__________________
NOTES
1. Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath: Its Meaning for Modern Man (New York: Noonday, 1951).
2. J. A. Sanders, "An Apostle to the Gentiles," Consemtive Judaism, 28 (Fall 1973): 61-63. Also, Cottrell claims that "Jewish rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel has had considerable impact on Christian as well as Jewish thinking through his book The Sabbath: Its Meaning for Modern Man" (Raymond F. Cottrell, "The Sabbath in the New World," in The Sabbath in Scripture and Historyed. Kenneth A. Strand [Washington, DC: Review and Herald, 1982], 260).
3. Philippe de Robert, "La Sanctification du Temps Selon Abraham Heschel," Foi et Vie 71 (1972): 4-10.
4. Heschel, 13ff.
5. Heschel, 27; see also Sakae Kubo, God Meets Man: A Theology of the Sabbath and Second Advent (Nashville: Southern Publishing Association, 1978), 23ff.
6. Fortunately, Heschel's views on the Sabbath are expressed in a single work (The Sabbath), which will be the focus of this study.
7. Heschel, 5 1.
8. Ibid.
9. Ibid., 5
10. Ibid., 6
11. Ibid. Heschel states: "We appreciate things that are displayed in the realm of Space. The truth, however, is that the genuinely precious is encountered in the realm of Time, rather than space" (The Earth is the Lord's: The Inner World of the Jew in East Europe [New York: Farrar, Strause & Giroux, 1949], 13.
12. Heschel, The Sabbath, 8.
13. Heschel states: "The universe was created in six days, but the chax of creation was the seventh day. Things that come into being in the six days are good, but the seventh day is holy. The Sabbath is holiness in time" (God In Search of Man: A Philosophy of Judaism [New York: Farrar, Strause & Giroux, 19551,417, emphasis original).
14. Heschel, The Sabbath, 100; see also Donald J. Moore, The Human and the Holy: The Spirituality of Abraham Joshua Heschel (New York: Fordham University Press, 1989), 155.15. Franklin Sherman, The Promise of Heschel (New York: Lippincott, 1970), 63.
16. Heschel, Man Is Not Alone, 266-267.17. Ibid.
18. Ibid.
19. Ibid.
20. Ibid.
21. Heschel, The Sabbath, 87.
22. Ibid.
23. Ibid., 82-83.
24. Ibid., 88-89.
25. Ibid., 75.26. Heschel, The Sabbath, 68.
27. All scriptural references are from the NASB.
28. For instance, "be holy, for I am holy" (Lev 11:44); holy ground due to God's immanence (Exod 3:5); the holy and most holy places of the sanctuary in relation to the shekinah (Deut 7:6; 14:2,21; 28:9; Josh 5:15).
29. Heschel, The Sabbath, 75.
30. Ibid.
Praying Rabbi, by Marc Chagall
The Legacy of Abraham Joshua Heschel

by Robert Erlewine*

Abraham Joshua Heschel
was a singular figure in American Jewish history and, indeed, in Jewish thought. Born in 1907 and reared in the world of Polish Hasidim, Heschel studied philosophy and Biblical criticism in Berlin before becoming a pivotal figure in American Jewish and non-Jewish religious life, galvanizing Americans on issues of social justice. The conditions that produced a figure capable of such depth and breadth of traditional Jewish learning and secular studies seem no longer possible in our age, focused as it is on hyper-specialization. Heschel shared a vision of Judaism at once profoundly rooted in tradition and simultaneously subversive of the status quo. He offered a vision of Judaism that did not espouse separation from the larger society but rather demanded critical engagement with it. His theological commitments undergirded his courageous, outspoken efforts on behalf of the Civil Rights Movement, his protests against the war in Vietnam, and his work to improve Jewish and Christian relations. Given the singularity of his vision and the strength of his character, it should not be surprising that—nearly four decades after his death—his legacy remains towering and majestic in the consciousness of the American Jewish community and beyond.

In the wake of the centenary of his birth, a flurry of conferences and publications made clear that many find him to be a source of inspiration. And yet, while many claim discipleship and loyalty, there continue to be wide-ranging differences concerning his legacy and its relevance for our contemporary concerns. How fortunate then that Susannah Heschel has given us a new edited collection, Abraham Joshua Heschel: Essential Writings. Not only does this remarkable collection provide a sense of the breadth of Heschel’s interests and writings, but the ordering of the selections and the insightful introductions highlight the deep coherence of the different dimensions of his work. This volume brings together particularly rich and striking passages from Heschel’s oeuvre sure to draw readers into fresh and thoughtful conversations with this remarkable figure in modern Jewish thought.

Abraham Joshua Heschel: Essential Writings is perhaps the single best introductory text to the work of Heschel. There are six sections, which can stand alone or be read together. Passages from well-known works such as The Sabbath, Man’s Quest for God, Man is Not Alone, God in Search of Man, and The Prophets rub shoulders with lesser-known works such as Who is Man?, The Insecurity of Freedom, and A Passion for Truth, as well as previously unpublished works. In this context, with passages from various texts juxtaposed thematically, we see how Heschel’s philosophical theology undergirds his politics and his groundbreaking strides toward improving Jewish-Christian relations. Susannah Heschel’s substantial introduction to the volume provides an excellent biography of Heschel filled with insights into his life and thought. Additionally, she provides a helpful essay to introduce each section. The rich introductions and the previously unpublished material make this work of significant interest for scholars; the thematic focus and the editor’s guidance make the work accessible and relevant for students and thoughtful people interested in Judaism, Jewish-Christian relations, and American religious history. Moreover, the anthology illuminates the deep coherence of the different dimensions of Heschel’s work.

A Philosophy of Wonder

Heschel’s writings on prayer, race, Jewish education, and the prophets all find their roots in his theocentric, or God-centered, vision. Heschel’s theocentrism does not simply challenge, but rather uproots and disrupts, our sensibilities. We moderns are accustomed to distancing ourselves from that which we think about; we believe that detachment or disinterestedness is the key to thinking carefully and critically. However, when it comes to matters of ultimate concern, Heschel charges that this mindset leads us astray. When it comes to religion, rather than doubt and disinterest, authentic thinking begins with “wonder or radical amazement.” When in the grip of wonder, we face a “state of maladjustment to words and notions,” because our ability to reason, our capacity to think and to judge, reaches its limits.

As a philosopher of wonder, Heschel offers a distinctly critical vision of modernity. Juxtaposing reason and wonder, Heschel explains that through reason “we try to explain or to adapt the world to our concepts,” while through wonder “we seek to adapt our minds to the world.” Reason assumes that we can grasp the world, that we can understand all that there is. However, as Heschel repeatedly asserts, there are levels of reality that cannot be brought into the “discursive levels of the mind” that we “see more than we can say.” Wonder and awe, dispositions that open us to the vastness of the universe, make us receptive to aspects of reality that lie beyond the categories of reason. The modern West has done a wonderful job cultivating the capacity to reason. Yet, as Heschel points out time and again, we have all but lost our ability for wonder and awe, and as a result, we have faced—and continue to face— a spiritual crisis.

The privileging of wonder and awe as opposed to reason can be seen throughout many aspects of Heschel’s work. He critiques philosophy of religion for viewing God as an object to be known, subject to proof and validation. He suggests that from the point of view of the pious person, the point of view proper to religion as such, “God is the subject.” The key is “not to know Him but to be known by Him; not to form judgments about Him but to judged by Him.” Heschel also advocates an inversion of our “common sense” in which we, as knowing selves, bestow meaning upon the world through our minds. For Heschel, it is not the act of knowing, or cognition in general that gives or creates meaning. Rather, according to the pious person, religion celebrates humility before the divine, the awareness that God’s overwhelming priority decenters us and puts us in our proper place. Religion involves humility, which means that we recognize that God is the true subject and we are but objects, “dust and ashes” who hope to be known to God. Heschel’s evocative language does not mean that he is literally denying that we have subjectivity; rather, he claims that human beings are situated in much grander horizons than many might think. There is a judge and center of meaning apart from and beyond our own minds.

Indeed, Heschel thinks that the forfeiture and loss of the sensibilities of piety, awe, wonder, and humility have been disastrous for Western civilization. In light of the atrocities of the twentieth century—the Shoah prominent among them—Heschel emphasizes that the public and private spheres, i.e., religion, politics, and ethics, are intimately interwoven, and any separation is artificial and dangerous. Religion is a public concern because it is inherently concerned with justice. However, Heschel is far from a conservative who turns to religion as a source of salubrious authority and legitimacy in civic life—although some of his disciples later take this path.

A Prophetic Call to Political Action

For Heschel, the exemplar of the conjunction of religion and politics is the prophet. The prophet is a human being seized by God’s pathos and through whose voice God’s concern, “God’s sense of injustice,” is expressed. The prophet does not celebrate but rather brings to light the guilt of an entire culture. Heschel writes, “Prophecy is the voice that God has lent to the silent agony, a voice to the plundered poor, to the profaned riches of the world.” Anywhere injustice takes place it is the case that “few are guilty, but all are responsible.” We are all responsible for evil because only a world indifferent to suffering will tolerate injustice and systematic inequality. Thus, the prophet teaches, “indifference to evil is more insidious than evil itself.”

The prophet and his intolerance for indifference is central for Heschel because he roots his ethics in imago dei, the concept that all human beings—regardless of race or religion—are created in the image of God. If one properly recognizes God’s radical priority to one’s self, and one accepts that the only legitimate image of God is the human being, then one cannot remain uninvolved in political action. As Heschel bore witness to with his life and in his more politically explicit works, to continue to conduct business as usual, including the business of religious worship, when segregation is the law of the land or when one’s country conducts an unjust war is inexcusable, morally and religiously impossible.

And yet, we do all too frequently countenance injustice unmoved by what we see, as if nothing calamitous were happening. This is a result of our spiritual crisis, our loss of awe and wonder. Heschel writes, “The root of sin is callousness, hardness of heart, lack of understanding what is at stake in being alive.” When we lose sight of God’s priority to our very selves, of our proper place in the order of things, when we lose a sense of scale, we become callous and indifferent to our fellow human beings. Indeed, in his celebrated speech from 1963, “Religion and Race,” Heschel provocatively asks, “The Negro’s plight, the blighted areas in the large cities, are they not the fruit of our sins?” He suggests we are accessories to crimes by our indifference, our failures “to demand, to insist, to challenge, to chastise,” which true religion demands that we do. The problem of evil—whose manifestations include the Holocaust and the terrible poverty and racism that beset the United States—is a result of human failure. It is human beings who bring about evil, who close off the world to God and force God into hiding.

Heschel often reflects upon prayer and suggests that it is both an essential component of religious life and a key element in social action. Prayer, for Heschel, is an exercise of exorcising ourselves of callousness, of recognizing our failures before God. For Heschel, prayer causes “a shift of the center of living—from self-consciousness to selfsurrender.” In prayer we realize God is the supreme Subject, and this demands that “humility is a reality ... [that] humility is truth.” In prayer we recognize that God is the ground of all value and that our worth, like that of all things, derives from God. Prayer decenters us and places everything under much wider horizons, breaking our egocentrism, thus both forcing and allowing us to see the world from this new perspective. Prayer allows us to recognize our own vanity, our tendency to make ideologies absolute, and the fact that we never cease to fail, even in our efforts to be good. Prayer allows us to break down the walls of our own self-righteousness and approach the world with fresh eyes, lest easy and convenient answers appear sufficient. Prayer is both a consolation and a demand. If we pray properly, so Heschel avers, we will be unable to live indifferently to what is going on around us. And what is going on around us cannot be separated from how we pray. Indeed, in a remarkable anecdote that Susannah Heschel includes in her introduction, Heschel explains to a rather flummoxed journalist that he is attending a protest against the Vietnam War because while it is going on, he cannot pray.

A New Take on Jewish-Christian Relations 

Perhaps it was the priority of a God-infinitely-greater-than-ourminds-can-grasp over that which the finite human mind can know or formulate into creeds and dogmas that enabled Heschel to offer a groundbreaking vision of Jewish-Christian relations. As Susannah Heschel points out, “My father did not consider it helpful to discuss with Christians those issues that divide us, such as Christology, but to focus instead on the dimensions of faith: ‘sharing insights, confessing inadequacy.’” Heschel’s vision for interreligious dialogue was “mutual enrichment and enhancement of respect and appreciation.” He said that it was time to forsake “the hope that the person spoken to will prove to be wrong in what he regards as sacred.” Focusing on depth theology, that level beneath or beyond what can be put into language and creeds, religious leaders can fruitfully discuss issues with one another without diminishing or disrespecting each other. While acknowledging the importance of doctrinal differences, Heschel’s focus on the self-as-God’s-object, where the affects become a site where more happens than can be said, allows a common ground to develop while preserving difference between religious traditions. Given the level of Jewish-Christian dialogue today, it is hard to recognize the radical nature of this teaching and indeed the way Heschel embodied it in his life full of encounters and friendships with Christians.

Heschel’s view marked a sharp break with past Jewish thinking about Christianity. Unlike German Jewish liberal philosophical theologians like Moses Mendelssohn, Hermann Cohen, and Leo Baeck, Heschel attempts neither to read Jesus as a Jew nor to invert the dominant German trope of viewing Christianity as rational and universal at the expense of an irrational and particularistic Judaism. He also does not follow either Buber or Rosenzweig, who turn to highly stylized readings of the Bible or abstract philosophical systems to provide perspective for the disagreements between Jews and Christians. Of course, there were important historical circumstances that underlay, or at least were conducive to, Heschel’s rather significant divergence from his distinguished predecessors. As Susannah Heschel points out, unlike in Germany, where the antagonisms between Christians and Jews were poisonous, in the United States, many of Heschel’s closest friends and associates were Christians who deeply appreciated what he had to say. Undoubtedly, the United States provided a more hospitable environment for such discussions and diplomatic efforts, but it would be a mistake to underestimate the tactical brilliance and moral courage on Heschel’s part, which brought these efforts to fruition.

While Heschel was critical of the critics of religion, he was also critical of its practitioners. Although deeply tied to Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox Judaism, Heschel claimed allegiance to none, and criticized all. Judaism was not finished, but in constant need of innovation: “Human faith is never final, never an arrival, but an endless pilgrimage, a being on the way.” On the one hand, too many observant Jews, Heschel charged, are satisfied with the Halachah and thus feel that no creative thinking is needed. On the other hand, too many liberal Jews simply do not know enough about Judaism to be able to innovate at all. Innovation requires “creative dissent,” but the very ability to dissent creatively seems endangered by the conditions of Judaism in the United States. That is, there are no longer those who are deeply knowledgeable about Judaism, rooted in deep learning, and have the courage and love to bring about change. Deeply critical of Jewish education in the United States, Heschel saw it as too often rooted in “obsolete liberalism or narrow parochialism” and often simply “insipid, flat, and trivial.” In various writings and speeches, he urges rabbis, cantors, and educators to have concern with the inner lives of Jews and not just the survival of the Jewish people as a whole.

Perhaps given the singular conditions that produced Heschel’s sensibilities, it should not be surprising that Heschel has produced a rather variegated legacy. Heschel’s presence is indubitably felt in contemporary theology, not only in the sense that many leading contemporary theologians were his students, but also in that these same figures claim his theological works as significant influences on their own work. However, certain elements have been absorbed more than others. Among contemporary theologians we see that the distinct vision Heschel brought to life has been refracted through different lenses: conservative traditionalism, new age spirituality, and naturalism.
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* Robert Erlewine, author of Monotheism and Tolerance: Recovering a Religion of Reason (Indiana University Press, 2010) is an assistant professor of religion at Illinois Wesleyan University. He writes on German and American Jewish thought and philosophy of religion.
Memorial, by Samuel Bak