One of the suggestions Wyrmfang, as my predecessor as guide of the Eye aspect, wrote regarding the contemplation of ideas etc. was that by the act of simply writing things down, one can develop or solidify an understanding of things. (Incidentally, this also opens one’s thoughts up to something similar to the editing I mentioned in my previous blog even if, instead of reading someone else’s work, one simply returns to their own work after a week or so.) With this in mind, I thought I’d post the latest example of something I intermittently wrote over the space of a month or so, as an attempt to relate some separate ideas more coherently, i.e. the major theses in Carl Jung’s ‘Answer to Job’ (psychology), Shaul Magid’s Hasidim on the Margin (mythology), and Jacques Derrida’s The Gift of Death (philosophy).
A major difficulty in posting anything like this is that it’s predominantly written for my own understanding and benefit, although the footnotes briefly contextualise important concepts I mention without explanation – if I was writing an article primarily for other people to read, I’d probably try to contextualise/explain things more clearly. However, despite this, I hope my example can demonstrate the value of something like this, even if it’s not easily understandable.
Finally, I am quite an academically minded person (or at least have delusions of grandeur), so this is reflected in how I understand things, but isn’t a necessary approach. Although I’ve written about traditionally ‘wordy’ subjects, this approach could just as easily work with descriptions of art (novels, paintings etc.), experiences (religious, everyday etc.), and so on.
In Carl Jung’s ‘Answer to Job’ and Jacques Derrida’s The Gift of Death, both present their most controversial writings regarding Judeo-Christian mythology and religion in general. Notably, neither characterised their religious beliefs (or lack thereof) as having any specific concluding event such as traditional Right Hand Path beliefs in heaven. In Jung’s case, although he was almost certainly influenced by Nietzsche’s insistence on the present as eternally recurrent, his theories actually bear more similarity to F.W.J. Schelling’s assessment of Greco-Roman mythology in Philosophy of Mythology and Jan Patočka’s subsequent analysis of Neo-Platonic Christianity in Heretical Essays. In these works, both philosophers actively discount attempting to use recorded history and mythology to explain primordial beginnings or project future endings as something that is simply beyond our abilities.1 Instead, our heritages and the manners in which they are differently understood provide an arena where the differences of our ideological constructions challenge each other, to their inherent benefit in addition to that of both the microcosmic individual and the macrocosmic absolute.2
Neither Schelling nor Patočka significantly incorporate ethics into their investigations of mythology, yet such a position is perhaps best represented by Emmanuel Levinas in his Humanism of the Other, albeit with a focus on interactions between absolutely subjective Others.3 What Levinas calls the trace – the essentially acosmic/atemporal record of cosmic/temporal existence; the past that was never truly present – provides a manner in which the cyclical property of mythological experience is retained, rather than forgotten in a Hegelian sense (the synthesis effectively corrupting the thesis and antithesis)4 or annihilated by Husserl’s Phenomenology (subjective reflections blinding each other).5 However, in Levinas’ appeal to ethics as a mediator between absolutely subjective Others, there is a danger of falling into Kantianism when he attempts to instruct his audience to align their Real behaviour with an Ideal, thus delivering them to god, the central entropic example where passivity reigns. Furthermore, by basing his ethics on interpreting Leviticus 19:18 as “thou shalt love thy neighbour is thyself,”6 Levinas is also in danger of describing everything in terms similar to Spinoza’s pantheistic description of god as nature: where everything comes from god, is god and always will be god, and therefore never changes or develops during – or as a result of – the process.
However, Derrida provides a nuanced analysis and development of Levinas’ trace and human and divine interaction with it. By using Abraham’s binding of Isaac to describe the present moment as an “atemporal temporality” where one stands before god – a suspension of ethics basically incomprehensible to us – Derrida opens a Pandora’s Box of possibilities. By sacrificing that which he loves most, Abraham gives the gift of Isaac’s death to god. Yet after god interjects and the moment has passed, Derrida notes that such incomprehensibly “monstrous” moments of the present will inevitably be contextualised by the messianic drive to comprehension – by both the individual microcosm and the absolute macrocosm – something that will never be entirely fulfilled and will instead simultaneously serve as Levinas’ unadulterated trace and Hegel’s sublated ground for other monstrous encounters.7
Jung’s ‘Answer to Job’ could be described as an attempt to trace this evolving, monstrous relationship between the Judeo-Christian god and his various human subjects. Jung characterises Job’s final silence during Yahweh’s megalomaniacal rant as a revelation of superiority: in this monstrous moment Job realises he follows Yahweh’s laws more perfectly than Yahweh himself. In Derrida’s The Gift of Death, such a maintained silence before monstrosity is described as indicative of refraining from presenting gifts to people, incurring their guilt, and therefore precludes any chain of successive, reciprocation of gifts developing. Yet are the silences of Abraham and Job not indicative of supreme and mystical gifts of silence/death – an empty space nevertheless has a creative grammatical value. Abraham makes a silent choice in accepting the demand to sacrifice his beloved son; Job ultimately makes a silent choice in highlighting and protesting Yahweh’s incredulous apathy. This is representative of an escalation – successive messianic contextualisations of the incomprehensibly monstrous. As Biblical scholars have noted, following Abraham’s binding of Isaac, they never speak again. Similarly, Job and Yahweh maintain a silence following Job’s revelation. The former silence is between son and patriarch, the latter between subject and god. Yahweh firstly learns that those devoted to him will follow his spoken word to kill over his written law to refrain from murder; he secondly learns that those devoted to him will also accept his unspoken murderous acts that contravene his written law.
As previously mentioned, Jung’s interpretation of Job’s gift of silence following his relatives’ deaths is a revelation of his superiority over Yahweh. However, as this resulting silence concerns Yahweh personally, rather than his devotee, the patriarch Abraham, the silence also reveals Job’s superiority to him. Yahweh’s messianic contextualisation of this monstrous silence ultimately results in Jesus’ sacrificial death as an attempt at appeasement, yet Jung considered this inadequate. Rather than the death of Yahweh’s half-human offspring, Jung seems to demand a patriarchal circumstance where Yahweh could be pardoned as he had previously pardoned Isaac. It would seem Jung considered this emblematic of his adoption of Gerhard Dorn, a medieval alchemist who Jung interpreted as suggesting that Yahweh needs humanity to help perfect himself. Not only does this avoid a Spinozistic return to the same beginning, but also avoids Nietzsche’s insistence on the final death of god and triumph of humanity.
However, Jung’s solution is rather ironic as it essentially proposes regressing from the Christian emphasis of “thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” back to the Jewish emphasis of “an eye for an eye.” In his old age, the pardoned Isaac goes blind, much as this reflective ‘eye for an eye’ would blind the pardoned Yahweh.8 For this reason, Michel Foucault, as the foremost successor of Nietzsche, declared the death of humanity: the removal of the human from the assumed central position that god had once occupied. This removes the centre of the panopticon and reveals the abyss of Derrida’s khôra in its place, the permanent and constant monstrous abyss of Otherness within our very midst that everyone automatically contextualises due to their messianic will to knowledge.9
Whereas Nietzsche was an aristocratic leader, Foucault was a historian of the repressed and unrepresented, and consequently reacted to the monstrous events humanity had inflicted upon itself. Therefore, although Foucault espoused an anti-humanism while Levinas was vociferous in his humanism, both reached the conclusion that humanity was a tragicomically inadequate successor to god. As previously mentioned, Levinas combatted this by interpreting Leviticus 19:18 as “thou shalt love thy neighbour is thyself” and essentially ignoring the abyss in our midst, through which the trace passes, by simply circumambulating it in a manner reminiscent of the Epicurean treatment of metakosmia.10 And as someone who primarily considered himself a historian, Foucault did not really present a coherent solution, something for which he was frequently criticised – Noam Chomsky famously described debating with him as like conversing with an alien.
Ironically, considering Levinas’ Jewish faith and Derrida’s Jewish background, Shaul Magid’s analysis of Izbica/Radzin in Hasidism on the Margin presents some interesting mythological examples that can progress this idea further. According to Magid, their messianic philosophy can be summarised as deliberately transgressing god’s laws by for the benefit of Others. The primary example given is Judah’s refusal to execute Jacob for flaunting his multi-coloured coat, when in fact this would have been legally justified. In this monstrous moment he proves himself superior to Yahweh in both their eyes, before inevitably contextualising it messianically – one could almost say heretically as, unlike Job, Judah is aware of the superiority of his premeditated action – before returning. Kabbalistic theology begins when god contracts itself (tzimtzum) to create cosmic existence, which kabbalists attempt to rectify (tikkun).11 Izbica/Radzin Hasidism characterises this rectification as another contraction within a contraction, a re-unifying development within a development. It could be noted that instead of executing Jacob, Judah condemns him to slavery – repulsive to modern morality – yet the point is not the physical act, but the decision to sacrifice god’s law for the benefit of Others.
In the closing paragraphs of Derrida’s The Gift of Death he invokes the following from Nietzsche’s The Genealogy of Morals:
“…that paradoxical and awful expedient, through which a tortured humanity has found a temporary alleviation, that stroke of genius called Christianity: – God personally immolating himself for the debt of man, God paying himself personally out of a pound of his own flesh, God as the one being who can deliver man for what has become unquittable – the creditor playing scapegoat for his debtor, from love (can you believe it?) from love of his debtor!”
By quoting this passage Derrida suggests that Nietzsche is, in fact, a religious thinker because he seems to believe in the premise of the Christian message – echoing Heidegger’s description of him as the most religious philosopher – yet the actual subject seems to be the presentation of gifts and subsequently incurred guilt. While living in Christian Europe, Nietzsche affirmed the mythology of Christ – the sublated gift that had already been given and automatically accepted a priori – yet violently attempted to return or repay it. Instead of interacting and trying to kill god, a monstrous silence of Job or Judah would have been more effective. This is, of course, not to say that Nietzsche should have literally stayed silent and never written or said a thing – or, indeed, acted. Rather, that by standing directly in opposition, he inadvertently strengthens the injustice of his enemy – with whom he is indelibly connected – and together they simply exchange grandiose death threats to their mutual incomprehension and disadvantage.12
To bring this to some sort of conclusion, the point of this exercise is not so much to answer questions, but to be posed new ones. So, in regards to my example above, some avenues of interrogation become quickly apparent, for example:
Could the trace and a person’s action be considered similar to how Husserl’s noemata could be interpreted as messianic/heretical contextualisations of the incomprehensibly monstrous, within which there exists some perfect Ideal object?
If this is the case, does it just re-orient the traditional Platonic view of an Ideal that cannot be comprehended and various human Reals, albeit with the Ideal being a more immediate pre-linguistic experience/object before it is linguistically contextualised as the Real.
As Levinas and Derrida view religion as more of a relationship between individual humans rather than between humans with god, Derrida accordingly re-orients what faith refers to: namely, the assumption that other people will understand one’s language. Yet does this simply re-define the trace as a gnostic wordless knowledge?
Ultimately, does this not construct a Kantian relationship between knowledge of the Real and intuition of the Ideal?
1 Foucault’s description of the horizontal archive presents a similar idea in secular terms.
2 Patočka was familiar with Schelling’s work and translated some into Czech. Schelling’s work in question examines the development of Greco-Roman mythology as philosophical, natural and linguistic expressions, and the manner in which these developments were successively internalised, i.e. Uranus is internalised by Cronos who is in turn internalised by Zeus, yet all retain the integral aspect of their predecessor, even if this “multiplicity of gods” (in contrast to “successive polytheism”) obscure each other somewhat. Patočka transposed this approach to Christianity, i.e. Dionysian ecstasy cults were internalised by Platonic meditation, which was then internalised by Christianity.
3 If the absolutely Other of negative theology is transposed to every relationship, everything becomes totally subjective but is necessarily and paradoxically bound together by sharing this singular property.
4 Hegel never used the axiom of ‘thesis, antithesis, synthesis’ although he did use many similar triadic examples. Furthermore, regarding this ‘synthesis,’ Hegel instead used the term Aufhebung (sublation) to argue that past actions were preserved but necessarily concluded by their preservation, thus irreparably changing them. In other words, the obverse of Levinas’ trace and ‘the past that was never truly present.’ Levinas’ trace is not present because it is stored outside of time; Hegel’s sublation is not present because it stores the present in the past.
5 The intersubjectivity between various noemata (individuals’ objective conceptions of themselves) and noeses (individuals’ subjective conceptions of Others).
6 Thereby also reversing the traditional Phenomenological stance of empathically ‘loving thyself as/is thy neighbour’ – experiencing one’s own body as an Other from both one’s own mind’s perspective as well as Others’ intersubjective conceptions.
7 At least, on an automatic, a priori level. In general, Postmodern Deconstruction attempts to challenge the assumptions of Hegel’s sublated ground by examining the spatial environments necessary for interaction rather than the interactors. In other words, Derrida resists the concluding events of Hegel’s sublate after the fact; a deconstructive philosophy depends on an initial construction, which requires some sort of fixed or limited definitions.
8 Of course, these two Biblical proscriptions are not necessarily mutually exclusive. One could willingly commit an action and expect an equal reaction, even if it be death. This could ultimately describe both the traditional Phenomenological perspective as well as Levinas’ antinomy.
9 Interestingly, Foucault compared his philosophy to negative theology – rather than, for example, a negative anthropology – precisely because he considered the modern absolutisation of man to be parallel to the Nietzschean death of god.
10 The spaces between worlds in which the immortal gods resided in a state of pure bliss. Epicurus suggested that these gods had no interest in humanity and therefore that humanity should have no interest in them, other than as an Ideal example.
11 Technically, it is the shattering (shevirat) of the vessels – into which the indefinable nature of the divine is poured in an attempt to engender differentiated archetypes – which kabbalists attempt to rectify. However, since many historic and contemporary kabbalists consider this shattering intentional, and the Izbica/Radzin contextualise their rectification as a contraction, this rather simplistic description is a viable interpretation in this case.
12 Nietzsche realised this indelible connection between masters and slaves, life and nihilism etc. as a necessity while emphasising his preferred aspects (masters, life etc.) in his philosophy. However, regarding the death of god, he is far more vociferous in declaring an actual death: in trying to escape the “spirit of revenge” he falls prey to it. In this sense, perhaps a divide can be made between Hegel’s sublation, Nietzsche’s “death of god”, and Heidegger’s destruktion as more damaging and violent, in contrast to Schelling’s “multiplicity of gods” (within which Foucault’s contention that humanity simply replaced god could sit), and Derrida’s différance as more inclusive and preservative. The former focus on ending something to unnaturally preserve it, the latter internalise things for continued natural interaction.