Book Reviews

Discussion on literature other than by the Star of Azazel.
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Jiva
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Re: Book Reviews

Postby Jiva » Thu Aug 08, 2013 5:45 pm

David Chaim Smith – The Kabbalistic Mirror of Genesis; Commentaries on Genesis 1-3

I actually stumbled across this book while reading Amazon reviews for David Fideler's Sun of God. In it Smith presents a non-theistic interpretation of the Kabbalah that ignores the hierarchical medieval, messianic systems of Luria et al. in favour of early Kabbalistic theorising and later Hassidic developments. This entails a non-dualistic interpretation that's similar to Hindu Advaita and Buddhist thought, actually listing the six senses (Āyatana). This is probably intentional as Smith seems widely read, however it struck me as significant as Raphael Patai suggests some syncretism between Kali and Shechina (which he argues was originally a goddess) due to travellers such as Abraham Abulafia.

The basic cosmogeny presented is based on B'reshit (continual state of becoming) and Ain Sof (without limitation), the purity of which can't be affected by whatever happens. The Sephiroth pertain to different levels of the human mind:
  • Level 1 – Yechidah; Sephira – Keter; Function – unborn essence (pure cognisant potentiality)
  • Level 2 – Chaya; Sephira – Chochmah; Function – dynamic nature (pure knowingness)
  • Level 3 – Neshamah; Sephira – Binah; Function – axiomatic space (the capacity for thought)
  • Level 4 – Ruach; Sephira – Middle Six; Function – perceptual motion (activity of thinking and feeling)
  • Level 5 – Nefesh; Sephira – Malkut; Function – display of vital presence (apparitional display)
Levels 1 and 2 are undifferentiated levels of Ain Sof which are beyond thought and perception, the bottom two are the ordinary levels of human perception

The basic theology regarding the serpent is directly related to the gematria of Nachash (serpent) and Moshiach (messiah) both of which number 358. “Messianic redemption awaits in the heart of life in whatever broken and distorted form it arises in”. The fall was a “set-up” made inherent by mankind's tendency for dualism e.g. the separation of Eve from Adam, the habitual categorisation and naming of things etc. Therefore the serpent is presented as something of a trickster who makes ambiguous statements, within which reside perfect wisdom.

In summary, I like this interpretation very much due to its non-dualism and the ambiguity of the serpent. If you hadn't noticed by now, I'm a massive fan of ambiguity in literature and film :lol:. Smith has another book out and a forthcoming one, both of which I'll definitely be getting. His art's pretty good too. Because of this I am now also reading Umberto Eco – Foucault's Pendulum :D.
'Oh Krishna, restless and overpowering, this mind is overwhelmingly strong; I think we might as easily gain control over the wind as over this.'
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Re: Book Reviews

Postby Nefastos » Fri Aug 09, 2013 10:32 am

Jiva wrote:David Chaim Smith – The Kabbalistic Mirror of Genesis; Commentaries on Genesis 1-3


Thank you for pointing this out, it seems that it might be a great asset to me who still haven't memorized the basics of kabbalah, and would need some inspirational way to enter to that magnificent temple of thought. I have had some extremely interesting books on the subject waiting for serious study in my personal library for many years now, but the moats have remained unbridged so far. :)
Faust: "Lo contempla. / Ei muove in tortuosa spire / e s'avvicina lento alla nostra volta. / Oh! se non erro, / orme di foco imprime al suol!"
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Re: Book Reviews

Postby Jiva » Tue Aug 13, 2013 12:30 am

No problem. I actually posted this review (short summary really) as I think it's usually the Lurianic interpretation of the Kabbalah that is predominantly used as a base by modern occultists, e.g. Dragon Rouge, Temple of the Black Light, Ixaxaar's forthcoming publication and so on. Both are elegant in their own ways, but I have to say I prefer something similar to the ideas outlined by Smith, although perhaps this is a personal bias towards ideas similar to non-dualist Hindu philosophy.
'Oh Krishna, restless and overpowering, this mind is overwhelmingly strong; I think we might as easily gain control over the wind as over this.'
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Re: Book Reviews

Postby Jiva » Wed Aug 28, 2013 12:03 am

David Chaim Smith – The Sacrificial Universe

In contrast to The Kabbalistic Mirror of Genesis, Smith's second book isn't confined to the first three verses of Genesis but instead outlines his Kabbalistic worldview from three approaches: intellectual scholarship, symbolism and meditative practice.

A major portion of the book is devoted to the symbolism of the double hexagram which is frequently described as an alchemical marriage. These two hexagrams are overlapped so that the points form ten sephira, rather than eleven with a space missing for daat. When the hexagrams are unified the sephira of daat is absent, which signifies the removal of the concepts of reality/arising and unreality/dissolving. When this diagram is viewed horizontally – as Smith recommends, to avoid considering the union a hierarchy – the hexagrams, which both have circles drawn round them, form an eye shape in the middle. This also has ten sephira and actually strongly reminded of the eye within the double pentagram of the Star of Azazel (as on the back of Fosforos). My interpretation is that the symbolism is roughly similar.

This is a tough thing to describe, so if anyone's interested here's a link to a gallery on the publisher's website. A diagram of the horizontal unification of the double hexagrams is a few pictures into the gallery, it's simply called 'Double Window'.

Regarding the art, the book is quite large (roughly 35cm x 24cm) and there is usually at least one major drawing for each chapter with other minor drawings of sephira and symbolism in the margins. There are quite a few fold-out triptychs and a quadriptych. All are black and white pencil drawings and invoked images of a hierophant scratching away on a piece of parchment.
'Oh Krishna, restless and overpowering, this mind is overwhelmingly strong; I think we might as easily gain control over the wind as over this.'
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Re: Book Reviews

Postby Jiva » Thu Dec 26, 2013 10:57 pm

Paul S. MacDonald, History of the Concept of Mind vol. I & II

These two books cover a massive chunk of Western concepts of the mind, the first volume going from Homer to Hume, the second from Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia to Goethe. They deal with the relation of the complexes or concepts of the mind and its relation to the body.

The books are primarily a synthesis of other scholars' works which, while incredibly useful, is something I found overwhelming and constantly had to skip back to re-read stuff. This isn't a fault of MacDonald's, as his writing style is easy to read, but an inherent difficulty of the subject (or perhaps my lack of intelligence :P). Naturally, philosophers/theologians have different interpretations of concepts such as 'nous' for example, while later historians and philosophers have debates on interpretation themselves. Without paying proper attention this can lead to a situation where everything just get confused.

Because of covering such a large purview it is by no means comprehensive, but definitely helps contextualise various key philosophers' beliefs. However, some of those featured seem Anglo-centric choices to me. In particular, there is a chapter regarding Chaucer and Shakespeare (among others) where Old and Middle English extracts aren't transliterated into modern English, some of which I found difficult to understand despite being a native speaker.
'Oh Krishna, restless and overpowering, this mind is overwhelmingly strong; I think we might as easily gain control over the wind as over this.'
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Re: Book Reviews

Postby Jiva » Thu Mar 19, 2015 10:20 pm

Alexander Roob, Alchemy and Mysticism

This isn’t an original work, but rather a compendium of various alchemical artworks along with related quotations. Although the page sizes are quite small there are over 500 of them and the picture quality is good. It covers a multitude of themes such as the Fall, philosophical trees, animal riddles, the serpent, androgyny, philosophical eggs, the torment of metals and so on. Essentially it serves as a good guide to alchemical art which I find is often difficult to locate in any good quality – if at all – amongst the various modern translations and simple text versions available.
'Oh Krishna, restless and overpowering, this mind is overwhelmingly strong; I think we might as easily gain control over the wind as over this.'
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Re: Book Reviews

Postby Heith » Fri Mar 20, 2015 9:39 am

Jiva wrote:Alexander Roob, Alchemy and Mysticism

This isn’t an original work, but rather a compendium of various alchemical artworks along with related quotations. Although the page sizes are quite small there are over 500 of them and the picture quality is good. It covers a multitude of themes such as the Fall, philosophical trees, animal riddles, the serpent, androgyny, philosophical eggs, the torment of metals and so on. Essentially it serves as a good guide to alchemical art which I find is often difficult to locate in any good quality – if at all – amongst the various modern translations and simple text versions available.
This is indeed a good book! I've leafed through it a couple of times as well.
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Re: Book Reviews

Postby Sebomai » Sun Apr 19, 2015 2:02 am

Expect book reviews from me once I actually finish reading something. I read so many things at once that it can sometimes be months or even years before I finish something. :O

I'm reading Kenneth Grant, a number of Orthodox Christian theological books, some Monastery of the Seven Rays stuff, a lot of science fiction and philosophy, the list is never ending!
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Re: Book Reviews

Postby Jiva » Wed Aug 19, 2015 1:06 am

Gerhard Dorn, Speculative Philosophy

This is one of the books by Jung’s favourite alchemist, a sixteenth century Belgian who was deeply influenced by Paracelsus, translated many of his works and may have in fact written some of them. It’s interesting in many ways, the reasons Jung was so fond of it was Dorn’s use of the terms ‘anima’ (the divine rational mind) and ‘animus’ (the human feeling mind) and also that the text seems to suggest that the perfection of nature (or god) can be improved by humanity’s alchemical efforts. Naturally there are quotes from the Book of Job, which is extremely interesting for me as a Jungian nerd, especially in relation to his ‘Answer to Job’ article. I’ll have to read it again to make more sense of this as it’s clear Jung de-contextualised things to a degree.

Something that I wasn’t expecting were references to Right and Left Hand Paths, including a few subdivisions, with the extremities of both paths being described as thorns to avoid. Although the weakness of the flesh is emphasised, it isn’t despised but, as something natural, can be improved under the tutorage of the human feeling mind. The way this was to be achieved was for the divine rational and human feeling minds to form a monad, which then accordingly formed a monad with the physical body.
'Oh Krishna, restless and overpowering, this mind is overwhelmingly strong; I think we might as easily gain control over the wind as over this.'
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Re: Book Reviews

Postby Jiva » Fri Sep 18, 2015 8:22 pm

Sanford Drob, Kabbalah and Postmodernism

Although Drob states that it would be a good idea to have some previous knowledge of the Kabbalah and postmodernism before reading this book – naturally, while also plugging some of his previous work – I don’t think it’s really necessary. Pretty much everything is quickly explained and contextualised with a relatively detailed background, although sometimes it is slightly lacking. Drob mostly analyses things through the ideology of Chabad Hasidism which was chiefly psychological and therefore is quite suited to a comparison with Derrida’s grammatology. I suppose the crux of Drob’s arguments involve viewing the journey from Ayin (nothing) and Ein Sof (endlessness) via Tzimtzum (contraction), Sephirot (archetypes) Shevirat (shattering) to Tikkun (rectification) as similar to Derrida’s concept of différance. Essentially, the Tzimtzum and Shevirat create space for a dialogue where both humanity and god contain part of the other and, most importantly, continually restructure each other. Interestingly, Drob highlights the creative aspect of Ayin in providing the space for relationships within Ein Sof, similar to the empty space in atomic relationships.

Since most Kabbalists believe this space is created by the written word, i.e. the Torah, and that this can have a huge and possibly infinite amount of interpretations, this has some similarities to Wittgenstein’s language games. For example, gematria and various other devices can link otherwise unrelated words, the lack of vowels in Biblical Hebrew can alter pronunciations, while the hermeneutic readings Kabbalists continually propagated forged furthermore links. However, once again, this is related back to différance as much of the book is structured around Derrida’s views, this time by reversing the traditional dialectic between the signifier and the signified, i.e. a person and the Torah.

Derrida always resisted calling différance the “absolute” which his system pretty much makes an impossible thing to classify, comprehend and so on. In this way, Drob highlights what he thinks is one of the key differences between Kabbalistic and postmodern philosophy: namely that Kabbalism generally has some kind of unificatory endgame whereas postmodernism is stated to endlessly proliferate. However, Drob also speculates that Derrida’s attempt to avoid Hegel’s dialectic (thesis – antithesis – synthesis) is a failure, as everything must contain something of its opposite in a way similar to each of the Sephirot containing a fragment of all the others. Drob also analyses Derrida’s later messianic contentions of pushing the boundaries of language to arrive at the “monstrous”, what Drob terms a ‘pre-linguistic’ state – which he describes as the kind of non-duality of Ayin and Ein Sof – but which is again contracted/shattered when it is inevitably classified by language. This latter contraction/shattering is also similar to Wittgenstein’s analysis of how a simple vocal outburst that literally means nothing would still not escape retroactive linguistic representation.

Regarding the coincidences of opposites, Drob’s views can be summed up by the following paragraph:
For the Kabbalists, the mystical, “higher” ranges of thought are absolutely necessary for making sense of our ordinary, “lower” ways of seeing and experiencing, and vice versa. Kabbalistic thinking is perhaps best understood in musical harmonic, or “counterpoint” terms. There is a melody line, for example, that is theistic, that exists in counterpoint with one that is atheistic; a line in which God creates humanity, in counterpoint with one in which humanity creates God; a line in which the past is the cause of all that is present and future, and one in which the future constructs both the present and the past. For the Kabbalah, a true view of the world must evolve thinking two or more, seemingly incompatible thoughts at once; it is the simultaneity of these thoughts that brings about beauty, harmony (Tiferet) and truth.
Aside from the aforementioned occasional lack of detail, the only major criticism of the book is that Drob’s definition of the Kabbalah is essentially that of the Chabad school of thought. However, he doesn’t make this as clear as he probably should have, and so his interpretations of older Kabbalistic texts, while not incorrect, do have an inherent bias. For example, Luria’s predominantly cosmographic system is psychologised, essentially unquestioningly. I would assume that there are similar issues regarding the various postmodern philosophers mentioned, but I simply don’t know. However, despite its slight shortcomings, I really enjoyed this book, it’s very thought-provoking.
'Oh Krishna, restless and overpowering, this mind is overwhelmingly strong; I think we might as easily gain control over the wind as over this.'

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