Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Infinite and wonderful life

In his editorial entitled, "The Luxurious Growth" from July 15, 2008, New York Times columnist, David Brooks writes:

[S]cience finds itself enmeshed with social science and the humanities in what researchers call the Gloomy Prospect, the ineffable mystery of why people do what they do.

The prospect may be gloomy for those who seek to understand human behavior, but the flip side is the reminder that each of us is a Luxurious Growth. Our lives are not determined by uniform processes. Instead, human behavior is complex, nonlinear and unpredictable. The Brave New World is far away. Novels and history can still produce insights into human behavior that science can’t match.


This age of tremendous scientific achievement has underlined an ancient philosophic truth — that there are severe limits to what we know and can know; that the best political actions are incremental, respectful toward accumulated practice and more attuned to particular circumstances than universal laws.

In reading these lines this morning, I could not help but think of the seemingly infinite openness that is the basis of Talmud study as I have slowly learned--an openness that does not allow an "anything goes" type of interpretation or implementation, but one that encourages and nurtures creativity and personal initiative.

Within our finite limits and the infinite possibilities that our imaginations and creativity can produce, we are challenged with the task to strive to build and develop an in-depth, heartfelt relationship with Hashem, with Hakadosh Barukh Hu, with God. We are challenged to find the truth of our lives. It is also my profound belief that that play of poetry, at its best, can also help forge and develop this relationship and help develop this truth.

The philosopher David Michael Levin, who I quote it my essay on the poet Charles Olson, compares this more open sense of truth (in contrast to truth as correctness) that only can emerge is the space of this type of openness:
In poetizing discourse, both sound and sense require a theory of truth which understands and appreciates their ‘ecstatic’ play within an open field. In the phonological dimension, there must be a field for the play of sounds: echoes, resonances, overtones and undertones, onomatopeia, polyphony, emotionally evocative sounds. Similarly, in its semantic dimension, the dimension of signifiers, there must be a field for the play of meanings: ambiguities, allusions, metaphors, shades of meaning, adumbrations of what is to come. Truth as correctness, truth represented in the discourse of statements, assertions, propositions, cannot do justice to the interactive processes essential to poetizing discourse. Truth as aletheia can, because it is hermeneutical: it lets sound and sense play in the interplay of presence and absence, identity and difference. To the poetizing process, the process of bringing experience as it takes shape into words that further shape it, aletheia gives a multi-dimensional field in which to unfold. (437)

Aletheia is the Greek word for truth that Heidegger defined as "unconcealing" and which in some way to my mind expresses the work of Talmud Torah and the creativity that underlies it.


GSK+ said...

Thank you for these thoughts.
You speak of Olson. I think that all the poets he helped grow into who they were variously share this way of understanding truth.
One of Robert Duncan's best books was "The Opening of the Field". Robert Creeley knew that he could never exhaust all the truths that had their "luxurious growths" around his kitchen table. And Ed Dorn raged until his end against those post-modernists who only wanted to replace one Grand Narrative with another, more "correct" one. They all saw that knowing that we cannot know everything frees us to know what we can know as broadly and as deeply as we could ever wish.
Thomas Merton, frustrated at the slowness of getting permission to enter hermitage, told his abbot be explain to Rome that his was an American vocation, citing Thoreau. He said to tell them that his ministry had become the photographing of tree roots -- each tree is different from all others, and different from itself every day. He saw his recording that, as he saw his poetry, as an act of revealing the kind of truth you describe here.

GSK+ said...

"We are challenged to find the truth of our lives."

Continuing to reflect on Jeff's wisdom here, I think of the 2-sidedness of the hermeneutical, interpretive, project.

In (Christian)seminary, I studied under a great Pauline scholar who saw Paul as both a rabbi & a missionary to the Gentiles. We were taught to see Paul not as "converted" but as "called". To see him as encouraging his little congregations to "imitate" him more even than to attempt to imitate Jesus. Who quoted the Servant Songs in Isaiah more-often to describe his own experience than he quoted them as "about" Jesus. And who, to come to the point here, would be better-pictured as "called" while studying Torah by lamp-light than as going blind & falling off a horse in the desert outside Damascus!

The point of all that is to suggest that, in interpreting Scripture, Paul learned a better "interpretation" of himself. True hermeneutics reveals us, as well as a text, to ourselves.

We all know that poets allegedly write to "express themselves"...My limited experience, and that of far-better poets I've read & met, is that the greater achievement is the discovery of one's self in the act of interpreting the world through one's art.

My sense is that this is also true, as Jeff suggests, in Tamudic studies. In my occasional dippings-in, I never just stopped reading, I had to make myself stop. Because of the opening of my mind and imagination as one issue was discussed into another & debated yet anoter, carrying me along & away in the greening of that "luxuriant growth".

Jef's conflation of Talmud & Poetry is, for me, a natural flowing of discipline & imagination into -- into wherever it takes him, & I hope he never stops sharing slides of his trip with us here!