Descent to Higher Ground

They allegorized you in many visions; Behold, You are one in all depictions. —13th century Hasidic liturgical poem

Artists, creative writers, and so on, have in general ‘solved’ or ‘superceded’ many of the ‘problems’ given as philosophically or institutionally intractible; it’s only that the form of expression of their new ‘solution’ does not always, if ever, accept the original given terms of the ‘problem’ (indeed, this reevaluation of the premises of contradiction is an engine for thought’s advance): thus, those who have not exerted the will or imagination to enter the new zone of expression have, in principle, great difficulty accessing the new answer or even grasping the new approach, the novel posing of the ‘problem’.

Problems are largely ‘solved’ through creative misappropriation of past intractibles. ‘Derivation’ means ‘divergence’ simultaneously. To ‘address’ an issue at its most difficult point, is to form an ‘exception’ within whatever has issued from it so far. These are misappropriations, creative betrayals that in no way spiteful or unthankful for what has preceded them. It’s just that any ‘official’ or ‘traditional’ approach to a problem will likely remain stuck in a dead-locked manner of posing it.

There is an unfortunate prioritization, via the hubris not of philosophy per se but of a certain understanding of philosophical rationality, that subsumes the creative to the ‘logical’. But the creative is simply operating at a level of ‘logic’ (in the broadest sense of developing according to an exigency ‘internal’ to the creative process or formation itself) that the extant ‘logic’ (circumscribed by a presupposed ‘law of law’, a delimitation of possible possibilities in advance) cannot comprehend, or even see, given its limitation to adherence to itself.

This is evident when innovation is called heresy. That is why the writer of the Zohar, for example, places a teacher from one millenium prior as the main beloved figure and insight-bringer, Rabbi Si’mon, the Holy Lamp. It is Moses de Leon who is largely responsible for the text, but he hides his name from it, crafting instead a book/commentary that is in stylistic imitation of commentaries coming before it (Talmud, Midrash) and also citing these rabbinic sources. So, one foot in past posings, the other of innovative misappropriation (at a minimum: running that risk). So the Zohar can claim to be “new ancient wisdom,” disclosing the secrets of the old through the revelation of the new. That process is a part of what I, following my own ‘inheritance’, call the ‘messianic’.

But it is inherent, unfortunately, to the logical to want to grasp all instances under the categorical, which ends up meaning, in the historial. That is fine, and inevitable, so long as those categories remain dialectical or in constant reflection upon what is non-identical to them, what escapes or resists the categorization. Namely, the coming of time, of new contingencies and exigencies. Dryness in insight emerges when the link to the basic novelties of existence is lost. But the further into those novelties the innovator wishes to tread, the more likely he or she will be ostracised. It is painful to press ahead, which is why, when all is said is done, one needs friends and correspondents to support and encourage the effort. One ‘does it for them’, writes ‘to them’: for they act as figures, not just of who they are, but of the listener to come, who will receive the new expression in its fullest breadth, not already circumscribed by what, historially, is given.

This is why the treatment of art is so difficult, or why literary criticism is obliged to become poem itself–not out of lack of rigorous understanding, but out of awareness that the higher ‘productivity of truth’ emerges only where creative misappropriation takes its risks. It seems that only in that way can one honor, not just truth, but the contingencies of time.

There is a mythic layer inherent in the substance of Hölderlin’s work, as in any genuine demythologization. —Adorno

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1 Response to Descent to Higher Ground

  1. Thank you for sharing this!

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