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Illumination Through Communion: Jewish Relationality Versus Derrida's Deconstructionism

ILLUMINATION THROUGH COMMUNION:

JEWISH RELATIONALITY VERSUS DERRIDA’S DECONSTRUCTIONISM

 

DR. BARRY HAMMER

[THIS UNPUBLISHED ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY WRITTEN AS AN INTENDED REPLY TO BERNARD ZELECHOW’S ARTICLE, “DERRIDA AND POSTMODERN JEWISH PHILOSOPHY: REVELATIONS/DERRIDA”, PUBLISHED IN THE JOURNAL OF TEXTUAL REASONING, PREVIOUSLY KNOWN AS THE POSTMODERN JEWISH PHILOSOPHY NETWORK, VOLUME 4, NUMBER 2, JUNE 1995, OLD SERIES]

 

 Jacques Derrida’s Deconstructionist view of the “undecidability” of textual meaning seems to imply the presumption that human beings are basically independent of, or radically different from one another, and therefore are, for the most part, unable to bridge the gap or “otherness” between their own experiential context and the context of other individuals, as a way of clearly, accurately, deeply, empathically understanding the intended meaning conveyed by the author of a particular text.1  I am not sure if I am accurately representing Derrida’s views, but from what I have gleaned from examining some of his writings and various interpretations of them, he seems to emphasize how individuals differ from one another in their experiential contexts and views of reality , and apparently at least minimizes, if he does not clearly entirely deny, the possibility that diverse individual contexts can be bridged as a way of accurately understanding a text’s intended meaning as derived from the author’s experiential context. According to Bernard Zelechow’s interpretation of Derrida’s views,

“Literature’s essential particularity makes reading impossible. The singular cannot be translated. However, Derrida insists that the impossibility of translation makes translatability a necessity. His double-edged definition allows him to insist that the uniqueness of a literary text and the singularity of its context insures its cryptesia.” 2

Similarly, in Eva-Marie Morin’s interpretation of Derrida’s views,

“Husserl’s insight that the other can never be given to me in an originary presentation, but always only in an appresentation, is taken up by Derrida in his discussion of the singularity of the other as absolute secret (see Derrida and Ferraris 57-58; Derrida, Papier 162). Derrida uses the semantic of the secret to emphasize the separation of the interiorities, of the spheres of ownness, as opposed to their expressibility and communicability. Because of this radical separation, because we can never gain a direct access to the other, we are condemned to testimony. This means that we are condemned to show, by means of signs (that is primarily, but not exclusively, by means of words), that which is happening on one side and which cannot be seen from the other side, but should be. We can differentiate two aspects to each testimony: first, the non-access of the addressee to the experience, and second, the promise to tell the truth (or the appeal to faith). Those two aspects are linked: because the addressee does not have a direct access to my experiences, he has to believe me when I promise and swear to tell the truth. While the first aspect is in line with Husserl’s insight, the second aspect actually transforms Husserl’s concept of the world and the role it plays in relating to the other. “3

 

In any event, it seems to me that if human life is inherently relational,  that would enable individuals, even of diverse personal backgrounds and social/historical/experiential contexts, to empathically understand one another’s experience of reality, and thereby develop a reasonably accurate consensus agreement about the gist of the message intended by the author of a particular text. This involves a process of spiritually illuminated experiential insight into Jewish religious texts through intimate communion with the text and with the Divine and/or human author of the text.

The prevalence of relational views of reality in Jewish thought is basically incompatible with Derrida’s Deconstructionism. Prominent Jewish philosophers have expressed the view that all individual souls are inherently related to one another because they all abide in the same macrocosmic universal soul.4   Along similar lines, the Kabbalah portrays all individuals as being rooted in the same universal soul, Adam Kadmon, joined to one another like cells within His unitary, unifying spiritual body, which serves as the one Divine Image of the one Creator God.5   According to the Kabbalist Moses Cordovero, as well as Hasidic teachers such as Schmelke of Nikolsburg and Levi Yitzhak of Berdichev, the commandment to “Love thy neighbor as thyself” (Leviticus 19:18) means to love thy neighbor not as something separate from oneself, but (in Schmelke’s own words), “as something that you art thyself, for all souls are one. Each is a spark from the original soul, and that original soul is in each of you.”6

If individual souls are united in this way, then agreement in regard to text interpretation is truly possible, by developing a bridge of connection or mutually understanding between the diverse experiential contexts of various individuals. By entering into a process of empathic communion or one-mindedness with an author’s experience, as reflected in the text, a reader can accurately and clearly understand the meaning intended by that author, at least to some extent. No text understanding can be fully comprehensive, exhaustive, precise, or universally identical or unvarying, because meaning is potentially limitless and ever-expanding in its range of variety, implications, nuances, or perspectives, as Derrida seems to correctly suggest, but that need not necessarily preclude developing a reasonably accurate, undistorted, approximate understanding of a particular author’s experiential context and essential intended message communicated through the text. Hasidic teachers maintain that one’s ability to understand a text authored by God or by another human individual is enhanced if one’s conscious attention is fully invested in passionate enthusiastic communion with that text rather than in one’s own separate, detached, narcissistic self-preoccupation.7  No accurate, insightfully penetrating, understanding or degree of undistorted consensus agreement in text interpretation will be possible as long as readers remain excessively immersed in their own predetermined interpretive categories, biased conceptual presumptions, and self-generated mind chatter, and are not willing to at least temporarily suspend those preconceived conceptual categories and distancing self-preoccupied mind chatter in letting open-minded, heartfelt , deeply invested intimate communion with the text spontaneously impart its own uncontrolled, nonselective, intimate (non-dualistic, participatory), empathic insight into the author’s living experiential context and how that is epitomized and communicated by the text’s intended meaning.

Some Hasidic teachings suggest that the spiritually-illumined, accurate, vitally meaningful, and deeply penetrating understanding of a religious text is a form of spiritual blessing that God bestows upon those who reflect His Holy Oneness by engaging in deeply invested, intimate or non-dualistic communion with the text, and with the Divine and/or human author of the text.8 These and many other Hasidic teachings suggest that there is no effective way to bring true interpretive insight and other expressions of God’s blessings into the world without engaging in loving experiential communion, intimate connection, or consciously acknowledged relatedness, with other individuals, everyday worldly life, and God. Individuals who overly identify with the narcissistic ego’s distancing sense of independent, unrelated individuality, or exclusive sense of absolute otherness thereby separate themselves from God’s Holy Oneness of Being and do not receive God’s spiritual light as a source of illumination into the essential intended meaning of texts authored by God or by Godly human beings. This view of true insight into the essential meaning originally intended by the Divine or human author of holy texts being derived not from narcissistically self-absorbed, self-derived speculative presumptions, but rather coming from intimate communion with the text, and with the Divine Author and/or a human author’s living spiritual presence or illuminating holy light that abides within the text, is also compatible with Jewish biblical passages such as, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths smooth. Do not be wise in your own eyes.” (Proverbs 3:5-7); “Your word is a lamp to my feet, a light for my path” (Psalms 119:105); “But as the heavens are high above the earth, so are my ways high above your ways, and my thoughts above your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9).

When our consciousness is self-forgetful of the ego’s separate sense of self-awareness, self-generated, distracting mind chatter, and predetermined, biased interpretative categories, then that enables our consciousness to be deeply invested in intimate or non-dualistic communion with the text (or with some other object of knowledge outside of the narcissistic ego), and that kind of intimate communion can enable our consciousness to penetrate through the surface phrasing of the text to intuitively, empathically, incisively grasp the author’s essential intended meaning and its experiential context conveyed or communicated by the text. This process of deriving deeper, spiritually illumined insight through non-dualistic communion is applicable not only to achieving more accurate and more deeply penetrating, profounder, insightful text interpretation, but also applicable to enhancing one’s appreciative understanding of other people, fields of inquiry, and phenomena or objects of knowledge in the material world through a similar process of intimate experiential communion with them.

Therefore, deeply penetrating insight into text interpretation or any other area of inquiry comes from directly “seeing into” the nature of reality, through a process of intimate, receptive, communion with it, rather than from projecting our own predetermined interpretations onto it, which only distorts what we are trying to understand. The greater the degree of empathic relational communion or intimate experiential connection between reader and text, the deeper the reader’s consciousness will penetrate beyond an initial first impression of the text, i.e., we will be able to go beyond  the surface phrasing and apparent  literal message of the text by delving into more essential levels of the author’s psyche, bringing profounder insight into the basic intended meaning and related experiential context of the text.

For many centuries, students in yeshivas have studied Jewish religious texts in hevrutas, or collaborative learning partnerships. These study partnerships are based upon the understanding that students can learn valuable insights from one another’s interpretations and challenging questions, especially if a mutually respectful caring friendship develops between the students. Until we learn to live in genuinely caring or loving communion with other individuals, and with our moment-to-moment experiential encounters with phenomena in the material world, we will not develop the ability to live in communion with God’s much more subtle spiritual Presence.  Since that spiritual Presence is the basic source of divinely inspired writings such as the Torah and other formative, influential Jewish texts, only it can provide individuals with an optimal understanding of those texts.  That living spiritual presence and experiential context that the Divine and/or human authors have imparted into significant Jewish texts spontaneously imparts its own insightful self-understanding to individuals who contact it by communing deeply with the written text and with the subtler experiential nuances that the text conveys, as well as by intimately, empathically communing with learning partners, and engaging in open-minded, mutually respectful dialogue with them.

 

REFERENCES:

  1. see http://www.redorbit.com/news/health/983799/the_self_the_other_and_t..., http://www.iep.utm.edu/derrida/ , http://greypassions.blogspot.com/2007/08/derrida-and-undecidability..., and https://docs.askives.com/jacques-derrida-differance-summary.html)

  2. Bernard Zelechow, “Derrida and Postmodern Jewish Philosophy: Revelations/Derrida”, The Journal of Textual Reasoning (formerly known as the Postmodern Jewish Philosophy Network) , Vol. 4, No. 2, Old Series, June 1992. No page number listed in online text.

  3. Eva-Marie Morin, “The Self, The Other, and the Many: Derrida on Testimony”, June 28, 2007

    http://www.redorbit.com/news/health/983799/the_self_the_other_and_t...

  4. For example, Howard Kreisel, “Imatio Dei in Maimonides’ Guide of the Perplexed” AJS Review 19(4) (1994), 187. Cf. Moses Maimonides, The Guide of the Perplexed, Volume I, trans. Shlomo Pines (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1963), 184, 187, 190, 192; Alexander Altmann, “The Ladder of Ascension” in Studies in Mysticism and Religion Presented to Gershom G. Scholem on His Seventieth Birthday by Pupils, Colleagues, and Friends (Jerusalem: Magnes Press of the Hebrew University, 197), 9, 16, 24; Shmuel Hugo Bergman, Dialogical Philosophy from Kierkegaard to Buber, Trans. Arnold A. Gerstein (Albany, New York: State University of New York Press, 1991), 196.

  5. Gershom Scholem, Kabbalah (New York, New American Library, 1974), 162 and cf., idem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (New York: Schocken Books, 1961), 215.

  6. See, for example, Scholem, Major Trends, 279; and also Louis I. Newman, Hasidic Anthology: Tales and Teachings of the Hasidim (New York: Schocken Books, 1963), 222, quoting Schmelke of Nikolsburg in Reflex, May 1929, 65, and in Spiegel 120, 147. See also Levi Yitzhak of Berdichev, Kedushat Levi (Benei Brak: Heikhal ha-Sefer, n.d.), 141. Among twentieth century Jewish philosophers with similar views are Abraham Joshua Heschel, Man is Not Alone: A Philosophy of Religion. (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1951), 117, 120; Martin Buber, I and Thou, trans. Walter Kaufman (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1970), 62 and passim; Bergman, Dialogical Philosophy, 196; Arthur Green, Seek My Face, Speak My Name: A Contemporary Jewish Theology (Northvale, New Jersey: Jason Aronson Inc., 1991), 9, 26.

  7. The Maggid Dov Baer of Mezritch, Maggid Deverav Le-Ya’akov, ed. Rivka Schatz-Uffenheimer (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1976), 224, 230. Cf. Elimelekh of Lizhensk, No’am Elimelekh, ed. Gidaliah Nigal (Jerusalem: Rabbi Kook Institute, 1978), 252.

  8. See, for example, Dov Baer of Mezritch, Maggid Deverav, 46, 171, 224, 305; Elimelekh of Lizhensk, No’am Elimelekh, 252, 379-380, 452-53; Levi Yitzhak of Berdichev, Kedushat Levi, 141; Shneur Zalman of Liadi, Tanya (New York: Kehot, 1981), 145-46; Newman, Hasidic Anthology, 229, quoting Rabbi Ezekiel of Kozmir in S. Rapoport, Vayakhel Shelomoh (Piotrkov, 1908), 45, 499, quoting Raphael of Bershad in Midrash Pinhas (Warsaw: 1876), 43-44; Wolf Zeev Rabinowitz, Lithuanian Hasidism  (New York: Schocken Books, 1971), 29, quoting Shlomo of Karlin.

     

     

    Further discussion of the process of gaining deeper, undistorted understanding of texts, other individuals, and phenomena in the world through a process of empathic communion is presented in another article by Dr. Barry Hammer, entitled, “The Co-Creative Muse.” This blog can be accessed by using the following URL link: https://www.academia.edu/10467769/The_Co-Creative_Muse  Other aspects of gaining creative insights through experiential communion are discussed in the following books by primary author Dr. Max Hammer, with secondary contributing authors Dr. Barry Hammer and Dr. Alan C. Butler. These books are: 1) Deepening Your Personal Relationships: Developing Emotional Intimacy and Good Communication. (Strategic Book Publishing, 2014, ISBN: 978-1-61897-590-4) and 2) Psychological Healing Through Creative Self-Understanding and Self-Transformation. (Strategic Book Publishing, 2014, ISBN: 978-1-62857-075-5).

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