Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Readings: The Quest for Authentic Existence

This should hold any readers that I still have for awhile. It is several pages of excerpts that I typed out this morning from one of the books on my current early-morning reading list. The excerpts serve--for me anyway--to outline Shoham's central thesis pretty well. His study encorporates philosophy, religion, psychology, and art, to synthesize epistemology, existentialism, and several varieties of gnosticism--a mix that appeals to me, big-time. I offer the excerpts without commentary. I apologize up front for the many typos readers will probably encounter. [The page numbers refer to the Associated University Presses 1994 edition]

Excerpts from the “Introduction” of The Bridge to Nothingness by Shlomo Giora Shoham

[pp.14-15]  In the first phase of separation, man is ejected from the cozy womb and cruelly exposed to the elements in a manner that was registered mythoempirically by the Kabalist catastrophe of the breaking of the vessels. However, before birth, there is pregnancy and the formation of the human fetus. This is depicted mythoempirically by the Kabalist dynamic of Tzimtzum—“contraction.”  Rabbi Haim Vital, the foremost disciple of Rabbi Isaac Luria and chief exponent of Lurianic Kabala, describes the process of Tzimtzum as follows:  “and when He (Infinity which is tantamount to Emanating Divinity) contracted Himself. A space all around was formed… After this contraction a space was, (thus), formed for emanant creatures to be created… And a line like a thin pipe extended from Infinity to create the worlds… And the pipe-line created a round form…linked to to emanatory (Infinity) by the pipe-line only…and the line is thin so that it emanates light (livelihood) by measure and ration as needed by the emanant.”  This seems to be a plastic, mythoempirical depiction of the formation of the fetus within the round womb fed according to its needs by the umbilical cord stemming from an unknown (to the fetus) emanatory in the away and beyond, perceived by the nascent awareness of the fetus and later projected onto mythology as infinity.

[p.17]  Psychologically, the pantheistic neonate learns by deprivational interaction with surrounding objects and life forms and especially with the mother or her surrogate who cannot fulfill all his wishes immediately and automatically as in the womb; the neonate is not with everything but against everything. The moment he becomes embodied in the scar tissue of the delimiting, individual “ego boundary,” pantheistic, participant togetherness gives way to the loneliness and encapsulated existence of the human individualized separtum. This separation, which is the existential coagulation of the individual self, is also perceived by the organism as a catastrophe and is projected onto mythology as the ejection from paradise following Original Sin, which according to the Kabala disrupted the equilibrium of all the worlds both divine and temporal.” [the “sin” here is the mutual sexual pleasure of the neonate and mother in nursing]

[p.26]  The separant vector generates life. It propels us out of the womb and induces us to develop, grow, and reproduce. It also guards against the participant vector’s wish to revert back to the unity of nonbeing. To this end, the separant vector implants in us the search for diversity and the rejection of similarity, whereas the participant vector seeks the togetherness of the family, membership in reference groups, the immersion in the engulfing cosiness of the camaraderie of “the boys in the back room,” the rotary club, the “people like us,” the party, the nation, the church. Per contra, the separant vector programs life forms to be attracted to nonlikes and to reject or be in conflict with likes. The separant vector thus places numerous obstacles and barriers against likeness, similarity, and uniformity; because these are intermediate steps towards the forbidden (from the separant vector’s point of view) partaking in the nonlife, nongrowth, and nonbeing of unity. We seem to be barred from communicating with the objects “out there” as well as from communicating with other people. The separant vector seem to program man to grow and become progressively separate, distinct, and unattached to surrounding objects and life forms. This is projected onto transcendence as the injunction of Genesis and similar myths in other creeds against epistemological “knowledge” (i.e., participant communication).  Indeed for the participant, the Ding An-Sich (the thing in itself) is nothingness and the injunction against knowledge in the Tantalic context is the proscription of partaking in the nonbeing of God and thus becoming like God. The prohibition of knowledge by the theistic God of Genesis may have both a separant and participant application.

[pp. 30-31]   From God's vantage point, man and creation are part of him and he experiences the world through them in infinite kaleidescopic ways; but man feels cut off, lonely, and free. So whatever the 'truth' behind his self-consciousness, it is less important than his own self-definition. If he defines himself as free of transcendence, free he is. This stems from W. I. Thomas's very useful basic theorum of the sciences of man, namely, that if man defines a given situation as real it becomes real in its consequences. Thus man's freedom is even independent of God's views about it. This has a very ingenious mythoempirical anchor in the Kabala. Keter, crown, is the first rung, sometimes regarded as part of infinity and thus not counted in the ten emanated rungs. Da'at, knowledge, is added in its stead as the third rung. However, if Keter is counted in the ten emanated rungs, Da'at is omitted. Hence, if God is present in creation, independent, separate self-consciousness is impossible, because consciousness is one and it belongs to God. However, if God is not within creation then the self-conscious freedom of the exiled individuals is feasible. The feeling of independence of the individual separata enables them to relay their experiences in an authentic context to their maker, precisely because they are not aware of their bondage. Man should not feel guilty about his freedom. He was created for purposes known to God but not to him. For the very same purposes, he was also cut off from his sense of partaking in the totality of unity and each of us became an individual separatum  through Original Sin. Hence, this sin was committed by God and not by man, who is a tool in a divine plan unknown to him. Thus, man's independence being instrumental to God, cannot and should not induce human guilt. This is the ideological essence of man's metaphysical rebellion.

[p. 43]  The participation with one’s surroundings is problematic, because ego’s interaction with objects and life forms is mostly conflictual and always dialectical. The I-it, non-dialogical relationship with other people is petrifying, and the I-thou dialogue borders, according to Buber, on the miraculous. A creative relationship with an object may effect extasis, in the Greek sense, of the creator’s spirit from time and space, and lend him a feeling of union with the object. However, this feeling is completely within the psyche of ego and regardless of his initial creative quests, they are bound to be different dialectically in the synthetic outcome. This is the fate of all Sisyphean endeavors directed towards the outside.

            The “generalized other,” the abstracted normative collectivity of other people, is oppressive, controlling, and depressing both from without and from within. Through authentic art the collectivity may become an audience and then its petrifying I-it attributes may change into a receptive I-thou, attuned for a while to a Paganini piercing souls with his violin, a van Gogh reaching his viewers through his savage yet structured colors on his canvas, and a Jacques Brel conveying his desperate sincerity to the whole nervous system of his listeners.


            As we ever crave for what we are not and for what we do not have, we are living in inauthentic time. The separant vector aims for the future and the participant vector longs for the past. When dominated by these two vectors, man does not exist in the present and his time is therefore a nonentity, false and inauthentic. If the quests and longings inherent in his core personality vectors cannot be fulfilled, there is an inevitable and constant rift between man’s aspirations and expectations, and his perceived reality. Hence man is ever confronted with the absurd.  This dual impasse of inauthenticity and the absurd makes the myths of Sisyphus and Tantalus so central to the human condition that they can rightly be considered metamyths. The initial inauthenticity of man’s existence in the world and his inevitable experience of the absurd, constitute man’s existential impasse, from which creativity and revelation are able to extricate him. Creativity thus constitutes the modus vivendi of Sisyphus with his stone burden, and revelation is the means by which Tantalus can go on living within his predicament. Man thus starts as an initial failure, yet through his ability to sublimate his unrealized quests into creativity and revelation, he is able to transform his initial impasse into authentic experience and existence. It seems that our programmer, whoever or whatever it is—God, chance, evolution, or the devil, programmed us to yearn to achieve goals that can never be achieved, to yearn to be different than we are at a given time and place, and not to cherish the present but to long either for earlier developmental phases and for nonbeing in the past or for the away and beyond in the future. Our nonrealizable, core personality quests control us the way the lure in front of the racing bitch controls the dog races. Our programmer intends, apparently, to see how our Sisyphean quests that cannot be fulfilled and our impossible Tantalic longings can be sublimated dialectically into creativity and revelation. …Both creativity and revelation are dynamic processes fueled by Sisyphean aims and Tantalic longings that would never be fulfilled. If they are, our yearnings are extinguished, and our potential for authentic being through creativity and revelation die with them.  …Revelation is not transferable, but through creativity, the revelatory insight of the creator becomes communicable.

[p. 48]  Authentic revelation should aim at the participant exposure of man to God, which constitutes a Tikkun, a mending of the blemished God and of the individual who partakes him. …Creativity should also be authentic in the sense that it should not be conducted in order to please a given audience or clique or for financial gain. It should be carried out in desperation, with one becoming immersed totally in one’s creativity. Marcel Azzola, Jacques Brel’s accordianist, described the performance of his late master thus: “…I have rarely seen such sincerity. With him one is obliged to give oneself completely. He committed suicide with each song.”

[pp. 50-51]  As neither the goals of the Sisyphean or Tantalic core vectors can be achieved, the only epistemic reality in existence is the dialectic interaction between the Sisyphean, nonrealizable, separant quests and the Tantalic, equally impossible, participant longing. Because the Sisyphean quests face the future and the Tantalic longing aims at the past, man is in an absurd impasse, without a present and within inauthentic time. Creativity and revelation are therefore meant to extricate man from his absurd and inauthentic impasse. Those who cannot be creative and revelatory also try to escape their absurd and oppressive reality by entertainment, fantasy, for daydreaming, which feed passively, with or without the aid of alcohol or drugs, on their pent-up yearnings. The dialectics of our yearning thus provide the fuel and energy with which ego can emerge from its inauthentic slumber and interact creatively or in a revelatory manner with objective and human surroundings. Moreover, as the dialectics between the Sisyphean quests and Tantalic longings constitute the epistemic processes underlying apparent reality, they are the prime movers of life and creation. Without the dialectic of yearning, both ego and its surroundings are dead and nonexistent.

            The “inspiration” for creativity and the sudden “enlightenment” attendant upon the experience of revelation are the conscious and cognitive awareness of the otherwise clandestine dialectics of yearnings.

[p. 53]  The Sisyphean component of the prime mover, emerging from the dialectical quests, tried to achieve a rapport, a Tikkun, or, a system-in-balance with its surroundings through creativity; whereas the Tantalic component tries to achieve a Tikkun with transcendence by revelation. Hence, the synthetic interplay of the dialectical quest necessitates both a Tantalic participant longing for revelation and a Sisyphean quest for creativity.

[pp. 65-66]  Both man and God are ever longing and striving, and it is precisely this characteristic that makes them ever revelatory and creative. Indeed, Dante sends the souls of those whose wishes came true and whose longings were fulfilled to eternal damnation in hell. The less-than-perfect God with his capacity to long for and strive, which are the prime movers of life, creativity, and revelation (these are similar to Bergson’s “creative evolution”), is perfect precisely because of his imperfection. This is brought to life in Saint Anselm’s “proof” for the existence of God but in an inverse manner: the imperfection of our transcendence lends it more perfection than if it was perfect. Perfection in God sterilizes him into nonbeing, whereas non-perfection gives him the evolving perfectibility of longing, together with his junior partners—man and other life forms—for revelation and of striving for creativity, which are the essences of authentic existence.

[p. 69]  Inclusion as the unifying mechanism of existence ordains that man can never achieve his Sisyphean quests and Tantalic longings but only a synthesis between them that then serves as a thesis for another dialectical zigzag ad infinitum.  Consequently, man’s fate is to ever seek something and always attain something else. …We can therefore never achieve whatever our aims might be because dialectics will lead us somewhere else. Hence, authentic rebellion concentrates on processes of creativity and revelation, because their goals are unattainable to begin with and because whatever aim we may wish to attain, dialectics will move us to another synthetic goal.


…If one exceeds the middle course and one’s moira (i.e. one’s lot in life), one commits the capital sin of hubris…

[p. 72]  As Sisyphus has to have his stone in order to be creative, so ego has to feel apart and separate from transcendence for the interactive experience of creativity or, for that matter, for all experience except for revelation, to take place. Hence, ego is a partner of transcendence in creativity, and through the metaphysical programming of Sisyphus, transcendence vicariously experiences ego’s triumphs and disasters.

[p. 76]  The catastrophe of the breaking of the vessels bound both God and man in an endless cycle of dialectics of creation and perdition. The Original Sin bound God and man within the fetters of space and time, but established man as a unique and ontologically separate individual, capable of independent volition. The sacrifice, of Isaac and Jesus bound man normatively to God, but enabled man to judge God morally for having exploited him for his own purposes, unknown to man.

[p. 79]  One awareness permeates both God and all his creatures including man. Copernicus, Darwin, and Freud deprived man of his primacy among creatures, and modern physics deprived the physical world of any purpose, seeing it as particles moving around like drunken sailors without any goal or motivation. With the help of the teleological models of the Kabala one may envisage a purpose in both a blemished God and his erratic mortal partners. Their dialectical interaction is all there is, but in it they are free both to face their common predicament and, perchance, to experience grace.