I have wanted to pick up a few threads from earlier pieces and weave them together. The discussion of aesthetics and occultism at the end of Phase I and my concern with the disruptive role of capital in spiritual practice come together in this piece focusing on Walter Benjamin’s “The Work of Art in an Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” It also has some connection to the hesitation I have around relying on narrative discourse for a deeper understanding of spiritual experience, too.
As I am talking about the sefirah, the Sefer Yetzirah, the book of Revelation, and Pharaoh’s spiritual function, I am also becoming increasingly aware of a difference in scale between this work and the work with which I began this blog. I named it Disrupt and Repair to reflect the texture of spiritual processes with which I was engaged. Following them out to my current work, I can see a family of practices centered upon formation and demolition.
I came up philosophically under several phenomenologists. I was reminded of that when I spent some time in Boston where the used bookstores gather in their eddies the excess from students attending bastions of continental thinking like Boston College. It reminded me that there are lessons from that period have left an imprint on my spiritual practice today. Today, I have in mind the roots of phenomenology.
Phenomenology proper begins with Edmund Husserl’s epoche. The epoche is one of those practices that seems simple, even simple-minded, but can be brutally challenging and transformative in practice. Simply stated, the epoche is the suspension of ontological questions in order to more carefully examine the epistemological dimensions of experience. When we undertake the epoche, we stop asking after the existence of a thing and start asking after the nature of our experience of a thing.
So, The Get Down. There are some subtle but persistent magical themes going on in the narrative. There are the top-hatted alien and minor characters with names like ‘Thor’*; there is the tension between ecstasy and devotion**; but right now I want to point out the way art, history, and music play out as aspects of time (magic).
I have been enjoying this new album a lot. By way of introduction, you can read a little about the album’s inception over here. The album aims to fuse the musicality of the spirituals and blues with that of metal and it achieves that on melodic, rhythmic, lyrical, and thematic terms.
Let’s get ready to ramble, shall we? This is one of those throat-clearing posts that tend to show up in the middle. I keep coming back to something Simon said in response to my last post on Moses in the medieval Jewish Kabbalistic material:
“SY is considered a text of the school of ma’aseh bereishit (work of creation), a complementary but separate school to ma’aseh merkavah (work of the chariot). The former is a school focusing on the metaphysics of creation as outlined in chapter 1 of Genesis and the latter school is based on visions of Ezekiel and Isaiah involving heavenly ascent. I would place the experience of Moses receiving the law as related to ma’aseh bereishit and the splitting of the sea of reeds as related to the school of ma’aseh bereishit.”
It was useful to have it said in these terms contrasted in just this way because it reopens a series of distinctions that has long animated my thinking (wizard/witch; the sumerian diasporas; though the diasporas posts are basically a pitch to break it out into wizard/sorcerer/witch). So, when we are talking about the early medieval fusion of the SY with an account of an ascent to heaven by Moses, we are looking at an interesting case where the two modalities have crisscrossed each other.
“Fragments of a vessel which are to be glued together must match one another in the smallest details, although they need not be like another. In the same way a translation, instead of resembling the meaning of the original, must lovingly and in detail incorporate the original’s mode of signification, thus making both the original and the translation recognizable as fragments of a greater language, just as fragments are part of a vessel.”—Walter Benjamin, “The Task of the Translator” in Illuminations (78)
I fondly recall discovering Milorad Pavić’s Dictionary of the Khazars in an airport bookshop in Atlanta, probably not long before or after I was accused by a classmate of being a “closet Jewish mystic” for the way I read Benjamin’s work. The text was a marvel of weaving together the discontinuous threads of Eastern European religious experience, juxtaposing Christian, Islamic, and Jewish conceptions of the sacred through an ablative rather than conjunctive methodology.
Witchcraft as I tend to think of it seems to do its best work when perched at the boundary between destruction and creation. It takes apart, but it also infuses what has been taken apart with new force, new potency. Witchcraft is an art of decline, but it is also the art of rebirth. If I were pushed into saying why this is the case, I would say that it is because witchcraft is concerned with the life of the world, the cosmos, the life that precedes and exceeds the life of individuals. The work of destruction is done for the sake of that life, in much the same way as its serving as the ancilla of creation.
O radiance of the great gods, light of the earth
Illuminator of the world regions
Lofty judge, creator of heaven and earth
O Shamash, by your light you scan the totality of lands as if they were cuneiform signs
You never weary of divination.
—hymn from the reign of Ashurbanipal, qtd. by Derrida in of Grammatology, qtd. by Zainab Bahrani in Rituals of War (61)
I take an especial pleasure in this citation, the way this text joins other texts, like a needle and thread cinching together fabrics.
Walter Benjamin’s “Theses on the Philosophy of History” remain one of the lynchpins of my understanding of the relationship between the world of spirit and the world of historical reality. Benjamin disassembled a strictly linear notion of history, one thing after another, to emphasize the potencies inherent in the present moment, what he called the now-time (Jetztzeit), the moment of crisis that lays hands on whatever it can to proceed forward.