Thursday, August 12, 2010


In "Being Jewish", from The Infinite Conversation, Blanchot addresses questions posed by Boris Pasternak: "What does being Jewish signify? Why does it exist?" He writes the following:
I believe that among all the responses there is one in three parts that we cannot avoid choosing, and it is this: it exists so the idea of exodus and the idea of exile can exist as a legitimate movement; it exists, through exile and through the initiative that is exodus, so that the experience of strangeness may affirm itself close at hand as an irreducible relation; it exists so that, by the authority of this experience, we might learn to speak.

Reflection and history enlighten us on the first point with a painful evidency. If Judaism is destined to take on meaning for us, it is indeed by showing that, at whatever time, one must be ready to set out, because to go out (to step outside) is the exigency from which one cannot escape if one wants to maintain the possibility of a just relation. The exigency of uprooting; the affirmations of nomadic truth. In this Judaism stands in contrast to paganism (all paganism). To be pagan is to be fixed, to plant oneself in the earth, as it were, to establish oneself through a pact with the permanence that authorizes sojourn and is certified by certainty in the land. Nomadism answers to a relation that possession cannot satisfy. Each time Jewish man makes a sign to us across history it is by the summons of a movement.
This passage speaks obliquely to some of what I've been trying to write about here about the problems of modernity. In a sense, Blanchot here writes against Heidegger's conception of rootedness in place, offering instead a different kind of rootedness, an opposition (between different "worlds"?). The tension between these two ideas is fascinating and crucial. The spread of capitalism has destroyed community after community. While we deplore this destruction, we also value mobility. We want the possibility of movement, but the security of stability. The more I read and the more I think about these issues, the more this tension between these competing needs and desires seems to animate much of what makes us human.

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