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Rooting for Rosenzweig

Sunday, 3 May 2020

Rosenzweig on Dr John Dunn. Criticism of the reductive reasoning of neo-platonism, Kabbalah of the Middle Ages and its Lurianic variant, Spinozism and Freemasonry seemed initially to me to have had a champion in Franz Rosenzweig.

Rosenzweig claimed tobe countering what he saw as the highpoint of reductive reasoning in German idealism, but I assumed that this limited perspective was the result of his time and place as a Jew resisting assimilation in nineteenth century Germany.

Nevertheless, given that German idealism was infected with Spinozism, I thought that his philosophy might offer valid criticism to the broader spread of reductionism.

The reductive reasoning that Rosenzweig critiqued had its origins in Plato,i.e. that all things have their origin in the One. This single ground for all beings reduces what appear to be particular beings to mere modes of existence of the originatory One. In short, particular beings to this way of thinking are not what they appear to be.

Rosenzweig focused on the German idealists pointing out that they presupposed the undifferentiated, universal character of the Absolute, as the origin of the “All,” and thereby mistakenly rooted the myriad particular beings we experience in actuality in an original unity (i.e., an absolute or universal 'nothing').

He chose to make the idealists the target of his critique here, but he might well have been critiquing Lurianic Kabbalah and Spinoza from this same point of view.

And Rosenzweig’s point was that our everyday experience confirms for us the fundamental difference between divine, worldly, and personal beings. The starting point and ground for philosophy should be one of differentiation between these distinct entities.

That is to say, the actuality we experience is not to be understood as rooted in an original metaphysical unity, but rather in the relations between particulars each of which generates itself out of its own nothing.

Rosenzweig claimed that the realities of God, world and self were independent and irreducible.

He critiqued the reductionist philosophies that reduced selfhood and world to manifestations of the originative One.

In the second part of the Star of Redemption, Rosenzweig argues that the actuality we experience is born of the relations between God, world, and selves. For him, experience is not to be understood as rooted in the unity of an Absolute, but rather in the relations between particulars.

This for me is the high point of Rosenzweig’s Star, where his thinking can be related back to the John of the New Testament.

But it seems that Rosenzweig saw this, not as a high point, but as an unstable starting point to be overcome.

What seemed to be an alternative explanation of experience to the reductionism of Lurianic Kabbalah and Spinoza was nothing of the sort. He had in fact been elaborating a position of volatility from which had to be found a path towards the ultimate systematic unification of the ‘All’.

This for Rosenzweig was the path of redemption by which we might progress through the relations between particulars to an ultimate redemptive unity.

This too was the pathway that exposed Rosenzweig’s disingenuousness.

What Rosenzweig was championing was not the sovereignty of the particular vis a vis the Absolute, he was rather advancing along the return path of Lurianic Kabbalah. Rosenzweig’s redemption was Luria’s Tikkun.

The reductionism that Rosenzweig critiqued in German idealism had the same Platonic origin as the Kabbalah that structured his own supposed new thinking.

It is perhaps not surprising in this subliminal context that Rosenzweig’s symbolic representation of redemption/Tikkun was the symbol of Judaism, the star.

Whilst the Kabbalah in Rosenzweig was patently obvious to me, I was gratified to have my suppositions bolstered by Enrico Lucca’s essay on the subject.*

Commenting on Mosche Idel’s research into Rosenzweig’s kabbalism, Lucca wrote:

In particular, Idel’s argumentation focused on how Rosenzweig was aware of a number of theories related to the Lurianic Kabbalah. In The Star of Redemption, Rosenzweig indeed uses a specific terminology, which can be traced back to the concepts of tikkun and of scattered divine spark.

Lucca also cites Gershom Scholem’s comments on Rosenzweig receiving his kabbalistic knowledge from secondary sources, but also comments more specifically upon Scholem’s, ‘Franz Rosenzweig and His Book The Star of Redemption’:

As Scholem wrote in 1930, while Rosenzweig had tried to distance his own ‘new thought’ from the world of mysticism, his perspective on language and ‘time-bound thought’ is nonetheless very similar to that of the Kabbalah.

Unfortunately, what started with promise in the schema of Rosenzweig’s Star turns out to be just another variant of one-worldism, and an insidiously presented one at that.

Rosenzweig had no interest in preserving the sovereignty of the particular.

His ‘promising’ anti-reductionist starting point was another way of presenting the ‘shattering of the vessels’, Isaac Luria’s metaphor for the broken world of Judaism following the Iberian expulsions.

Like Luria, Rosenzweig offered a version of the return from exile metaphor.

Because the unity of the ‘All’ is projected as the future, the reader is called upon to realise that same unity in actuality.

What Rosenzweig is actually calling upon the reader to do is commit the suicide of the self.

In other words, exchange the sovereignty of independent thinking for subsumption into world unity.

*Enrico Lucca, 'Gershom Scholem on Franz Rosenzweig and the Kabbalah', De Gruyter DOI 10.1515/naha-2012-0002 - Naharaim 2012; 6(1): 7-19

© John Dunn.

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