Friday, July 31, 2009

Questioning a Scream to the Infinite

Rather than wasting precious nocturnal silence by sleeping, I'm reading Edmond Jabes' The Book of Questions tonight. The title itself is enough to blog about. Shouldn't there be only books of questions, rather than books of answers? Shouldn't the arrogance and presumptuousness of claiming to know enough answers to build a book out of them be traded for the honesty and insight of one question?

"The light of Israel is a scream to the infinite" (164).

A brief sentence, but it already contains three words to which I always gravitate: Israel, scream, infinite. I could speculate endlessly on the meaning of this sentence, but I suspect that the only thing to remain would be the question(s). Is the scream a silent scream that howls indefinitely? Or is it one primal, gut-wrenching scream that bleeds itself raw?

In a story that follows the above quotation, a character remarks: "Even when she does not scream, I hear her." Another character says: "I do not hear the scream. I am the scream."

And, the infinite. When I think "infinite," I think of infinite responsibility. Is the light of Israel forever connected to the "Here I am" that resounds in the narratives of the Torah? Years ago I took a nineteenth-century American literature class (I know, abrupt segue). I remember the professor always spoke of "the more within the less"--and that's the infinite. What is a scream to the infinite?

It's just one line in the middle of a large book, and yet I keep asking questions.

1 comment:

Kevin said...

Whoops--meant to comment on this long ago. Busy!

Monica, one reason I wanted to respond to this post, long past its 'due' date, is that it exhibits your talent of connecting two or more apparently disparate subjects as if by accident--though you do it too often for it to be an accident. In this case, I refer to the connection between (i) your first paragraph about a book of (unanswered) questions, (ii) the 'Here am I' and (iii) a 'scream to the infinite'. As for the connection I see you making or about to make...

The structure of ethics is, at a minimum, dialogical--and can be thought of with reference to questions and answers--or, better, calls for response (question) and response (answer). But if this is so, it is crucial that the question is not given a FINAL answer, or the dialogical relationship dissolves, since the final answer renders into obsolesence the question. (You go, Hegel!) A question answered has no further need of being asked. However, ethical questioning and answering is nothing like this! Rather, (to spin a quote you use, "I am the scream...") "I am not the answer, I am always answering". Likewise, I am always questioning others--AM the question, "Will you acknowledge me? Look out for me?" And the essence of our relationship is this unceasing Q and A, wherein the other is not asked some question, but is 'called into question'--constantly. Final answers, if we want them, may be found in the Said; questions there can be answerED; but that is not we find our SELVES. WE are to be found in the SAYING, which, as LIFE--as having an ethical essence-- is necessarily in the present continuous, and no other tense.

Now for (iii):

Thus the 'scream' for acknowledgment (for isn't it always 'delivered' or 'expressed' in terror of receiving no response at all? and isn't it an inarticulate expression, like a scream? An inarticulate feeling which later serves as the material that language is designed to express?)--I say, the ethical scream for acknowledgment ("Please! Here am I! Don't overlook me!") is addressed to the other/infinite--and since the infinite is not a POINT at which the ethical address/scream might arrive and STOP, the scream is ALWAYS ARRIVING. And that should be about right--is the correct metaphor for those of us who think Levinas' account of the ethical relation is more or less correct.

Ok--that got woolier than I wanted...but I hope you see what I meant by your talent, and how it exhibits itself to best advantage in this case.