Friday, December 11, 2009

Midrash and Homeostasis

Tonight I am thinking about Midrash in a different, more terrifying way. Dynamic, constantly evolving, metonymic, defiant in the face of everything that says you must stay as you are--it is in flux. It looks ahead to the future, pulling with it all of the remnants of the past that make it what it is. The product appears silly when seen in the context of the gyrations of the process. Movement makes life.

I met a woman who does nothing but dream. She responds to all of the ambiguities of her personal history by dreaming back into them and watching them take on new shapes before moving forward again, into the future. She looks into the future, builds her life and love and identity around a future plan.

A dream. It moves inside of her like a child.

It moves her right out of the present. She lives in her dreams, never allowing the reality of the present to situate her in its quicksand. She thinks it has kept her alive, and has only just now realized: maybe the product was indeed more important than the process after all. And there was this word that she kept saying: homeostasis.

I always think of this word--homeostasis--as being in direct opposition to what I envision as midrashic thinking. Homeostasis has to do with balance and stability, with maintaining a constant condition--and this keeps the body alive. Midrash, on the other hand, is never constant, except in its consistent mobility.

And so I cannot help but ask: What happens to the dreamers, with no homeostasis to keep them alive, their hearts pumping?


Casey said...

Monica, I'm always drawn to your thinking because I see a psychological history that makes sense to me -- in your childhood, homeostasis was understood as acceptable, even as an ideal, and was encouraged. Do I have that right?

Then you discovered that G-d moves. You discovered it on your own -- and now that truth is yours. All of this resonates with me.

If I have all this right, though, I wonder if you'll appreciate the question that has been on my mind lately... I can even frame it in your terms: what if the truths of our childhood were not incorrect, but only incomplete? We discovered that dynamism was G-d, yes?--but what if in our enthusiasm for our discovery we "overlean" in that direction?

In other words: what if G-d is a balance between dynamism and homeostasis? If we're still on a similar page, you'll feel as I do about this possibility: sort of uncomfortable. Having learned to see dynamism, it is now dreadful to wonder whether homeostasis has its place in G-d.

Of course, my process here -- un-closed questioning -- is probably more midrashic in tone than it is "static," but what will happen to me if I am drawn again back (even halfway) to that apparently Dead Sea of homeostasis?

Anyway; as usual, I hear what you're saying.

David Suissa said...

What if we redefine "homeostasis" as that place where we feel comfortable and safe? Then, anything goes. Even the midrashic impulse can be a form of homeostasis-- if it brings us the comfort of knowing a truth-- even a truth that challenges truth itself.
The ultimate midrash, then, is to experiment with that place that makes us nervous and unsafe, wherever that place may be.

Kevin said...

"Homeostasis has to do with balance and stability, with maintaining a constant condition--...Midrash, on the other hand, is never constant, except in its consistent mobility."

I am inclined to say that there is an assumption here that is doing alot of work for you in making this contrast between 'Midrash' and 'homeostasis'. This assumption is that 'homeostasis' is a STATUS not an ACHIEVEMENT.

Possibly-contrary thought: surely I can enjoy homeostasis in very different environments, and what I think homeostasis is will be revealed by whether I (a) seek to find solid ground upon which I can stand, OR (b) whether I have the capacity to ATTAIN homeostasis whatever might be that environment--say, on the lurching deck of a ship. In the latter case, I do not seek balance (noun) I BALANCE-- I achieve/obey the imperative of homeostasis ("you must stay as you are..") only by a constant and incalculable number of fine-motor movements per-second--i.e. only by NOT staying 'just as I am'.

If the latter definition (homeostasis as ACHIEVEMENT) is taken, ANY homeostasis is being achieved in the present tense only via a present TENSION, and true stability only arises under the constant possibility of losing it (just as the practice of balancing is a response to the possibility of losing it). Instability ('heterostasis'?) is thus the condition for this achievement of homeostasis, and the 'contrast' looks not like a contrast at all--looks positively dialectic.

Is this dialectical picture consistent with the contrast you have drawn?

"And so I cannot help but ask: What happens to the dreamers, with no homeostasis to keep them alive, their hearts pumping?"

Given the above, I guess I have to say this: Homeostasis keeps no one alive--and certainly does no favors for a system which is circulatory. Nor is this danger of homeostasis as STATUS just a quirk of biology. Even in physics, disparities of energy--only inequality/imbalance--is the condition for life; all ends once energy is equally distributed. Homeostasis as STATUS for these disciplines defines the end of life.

Not to shill for my own stuff again, Monica, but it is remarkable how close your thoughts here are in line with my last post--though rather than talking about G-d or Midrash, I prefer to denounce the striving for the stability of 'ethics'. Anyway, the post's upshot is that stability constitutes a threat to ethics and the ethical life. To speak in your language insofar as I understand it: Ethics must be Midrashic.

Casey said...

"I the LORD do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed."

--Malachi 3:6

Monica said...


Yes, I think it would be fair to say that I grew up in an environment that stressed homeostasis as opposed to movement, extension, evolution, etc., spiritually speaking. And I have to say, that I REALLY like your idea about the "truths of our childhood" being not incorrect, but incomplete (barring that whole debatable Jesus issue). In some ways, though, that's why I migrated to a more Jewish way of thinking--it's the whole midrash thing, the idea that Judaism itself is dynamic and constantly evolving. This isn't, of course, to say that there aren't elements of Judaism that do not change; there certaintly are. But, you know what I mean.

And, yes, this whole thing about G-d being dynamic is interesting. I remember, growing up in an Evangelical community, being continually confronted with the rhetoric of "G-d changes people." So G-d was somehow about change, yet once the person was "changed," they were expected to stay that way. And, of course, the idea of there being only "one way to the Father" just exacerbated things.

I like the idea of G-d being a "balance between dynamism and homeostasis." It makes sense to me; he's neither and both, simultaneously. This plays into David's comment about the possibility of re-defining (ore re-interpreting) what we understand to be homeostasis: Perhaps fluidity can be stability; perhaps it is the only stability we have. And, not to go back to my old standby, but midrash is characterized in the same way; it's neither literature nor commentary, but it's also both. It's about THE IN BETWEEN, and all of the fluidity that exists between two extremes. There's G-d. Right there. We found him, Case.

Oh, and I love that you said "Dead Sea of homeostasis.


Kevin--thanks for reminding me to look at your blog; I just became a "follower." Okay, so homeostasis as achievement. I think I get the "dialectical picture" you have drawn. It's something like the idea that there is really no such thing as the present; the present is always moving! No sooner have we uttered the word "present" than it is past. It is always being achieved--the present, that is.

You say "Homeostasis keeps no one alive"--I have to say that I breathed a deap sigh of relief when I read this. But I really, really love that you say: "Ethics must be Midrashic."