Friday, December 12, 2008

David's disrupted dance

These and other extraordinary images of the Hajj and Eid al-Adha - the annual pilgrimage to Mecca that has just ended - can be found here.

While the entire purport and historical reality of the event is far different from the ecstatic dance of the Israelites following the Ark with David in 2 Samuel 6, these scenes might suggest something of the energy and religious intensity with which the recently united people are said to have escorted their Lord and king to the new center of their nation, Jerusalem.

It is interesting that this high moment of the Old Testament, where the tribes and monarchy and their relation to the Lord are all "centered" in (precarious) harmony, is a moment of passage, rather than stasis. The Jews do not go to a fixed place to worship in this scene, rather, they are captured in motion, transporting the ark, encountering a major disruption, then reassembling and dancing their way into the capital.

The high energy of the historical moment, combining solemn awe with at least the hint of vulgarity, ends in the confrontation of David and Michal, who looks down upon him from her window and feels complete revulsion. Instead of coming to rest in a moment of peace after the dynamism of the preceding scene, something like a crack runs through the middle of the moment. Instead of closure, there's a divide between the wildness of David's dance one one hand, and the icy hatred in the heart of Saul's daughter on the other. Something feels irretrievably broken. It's as if the curse upon Michal was sprung from her encounter with the most blessed act in the history of Israel. 

Interesting to ponder how this epitomizes the movement of the Old Testament -- it never rests, there's always the next challenge in the incessant movement of history. Consider how this compares with the geometric balance and equilibrium of Homer's narrative structures, or the sense of closure in Greek tragedy.

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