Sunday, October 09, 2011

Nietzsche on Horace

In his last year of literary production, Friedrich Nietzsche wrote several books, including Twilight of the Idols. By the time this book hit the booksellers, Nietzsche was no longer sane - he didn't recognize his own works. This is one of the last passages from that last work, in which he begins to reflect on his literary relationship to the ancients. The whole passage can be found here by scrolling nearly to the end.


1 In conclusion, a word about that world to which I sought interpretations, for which I have perhaps found a new interpretation — the ancient world. My taste, which may be the opposite of a tolerant taste, is in this case very far from saying Yes indiscriminately: it does not like to say Yes; better to say No, but best of all to say nothing. That applies to whole cultures, it applies to books — also to places and landscapes. In the end there are very few ancient books that count in my life: the most famous are not among them. My sense of style, of the epigram as a style, was awakened almost instantly when I came into contact with Sallust. Compact, severe, with as much substance as possible, a cold sarcasm toward "beautiful words" and "beautiful sentiments" — here I found myself. And even in my Zarathustra one will recognize my very serious effort to achieve a Roman style, for the aere perennius [more enduring than bronze] in style.

Nor was my experience any different in my first contact with Horace. To this day, no other poet has given me the same artistic delight that a Horatian ode gave me from the first. In certain languages that which Horace has achieved could not even be attempted. This mosaic of words, in which every word — as sound, as place, as concept — pours out its strength right and left and over the whole, this minimum in the extent and number of the signs, and the maximum thereby attained in the energy of the signs — all that is Roman and, if you will believe me, noble par excellence. All the rest of poetry becomes, in contrast, something too popular — mere sentimental blather.

A sensitive reader

The Genesis of Desire, a reading of some of the best known stories of Genesis with Avivah Zornberg. Scots-born Zornberg brings a lot to her reading of the Bible, including modern psychological study coupled with a deep knowledge of the Zohar and the Midrash. The Bible via this sensitive reader begins to seem a very strange, numinous place.

On the flood story:

Ms. Zornberg: Ah, what's happening there. I mean, everything is happening. I think whatever you can read in the text is happening. What I'm interested in is the issue of language and silence, a kind of defensive silence, and the basis for this apparently very modern theme actually is in the Zohar, in the source of Kabbalah.

Ms. Tippett: That's interesting too because we never — when that story is told to children, for example, I think it's mostly children who hear the Flood story — we never reflect on the life in the ark. You get the two by two coming on and then coming out at the end.


Ms. Zornberg: Yes, yes.

Ms. Tippett: So how does the Zohar …

Ms. Zornberg: The Zohar and Midrashic sources — first of all, how did they all eat? How did the animals eat? It's a big …

Ms. Tippett: Right [laugh].

Ms. Zornberg: Yes. I mean, all right, maybe they brought on food for the animals, but how did they get at it? So Zohar imagines very beautifully that Noah spends his whole time, morning and night, day and night, feeding the animals. That's an expression of his desire to preserve the world. And he feeds each animal according to its own timing, it's own feeding schedule, so he's really rather fully occupied feeding the world. He doesn't get a wink of sleep, again, in these Midrashic sources. He has no sexual relations with his wife and no one does. There is no sex. Even the animals on the ark, you know, don't have relations.


Ms. Zornberg: Absolutely. And on top of that, I think precisely the things that he can't do in the ark or he mustn't do, like sexual relations, sleeping, the way he spends all his time feeding, it occurred to me that these are descriptions of God. God feeds all living beings and God doesn't sleep. He doesn't slumber nor sleep and God, of course, has no partner. So in a sense, there's a kind of omnipotence that Noah is experiencing in this prison, which is, again, very natural that, once you have deprived yourself of life and you see that in some way as an ideal and as an expression of ultimate power because you are not compromised now in any way by the messy world of talk, of communication. So to me, it's a defense mechanism and he refuses to let go of it.

On reading:
Ms. Zornberg: You know, you don't read; you study. You study the text and that implies that you don't really understand it, first off. You read it and then you read it again and then you notice things and things don't work and things don't make sense and then you're exorcised by it. And that's what I call desire, because something is not. Something that should be there is not there and that's what gets people going. That's what gets people involved and this very intimate connection between the human being and the text, between Jews and this text, is a result of that.

A transcript of the full interview with Zornberg.

Avivah ZornbergAvivah Gottlieb Zornberg
Zornberg is a celebrated literary teacher of Torah. Her books include The Murmuring Deep: Reflections on the Biblical Unconscious and The Beginning of Desire: Reflections on Genesis.

Another, briefer interview here.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Göbekli Tepe

National Geo has a great cover story this month about the world's oldest temple, dating back some 11,600 years, being excavated in Turkey
We used to think agriculture gave rise to cities and later to writing, art, and religion. Now the world’s oldest temple suggests the urge to worship sparked civilization.

Known as Göbekli Tepe (pronounced Guh-behk-LEE TEH-peh), the site is vaguely reminiscent of Stonehenge, except that Göbekli Tepe was built much earlier and is made not from roughly hewn blocks but from cleanly carved limestone pillars splashed with bas-reliefs of animals—a cavalcade of gazelles, snakes, foxes, scorpions, and ferocious wild boars. The assemblage was built some 11,600 years ago, seven millennia before the Great Pyramid of Giza. It contains the oldest known temple. Indeed, Göbekli Tepe is the oldest known example of monumental architecture—the first structure human beings put together that was bigger and more complicated than a hut. When these pillars were erected, so far as we know, nothing of comparable scale existed in the world.

More here and here.