franzoisch, mörisch, katlonisch und kastilian,
teutsch, latein, windisch, lampertisch, reuschisch und roman,
die zehen sprach hab ich gebraucht, wenn mir zerran;
auch kund ich fidlen, trummen, paugken, pfeiffen!
The insubstantiality that has been warded off throughout [the Aeneid], though it seems to be about to vanish for good, now returns in full force. Reality dwindles to dream, and the nightmare from which we have been fighting free throughout the poem (velle videmur - for at this moment Vergil includes his readers in his poem) has become the reality. No homeric lucidities or articulations here, for the laws of time and space - like the human capacities for motion, action, and speech - themselves have become void. Action, truth, and their images drain away to nothingness. It is the perfect flowering of the Vergilian imagination, this perfect representation of the monstrous and unreasoning night. The via negativa is now, against all likelihood, as reliable and as expressive a mode of mimesis as the via positiva that Homer's art had brought, in Western poetry, to its great perfection. This formulation and perfection of the negative image go beyond the inwardness or subjectivity or elaborations of the potentialities of poetic mood and poetic music; they rather involve an exploration of the relentless, impenetrable darkness inside us and outside us. The lyricism is sometimes tender and fragile, but it is also sometimes ferocious and unyielding in its search for our real weaknesses and real enemies as well as for the lies and myths we tell ourselves about them. After Vergil, not only the grand desolations of Dante and Milton but also the smaller desolations of Tennyson will be possible:
But, ever after, the small violence doneThe darkness without and within, the big darkness and the small - Vergil has found ways of imagining them; darkness, all kinds of darkness, is finally made visible. And the boundaries of poetry are extended immeasurably.
Rankled in him and ruffled all his heart,
As the sharp wind that ruffles all day long
A little bitter pool about a stone
On the bare coast.
The only indigenous attempt - and a schematic one at that - at simplifying the complex rules of Classical Arabic was Anis Furayḥa's نحو عربية ميسرة [Towards a Simplified Arabic], published in 1955. There is a presumably apocryphal story that when some of Furayḥa's academic colleagues who earned their living teaching Classical Arabic saw the title of his book, they protested, يا استاذ شلينا نعيس - liberally translated, "Oh Professor, please don't take away our livelihood!"
As You Came From The Holy Land
of western New York state
were the graves all right in their bushings
was there a note of panic in the late August air
because the old man had peed in his pants again
was there turning away from the late afternoon glare
as though it too could be wished away
was any of this present
and how could this be
the magic solution to what you are in now
whatever has held you motionless
like this so long through the dark season
until now the women come out in navy blue
and the worms come out of the compost to die
it is the end of any season
you reading there so accurately
sitting not wanting to be disturbed
as you came from that holy land
what other signs of earth's dependency were upon you
what fixed sign at the crossroads
what lethargy in the avenues
where all is said in a whisper
what tone of voice among the hedges
what tone under the apple trees
the numbered land stretches away
and your house is built in tomorrow
but surely not before the examination
of what is right and will befall
not before the census
and the writing down of names
remember you are free to wander away
as from other times other scenes that were taking place
the history of someone who came too late
the time is ripe now and the adage
is hatching as the seasons change and tremble
it is finally as though that thing of monstrous interest
were happening in the sky
but the sun is stting and prevents you from seeing it
out of night the token emerges
its leaves like birds alightning all at once under a tree
taken up and shaken again
put down in weak rage
knowing as the brain does it can never come about
not here not yesterday in the past
only in the gap of today filling itself
as emptiness is distributed
in the idea of what time it is
when that time is already past
[Nel trattato di Paracelso De nymphis, sylphis, pygmeis et salamandris et caeteris spiritibus] la ninfa si inscrive nella dottrina bombastiana degli spiriti elementari (o creature spirituali), ciascuno dei quali è legato a uno dei quattro elementi: la ninfa (o ondina) all’acqua, i silfi all’aria, i pigmei (o gnomi) alla terra e le salamandre al fuoco. Ciò che definisce questi spiriti — e la ninfa in particolare — è che essi, pur essendo nell’aspetto in tutto simili all’uomo, non sono stati generati da Adamo, ma appartengono a un grado secondo della creazione, «diverso e separato tanto dagli uomini che dagli animali». Esiste, secondo Paracelso, una «duplice carne»: una che viene da Adamo, crassa e terrena, e una non adamitica, sottile e spirituale. (Questa dottrina, che implica, per certe creature, una creazione speciale, sembra l’esatta controparte della dottrina de La Peyrére della creazione preadamitica dei gentili). Ciò che definisce, in ogni caso, gli spiriti elementari, è che essi non hanno un’anima, e non sono quindi né uomini né animali (in quanto posseggono ragione e linguaggio), e nemmeno propriamente spiriti (in quanto hanno un corpo). Più che animali e meno che umani, ibridi di corpo e di spirito, essi sono puramente e assolutamente «creature»: creati da Dio negli elementi mondani e soggetti come tali alla morte, essi sono per sempre fuori dall’economia della salvezza e della redenzione:
«Benché siano entrambe le cose, cioè spirito e uomo, non sono tuttavia né l’una cosa né l’altra. Non possono essere uomini, perché si muovono come spiriti; non possono essere spiriti, perché mangiano, bevono e hanno carne e sangue (…). Sono quindi creature particolari, diverse dalle prime due e formata da una sorta di mistione della loro doppia natura, come un composto di dolce e di aspro o come due colori in un’única figura. Si deve ribadire, però, che, pur essendo in un certo modo tanto spiriti che uomini, non sono né l’uno né l’altro. L’uomo ha un’anima, lo spirit ne è privo. Queste creature sono entrambe le cose e tuttativa non hanno anima; ma nemmeno sono, per questo, spiriti. Lo spirito, infatti, non muore; la creature muore. Nemmeno è come l’uomo, perché non ha anima. È dunque un animale, e, tuttavia, più che animale. Muore come gli animali, ma il corpo animale non ha, come lui, una mente. È dunque un animale che parla e ride proprio come glio uomini (…). Cristo è nato e morto per coloro che hanno un’anima e sono stati generati da Adamo. Non per queste creature, che non provengono da Adamo: pur essendo in qualche modo uomini, mancano di un’anima».
Paracelso si sofferma con una sorta di amorosa compassione sul destino di queste creature del tutto simili all’uomo, e tuttavia condannate senza colpa a una vita puramente animale: «Sono un popolo di umani, che muoiono, però, con be lestie, camminano con gli spiriti, mangiano e bevono con gli uomini. Muoiono come animali, senza che nulla rimanga di essi. La loro riproduzione è simile a quella umana… e tuttavia non muoiono come gli uomini, ma come il bestiame. Come ogni carne, anche la loro carne si corrompe (…). Nei costumi, nei gesti, nella lingua, nella saggezza sono perfettamente umani; come gli uomini, virtuosi o viziosi, migliori o peggiori (…). Vivono com gli uomini sotto una legge, mangiano l’opera delle loro mani, tessono per sé vesti che indossano come gli uomini, usando della ragione e governando le loro comunità con giustizia e saggezza. Benché siano animali, hanno l’umana ragione — solo sono privi dell’anima. Per questo non possono servire Dio né camminare nelle vie del Signore.»
Come uomini non umani, gli spiriti elementari di Paracelso costituiscono l’archetipo ideale di ogni separazione dell’uomo da se stesso (l’analogia col popolo ebraico è anche qui sorprendente). Ciò che definisce, tuttavia, la specifità delle ninfe rispetto alle altre creature non adamitiche, è che sse possono ricevere un’anima se si uniscono sessualmente con un uomo e generano con lui un figlio. Qui Paracelso si collega a un’altra, più antica tradizione, che legava indissolubilmente le ninfe al regno di Venere e alla passione amorosa (e che è all’origine tnato del termine psichiatrico «ninfomania» che, forse, di quello anatomico che designa come nymphae le piccole labbra della vagina). Secondo Paracelso, infatti, molto «documenti» attestano che le ninfe «non soltanto appaiono agli uomini, ma hanno commercio sessuale (copulatae coiverint) con essi e generano dei figli». Se ciò avviene, tanto la ninfa che la sua prole ricevono un’anima e diventano così veramente umane. «Ciò può essere provato con molti argomenti, in quanto, pur non essendo eterne, si uniscono con gli uomini e lo diventano — cioì acquistano, come gli uomini, un’anima. Dio le ha infatti create così simili e conformi agli uomini, che nulla si potrebbe pensare di più somigliante. Ma vi aggiunse il miracolo di privarle dell’anima. Ma unendosi agli uomini in stabile unione, allora questa unione conferisce loro un’anima (…). È chiaro, dunque, che senza gli uomini sarebbero animali, come gli uomini senza il patto con Dio sarebbero nulla (…). Per questa ragione le ninfe ricercano gli uomini e spesso si accoppiano in segreto con essi.»
Tutta la vita delle ninfe è posta da Paracelso sotto il segno di Venere e dell’amore. Se egli chiama «Monte di Venere» la società delle ninfe (collectio et conversatio, quam Montem Veneris appellitant… — congregatio quaedam nympharum in antro… — come non riconoscere qui un topos per eccellenza della poesia amorosa), è perché Venere stessa non è, in verità, che una ninfa e un’ondina, anche se la più alta in rango e un tempo, prima di morire (qui Paracelso si confronta a suo modo col problema della sopravvivenza degli dei pagani) la loro regina (iam vero Venus Nympha est et undena, caeteris dignior et superior, quae longo quidem tempore regnavit sed tandem vita functa est)».
Condannate in questo modo a un’incessante, amorosa ricerca dell’uomo, le ninfe conducono sulla terra un’esistenza parallela. Create non a immagine di Dio, ma dell’uomo, esse ne costituiscono una sorta di ombra o di imago, e, come tali, perpetuamente accompagnano e desiderano — e ne sono, a loro volta, desiderate — ciò di cui sono immagine. E solo nell’incntro con l’uomo le immagini inanimate acquistano un’anima, diventano veramente vive: «E come abbiamo detto che l’uomo è un’immagine di Dio, plasmata secondo la sua immagine, così si può dire che queste creature sono le immagini dell’uomo, formate secondo la sua immagine. E come l’uomo non è Dio, anche se fatto a sua immagine, così queste creature, pur essendo creatre a ummagine dll’uomo, rimangono quali sono state plasmate, come l’uomo rimane tale quale Dio lo ha creato.»
La storia dell’ambigua relazione fra gli uomini e le ninfe è la storia della difficile relazione fra l’uomo e le sue immagini.
Inevitably, some Franks did learn local languages as well as more generally becoming acculturated with the Near East in diet, dress, hygiene, economic activity and accommodation. A smattering of Arabic for judicial, diplomatic or administrative purposes may have been common place; at least one western knight, William de Preaux, managed to learn the Arabic for king, malik, during the Third Crusade, using it to divert the attention of Turkish troops away from Richard I during an ambush near Jaffa in 1191. Learning to speak, even read, other languages came as less of a burden to twelfth-century western aristocrats than to some of their modern successors. In addition to his own local vernacular, an educated nobleman would have daily confronted Latin (if only in church or at prayers) and probably numerous other vernaculars, if only orally. Henry II of England was fluent in northern French and Latin, with a smattering of other western European languages; his son Richard I cracked jokes in Latin and recited verse in northern and southern French. To rule England or Sicily, Norman rulers or their officials needed to be trilingual; Bohemund [de Antioquia] spoke Greek.
Among the Frankish nobility in Outremer [Estados Cruzados], captivity provided a more peculiar school of languages; during his imprisonment in the 1160s, Raymond III of Tripoli learnt Arabic, probably not a unique pastime among long-stay prisoners. Others acquired Arabic out of curiosity, intellectual energy, political judgement or necessity. Reynald lord of Sidon (1171-1200) employed a Muslim language teacher, enjoyed religious debate and studied Arabic literature. Sufficiently fluent and adept to charm Saladin himself, Reynald used his linguistic skill to bamboozle the sultan into withdrawing from his stronghold at Beaufort in May 1189 and buy a year’s grace and good surrender terms for his castle. Later Reynald acted as a diplomat in negotiations with Saladin during the Third Crusade. Another Frankish noble who, according to Saladin’s associate and biographer Baha’ al-Din Ibh Shaddad (1145-1234), spoke Arabic well was the effeminate Humphrey III of Thoron, whose linguistic talent was in turn employed by Richard I of England in his negotiations with Saladin in 1191. Both Reynald and Humphrey came from families long established in Outremer, their proficiency in Arabic, while striking Arabic chroniclers as sufficiently unusual to be worthy of note perhaps reflecting a growing facility among the Latin rulers, surrounded as they were, even in their own households, by Arabic-speaking Christians as well as a few Muslims and Arabized Jews.
Throughout the twelfth century, chance comments or descriptions of exchanges between Franks and Arabic-speaking neighbours, even at the level of spying, hint at a perhaps wide pool of linguists. The parallel may be with Anglo-Norman England, Sicily and Spain, where conquerors encountered resilient and sophisticated local languages of learning, literature, government and an indigenous social elite. Again, in the context of relations with Syrian Christians, the desire to communicate, even if not strictly imperative for political or administrative survival, appears unsurprising. Much the same could be said of other eastern elite languages. The charter recording the negotiations between the Hospitallers and Meletus the Syrian archbishop of Gaza and Bethgibelin of 1173 is bilingual in Latin and Greek. The Edessan nobleman Baldwin or Marasch, killed in a failed attempt to recapture Edessa in 1146, spoke fluent Armenian and employed an Armenian priest as his confessor.
Freedom as a political phenomenon was coeval with the rise of the Greek city-states. Since Herodotus, it was understood as a form of political organization in which the citizens lived together under conditions of n-rule, without a division between rulers and ruled. This notion of no-rule was expressed by the word isonomy, whose outstanding characteristic among the forms of government, as the ancients had enumerated them, was that the notion of rule (the 'archy' from ἄρχειν in monarchy and oligarchy, or the 'cracy' from κρατεῖν in democracy) was entirely absent from it. The polis was supposed to be an isonomy, not a democracy. The word 'democracy', expressing even then majority rule, the rule of the many, was originally coined by those who were opposed to isonomy and who meant to say: What you say is 'no-rule' is in fact only another kind of rulership; it is the worst form of government, rule by the demos.
Hence, equality, which we, following Tocqueville's insights, frequently see as a danger to freedom, was originally almost identical with it. But this equality within the range of the law, which he word isonomy suggested, was not equality of condition — though this equality, to an extent, was the condition for all political activity in the ancient world, where the political realm itself was open only to those who form a body of peers. Isonomy guaranteed ἰσότης, equality, but not because all men were born or created equal, but, on the contrary, because men were by nature (φύσει) not equal, and needed an artificial institution, the polis, which by virtue of its νόμος would make them equal. Equality existed only in this specifically political realm, where men met one another as citizens and not as private persons. The difference between this ancient concept of equality and our notion that men are born or created equal and become unequal by virtue of social and political, that is man-made, institutions can hardly be over-emphasized. The equality of the Greek polis, its isonomy, was an attribute of the polis and not of men, who received their equality by virtue of citizenship, not by virtue of birth. Neither equality nor freedom was understood as a quality inherent in human nature, they were both not φύσει, given by nature and growing out by themselves; they were νόμῳ, that is, conventional and artificial, the products of human effort and qualities of the man-made world.
The deliberations of [the Council of Nicaea at 787] allow us a fascinating glimpse of a world of ambitious, frequently irate bishops and slanted scholarship based on the corruption or forgery of proof texts, in other words patristics in full cry, powered as much by testosterone as testimonia.
וַיַּגֶּד־לָהּ שְׁלֹמֹה אֶת־כָּל־דְּבָרֶיהָ לֹֽא־הָיָה דָּבָר נֶעְלָם מִן־הַמֶּלֶךְ אֲשֶׁר לֹא הִגִּיד לָֽהּ
E Salomão respondeu a tudo que [a Rainha de Sabá] lhe perguntou - e não houve nada que lhe fosse obscuro a que ele não fosse capaz de lhe responder.
What we should part with—indeed, what we must exorcise from our cognitive system—is the obsessive theoretical craving for all-encompassing unities and continuities. Though we can understand the deep cultural insecurities that give rise to such cravings, and even aesthetically relish the beautifully arranged projections by which such insecurities are kept at bay, we cannot afford to let them replace historical realities. This is not a call for the banishing of ideological considerations from historical and literary thinking. Such banishment is both impossible and unwarranted. All history is informed by ideological considerations. However, ideological projection and wishful thinking are not one and the same. An authentic, scholarly historical narrative can balance such inevitable projections with a genuine interest in the ever so complex and multifarious facets of historical reality. The more we study the realities of the Jewish literary complex the less we feel the need to superimpose upon them a symbolic order (in the Lacanian sense of the term), to organize them hierarchically under an overarching principle. We should remind ourselves that the hierarchically tiered systems we are often offered by cultural theorists are at best no more than temporary and fluid constructions. Almost all can be differently arranged with lower, recessive, and conditioned tiers replacing the upper, dominant, and conditioning ones. The hierarchy is o en only in the eye of the ideological beholder. That is an important lesson we can and should learn from observing closely the Jewish literary complex, and especially its modern evolution since the second half of the eighteenth century. Modern Jewish history, with its wildly colliding crosscurrents, did not allow for the emergence of one unified modern Jewish culture or for an integral, albeit multilingual, modern Jewish literature. It rather forces upon the scholarly observer the realization that Jewish culture and literature were fragmented beyond repair.
It was this realization that sent the early Zionist and Yiddishist theorists on their wild-goose chase after ideologically wished-for but historically impossible unities and continuities. Without necessarily adopting post-Zionist a itudes, I believe we can reverse this process. Zionist theorists, we know, sought a new, or revived, Jewish normalcy: this normalcy would entail a reunification of an exiled and sca ttered people, as well as a reorganization and streamlining of this people’s abnormal, fractured, and scattered cultural legacy. If we accept the so-called abnormality of modern Jewish culture, or even assert its essential normality, we can shed new light on the so-called normal literatures which are, in fact, not that much different from the aggregate of Jewish literatures. For these literatures—particularly the richer and more extensive and expansive ones—are ultimately no more than aggregates of their own, governed by projected hierarchies and imagined common denominators. As the scholarship triggered by the theories of minority discourse and minor literatures demonstrate, these hierarchies reflect the relative stability of the social and political power structures that approve of a culture and a literature of a certain tenor. They purport to express and define the universal human ethical identity while, in fact, they assert and define the identity of the sociocultural powers that be. At the same time, they eliminate other identities, through preferences, canonization, marginalization, and exclusion.
Jewish culture, lacking the organized socioeconomic and political basis that supported the hierarchical structures of other cultures, could not achieve such impositions—no matter how much Jewish ideologues craved them. It was therefore unable to develop a modern Jewish canon. (This very concept is necessarily self-contradictory; Ruth Wisse’s recent treatise, The Modern Jewish Canon, for example, unwittingly demonstrates this by excluding most of the important modern Jewish fiction writers and by disregarding modern Jewish poetry altogether.)
As a result of these weaknesses, however, modern Jewish culture and literature only made clear what all modern cultures harbored in the depths of their complex and repressive bulks. What has surfaced throughout the second half of the twentieth century is that cultures and literatures that were supposedly national and monolingual have actually been created, in part, by a host of foreigners and neophytes, whose language of writing was not their mother tongue. We have seen members of repressed and peripheral societies— colonial and otherwise—who have deterritorialized and denationalized languages such as English or French. In fact what we see in the last fifty years can be called the Judaization of modern Western civilization, in the sense that what was once regarded as a peculiar and unfortunate Jewish cultural condition has become quite the normal cultural condition of the West as a whole.