Isaac Luria and The Coming Community or Agamben and Kabbalah

Isaac Luria was born in Jerusalem and at the age of 22 he began an intense study of the Zohar.  The Zohar “Contains a discussion of the nature of God, the origin and structure of the universe, the nature of souls, redemption, the relationship of Ego to Darkness and “true self” to “The Light of God,” and the relationship between the “universal energy” and man”.  Luria taught that the first divine act was withdrawal.  Ein Sof the Kabbalist word for the infinite and in some sense God before any self manifestation withdrew to create a vacuum, the vacuum was the sight of material or creation.  Within the vacuum are what Kabbalist would call ‘sparks’.  These sparks became imbedded within material existence; the objective of the Kabbalist is to raise these sparks or to liberate them from the material.  This process is called tiqqun, and tiqqun is the idea that living a life of holiness will bring forth this divinity.  This can also be seen in Christian ideas of kenosis and Pauline theology where the group as one would be saved. 

“Raising the Sparks”, served as a frequent Hasidic motif.  Since all material existence is animated by the divine, even the most mundane activity can serve as an opportunity to discover God” (The essential Kabbalah).  This idea in Lurianic Kabbalah can be related to the idea of Plato’s forms.  Plato saw the material world as an imperfect simulacrum of the world of forms.  Forms were the perfect wholeness that were tarnished and skewed by the senses of mere mortals.  Our ideas of things are only imperfect ways of seeing the “thingness” of whatever object we see.  This is similar to the idea of the Kabbalistic sefirot in which all things are only ideational iterations of things.   Was there perfection then in this mythological cosmogony? 

Adam Kadmon is considered the “Primordial man” which appeared first within the void or vacuum of god’s expulsion.  Adam Kadmon was shattered at the beginning which via his orifices he emanated light which was called Kater or crown.  This explains the idea that “men are created in the likeness of god” via the primordial Adam.  However as the Midrash tells us, “the sparks of randomness: are the drops of semen that Adam spilled during the 130 years Adam lived apart from Eve; the sperm he spilled during that period created and nourished demons, the source of the ‘lost generations’ of the Flood and Tower of Babel” (Henri Atlan). 

The main point of this post is the idea of Tikkun olam or “the repairing of the world”.  Jews believe that Mitzvah or the laws of holiness shall repair the world.  In Lurianic Kabbalah to repair the world means to repair the shards of light from the primordial Adam.  To mend what was one by recognizing the divine sparks within and without.  How to repair a world that remains in shards is not only a task for the kabbalist but remains our modern task.  This is where Giorgio Agamben in his book The Coming Community begins to describe the Society of Spectacle that his friend Guy Debord wrote about in his book with the same name—“The transformation of politics and of all social life into a spectacular phantasmagoria had not yet reached the extreme form that today has become perfectly familiar”.  Agamben further on states unequivocally the spectacle in question is language itself.

He then goes on to describe this spectacle in a similar vein that we have been already glossing.  Agamben states that this condition is similar to what the Kabbalist called “the isolation of the Shekinah”.  The Shekinah is the last of the ten Sefirot or “the one that expresses the very presence of the divine.  In a story regarding four rabbis that he describes in his book The Coming Community, two of the rabbis saw God and one died instantly and the other went mad, however it is the third rabbi called Aher—who “cut off the twigs”.  Agamben explains that language itself by itself is the alienating power of modernity, and even states that, “journalist and mediacrats are the new priests of this alienation from human linguistic nature”.  Agamben like Aher is stating that to isolate the Shekinah or to isolate language to a particular time without looking at all of humanity we are dooming ourselves of what should be common to all which is that we all speak.  If we are stuck in a compulsion to repeat because this is exactly what the Heideggarian “they” are telling us, then we shall continue to be doomed to a “historical era and a State”.  This is quite Lacanian in a sense that we create the ego ideal of the other in order for them to desire us.  We follow the “they” of our linguistic inheritance instead of creating anew by looking at the commonality of the fact that we speak.     

About specularimage

Scott Maxwell is a cultural critic, social theorist and creative historian interested in : Psychoanalysis, Biopower and Biophilosophies, Romance philology, Religion and Theology, interested in living philosphers/thinkers Agamben, Zizek, Badiou, Malabou, Johnston. Past thinkers: Foucault, Heidegger, Marx, etc.
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