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Idolatry, Blasphemy & Art

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posted on Feb, 5 2011 @ 12:03 PM
“The Greeks’ ever-more powerful demand for beauty, for festivals, entertainments, new cults really grew from a lack, from deprivation, from melancholy [and] from pain.”1

Reading an interesting treatment of the topic of free will, science and the nature of G-d, I found the writer discussing the Noahide Laws. He listed them and commented that “of the seven laws, five relate to interpersonal contacts, only two to our relations with the Divine.2 But the two mitzvoth forbidding idolatry and blasphemy pertain not only to our stance to the Creator but pervade the structure, norms and education of our society. It is through aesthetics, the science of beauty the West inherits from ancient Greece that these two behaviors shape what we term ethics, psychology, social structure, economics, entertainment, politics and more… Image-work is common, in lesser degrees to all but one other culture: that of ancient Israel.

Greek art emerges from a powerful metamorphic impulse, a desire to transform self and body. As the epigraph from Nietzsche suggests, this arises from pain and fear as well as strong erotic drive. All idealization requires turbulent emotion, he wrote, “especially the frenzy of sexual excitement” and is characterized by “ease of metamorphosis.”3 Shape-changing in turn carries and demands a strong antinomian impulse: laws, boundaries and norms are made to be shattered, like a protagonist in Greek tragedy.4 It is in the Dionysian rage against boundaries, including the discrete self, and norms, in the urge to dissolution in rapture and communal consciousness that Hellenic hatred of Israel resides. It is the reservoir from which the West, a cult of aesthetics ceaselessly draws its hatred of Jews, Judaism and/or Israel.

Thirty-six years professional study of Western Literature have shown me that the process of idealization in art is a self-transformative effort with three phases, an idyll, an apocalyptic splitting marked by proliferation and worship of images or idols and then a collapse followed by forms elegiac lament. These phases take forms in history, politics, religion economics and the arts. They suffuse social relations and identity as well as perceptions and depictions of the Divine. The six laws given to Adam and the seventh to Noah5 all pertain to human behavior and are integral to individual and cultural responses to and understanding of the Eternal One.

Idyll is from eidyllion: an idyll is a small eidolon or idol which also has the connotations of phantom, appearance, apparition, image, shadow and mental image. In the idyllic phase of image-work, an individual, group or culture form an ideal image of the entire self, let’s call it the ‘body’ including the entire individual or cultural self or ‘body’ and begins to transfer its feelings and desires to the image. As this transference proceeds, there is a proliferation of images of the ideal or eidolon which is exalted as a model (we are familiar with this in advertising and screen culture) and worshiped in traditional or secular forms; images become the object and recipient of hopes, values, instruction and investments of all kinds. As investment and exaltation of the image proceeds it increasingly splits from the generating ‘body,’ possesses and displaces it in a model of imperial appropriation. An epitome of this process was the transformative appropriation of Israel and (parts of) Judaism by a decadent Hellenist culture acting through Rome. As the idol splits from, possesses and feasts on the energy and identity of its ‘host’ the host individual or culture begins to collapse; the image reifies, petrifies, becomes clichéd, implausible and exhausts its charismatic mesmeric powers. There ensues and elegiac phase of sentimental remembrances of and attempts to re-create artificial perfect ‘ye olde’ models of the hollow eidolon. During the process of disillusionment, the culture becomes a civilization, its economy becomes inflated and exhausted, its politics corrupted by money, its education is perverted to forms of manipulation and control; all of these are degraded echoes of the desire to control intrinsic from the first in image-work, the process of idealization and its demand for surface beauty and boundless rapture: its immersion in a glorified self-image. Image-work and the cult of aesthetics inevitably yield as an inheritance a pervasive culture of terror in which distinctions between image and life, reality and virtual reality, fiction and truth are denied and lost.

The “demand for beauty” seeks “infinite transfiguration” by identification of the self or culture with a semblance or glorious appearance; “an image of light” (lichtbild). To the Greek “the eternal contradiction” is between individual and collective and is resolved only through the suffering and destruction of the individual.

The “demand for beauty” and urge to create beautiful “semblances” of the self and culture; the demand for “release and redemption in semblance” and for the discharge, via images of erotic energy into visions of a “primal unity” or “mysterious marriage” speaks to an intense need for transfiguration, the key motif in the religion of the West. It is familiar in the religion of the West, its rites and passion. This drive became more intense when the West was formed, under pressure like that of a nuclear reaction, by possessing and transforming Judaism and Israel. As a hybrid culture, the Greek drive for idealization and metamorphosis through images became more intense and complicated. This accounts for its unique dynamism, profusion of theories, philosophic schools, religious schisms and art styles. Throughout its energy is driven by an intense need to synthesize while subordinating the Jewish elements that proscribe worship of images and the entire idealizing impulse in form. To draw the contrast perhaps a bit too sharply it is one between spectacle and inscription; between image and letters; between magical projections of will (thelema) and learning the books in orderly rows (telem): an ordered series of fertile furrows rather than oceanic overwhelming passions.

The beginnings of Western civilization proper were in the fourth century; it took on a distinctive identity in the twelfth century. This was the century of the first blood libels and mass pogroms in Europe; the first full century of Crusades; the century when Gothic architecture began expressing and transforming the west’s sense of itself; and when it developed in Arthurian and other “Romances” its distinctive form of self-identification, self-expression and idealization. Indeed, medieval romances, like all romances since are intrinsically fictions of idealization and the relation between an individual or group and its image-ideals or idols. The West is a cult of aesthetics and the great apologist and reviver of Christianity after the age of Enlightenment, Francois Rene de Chateaubriand argued that the truth of Christianity was demonstrated by the greatness of its art works.9 As the West turned toward idealization (idolatry which always is blasphemy) it turned against its Jewish roots and population, tearing, suppressing and burying in its drive to burnish its ideal image and drive for transfiguration through semblance including the panoply and play of war. All culture became a play, a drama requiring human sacrifice. The paradigm and the emergent identity required that the sacrifice be a Jew.

During the two centuries since the West, driven by the dynamics of image work, has passed into its apocalyptic and to its elegiac postmodern phase, has ossified from a culture into a civilization, it has shown the deep intra-cultural and geopolitical aspects of its cult in its various attempts to bury the Jews and Israel. The more the latter, pursuing the logic of its own history has “sprung from the earth” like truth, the more the idyll and its magic have striven to re-subordinate and incorporate it. Geo-politics, including the enflaming and unleashing of Islam as a tactic, one form of which is attempts at conversion are attempts literally to incorporate Israel and Jews into the aspirations and model of universal communion and rapture, into a grand global synthesis or puree. It’s a difficult tide to resist between the military, economic and spectacular forms of dazzle and terror that are deployed. The cult of aesthetics cannot stand, its identity cannot endure a people or nation that stand outside its magic circle, which deny the universal validity of its meticulously constructed identity: its fragile “artifice of eternity.”

In the West’s demand for beauty and idealizing investment of identity into image, the shade trumps the man; the image trumps the shade utterly confounding like virtual reality life and death, death with life.

Before concluding it is worth noting that the Greek and many European forms of the word “demon” stem from Hebrew dimyon, “imagination” and its verb forms, dimah – dimain. The further relation of “blood” (dam), silence, (dumiyah) to images is pertinent as is the derivation of a key synonym for images, reflections or phantoms, “shades” from the Hebrew shadim (“demons”). Demons or shades result from privileging imagination whose root, the Latin imago-imaginem comes from Greek magike, to weave a spell. It is ironic, that as with many words transposed from Hebrew into Greek and European tongues that the origin of image, imago and magic may be Hebrew magen (plural, maginim), “shield” but as the work of Hesiod, The Shield of Herakles shows at great length, what is solid and physical is transposed into an aesthetic image of the world whose principal feature is its artistry and key figural grouping: Perseus, image of the artist who masters art fleeing on his sandaled feet from the Gorgons while holding in his gold and silver bag the head of Medusa whose glance petrifies life into sculpture, into stone. It also is suggestive that the consonants for “image” in Hebrew appear to be a contraction for “blood” and “death” that fits the pattern of Romances, the catalytic character of Tennyson’s Vivien in particular and idolatry in general. Image-ideals, generated from blood and immortal fantasies elicit dominion of the shades that fill so many Romantic era poems and end in collapse of the host culture or poet, in death. Image-work is a demonic process that leads to triumph of the image, to shadows and demons.

The notion that one can “bless G-d” with images or worship of “strange” or alien things, generally in feminine form (zayin-resh-hei, zarah) turns the putative blessing or garland into a curse. This may be the logic within the euphemistic expression of the prohibition of blasphemy as “not to bless G-d” following a “strange” or “foreign” service in feminine form. Thus Jeremiah’s warning to husbands who follow their wives in exile and “burn incense to the queen of heaven,” a paradigm of image-worship in many cultures. In the attempt to play or bind G-d, individuals find horror: Dr. Jekyll brings forth Mr. Hyde; Victor Frankenstein his monster and Aphrodite, who contains a horror brings forth panic and terror. Image-work is a war on the cultural body, on perception and life itself.

Hebraic proscriptions of the closely linked idolatry and blasphemy pertain to human attempts to understand and align their consciousness with the Creator and creation; they also suffuse all forms of society, interpersonal relationships and identity. For failure to heed these injunctions, for glorifying what it should proscribe, the West is confounding itself and the world in a realm of shadows till it “consumed with bewildering terrors”16 like the combatants in the dark cold mists of the apocalyptic twilight battle in which all elements and allegiances dissolve in the West’s core Romance. Idylls of the King is aptly named for it contains a fundamental critique of what it cannot help celebrating: the attempt to organize a society around idealized images that, detached from life, invariably disappoint and disillusion.17 Israel will thrive if it can become itself: “a nation that dwells apart… secure; even his heavens shall drip with dew.” It will attain its identity when and if it distinguishes itself from the image-project of the hybrid and Dionysian West: when Jacob expels from himself the dazzling and insidious imperialism of Esau.

1. Friedrich Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy author’s preface to the 2nd edition (1886) in The Birth of Tragedy and Other Writings (Cambridge University Press 1999, translation Ronald Speirs), 7
2. Gerald L. Schroeder, God According to God (NY 2009), 113-14
3. Nietzsche, The Twilight of the Idols, “Skirmishes of an Untimely Man” 8-10
4. The Birth of Tragedy op cit 20-1, 26-7
5. Rambam (“Maimonides”) in Hilchot Melachim 9:1 quotes Sanhedrin 56a and Genesis Rabbah 16:6 in saying that the “Noahide Laws” (Genesis 9)
6. Oswald Spengler has a compelling discussion of the distinction between and transition from culture to civilization in The Decline of the West (NY 1962; 2006 Alan Helps abridged English edition translated by Charles Francis Atkinson), 15-40, 181-90, 371-413 inter alia
7. The Birth of Tragedy 24, 47 inter alia
8. The Birth of Tragedy op. cit. 26-8, 44, 47 inter alia
9. Francois Rene de Chateaubriand, The Genius of Christianity (1802)
10. Johan Huizinga, Homo Ludens (1938; Beacon 1955 English translation) identifies culture as play and celebrates the Gothic and primitive. He states that “Torah” derives from “casting lots” and oracles, 80.
11. William Butler Yeats, “Sailing to Byzantium” (1923), 24: eternal identity and “bodily form” modeled on an image, “such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make of hammered gold and gold enameling…” A sequel, “Byzantium” asserts the self-generating supremacy of “images” to “the fury and the mire of human veins” (1930) adding, “I hail the super-human; I call it death-in-life and life-in-death.”
12. See Hesiod (University of Michigan Press 1959; 1973, translation Richmond Lattimore), 187-220
13. Isaac Mozeson, master linguist and author of The Origin of Speeches (lightcatcherbooks 2006) tells me this inference is erroneous.
14. Coleridge, “Christabel” (1816); Shelley, “Alastor” (1815), “The Triumph of Life” (1822), Keats “La Belle Dame sans Merci”; Poe, “The Fall of the House of Usher,” etc
15. Jeremiah 44:9-30
16. Tehillim 73:18-20: like an image, “like a dream [the Eternal One] will render their appearance despicable” in a precise parallel to the internal logic and dynamics of image-work.
17. Alfred Lord Tennyson, Idylls of the King (1859-88), “The Passing of Arthur” 29-135

posted on Feb, 6 2011 @ 02:50 PM
Nice read here. I haven't read it yet, because of the game and everything. Thought I'd add this stroy about a Saint who got a little carried away burning Botticelli's and stuff, till he caught the pope's attention and was sentenced to death:

Apparently he floated in his cell just before they killed him. Still, nobody likes a prude.

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