Monday, July 27, 2009

Clay: Appendix 7

[. . .] I remember I had provoked the "Nietzschaen" Thom Smit into studying the Pentateuch by showing him a page from Blanchot's The Writing of the Disaster, a page on which Blanchot considers Nietzsche's reading of the Bible:

Nietzsche: "In the Jewish 'Old Testament,' that book of God's justice, we encounter men, events and utterances of such great vitality that neither Greek nor Hindu literature offers anything comparable. One is seized with fear and respect before these prodigious vestiges of what man once was, and one entertains sad reflections about ancient Asia and her advanced peninsula, Europe, which claims to incarnate vis-a-vis Asia 'the progress of man.'..." --"To have stuck onto the Old, this New Testament--this monument in every respect to a rococo taste--in order to join the two in a single book, the Bible, the Book par excellence: this is perhaps the greatest imprudence, the greatest 'sin against the spirit' that modern literature has on its conscience." What does Nietzsche mean here? He is speaking of style and taste, of literature, but his use of these words elevates what they convey. And I take not of this: he mocks Greek civilization no less than Christian. Elsewhere, Christianity is praised for having been able to maintain respect for the Bible, even if it did so by forbidding that the Bible be read: "The way in which respect for the Bible has been maintained on the whole up until our own time constitutes perhaps the best example of the discipline and cultural refinement that Europe owes to Christianity: books of this profundity--receptacles of an ultimate significance [my emphasis]--need to be protected by a tyrannical exterior authority in order to be sure of that duration of several thousands of years which is necessary for exhausting their meaning and comprehending it fully."... Likewise, in another book, but in practically the same terms: "The Old Testament is really something! Hats off to the Old Testament! Here I find great men, a heroic landscape and one of the rarest things in the world, the incomparable naivete of the robust heart; and furthermore, I find a people."
There are many things in these passages I hold dear. One of them is the definition of Europe as an advanced peninsula of ancient Asia. That suggests a notion of Europe that I have long held to. Another is the valuation of Jewish literature over that of the Greeks. A third is Nietzsche's recognition of the importance of the Church's authoritarian role in maintaining a respect for the Bible, even, as Blanchot paraphrases, if that meant forbidding that the Bible be read.

Nietzsche's taste in letters has always been oddly in harmony with my own. Some of the texts that sent the German philosopher into transports of admiration: Sterne's Tristram Shandy, the novels of Dostoyevsky, the Old Testament. Here are the texts that have most sent me into transports.

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