Monday, April 12, 2010

Rosenstock-Huessy on Jesus' time-travelling reversal of speech

I will long be grateful to Eugene Peterson, who wrote of " I Am an Impure Thinker" by Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy :

"..A book about language and the various ways we use and misuse it.I have learned as much indirectly (about prayer) from this German who immigated to America, this Jew who converted to Christianity, than from most who write directly on prayer."
(-Take and Read)
That was enough to sell me!

Here is just one amazing chapter...sorry for the can read it in better form, at pp 155-119 here, or at the link at bottom:


WHEN THE FOUR GOSPELS WERE WRITTEN,THE PATHS OF SPEECH OF antiquity were fused. They had met at the crossroad of the crucifixion. The ancient world was at an end. The noon of mankind was established. Our era began.

In our era, the four paths of speech never can lose sight of each
other again. of the others. The madness of the magician, the lunacy of the astrologer, the frenzy of the muses, the invisibility of the prophecy
had been the limitations of ancient speech. The four paths of speech,ignoring each other deliberately, had become extravagant. In Julius Caesar’s days they were dead ends, by their very perfection. Any Greek or Egyptian, Scythian or Israelite, by the very excellency of their speech, became impenetrable and irreconcilable to the other modes
by which man also is moved forward into the unknown.

The bewailers of the chieftain, the Jeremiads of the impending
doom, had uncovered the origins and the final future, for the living.
Ancient men had succeeded in hewing out vast avenues of time, back
to the hero and forward to the Messiah. Without speech man would have no time, but merely be immersed in time, Animals have no time;
they are time’s toys. Men conquered time when they began to speak.
And they opened the roads towards their own beginnings and towards
their own end, from the first dirge to the Isaian prophecy.

Space, too, is not in the animal’s possession. The animal is
possessed by space. And the man who has not learned to establish
heaven and earth is obsessed by space. He remains a fugitive from
space, panic-stricken, before he puts the bridle of his orientation, his
measurements, on the cosmos. And his orientation required that
he should look up to the stars in the sky and invade the firmament
with his thoughts so that he might look down, from heaven, from his
sky-world, upon the earth. Thus he could settle the earth, downward
out of the sky, prescribing place to space, settling the chaotic universe
with finite temples. The praisers of the peace between day and night
had uncovered the heavens.

And between tribe and tribe, city and city, gods and gods, the
Greek poet, the maker, the comparer, the analogist and philosopher,
built his reality. The muses could contemplate the multiple world of
clans and empires. As Dante’s Divine Comedy presupposed the existence
of the Church, so Homer presupposed the existence of conflicting
bodies politic and opened them to each other. The songs of tragic
heroes and cities dramatized the conflicts of men, and so we have
admired the ancient wealth of speech. But these paths of speech could
not admit of their presupposition. They had no way of returning to the
origin of all speech. We know that times and spaces were mastered
by speech, that the living triumphed over death. Speech fulfilled this
task of creating times and spaces, but the people who spoke did not
know this. They idolized the particular space or the one time relation
which was circumscribed by their language. It is as though the
devotee of a radio station would deny the necessity or the existence
of any other. Enamoured with their specific way of speech, the people of antiquity mishandled the full task of all speech, The plenitude of
speech had to be revealed to the gentiles who had gone astray to the
ends of their particular mannerism, and it had to be exerted by Israel
who kept this secret of the full truth jealously to herself.

What is the plenitude of speech? Speech in its plenitude forms
bodies of time and bodies of space beyond the grave, beyond the moment,
beyond the home and the frontier, beyond heaven and earth.
Speech conquers all the disintegrations and fissions which abound in
nature and of which death is the most drastic form.

The complete unity of all men of all times, from Adam to the last
judgement day, would be the greatest expression of our plenitude of
speech. And the smallest atom of any living speech would be one hour,
shared by two people in one spirit regardless of the lapse of time.

Jesus restored to us this plenitude of speech. This was his mission,
life, calling, office. He saved the straying gentiles and the locked up
Jews. He did this by crossfertilizing the four paths of speech. He created
an eternal unity of spirit from the beginning to the end of history. But
he created it by simply speaking to twelve average men. They did not
understand that the hour which he spent with them was one hour o feternity which made history. What he said to them made no sense in the frame of reference in which the clansman or the Greek or the Egyptian lived. It made sense only in Israel, which lived in expectation of the end. Even in Israel it made only negative sense in anticipating the kingdom of the Messiah. So Jesus spoke nonsense for the time
being. But he undid what people called the time being. For he created
a new yardstick for all times. He spoke backwards from the end towards the act of daily life, outside the temple of Solomon.

To this day our era lives by renaissances, rebirths, rediscoveries of ancient civilizations, of buried instincts, origins and prehistoric processes. Jesus began this process. He spoke in the opposite direction from Shaman, Pharaoh, Homer and Moses. The flow of speech in separate riverbeds had led
nowhere. Jesus became the Word, the total Word beyond the separation and, therefore, he was able to penetrate backwards to the creative starting point before the separation. Anybody who wishes to master time and space, who wishes to escape his obsessions, must look to the Noon of our history, the beginning of our era, the appearance of the end, the incarnation of the plenitude of speech, to the total Word.

Our contemporaries have neither time nor space. Then are the prey of panic. Nomads, rushed, restless, uprooted, they throw their last dollar in the lap of the modern medicine men, astrologers, Greeks and Israelites.

The modern medicine man is the psychologist. He traces everything
to origins. The modern astrologer is the investment banker. He
believes in the business cycle. The modern Greeks are all the artists
from Beethoven to Picasso. The modern Israelites are the fundamentalists
of all descriptions. whether Roman Catholics or Jehovah’s
Witnesses, they are convinced that the world deserves to perish.

The man who does not believe that we should throw away our souls
for psychology, the business cycle, arts, or orthodoxy, is a Christian.

For he dares to throw himself behind his own words. He dares to
feel called, to listen and to respond. His ear is tuned to the end, and
he receives his orders from Him who shall be and speaks backward
from the end into this present time, so that the present might be
redirected from the end. We all are reborn whenever we let a new
word change our mind. The total Word is He who showed all men for
the first time and forever how to change their minds. Once the four
gospels were written, Jesus’ four reversals of the four paths of speech
were laid open to inspection for all future generations of men.

In Matthew tribal speech is reversed. The word reaches back to the
simplest group’s ritual and reverses the sacrificial meal. While a tribe
was instituted by slaughtering speechless victims in honor of the dead
chieftain’s name, in Matthew we hear the victim speak himself into the
center of the ritual as giving the name to the whole partaking group.

In Mark astrological or templar speech is reversed. The same Man
who challenges us to build one all-inclusive temple out of all of us, as
moving stars, is shown to be the first stone of this same temple. If we
shall not bury all hopes for all times that men become united in one
spirit, we must crystallize around the foundation stone, as the living
material, and bring the true heaven to earth, that heaven in which
every heart is one star of its firmament.

In Luke prophetical speech is reversed. The Messianic temple
is moved from Jerusalem to Rome in the name of him who made
his body the temple, who allows the Messianic hope to become real
where two or three are gathered in his name. The two or three form
the smallest body of time, the minute cell of interlocution, in which
there is no fixed father-son, teacher-student, boss-servant relation,
but perpetual freedom of each of the members to be now teacher
now student, now listener now speaker, now object now subject of
the conversation. Where two or three are assembled in the name of
the Lord, everybody is willing to be judged with all his shortcomings
objectively, everyone is invited to listen to the greetings of affection.
Luke establishes the group in which all members may fill the roles of
first, second and third person, of speaking mind, listening soul, topical
object—all three, thereby become sovereign and superior to any one
of these functions. Nobody after Luke can fail to know that kingship
and slavery, manhood and womanhood, and mind and body, are now
alternatives for any living soul.

And in John artistic or philosophical speech is reversed. The total
Word interprets the verbosity of Greek rhetorics. Drunk with words,
the Greek mind, whether Homer or Plato, Pindar or Aristotle, was
prone to make man the measure. But when God speaks, he creates.
And when out of the depth of his silence, Man, the final or real Man,
that is the unique one, was called and born, Jesus, all the clever verbosity
of the creature mind, of man’s mind, paled. One Word of God
is more powerful than a million words of the Times. He speaks and a
man is created. In the beginning was the Word, and now the libraries
to be written of this one word of God, Jesus, far exceed a billion words
of Greek minds. That abstract logic which is allegedly the same for
all men, is repudiated: a soul which is fully alive must have her own
logic because she is unique. Logic deals with the animal in us, not
with the brothers of the logos, the “Word,” who are irrepeatable, who
live once and never again. We owe Jesus our uniqueness.

When the four gospels were written, the crossroads were mapped
out in which the four paths of speech had been made to intersect and
communicate. And we now need not be carried on these paths of
speech any longer as obsessed psychological cases; the spells of pagan
speech have vanished. We walk the old paths in the freedom of men
who measure them from the goal backward.

Ever since that Noon of the Day of Mankind the paths of speech
are used not as one-way streets but with the liberty of those who are
free to choose their direction.


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