“An act of soliciting which issues from people whose eyes and ears are vigilant and who are mindful of the whole body of writing from which the extract comes, and equally attuned to life: the city, the street, other [hu]men[s].”
Emmanuel Levinas, in “On the Jewish Reading of Scriptures” in Semeia Studies #43, 2003 pp 17- 31
This may not sound like the stuff of philosophers and biblical scholars, but that is where it comes from. On the one hand it is encouraging to come across this sensibility in a scholarly journal; on the other it is discouraging to see that this idea is not new. So, why is this so rare? Why is there such a pull between the world of serious study and thought and that of a more relaxed and playful approach to life? Or, perhaps I pick up a pull that I insert myself?
I am only guessing– not knowing what else to do –that the transition or movement from the kind or quality of attention that goes into serious thoughtful work while benefitting from being anchored in this kind of hearing and sight is also some how more strenuous that what happens when one is on vacation. I deeply enjoy both; and find it VERY hard to move back and forth between the two.
Perhaps if I could grasp what it means and feels like to see my work as what Lenivas calls “an act of soliciting” the transition would not be so jarring? “Solicitating from life” sounds like a lot more fun than studying, or work, or research or even writing. There are some slightly playful hints in the word. And the requirement for a balance between awareness of texts as well as life means that one has to actually take the time for that awareness and stop feeling guilty for the “time off”.
In the last 24 hours I also spent some time reading Power by Linda Hogan.
I was struck by how much Hogan’s portrayal of some fictional “Taiga” elders method of decision-making sounds like Levinas:
“It is the story the elders need, even though it seems untellable to me. It’s why they have called me here, to tell this thing that can’t be told, to send words into a place words have not yet been, a ground not yet broken by them. And then, if the story is right, if the story is deep, if the story offers food, and there is something saving in it, they will take this in, consider it, judge it.” p 160
So, may we be attuned with ears and eyes to the whole around us, especially the city, the streets and the people, and may we have even a small amount of the kind of patience to “send words into a place words have not yet been.”