Saturday, May 5, 2007

I direct your attention to...

...the golem.
...once the golem had been physically made one needed to write the letters aleph, mem, tav, which is emet and means "truth," on the golem's forehead and the golem would come alive. Erase the aleph and you are left with mem and tav, which is met, meaning "death." (source)

I'm reading a book right now by a professor of literature at Aquinas College, where I sure wouldn't mind teaching in the future (!). His name is Gary Eberle, and the book I'm reading is called Sacred Time and the Search for Meaning. It's one of these books that walks the line between academic and "general non-fiction." For the record, Eberle's books are published by Shambhala, my latest favorite publisher, and his 2007 release will be titled, Dangerous Words: Talking about God in the age of Fundamentalism. Sounds good.

Anyway, Eberle is arguing that machines and now new media are training us to perceive time in a way that is very different from the time-consciousness that was essential to the human experience right up until the industrial age... and he's pretty sure that's not a good thing. So I'll just excerpt the interesting parts of his description of the golem:

In Jewish lore, the word (golem) was... applied to a legendary creature rabbis created to demonstrate their own metaphysical prowess and the power connected with the sacred name of God and the letters used in the Torah generally.

In the earliest forms of the legends, the golem were spirits, but by the seventeenth century they had become physical creatures, usually human in form, that performed tasks for their makers. The most famous version of the legend concerns Rabbi Loew of Prague. According to this eighteenth-century legend, retold by Isaac Bashevis Singer and alluded to at length by Cynthia Ozick in her novel The Puttermesser Papers, Rabbi Loew molded a man-shaped creature out of earth and brought it to life by writing the secret name of God on a piece of paper and slipping it into the creature's mouth. (In other versions of the golem legend, the Hebrew word emet, truth, was inscribed on the creature's forehead to bring it to life.)

This is definitely my kind of legend. To kill the golem, all you have to do is take the name of God out of his mouth and erase the first letter from the word emet from his forehead.

emet = truth

met = death

Wouldn't it be great if we still demonstrated our metaphysical prowess to one another by inventing creatures?

8 comments:

Insignificant Wrangler said...

Its funny, I just finished copyediting a book that essentially argues the exact opposite: that new media frees us from conceptions of linear time and the (anti) Humanist subject such a conception leads to. But I like the idea of truth and death being but one letter off.

Also, I wanted to tell you that I really like the Snapshot technology. Just added that one to my own site. Back to reorganizing my office and play-space while the wife's in New England.

Casey said...

Santos--remember the 1950s technology promotional videos, usually from G.E. or some company, advertising the lustrous future where machines and computers would do our work for us?

What ever happened to that? I mean, why do I spend more time sitting in a chair than any generation of mankind ever has before me staring at a 17-inch monitor? How, exactly, is that freeing me from linear time?

For me (maybe this really is just a matter of different perception), time passes so much slower when I'm walking through the Celery Bog or playing frisbee golf than it does while I'm blogging or playing on the internet.

But like I said -- could be "just me."

Insignificant Wrangler said...

Right now we are involved in an a-synchronous, non-spatial, publicly published conversation. And this is one of several that each of us is probably engaged in right now. Our "time" is distributed across these conversations (and I would consider watching T.V. or playing a video game as engaging a conversation, especially in conjunction with the web).

You are free of material constraints more than any generation before you, more comfortable working in (and imagining through) virtual environments, "free" to access information on vibrant and growing networks. These things come at a price, of course: the risk of a 24 hour work day, less distinction between work time and play time, a less stable sense of self, less stable reptuation systems (for people or scholarship, ethical systems built on indeterminate foundations.

On nice days I like to take my laptop outside.

Casey said...

You're funny.

Cathy said...

My creature would have to be fashioned out of a mouse. Great conversation between you and Santos. You're right about time contracting when we're involved with these machines. I look up and the evening is gone. Tomorrow I'll be birding in the sun and breeze and it will be a long deliriously happy day.

Did you catch the article in The New Yorker (April 16) about some linguist working with a primitive tribe?
"Everett thinks that the tribe embodies a living-in-the-present ethos so powerful that if affects every aspect of their lives. Committed to an existence in which only observable experience is real, the Priaha do not think, or speak, in abstractions - and thus do not use color terms, quantifiers, numbers, or myths." A fascinating read.

Casey said...

Cathy--I love reading that kind of thing. Santos is half-right, of course... there are many advantages that come from living in modern society.

But I wouldn't be terribly surprised if the shamans had more up their sleeves than we realize -- I have always joked that if it were not for industrialization and modernism, I would've been dead by age 3 of asthma. But the countersuggestion rings almost as true: if it were not for industrialization and chimney stacks, I might never have had asthma.

(And even if I did, I STILL think those shamans could help)

Cathy said...

Interesting about the asthma, Casey. Two of my sisters have asthma. The seven of us were raised in the same environment, but only they have this troublesome condition.

My husband's internist recently sent notice to all his patients that he will not make hospital visits in the event that his clients require hospitalization. He hands you off to the specialists.

I expressed my dismay to my physician husband. I tried to express how important a primary care physician's care and concern could be in times of physical and emotional crisis.

My husband just furrowed his brow. Modern medicine sadly neglects what the Shaman knows about healing.

Casey said...

"Check."