The Place is the Word

Light of truth

We all have become resident aliens in today’s consumer culture. Everyone is getting uprooted from their own places. Through continuous shifting of places, life has literally become an exodus. Science and technology have overcome the limits of space and time. We can also travel through time. Tacitus, in his historical account, speaks of ‘hostile hatred against all outsiders.’ This hostility that differentiates people as insiders and outsiders is felt everywhere. Very often, minorities are made to live in diaspora, which in Greek means “scatter about.” Science and technology scatters about especially the educated professionals. All the youth from agrarian families go scattered in search of white collar jobs. Then follows nostalgia. It is an ache that those who get uprooted from home experience. Such an ache prods one to return home. It is not simply to a place that we return; we come to what is our own, which is more than a place. It is also a return to a particular time-period. The Ghar Vapsi slogan of the Hindutva movement indicates this travel to a different time. Egyptian writer Tawfìq al Hakìm (1898-1987) published a play titled, The People of the Cave, based on the legend of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus, or the Men of the Cave. The tale is set in Ephesus during the time when Christians were persecuted by the idolatrous emperor Decius. A group of youths residing in the place are accused of being Christians. Rather than submit to worshiping, they close themselves in the cave and sleep for three centuries. God awakens the youths, who are unaware that more than a night has passed. They fail to accommodate and live and so return to the same cave and lock themselves up. When people start to live in caves we find seclusion and a sense of us against the others. This is a serious issue for the world of today, which has people who seclude themselves in a period and insist that others too live in the same period. This is basically how fundamentalism takes shape.

Francis Fukuyama, who wrote in 1989, End of History, now thinks ‘Ideology Is Out, Identity Is in’: “My view is that the nature of global politics is shifting to an identity axis and away from the economic left-right axis of the 20th century that was defined largely by ideology.” There is a struggle for being better recognized than others, which is undermining democracy with the War of civilizations. This is not something happening to a particular group of people alone; it is a world phenomenon. The history of the Jews is a parable of human story. While living as migrants in Egypt, they were accused of being the cause of plagues and expelled. A domesticated and marginalized people were made migrants without land or home. They entered Canaan and lived with the people there under kings, but they were again defeated and exiled to Babylon. The came back, but again they were scattered and made landless after their temple was destroyed. The destruction of the Temple deprived them of priesthood, cult and sacrifice. The Roman destruction does focus quite deliberately on the fall of the Temple. The synagogues were a place of assembly for the ritual of reading. All four gospels link the Temple’s destruction to the death of Jesus Christ, the pivotal point of Christians.

As Heidegger claims, a man is not only a being in the world, but a part of the fourfold of earth, sky, divinities and mortals. Edmond Jabès, a Jewish poet expelled from Egypt during the Suez crisis was asked ,“You say you are an atheist. How can you constantly write of God?” His answer was simple and straight: “It’s a word my culture has given me.” Human being is not a tree to take root in the earth; man takes root poetically. Heidegger wrote, “… poetically man dwells …” If need be, we can imagine that poets do on occasion dwell poetically. But how is “man” – and this means every man and all the time – supposed to dwell poetically? Does not all dwelling remain incompatible with the poetic? Poetry is either rejected as a frivolous mooning and vaporizing into the unknown, and a flight into dreamland, or is counted as a part of literature. The poetic is the basic capacity for human dwelling. But man is capable of poetry at any time only to the degree to which his being is appropriate to that which itself has a liking for man and therefore needs his presence.

Poetic life is life in stories and rituals. For the same reason, the Jews wrote the post exilic wrings of the Scripture and translated their Scripture to Greek – the Septuagint. Christians wrote stories of Christ and memorial rituals. Angelus Silesius wrote: “The place is the Word”

“Where is my dwelling place? Where I and you can never stand.

Where is my final goal, toward which I should ascend?

It is beyond all place. What should my quest then be?

I must, transcending God, into a desert flee.”

When the poetic appropriately comes to light, then man dwells humanly on this earth, and then, as Hoelderlin says, “the life of man” is a “dwelling life.”

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