Love Me! Rosenzweig, Love, the Subject


Wildly Parenthetical’s questions about the possible role of “peace, love and understanding” (Sorry, couldn’t resist the Elvis Costello reference) in Levinas’s ethical rapport has gotten me thinking about Franz Rosenzweig. For perhaps one of the clearest influences of Rosenzweig on contemporary philosophy is to be found in Levinas’s ethical inversion of the etymology of philosophy from the love of wisdom to the wisdom of love (in the service of love). However, I think that Levinas tends to merely transpose God’s demanding love with the love of the other by substituting the ontological status of absence with ethical proximity, which seems to me, a “cool” “Heideggerization of Rosenzweig.” That said, the “here I am” that Levinas associates with love, subjectivity and philosophy clearly has it source in Rosenzweig’s chapter on revelation in the Star of Redemption, but “cashed out” it’s a bit different. What follows is just some commentary/summary/fragments on Rosenzweig’s conception of revelation, what he calls the “ever-renewing birth of the soul.” The second part of the Star moves from logic/cognition into temporality/testimony. The elements in the first part of the Star need an inner transformation so they may be sources of power for revelation and not simply “conceptual pieties.” Being (in the most restrictive sense, to be contrasted with existence) signifies the correlation of acting with experience lies beyond reason and is fulfilled in the realities, e.g. creation, revelation and redemption. Now, whenever I read Rosenzweig I get a bit uncomfortable with all the theological language, but there is certainly something interesting at work behind all of it that can shed some light on the inter-subjective rapport. However, it is good to read Rosenzweig broadly as hammering away at the pretensions of idealism–albeit the regressive movement of the text is rather Hegelian.

In his chapter on revelation in Rosenzweig begins by quoting the Song of Songs: “Love is as strong as death.” Unlike other more allegorical readings of the Song of Songs, Rosenzweig reads it as a text that describes revelation literally. The book dramatizes the I and Thou of God and man, which is to say, the revelation of sucj love is at once “in the world” and “spiritual,” it cleaves the difference between immanence in language. Early on, in Part One, Rosenzweig spends a lot of time showing how the I is wrested and wrenched out from its silent isolation. The “I” emerges out of the pagan, mythic and aesthetic worlds through God’s manifiesting from concealement and subsequent turn to the singular human self in revelation, hence, the slogan “Love strong as death.” The “grammar of eros” begs the question “where art thou?”

Revelation, according to Rosenzweig, is the relation between the active Nay and the passive Yea. This means that revelation is the Nay of thinking. So, if we were to say, stay with Spinoza, it seems as if we can’t demand that God love us in return. Yet, because of the arrangement of revelation in the sequence of God’s “absolute” acts, God’s act of love receives special attention because it is an event–not an attribute. The language of revleation speaks while the language of creation “delineates, recounts and determines” (185, Hallo ed). God then, reveals himself as “He who loves,” a Nay grounded in a concealed Yea (159ff).

Rosenzweig contrasts the indefinite “you” of the address (Adam remains obstinate and self-enclosed) to the direct address (Abraham answers “here I am”). In all of Abraham’s non-conceptual individuality he responds “in love for his singularity”—the “here I am.” The singular I is, notwithstanding, unconditionally receptive, without content etc. This movement of the tearing open of the closed off self is the very core of revelation. Rosenzwerig then connecs the receptive “here I am” and the instant of revelation with law, which, is grounded in love as a command. The logic plays out in the following way: the very invocation to hear is primordial to all commandments, and most importantly for the commandment which for Rosenzweig is the essence and superlative of all the commandments, namely, to love God. Yet, it is only the lover who can command the beloved to reciprocate this love. So, this command is “imperative” as the voice and necessity of love itself: “Love me!” The present adjacency of this imperative is wholly different from any declaration of love which is always in the past tense. In consideration of the future, the imperative becomes law. As Rosenzsweig notes

Law reckons with times, with a future, with duration. The commandment knows only the moment, it awaits the result in the very instant of its promulgation.

At the start of his consideration of art, Rosenzweig makes an interesting comment after distinguishing categories from concepts and commas from hyphens:

We assert that everything real is included in the three as in reality, the real course of the cosmic day.

Creation, in its indicative form correlates to the past, revelation to the present, and redemption to the future. God, world and humanity achieve the same status of objectivity in a sort of vigorous way: they are due to the fact that they are coming to be. This sort of dynamism between each of the elements is grounded on a hidden yet unmoving unity. Between past and future, is, well, nothing less than God’s becoming. I awaken to be human in revelation and complete myself in redemption. It is redemption that is tied to the command to love the neighbor, which, only the soul already adored by a God can greet as a command. This is very different than Kant, indeed, it is not the result of the autonomous human will. Love for the neighbor is the response, according to Rosenzweig, to God’s love for humanity. Ultimately, the future redemption of the world is tied up with the mandate of the law which constructs a bridge to the future. This is takes a somewhat different tone than Levinas’s account of the intersubjective rapport and the trauma/suffering that engenders the ethical subject.

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