“Space,” “Place,” “World”

(image posted at www.tokyogreenspace.com)


An earlier comment by my dear friend “esque” has made me realize that I need to clarify terms central to Jewish Philosophy Place (JPP).

These terms are: “space,” “place,” and “world.”

“esque” had this to say about my earlier post entitled “World” with its reference to my mother’s trip to India and my brother’s domicile in Japan. He wrote: “To want ‘the world’ to make a mark is not to do anything ordinary; it is to lionize the extraordinary by assuming that only the antipode to one’s current form of life is Real and can give inner life.”

It was certainly not my intent to go to the “east” in order to look for religious “authenticity.” It just happens to be that my mother is travelleing right now in India and my brother lives in Tokyo. If it wasn’t clear, my mother proudly has no “inner life” and did not go to India in search of one. Her interest in temples, temples, temples is purely antiquarian, historical, and aesthetic. My brother’s long term sojourn in Japan has to do with his husband, who was born there, wanting to reconnect with his family after many years in the States. Like my mother’s, his world-place is profoundly secular, and has nothing to do with “the extraordinary” or “the Real” or, again, anything having to do with “an inner life.”

So then, in what way and why did and do I want to invoke “the world” in JPP?

“Space” and “place” are not identical. In this, I’m following Yi-Fu Tuan in Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience.

“Space” refers to a more unbounded experience of the world at large. These are not absolute categories. Space is simply the space or any space that is larger than “place.” In my usage, world-space is secular. (I don’t even want to call it a construct). I mean it to be global. It has to be in order for it to be shared by different types of people. It relates to the physical or to the social, not to cult and metaphysics.  

“Place” refers to a more bounded, buffered, and even private experience of the world. It refers to micro, miniaturized spheres and orbs (as per Sloterdijk). Religion is one such kind of place. It nestles into the world. But not every place is religious. Many of the “places” dear to me are secular (e.g. the modern university, the Metropolitan Museum of Art). So religion shapes my “place” in space. There’s not a lot I can do about this. But I definitely don’t want the world to be religious, even if, metaphysically, I’m very open to the speculation or fancy that space is nestled into place qua God. 

Part of the argument I want to make in JPP is that Judaism and Jewish culture already inhabit a larger “world-space.” I wish the same was true of Jewish religion, religious thought, and philosophy. They have yet to catch up. I would like to think that a larger and more capacious experience of “space” allows Jewish religion, religious thought, and philosophy to construct a more felicitous “place” by moving out of and back into religion. Maybe I’m just fooling myself, which is a risk I take.

Sorry for the confusion and thanks for the pushback, “esque.”

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics. http://religion.syr.edu
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4 Responses to “Space,” “Place,” “World”

  1. esque says:

    This helps a bit. But now I’m a tad confused by the border between “religious” and “secular” — the antepenultimate sentence in particular invokes a notion of sui generis religion that is (no matter how much I might romanticize it in the wee hours of the morning) unverifiable, and therefore unscholarly.

    The way I understand your work, you think it’s precisely this boundary that is holding Jewish thinking back. Why, then, talk about “religion” as a realm that one can enter or leave?

    Is something like the world/earth distinction in Heidegger’s “Ursprung Kunstwerkes” perhaps more useful for you?

  2. zbraiter says:

    Hi “esque” I need to think about this more. I’m not sure I mind a generic notion of sui generis “religion.” I did once, but not anymore. Over the years, I’ve come increasingly to the conclusion that a very narrow, heuristic notion of “religion” makes pragmatic-conceptual sense. Like a computer chip, the smaller the concept the better, the quicker the circuit. Durkheim’s broad identification of religion with society I once found appealing. It now strikes me as tricky and devious. Its paramaters are too loose and subject to abuse by religionists who want to extend religion or Judaism into “the political.” Against Talal Asad or John Milbank I’m now persuaded that religion and secularism are not simply arbitrary concepts imposed on an innocent holistic culture. In the particular case of Judaism, I think it’s worth noting the differential borders between, let’s say, Jewish secular space and Jewish religious place. I do so after reading or re-reading Menachem Lorberbaum on the secularization of law in medieval Jewish legal theory, Jacob Katz’s Tradition and Crisis (esp.p.95), and Robert Cover’s distinction between cosmpolitan (“imperial”) nomoi and paideic nomoi. I’m find more convincing a Venn Diagram in which one “thing” is placed alongside other overlapping into and out of “other things.” Limiting “religion” to “God” and “cult” and “text” frees up “space” to think about the many, many things religionists share with other people, without the imposition of one over the other or the other over the one. In the preface to Shape of Revelation, I think I defined religion as the “place” between a God or daemon and “his” people. I think religion is a good thing to walk into and out of and into. For me, Heidegger’s earth/world distinction not as felicitious as “place” and “space,” but would love to hear more.

    • esque says:

      I’m not sure that anyone *wants* to extend religion or Judaism into “the political” as much as some scholars acknowledge that religion/Judaism have always been politicized.

      • zbraiter says:

        I’m not sure I believe you. The idea that religion “extends” into the political and vice-versa is not just a descriptive judgment. It’s also normative, no?

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