Deleuze Talmud Notes


duchamp network of stoppages

I think it holds up, this little exercise in transposing Deleuzian concepts into a theory of philosophical Talmud:

Talmud of Difference and Repetition

Talmud would constitute repetition of Torah, and like repetition assumes the status of echo, doubles, or souls that cannot be replaced or substituted, one for the other (p.1). Talmud-Torah would stand out as a theater of repetition, a revelation of pure forces (p.10). What counts is the frame of the Talmud as that which remains constant whole that contain and force the play of signs and masks. Like in Leibniz, the Bavli finds in the finite clear idea the giddy restlessness of the infinitely small (p.45), what Deleuze refers to as the “determining of pure and impure in a  mix that gives rise to larger genus” (p.60; this quote might be a little off). The Babylonian rabbis are cave thinkers. In the cave of Talmud, every thing, animal, and being is simulacral (p.67).

Mishna would be the image of the “pure past” that never was, but always is (pp.81-6). (This reminds me of Dolgopolsky in The Open Past). Talmud, in contrast to Mishnah would be the active synthesis of the past through the work of recollection, remembrance, reproduction, reflection and understanding in which the former present (Mishna) is represented in the present (p.80). The past (of the Mishnah) becomes general while the present (in the Bavli). The Bavli is the rigorous imperative to search, respond, and resolve. This exploration of the pure past, the Bavli’s relation to the Mishnah,  is erotic (p.85). In relation to concepts drawn from Cinema 1 and Cinema 2, Mishna is the pure time image, the Bavli is a movement-image

Talmud of Cinema 1 (the Impulse-Image)

As building block of philosophical, the particular type of movement-image that best represents the Bavli is the impulse-image situated in an originary world. (In comparison, the Mishnah is almost entirely abstract and worldless. No sense of a world is given there apart from a bare sketch.) As understood by Deleuze, the originary world is related to the semblance of a determinate geographical-historical milieu. What’s left in the originary world are fragmentary shapes and outlines and the like. The originary world of the Bavli is Sasanian Persia. The impulse-image in the Bavli moves from point to point, collecting up fragments, etc.

Talmud as Cinema-2 (The Time-Image)

To turn the Bavli into a time-image would constitute the supplemental work of philosophical Talmud. One would have to step back to see in Babylonian rabbis acting in that originary world, building up fragments and holding them together. The Bavli plunges the gaze of the seer into a world of change, the back and forth change of the rabbinic back and forth, the form itself which never really changes.

In Deleuze, the object of the image is the world, the way in which world and image, the physical and the imagined pass into and out of each other through the circuit of the brain, by way of the screen that constitutes the brain. The primary objects of the gaze in philosophical Talmud is Torah. That is to say that Torah is a world, the world of the rabbis. Torah is the object or world destroyed and recreated in the time-image that the Bavli becomes (p.12). Torah is the object of the long extended gaze, just like the vase in a long cut in a film by Ozu (p.17). In the radical discombobulating and reconfiguring,

Reading the Bavli, it is no wonder at all that so many readers have troubling determining what aspects reflect the imagination of the rabbis and what reflects actual social, political relations. As a time-image, the Bavli has replaced its own object and destroys its reality even as it gives back “some reality.” The Bavli is like a circuit, a brain that exchanges, corrects, selects and sends its students off again (pp.7-9).

One could start with history. For Deleuze, the emergence of the Time-Image in cinema and thought are correlate to the devastated landscapes and cityscapes in Europe after World War II. It is a setting that lends itself to the collapse of clear sensory-motor links that connect seeing and other forms of sensing to clear, determinate actions and acting. For the contemplative person (the seer, the thinker), these scenes lend themselves to pure looking, pure seeing with no necessary connection to acting in this or that way. The rabbinic seers face a world of catastrophic loss, even as they continue to believe in this-world, as a function of the gaze they direct into and away from this world through the prism of talmud-Torah.

What the Babylonian rabbis see is the dark firstness, the pure forces of talmud Torah that have no necessary actuality or action in the physical world. (For the cinematic-philosophical seer on the postwar scene, cf. Cinema 2, pp.40-1). In the Bavli, philosophical Talmud looks into Torah and what the rabbis see is something power, horrible, beautiful (p.18). Just like the world in Deleuze, Torah is revealed in the time-image and does not have to be justified (p.20).

On the logic of the crystal-image (the most accomplished form of the time-image), the physical, actual object, i.e. Torah, disappears into a mirror of the rabbinic brain where it becomes virtual in the process. At the same time, the virtual image (Torah as seen through the prism of the rabbinic brain) assumes its own actuality, a new actuality. But the original object itself, God’s revelation to Moses at Sinai, is more and removed from view, referred to elsewhere, invisible. Historically distant and displaced and no longer operational its semblance becomes more and  more simulacral (cf. C2 p.70).

Inside the crystal-image, all sense of the present splits into the past and the future. Time gushes into two. (p.81). Having crystalized the actual and the virtual, Torah is spectacle. Its reality is now beyond the actual and virtual (pp.83-4). As a crystal-image, the Torah of the rabbis grows constantly, starting with the seeds that are Mishnah and Scripture. These are the entrance points for the rabbis into Torah. These seeds are textual, archaeological, psychic, historical, spiritual. They are the entry points for philosophical Talmud to work its way into the imaginal world that unfolds in the Bavli, whose unity is pure spectacle (no less than the spectacle of Rome in films by Fellini).

In the pure Torah of the crystal image, there is no difference between watching and being watched (pp.88-9). Torah never leaves the crystal. What we see in the crystal, in the Bavli is a bursting forth of life, of a sense of time in whose sheets everything and everyone is contemporary with everything and everyone (past, present, future). We see the rabbinic brain at work. Hidden from view is its other, an image of the divine brain itself. Perhaps this is the brain revealed in Zohar, flowing at a different level of intensity, flowing from the source of life itself, skirting just up to and around fiery death.

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.
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