(Foucault) Inside (Mishkan)

holy of holies

Deep inside a chapter on the Beit Ha’Mikdash in the Bavli, I found this little gem on a Coronavirus detour through Foucault’s The Birth of the Clinic. It speaks as well to the rabbinic gaze, to “powers of truth” in a closed-in place.

For Descartes and Malebranche, to see was to perceive (even in the most concrete kinds of experience, such as Descartes’s practice of anatomy, or Malebranche’s microscopic observations); but, without stripping perception of its sensitive body, it was a matter of rendering it transparent for the exercise of the mind: light, anterior to every gaze, was the element of ideality—the unassignable place of origin where things were adequate to their essence—and the form by which things reached it through the geometry of bodies; according to them, the act of seeing, having attained perfection, was absorbed back into the unbending, unending figure of light.

[T]he solidity, the obscurity, the density of things closed in upon themselves, have powers of truth that they owe not to light, but to the slowness of the gaze that passes over them, around them, and gradually into them, bringing them nothing more than its own light. The residence of truth in the dark centre of things is linked, paradoxically, to this sovereign power of the empirical gaze that turns their darkness into light.

–The Birth of the Clinic, pp. xiii-xiv

For Foucault, disease and death are the obscured objects, the inside of the body that the medical gaze brings to light. In the Tabernacle, the opacity belongs to the cult objects and cult presence that are the place of the holy brought to light in the exegesis of the Bavli?

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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