excerpt from another book of tennis
Outline for my life:
— When I was born
— When I died
— What happened after
Gershom Scholem — “The Idea of the Golem” in On the Kabbalah and its Symbolism — Was Adam merely formed by God or was he the product of intercourse between Elohim and Edem (half snake/half virgin) as the Ophites would have it?
Adam as a golem until a soul is breathed into him — He is merely clay (dust) until he is animated with a soul. In Kabbalistic tradition he is the author of the 139th psalm:
When I was made in secret, And curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.
The shadow voice of this tennis book is like unto a Golem until he acquires heart (heart is somehow breathed into him) — no claims should be made for him however–other than being able to take breaths in & let them out.
Adam veils his nakedness with the leaves of the tree of death:
“Emesh” — truth — drop the “E” & we have death — the golem collapses. “Emesh” imprinted on the forehead of the golem & of Adam.
Adam is God’s golem & in a sense we are all golems given the gift of authentic life.
-- The shame of the body which is death; the shame of our true instincts which is death.
The exile of the soul of man–his separation from pure being, which is also the long slow death of tethered life. — Man on a tether to his beliefs, his ideas, his inhibitions.
Shall we make a man out of clay to prove our God-induced powers? — to protect us?
EMESH — truth inscribed on the golem’s forehead — drop that aleph & it is the death of him — earth dust is what’s left.
The equivalences between the golem & the Messiah — a Messiah made of clay: If God sends you such will you rejoice? — Will your waning faith be reborn?
There is a dangerous, uncontrollable element in the golem which keeps growing & becoming ever more dangerous to his maker. Two things must be recognized here: 1) that the failure to include him into the human circle necessarily makes him more dangerous, his very sexual urges & emotional needs potentially lethal; 2) that perhaps man with his increasingly sophisticated scientific knowledge & diminishing spiritual capacities is perceived or felt by God as equally a threat to the earth & its creatures — that we are God’s ultimately fatal golems.
Freud, in his mid-thirties, is traveling through Italy, partially following in the footsteps of his boyhood hero, the great Carthaginian general, Hannibal, when a series of associations lead him to the recovery of the repressed childhood memory of a story told to him by his father, Jakob.
He writes that when he was ten or twelve years old, Jakob began to take him along on his walks “and his conversations to reveal his views on the things of the world.” He tells him of a particular incident with the avowed purpose of showing the boy “that he had been born in happier times” than his father:
As a young man in the small Moravian village in which Sigmund was later born, Jakob was walking along the street all dressed up with a new fur hat on his head when a Christian came along and knocked it into the mud of the road and said, “Jew, get off the pavement!”
“And what did you do?” was the naked question of the son.
“I went into the roadway and picked up my cap,” the father quietly replied, and Freud notes that this struck him as “unheroic conduct on the part of the big strong man holding the little boy by the hand.”
This devastating found memory would remain in Freud’s dreams and waking consciousness thereafter.
One imagines the father warmly holding on to his young son, feeling him as a formative projection of his own self and speaking (perhaps for the very first time) of that awful humiliation of his young manhood. But the ostensible reason for the telling – the use of the incident to illustrate the progress that the Jews had made over the course of a generation – is at least as distressing as the raw content of the story itself.
Was Jakob really so oblivious to the effect his account would have on the especially sensitive boy beside him? So blind to the history of his people as to not grasp that his son would be tested as he had been tested and found wanting on that obscure village street? Wasn’t he aware in the deepest and truest part of himself of the eternal meaning and peril of the epithet “Jew” as enunciated by his personal emissary from the Christian world?
In The Interpretation of Dreams, Freud contrasted Jakob’s craven conduct and the tragic assumptions that shaped his account with the historical scene drawn by Livy in which Hannibal’s father, Hamilcar Barca about to go off to war in Spain, swears his nine year old to vengeance against the Romans before the family altar. Between those two existed the generational bonds of Semitic honor that had decayed so terribly over the millennia of Jewish exile. The redoubtable Hannibal would remain a figure of admiration to the founder of psychoanalysis while during his college years when his “dissatisfaction with the conduct” of his father toward the adversaries of their people surfaced, he daydreamed of having a sire such as Hamilcar.
Poor Jakob just scraping by
in the face of the enemy!
It’s as if he had told his mortified son
We are Jews here, enlightened or not;
This is the way it is and will be.
Grow ghetto walls around
Submit and survive.
I tell you this
while at the same time
my soul is overflowing
with love and terror for
you, my son.
The contemporary Israeli critic, Yosef Yerushalmi, addressing Freud as if he was still with us wrote:
“… I believe you had learned by then [his old age] not to condemn your father for having quietly picked his hat out of the mud.”
There doesn’t seem to have been any real basis, in fact, for this belief, and, of course, Jakob had been dead for a good many years when this forgiveness was presumed to have occurred.
Did Sigmund forgive him when they were both alive?
Did he truly forgive himself for being Jakob’s son?
How do we forgive our fathers their moments of wavering, of cowardice, until we have somehow overcome and forgiven our dishonored selves?
-- Published in the Jewish Literary Journal August 1, 2013
Before Michelangelo’s Moses
Unlike Hannibal who fatally hesitated and never quite made it to the gates of Rome, Freud gets there in his 45th year, surmounting formidable psychic roadblocks to do so.
He visits the basilica of San Pietro in Vincoli, beholds the horned, seated statue of Moses, finds it wonderfully compelling and returns each summer on what become annual pilgrimages to the Eternal City. Thirteen years after his first encounter, he publishes an anonymous piece in the magazine “Imago”, which explores the strong feelings the sculpture evokes in him. He finds it “inscrutable” and “wonderful” and gives us this extraordinary passage:
“How often have I mounted the steep steps from the unlovely Corso Cavour to the lonely piazza where the deserted church stands, and have essayed to support the angry scorn of the hero’s glance! Sometimes I have crept cautiously out of the half-gloom of the interior as though I myself belonged to the mob which can hold fast to no conviction, which has neither faith nor patience, and which rejoices when it has regained its illusory idols.”
He’s busted by the horned figure’s power, by its look of absolute contempt for the slavish rabble beneath him.
This seated Moses, haughty and disdainful, presses the tablets of the law against his right side – these rough slabs are mine – the word is mine – you are loathsome to me and the God that I gave you!
The fingers of the right hand are embedded in the magnificently executed marble beard; the left hand is way low down on his abdomen, gripping the end of its flowing serpentine mass. – Simultaneously holding on to its god law and the excrescence of his all-powerful manhood.
The wrath of the self-righteous,
of which nature has no equal.
Vengeance is his to dispense. – Freud felt this right off – that vengeance was his first instinct. As if Moses was the omnipotent and jealous God of the Hebrews rather than his interlocutor.
He feels himself guilty as charged for being part of
the orgiastic mob,
For giving himself outright to the glistering young bull;
Guilty for being just another bloodthirsty member of that very nearly primal hoard
he will later refer to as the savage Hebrews of the Sinai desert;
Guilty with them of terminal disobedience and the offing of the punitive and restrictive father, Moses, in some obscure byway of the dark past.
(This according to his own theory of the thing.)
Not-so-proud possessor of the pure Jew guilt laid upon us for the murder
of God, Father and Son.
A guilt to which he finds that we alone of all the peoples, with unfathomable obstinacy,
Will not cop a plea, thus making our suffering and the rage against us a hundred times worse.
In the Moses and Monotheism of his last exilic years, he professed to be “astonished to learn that there are [those] who find nothing to admire in the Moses but who revolt against it and complain of the brutality of the figure and the animal cast of the head.”
I stand with those who astonish him, who can’t abide its epic contempt, its finally ludicrous and mistaken goat horns tilted slightly forward.
This daunting horned figure,
A marbled imposture
Like unto the gods of the Greeks,
To whom we did not knuckle under,
Before whom we make no apologies for living.
It is a brilliant light
which gives off rays on every side —
And therein His glory is enveloped.
A radiance, like a reflection from off the sun, emanates from Moses as he descends smoldering Mount Sinai after his second and decisive encounter with the Lord.
A radiance that overwhelmed the Hebrews waiting down below in darkness and led Moses to veil himself when he walked among them.
This effulgence rendered in the Vulgate by Jerome as Moses being “horned.” – What the Oxford Jewish Study Bible politely suggests to be an “overly etymological translation.”
Heb.: “Karan” – radiance <from “Keren” – horn.
Moses with horns conflates with the horned Satan and the world’s belief that the Jews as members of the Devil’s party have horns as well. – So that we are left with the certain knowledge that things have never really been on the up and up. – So that every possible suspicion fell upon us, every catastrophe came home to us.
Michelangelo horns his Moses over a thousand years after Jerome, and the horned belief persists to this day, dwelling subtly and not so subtly at the very heart of things.
Curiously, Freud finds Michelangelo’s sculpture, commissioned for the tomb of “the warrior pope” Julius II, morally and emotionally superior to the biblical prophet; he sees this Moses as captured in the act of suppressing his passions, avoiding the shattering of the tablets, for the cause to which he has devoted himself.” — The art object as a lesson in constraint to everyone concerned, including the artist.
In that limitation, in the historical revision, which Freud perceives as flowing from the figure’s posture, perhaps he finds an emotional amnesty for himself and his unruly tribe.
Still, he can’t look it square
in the eye,
Slouches away from the basilica
like a thrice cursed Jew man.
Busted and played,
crushed by the weight
By the judgment he has tendered
against himself and his father