Thursday, April 27, 2017

Limited Edition Prints

In preparation for the exhibition at Ben Gurion, Bibiliodraw has been properly digitized.
Limited edition prints of select images are now available. Contact me for details.

On Exhibition

A selection of images from Bibliodraw are currently on view in  the Department of Art in the University of Ben Gurion. The exhibition will be up through the summer.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Goodbye to Deuteronomy

So here it goes. I've been wafting and wedging about writing this Siyyum.
Because doing so would imply that this part is really over. Because it would mean I need to decide what to do next. And also because Deuteronomy was hard for me, on so many levels. How do I sum it up--or some up my interaction with this difficult book?

Deuteronomy means literally "deuter" "nomos"--"second law"--a close translation of the Rabbinic appellation for the book: "Mishne Torah"--"second/ repeated law". Both names focus on the fact that this book is mostly retrospective, a spoken review of the books that came before. In terms of the time frame, this book was indeed, for me, a doubling--it took me as long as the other 4 books put together. It is harder to get a sense of continuity with all the time that passed since starting this book and finishing it. I was forced to do my own "review", going back and looking at the images, to try to feel how this book develops. 

In some ways, the Book of Number leads smoothly and directly into Deuteronomy. The final chapters of Numbers act as a segue, as they begin the review of the desert years that becomes explicit at the opening of Deuteronomy.  More profoundly, if the Book of Numbers focused on learning how to speak, this Book of Words (the literal meaning of the Hebrew name, Devarim) focuses on the next stage of speech: the creation of identity and memory. We move from learning to speak, to learning how to write, and to transmitting this writing to the future. And if Numbers ends with the fear of curses and imprecation, Deuteronomy closes with the giving over of blessing.
How does this “book of words” transform speech?

“These are the words the Moses spoke”: we begin with a focus on the role of the narrator. The first chapter of this book can be read as a primer in literary theories of narratology, with a defined speaker presenting reported speech and internal speech, vying with a narrative that has already been told. The literary structure forces an awareness of the presence of the speaker, and how the speaker’s experience and narrative stance affects the story that is told. The review is not identical to the original. The prism of identity stands in the way—an identity formed by the “words” being spoken, which define the timeline, define causality, define responsibility. Experience is translated into a particular frame, and into various narratives that compete with each other. Speech becomes the bearer of identity, the maker of memory. It is words that bind: you are defined by what you swear by, by the words you declaim. History is defined by what and how you choose to remember. Covenant is a story that must be personally and collectively articulated, again and again.  The book ends with a grand scene of establishing a seminal text that will serve as the nexus of identity: "And Moses wrote this teaching (torah) and delivered it to the priests and the sons of Levi...and the elders of Israel" (31:9). From internal speech, we are moving outwards, towards writing that is meant for reading, for sharing: "you will read this teaching before all of Israel, in their ears. Gather the people together: men women, and children and the stranger within your gates, that they may hear and may learn... so that their children, who do not know, may hear and learn" (10-13). 

The focus on speech and its role in creating identity, is accompanied by a focus on boundaries, both literal and metaphysical. The book sets out to differentiate "self" from "non-self."Like all stories, it is a story that also excludes and destroys. There is no room for dual loyalties in the covenant. All that is "not self" must be destroyed or incorporated.  Deuteronomy  continuously moves between a defined center and outer limits and back again--whether by tracing the contours of the country though the tri-annual journey from the peripheral cities to the central "place" that God will choose; or through a judiciary that is placed at "every gate" yet relies on a central authority; or through the network of roads providing refuge for the inadvertent killer. Beyond these etched contours is the space "outside"--a space to which the army "goes out," only to come "back in". The boundaries of the land are echoed in metaphysical laws that define and limit who can "come into" the congregation.  Even the consequence of sin is limited by a boundary, not to exceed the limits of the individual life.

It is Moses, the speaker, who experiences these absolute boundaries most acutely. Barred from crossing the physical boundary of the Jordan River, his life embodies the unbreakable and unmoving limit of God's will. The book opens as he looks out toward the Promised Land, and closes as his final request is once again refused, and he dies "there, in the desert, by the passages of Moab," unable to "cross" the river. It is Moses who embodies the lesson that his "song" comes to teach:  That God is the singularity that holds all opposition,: "I am He...there is none that can deliver from My hands."

In its focus on giving and taking and absolute boundaries, Deuteronomy returns us to the primordial introduction of the speech act: Eden and its aftermath.  Deuteronomy indeed acts as a "second law" in that it returns us to the issues that animated the primal presentation of humanity: : speech, knowledge, possession, and “good”--the adjective that Moses repeats again and again. The first, the only, command given to the humanity is to see and not not to take--to accept the imposed limits, to be a guardian who does not “send forth his hand.” In Moses’ bitter experience standing on Nebo, we return to the human in the garden, staring at the forbidden fruit. And this time, the painful boundary remains unbroken.
Does this perhaps, allow the blessing to answer the curse? 

Deuteronomy 34: In Writing

Always across
always abyss

Pour myself out
over water, into water
wafting on the waves
waiting for hands
that reach, will not reach

Watch me as I look outward
nothing between us
sky above us.

Do you watch for me?
You will never find me.
As I can never pass
onto dry land.
Let me curl into the clefts

between the waves
listening for your voice
the brush of your breath.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Deuteronomy: Chapter 34

Everything and nothing:
what you see and what you cannot have
eye to eye
face to face

At the moment of ending 
who will know me
who will I know?

[For full chapter, click here

We come to the final chapter of Deuteronomy, a chapter of ending, and transitions. There is a harsh finality to this closing: some things are irreplaceable, irreparable. Moses' tears and pleading cannot undo his one mistake at Meriba. "You shall see the Land, and there you shall not pass." And with the death of Moses "in the land of Moab" is the end of an era. An intimacy has passed that will not return: "there arose no more in Israel like Moses, who knew God face to face." We touch absolute limits and absolute loss.

Moses climbs Nebo for a bird's-eye view of the Promised Land. Yet of Michel de Certeau sees the synoptic high view as presenting the position of power, here is serves to demonstrate absolute limits: "and God showed him the land of Gilead as far of Dan, and all of Naphtali, and the land of Ephraim and Menasseh, and all the land of Judah, unto the last sea... And God said to him: 'this is the land that I swore unto Abraham, Isaac and Jacob... you have seen it with your eyes, and there you shall not pass." The Torah closes with a harsh lessons that not all you see is there for the taking. Is this perhaps a return to humanities first, failed, lesson in boundaries, with a Tree whose "fruit was a delight for the eyes," yet was not to be eaten?

Yet it is the harshness of absolute limits that itself that reveals the deepest intimacy. In Moses' lonely journey up the mountain, it is God who is with him. He dies "by the mouth of God," and it is God who buries him "in a valley in the land of Moab, and no man knows his burial site, to this very day." No man knows Moses' final resting place, but Moses "knows God face to face." It is this mutual knowledge that defines Moses and provides his space, as the people move onwards. 

For this is also a chapter of transition. There will be no replacement for Moses, but there will be a next step. Joshua is filled with the "spirit of God, for Moses laid his hands on him." The days of mourning "end," and we await the next step.]

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Deuteronomy 33: In Writing

These are the words...
After all has been said
factored and seen
loosen the strands
and watch them rectangle

speak watching and wondering
watering a seed
and whispering Grow

language of letting go
ceasing to mold
the world with word
speaking the words
between now and later

Listen to my speech
turn to blessing
turn to prayer.

May we live and not die
May we be
May we come
into our people
May we draw on the deeps
May we reach for the dew 
sunk in the sand
plyng the sea.
May we reach what lurks below
what drips above.
May we find the everlasting hills
the eternal mountains
that embrace.

Hold us in your arms
gathered at your feet
carrying your voice
in the nucleus of our cells.

I know
no one
but the weave that holds us together,
the everlasting arms of earth
a lone glinting spring.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Deuteronomy: Chapter 33

from word
to blessing

draw it together

Waters above
waters below

pain of not-love
of knowledge

let us live and not die
let us be one in You

[For full chapter, click here
We come to Moses' final address to the Children of Israel. After a whole book of "the words that Moses spoke"--a book of exhortation, rebuke, warning, promise--Moses "made an end of speaking all the words" (32: 45), and begins is another kind of address: blessing. "And this is the blessing that Moses the man of God blessed the Children of Israel before his death."
In closing with a blessing, the final book of the Torah takes us back to the closing of the first book. Genesis also closes with a blessing before death--Jacob's final blessings to his sons.

These two closings are indeed linked by multiple intertextual allusions. At the opening of the blessing, Moses declares that we are dealing with the "inheritance of Jacob," and closes by declaring Israel "the spring of Jacob." As in Genesis, these blessing combine a focus on the future with a look back on the past. As in Genesis, the blessings are performative, and interweave a whole from the disparate parts. As in Genesis, the leitword is asaf, to gather, to bring together: "And there was in Yeshurun a king, when the heads of the nation were gathered, all together, the tribes of Israel,"

Like Jacob, Moses brings "together, all the tribes of Israel"  by interweaving the children of the various mothers, erasing the painful divisiveness of Jacob's family by creating new connections. Jacob created his new whole by cross-hatching the liminal surrogate children of the maidservants not quite Rachel's, not quite Leah's, making them the binder for the two sides of the family, interlinking Rachel and Leah's children through their proxies. Moses follows in Jacob's path, interlinking Bilhal's Dan with Zilpa's Gad through the imagery of the lion; and Zilpah's Asher with Bilha's Naphtali, through the key-word "ratzon" (desire, will). Yet Moses is more ambitious, and actually creates a matrix that unites Rachel and Leah's children directly: Levi, who has renounced all particular loyalties serves as the glue, allowing Benjamin and Joseph to be couched between Judah and Zebulun. 

Once again, Joseph seems to act as a primal binding force, as he merges the waters above and the  "deeps lurking below," reconnecting the split "waters above, and the waters below" that have not merged since the Deluge. Gad also returns to the primal "beginning" (Reishit) that opened the Bible. Throughout, the blessings bind through returning to "the eternal hills," "the ancient earth." Bringing "together, all the tribes of Israel" is tied to going all the way back to the primal divisions of creation, bringing together air, water, seas, sand and hills--all the natural phenomena that define these blessings. 

The centrality of Joseph in the blessing serves as a reminder that the question of redemption in Genesis is linked to bringing Joseph back, to undoing his sale and exile. 

Return to central. In the end, it is the Land itself that will  will act as a binder. In living within the "everlasting hills" Israel will actually, metaphysically, be living living within God: "The eternal God is a dwelling place, and beneath are the everlasting arms... and Israel dwelleth in safety, the spring of Jacob alone, in a land of grain and wine, and his heavens drop down dew."]

Friday, January 15, 2016

Deuteronomy 32: In Writing

Between listening sky
and attentive earth

between my call
and silence

between seeing and hearing

between what is
and what is not

 between drops of rain
between blades of grass

between the eagle and its nest
between inhale and exhale

between my God
and the cliff walls

stone without crevice
leaking honey

of the ending

between emptiness and hollows
between being lost and gathered

on this mountain of passage
that blocks the path

does something cross between?

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Deuteronomy: Chapter 32

       Two           sides
and the hollow          between
  What is           not
                     seen,          not touched
can longing        hold
it all together
solidify to inescapable?

[For full chapter, click here

This chapter consists of the "song" of witness that Moses introduced in the previous chapter. Dense, enigmatic and imagistic, it brings together in condensed form many of the themes of the previous chapters of exhortation: the motifs of seeing and of listening; of hiding and being "found"; and most importantly, of remembering and forgetting: "Remember the days of the world / understand the years of every generation / ask your father and he will tell you."

The binary structure that underlay the previous chapters here becomes explicit, embodied in the very topographical structure of the Torah scroll: the text is set up in two facing columns, with a space in between. The poem becomes a visual manifestation of the tension that animates the covenant--the mixture of fury and love; of opposition and commitment. The visual hollows becomes thematic, as the poem revolves around negatives, the shadow of non-being. If Israel angers God with a "not-god," he will punish them with a "not nation." They will be swallowed by the space between the columns. 

Despite the duality of the poem, there is also a drive to unity, an undermining of the binary split. The vegetable becomes animal, dripping blood, full of fat; stones seep honey and water, as the world is poetically tied into a single entity. God, in the poem, represents the "straight" unchanging line that runs through history, while Israel is   "a twisted generation," changing and turning as the years pass. Yet this torturous "vine" circles around the solidity of God's rock.

The poem ends by declaring that God holds within Himself both opposing forces "I kill and I make alive, I wounded and I heal." There are no two sides, only a single reality: "I am He...there is none that can deliver from My hands."

The chapter closes by emphasizing the impossibility of "deliverance" from "God's hands," as God commands Moses to climb Mount Nebo, "and die on the mount... you shall see the land before you, but you shall not come unto it." There is no arguing with the implacable will of God, that has all the finality of death.] 

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Deuteronomy 31: In Writing

Stand and see 
the fire flame between
us, a pillar we can-
not cross.

What remains witness
when I am hollowed 
flattened to a shadow
on the sands?

Barred at the river
of no traverse
I cannot leave
cannot come
can only dissipate
as I walk towards you
again and again.

The sea, the sky, the ground beneath
bear the marks of my passing.
The disturbed air
my weight born on the waves
leave a hollow no
one will find.

Don’t loosen me
don't leave me.
Make my word stone
let it sprout water
and drink it deep
feel its cold slide down
your empty belly

its residue on you tongue and lips.