HQ. WALTER BENJAMIN LIVE! "storytelling" (complete, 102 min). The writings of Walter Benjamin are a bridge linking the Jewish hassidic mysticism of Nachman of Breslav with today's secular avant garde cultural scene. In this 102 minute video my project is to bring to life Benjamin's essays "The Storyteller" and "Unpacking My Library", by making use of Gestalt Therapy dreamwork that I personally do on one of my own dreams. The dreamwork serves as a means to illustrate how Walter Benjamin's ideas find expression in typical human situations. My main thesis is to demonstrate that what Gestalt Therapists label "dreamwork" is one example of what Walter Benjamin labels "storytelling", what Nachman of Breslav labels "torah" or "prayer", and what Bertold Brecht labels "epic theater". In this dreamwork (or storytelling or dvar torah or prayer or brechtian theater performance) I am dealing primarily with my relationship to my deceased father, Henry Wepner, may his soul rest in peace even in spite of my artistic shenanigans. Benjamin was a colleague of both theater director Bertold Brecht and Torah scholar Gershom Scholem. Benjamin's work relies heavily upon Nachman of Breslav's "Collected Essays" ("Likutei Moharan"), which fall within the Platonic stream of dialectical thinking. I like to think of Nachman of Breslav, Walter Benjamin, Fritz Perls and Lee Breuer (of the Mabou Mines Theater) as "rebbes of the avant garde". This project combines new dreamwork on my own life with excerpts from 20 hours of my other videos, and also with fragments of 1500 pages of my essays, all of which you can find in their original complete form at my website.
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FRANKLYN WEPNER firstname.lastname@example.org JULY 2006
GESTALT DREAMWORK CONSIDERED FROM THE POINT OF VIEW OF WALTER BENJAMIN'S "THE TASK OF THE TRANSLATOR"
FW: What is a translation, in its broadest sense? Think of angels or saints travelling up and down from earth to the heavens, on a ladder or whatever other means of transportation they have available. That is one sense of the term "translation". Then, think of a set of Russian Dolls, or an inverted stack of bowls with the smallest on the bottom. Translation implies moving up or down the stack, from smaller to larger envelopes, or from larger to smaller envelopes. Now think of a stack of inverted gestalts or monads in a monadology, such as comes to pass during a Gestalt dreamwork session. Here again the motion is from smaller to larger and more encompassing envelopes, or the reverse. This time we are talking about envelopes of awareness or the circumference of a contact boundary. This also is translation. But what does this sort of translation have to the translation of a text from one language to another?
FW: Especially relevant to this discussion is a remarkable essay on "translation" in all the above senses by the literary critic Walter Benjamin. The essay is entitled, "The Task Of The Translator: An Introduction To The Translation of Baudelaire's Tableau Parisien". The original was written in 1923, and recently it was republished as part of an anthology of Benjamin writings called "Illuminations". Walter Benjamin was a friend of the Kabbalah scholar Gershom Scholem, and he availed himself of the latter's library of Kabbalistic sources. Like Scholem, Benjamin made use of a mix of idealistic philosophies: Gnosticism, Plato, and Aristotle, all from a Kabbalistic point of view. In addition, there are in Benjamin's work obvious references to alchemical lore, perhaps that of Paracelsus. What follows are some selected passages from Benjamin's essay on translation, along with by my own commentary.
WB: A translation issues from the original - not so much from its life as from its after life. For a translation comes later than the original. In translation the original rises into a higher and purer linguistic air.
FW: The translation or "after life" of a text, is, dialectically speaking, its final cause (Aristotle) or the good which comes from it (Plato) or the Word of G-d which is revealed through it (Kabbalah). This is a pietistic point of view which places the spirit of the law above the letter of the law, and hence puts great value in the role of a translator or interpreter of texts as a prophet of the Word. A literary translation, therefore, is a spiritual ascent of both text and interpreter to the level of divine immanence and universal man, man who thinks in encompassing Platonic ideas. The translated text resides in a higher level of the logos, or Word than did the original. The translation comes later than the original, after the original has passed through the concrete dialectic or biological clock. During that concrete dialectical process the constellations of polarized ideas (X/-X) making up the alchemical water and earth of the text are processed by alchemical air and fire. In the course of this process the microcosmic constellations of the original resonate with corresponding constellations of ideas on higher macrocosmic levels of the logos or Word. A true translation, hence, conveys the macrocosmic echo (Benjamin) or shadow (Artaud) or Double (Gnosticism) of the original text. As alchemy Benjamin's goal of a "pure language" is an attempt to distill from the dross of the original spiritualized gold. Here is the concrete dialectic or biological clock which underlies much dialectical thinking. I have explained this diagram in several other essays and here I will deal only with those aspects necessary for the present discussion.
ARISTOTLE & PARACELSUS ON TIME & THE
ELEMENTS: "THE BIOLOGICAL CLOCK"
G-D "RIDING THE ARAVOT", ACTIVE INTELLECT
ANGELS AS MESSENGERS FROM OUTSIDE
fifth element, macrocosm
6 AM water, ↓ Y ← 0 air, 6 PM
deduction X / -X ↑ induction
WB: The life of the original attains in the translation to its ever-renewed latest and most abundant flowering. Being a special and high form of life, this flowering is governed by a special, high purposiveness. The relationship between life and purposefulness, seemingly obvious yet almost beyond the grasp of the intellect, reveals itself only if the ultimate purpose toward which all single functions tend is sought not in its own sphere but in a higher one.
FW: With all this talk of flowering we can suspect to find Paracelsus' biological clock lurking in the underbrush, and we recall also Fritz Perl's use of the plant metaphor in "Gestalt Therapy Verbatim". A Gestalt dreamwork session is a translation of the dream as original text into the existential message of the dream as translation to a higher level of integration. The language of the final synoptic idea employs more encompassing, stronger gestalts, less confused ideas, than does the original. Gestalt dreamwork as translation is an ascent from low order monads to higher order monads of a monadology, or from malchut to chochmah on the Kabbalist's "tree of life". In the biological clock above translation is another label for logical induction, the ascent from the extremes of the impasse to the moment that the new idea bursts through and negates all negations of the One Without A Second.
WB: Here it can be demonstrated that no translation would be possible if in its ultimate essence it strove for likeness to the original. For in its afterlife - which could not be called that if it were not a transformation and renewal of something living - the original undergoes a change. Even words with fixed meaning can undergo a maturing process.
FW: Perls and Paracelsus share the metaphor of growth as a ripening, maturation and coming to fruition. Words, for example, do not mean the same thing when spoken as part of the existential message at the end of the dreamwork that they do when first used to describe the dream itself at the beginning of the session. During the dreamwork the words undergo a ripening, progressing towards the ideal goal of being an articulation of the Word of G-d, i.e., an explosion into authenticity. In Nominalist jargon, we can say that what initially was merely a web of terms about reality gradually is displaced by language which more and more codes for the divine omnipotence, reality itself, which is struggling to burst through the veil of mere verbalizing. Poetic use of language is an intermediate level use of language, culminating in the dreamwork session as a whole constituting one Word of G-d crystallized in the existential message of the dream. For the dream itself, as Maimonides tells us, is only the unripe fruit of prophecy, only 1/60th of prophecy. The dreamwork, in the form of the concrete dialectic, is what ripens or matures the dream to the level of prophecy. A ripened, perfected dream constitutes on example of what Maimonides labels a "prophetic vision". It serves as a vehicle, "merkavah" (Hebrew: chariot) which allows the prophet to receive the Word, i.e., the existential message of the dream. An example: let's imagine that the initial dream contains a tree that the client describes as "beautiful, with lots of leaves". Next he identifies with that tree in a dialogue with the sky and involves his body, his emotions and his personal associations to, say, his father as a source of protection against too much light. Finally, that tree is part of an overall gestalt expressed by the existential message of the dream, wherein he identifies with universal, complete man and is able to say goodbye to his father. He no longer has a hole where his own center ought to be. The word "tree" remains the same, but its meaning has expanded to the ends of the Gestalt protagonist's universe.
WB: Translation is so far removed from being the sterile equation of two dead languages that of all literary forms it is the one charged with the special mission of watching over the maturing process of the original language and the birth pangs of its own. All suprahistorical kinship of languages rests in the intention underlying each language as a whole - an intention, however, which no single language can attain by itself but which is realized only by the totality of their intentions supplementing each other: pure language.
FW: Benjamin here is perhaps alluding to other essays he has written on the Name of G-d. A Gestalt session, since it is transpiring in concrete, biological now time - the messianic now - is an ongoing naming of the contact boundary, which in its totality often is labeled an experience of "the Glory of G-d". This piling up of awareness moments or Names is labeled the Glory of G-d in view of the Hebrew root "koved", meaning on the one hand substance or tangibility and on the other hand "glory". Hence it refers to the tangibility of the client's experience of his contact boundary. Each time the protagonist says "I am aware of X" he is giving an account (Greek: "logos") of another aspect of G-d's face, countenance or presence in the space. A hint of the complete Name would be attained by a Gestalt protagonist who proceeds with the process till arriving at a culminating explosion into authenticity. Benjamin's notion of a "pure language" implies the complete Name, and hence for most of us is merely an asymptotic process of successive approximations. Perls and Goodman, in "Gestalt Therapy", make a distinction between contactful and noncontactful use of language using the secular jargon of existentialism, by distinguishing between poetry and verbalizing, or being real and talking literature, or being believable and using aboutist elephantshit. Gestalt work on awareness transforms language from talking literature about one's life to active involvement in living one's life here and now. Language which serves to express the Word is prayer. Gestalt work is meditative process as prayer, when it is considered from a religious point of view.
FW: Another analogy that can be drawn between Gestalt dreamwork and Benjamin's linguistic musings involves the term "history", a word which has many ramifications in dialectical philosophy. By "the suprahistorical kinship of languages" Benjamin is referring to what Perls in his own jargon labels "the rhythm of contact and withdrawal". Each cycle of the rhythm of contact and withdrawal, each rotation of the biological clock, each beat of the concrete dialectic, constitutes - from the point of view of the subject doing the process - a world with its own language. This is so since each cycle of the rhythm of contact and withdrawal includes its own movement from thesis (X) to antithesis (X/-X) to synthesis, and incorporates all the alchemical elements: water, earth, air and fire. It is a complete world with its own governing idea. "History" here is another word for the gradually emerging Word or the logos (account of the dialectic). Hence the suprahistorical kinship of languages is the gradual maturing of languages from beat to beat of the dialectic, each language more mature, closer to the Word or existential message of the dream than was its predecessor. Ultimately - so Benjamin maintains - a state of pure language is attained by man at the level of universal man, prophecy or the messiah - which Perls labels innocuously "the coming solution".
WB: In the individual, unsupplemented languages, meaning is never found in relative independence, as in individual words or sentences; rather, it is in a constant state of flux - until it is able to emerge as pure language from the harmony of all the various modes of intention. Until then, it remains hidden in the languages. If, however, these languages continue to grow in this manner until the end of their time, it is translation which catches fire on the eternal life of the works and the perpetual renewal of language. Translation keeps putting the hallowed growth of languages to the test: How far removed is their hidden meaning from revelation, how close can it be be brought by the knowledge of this remoteness?
FW: What remains hidden in the original, microcosmic text is the macrocosmic text, the Word or logos or concrete dialectic. Since it is this dialectical process which - for dialectically inspired folk - man and G-d share; therefore, when it is said that man is made in the image of G-d the implication is that man shares with G-d his participation in the concrete dialectical process. Now, this is not to proclaim that "G-d is dialectics, selah"! None of the authors we are dealing with here presumes to know that which according to his own tradition is unknowable, i.e., the complete definition of G-d. Rather, by examining the actions of man in what are considered to be his most inspired, truthful moments idealist thinkers get a notion of how G-d operates, his Divine action as immanent in the world. They postulate this ideal of universal man (authenticity, truth, prophecy, metatron, Moses, Jesus, etc.) as the goal of human striving, and build their philosophies accordingly. Universal man thinks not just ideas, but he thinks Platonic ideas, pure, unconfused ideas, ideas divested of self-interruptions.
FW: In a literary translation, or in a Gestalt dreamwork session regarded as a process of translation, true meaning - the Word - is not to be found in the individual words and sentences of the original. Rather, there is first of all the concrete dialectical process, the biological clock which to begin with factors the initial text (and the pilgrim along with it) into key extreme polarities (constellations of ideas), and then demands of the pilgrim that he withdraw into his "heart" (the fertile void), confront the reality of his existential impasse, and open himself to the possibility of finding resonances with corresponding higher level, more encompassing constellations of ideas. Then, "with a little bit of luck" as the song goes, from the void or from the heavens and by means of logical induction, emerge the higher, redeeming ideas as an explosion into authenticity. This translation from fragmented, conflicted existence in the microcosm to integrated, blissful existence on the level of macrocosmic encompassing, general, universal ideas, goes by many names - most typically Platonic collection or anamnesis (recollection) of primordial ideas. Once the pure, universal ideas have emerged, then they are projected upon key figures of the particular cultural tradition which is the context for that Gestalt session. If the context is Jewish, then the most general ideas (those of the dialectic itself) may be projected onto Abraham (the thesis, awareness), Isaac (the antithesis, conflict) and Jacob (the synthesis, authentic action). Other Jewish trinities are available, such as Chochmah/Binah/Keter, or Metatron/Avir/Shekhinah. Christians prefer the persons of the trinity and Paracelsus prefers his three basic principles of alchemy: sulphur (the thesis, what is combustible), salt (the antithesis, what is solid), and mercury (the synthesis, what is fluid or volatile and can undergo translation).
FW: Kabbalah labels pilgrims who undergo this descent to the heart in search of pure, redemptive ideas as "those who descend in the chariot" (Hebrew: "yorday ha- merkavah") Maimonides, writing 200 years or so before the Kabbalah became a major cultural force in Judaism, prefered to focus on preparation for the prophetic function when he addressed man's participation in the concrete dialectic or biological clock. But regardless of which set of metaphors is invoked by a particular philosopher, theologian, therapist or alchemist, the "process" underlying concrete, here and now dialectical thinking remains the same, and it is perhaps Gestalt dreamwork which is the most clearly accessible, paradigm case of this process. The notion of man operating in the image of G-d refers to concrete dialectical experience in which the macrocosm of possible, ideal experience shines through the microcosmic dead shell of our usual experience. Man's hope is that pure ideas will illuminate dead form into live form. Religiously inspired people express this hope by saying that G-d creates the world anew at each moment by emanating His light into the darkness of the world.
VAST POSSIBILITIES, INFINITE LIGHT
DEDUCTION ↓ Y ← 0
X / -X ↑ INDUCTION
DEAD FORM ILLUMINATED INTO LIVE FORM
WB: The nucleus is best defined as the element that does not lend itself to translation.
While content and language form a certain unity in the original, like a fruit and its skin, the language of the translation envelopes its content like a royal robe with ample folds. For it signifies a more exalted language than its own and thus remains unsuited to its content, overpowering and alien. The task of the translator consists in finding that intended effect [Intention] upon the language into which he is translating which produces in it the echo of the original. Unlike a work of literature, translation does not find itself in the center of the language forest but on the outside facing the wooded ridge; it calls into it without entering, aiming at that single spot where the echo is able to give, in its own language, the reverberation of the work in the alien one.
FW: When we read of "a royal robe with ample folds" and "the echo of the original" immediately we suspect Gnostic sources. The Hymn of the Pearl is quite popular among those who turn to Gnosticsm for inspiration. Walter Benjamin is no exception. (See Hans Jonas' "The Gnostic Religion" for a succinct rendition of the story.) The myth is simple, but its implications are profound. Once upon a time, it is said, the heavenly Father and Mother decided to dispatch the Prince to go forth into the world in search of a Pearl. The Prince leaves behind his heavenly garment and his twin brother and sets off on his way. Once there the Prince forgets his mission, until a message from on high reminds him to complete it. He does so and returns home, where he reclaims his royal garment, merges with his twin brother and joyously appears before his Father and Mother. End of the Hymn of the Pearl - simplified version. Now, the twin brother who does nothing at all in the story is actually the key to decoding it, since he is a Gnostic version of Aristotle's final cause immanent in the world. Says Aristotle, the final cause, which is actuality, is prior to potentiality. Or in Gestalt terms, the "coming solution" with which the protagonist needs to identify is prior to the mere potentiality of the system of rigid games and ego defenses in which the Prince is stuck at the outset. Likewise, the Prince leaves a copy of his "nucleus", center, true actual being, final cause behind in the heavens, and he descends into the mire of a world full of archons or dybbuks which are organized as a totalitarian system by the demiurge. Around his pneumatic nucleus, the Prince dons a human ego instead of his regal garment of pure Platonic ideas and he sells himself out to the system. But finally he hears the call from on high. He then identifies with the coming solution and finds his way back home by doing a lot of Gestalt dreamwork, until the Double bursts through the Prince's ego character armor and rejoins the Prince's pneumatic soul.
FW: Concerning the art of translation, the original text is the Prince lost in the world. The nucleus of that text that does not need translation is the pure pneumatic soul of the Prince which is one with his transcendent Double. The pneumatic soul of the original author (the content of the original text) and the expression (skin) of the original text form a tolerable unity in the original, but nothing like the explosion into authenticity that that pneumatic soul would experience if it would rejoin its royal garment of pure Platonic ideas on the level of universal man. For then as Metatron (universal man), merged with the Ether (the perfected contact boundary), the pneumatic soul would embody the Shekhinah, the Divine immanence. Ditto for an analogous process using Christian or alchemical symbols to code the underlying dialectical logic.
FW: What is the role of the translator in the Gnostic myth? The translator, as messenger sent by the Father, calls from outside the terrestrial system (the forest), and seeks the hidden soul of the original text - the soul its author put there is the first place. The hidden soul, the Gnostic pneuma, is the lost soul of the Prince buried in the quagmire or junk collage of the world. The translator struggles to release the pneuma by working his way through the text and identifying with the heavenly Double or pure language. By himself undergoing the concrete dialectic, as an image of the true G-d, the translator extracts pure ideas from the dross of the world - the X/-X extremes - and sends them forth to illuminate the original text, thereby elevating it to the level of a true translation.
FW: And here is the Gestalt parallel. The protagonist does dreamwork on the dream using awareness, identification with images and the rhythm of contact and withdrawal. Thereby he sets the biological clock in motion dialectically. This is his alchemical distillation apparatus, and from the dross of the X/-X impasses he extracts pure Platonic ideas, which then move the original statement of the dream through the dreamwork process and towards higher ideas in the macrocosm. The protagonist succeeds in negating the original dream statement, burning it up in alchemical fire, and from the husks he creates a series of new texts, each one more pure and exalted than the last version, till finally the text is freed all terrestrial entanglements and as the existential message of the dream the text and the translator rejoin the Double on high. Amen. No longer is there an echo, since now the Word and its echo on high are one. The Nam(ing) of G-d and G-d Himself on high are One at this moment of messianic redemption. This is the hope expressed at the end of most Jewish religious services: "and on that day the Lord shall be One and His Name One". This is the ultimate translation.