Friday

The Art of Hermeneutics


The Kabbalists believed, as many Christians now do, in the divinity of the story of Genesis, in its deliberate writing by an infinite intelligence. The consequences of such an assumption are many. The careless dispatch of an ordinary text—for example, journalism’s ephemeral statements–allows for a considerable amount of chance. It communicates–postulates–a fact: it reports that yesterday’s always unusual assault took place on such-and-such a street, at such-and-such a corner, at such-and-such an hour of the morning; a formula which represents no one, which limits itself to indicating such-and-such a place about which news was supplied. In such indications, the length and sound of the paragraphs are necessarily accidental. The contrary occurs in poetry, whose usual law is the subjection of meaning to euphonic needs (or superstitions). What is accidental in them is not the sound, but the meaning. It is thus in the early Tennyson, in Verlaine, in Swinburne’s later works: dedicated only to the expression of general states by means of the rich adventures of their prosody. Let us consider a third writer: the intellectual. In his handling of prose (Valéry, De Quincey) or of verse, he has certainly not eliminated chance, but he has denied it as much as possible, and restricted its incalculable compliance. He remotely approximates the Lord, for Whom the vague concept of chance holds no meaning. The Lord, the perfected God of the theologians, Who sees all at once (uno intelligendi actu), not only all the events of this replete world but also those that would take place if even the most evanescent–or impossible–of them should change.

Let us imagine now this astral intelligence, dedicated to manifesting itself not in dynasties or annihilations or birds, but in written words. Let us also imagine, according to the pre-Augustinian theory of verbal inspiration, that God dictates, word by word, what he proposes to say. This premise (which was the one postulated by the Kabbalists) turns the Scriptures into an absolute text, where the collaboration of chance is calculated at zero. The conception alone of such a document is a greater wonder than those recorded in its pages. A book impervious to contingencies, a mechanism of infinite purposes, of infallible variations, of revelations lying in wait, of superimpositions of light.... How could one not study it to absurdity, to numerical excess, as did the Kabbalah?

Borges, “A Defense of the Kabbalah”

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