I am reading Micheal Fishbane’s Sacred Attunement.
The other day I mentioned that the word “attunement” seems to have some link to Martin Heidegger. There are Christian theologians that I respect (Karl Rahner for one) who use Heidegger. I understand that Heidegger’s analysis of subjective time has become indispensable for philosophy. Still, Heidegger’s support of National Socialism calls his judgment into question. And I was particularly concerned about the use of Heidegger in a Jewish theology.
I am less concerned now, having read a few chapters of Fishbane. His roots are in German philosophy. But I think the name that would be most important as background for Fishbane is that of Hermann Cohen. Cohen was a nineteenth century professor at Marburg. He was the first Jew to hold a professorship in Germany. He launched a kind of neo-Kantianism called the Marburg School. I have a little familiarity with him through the work of his student, Ernst Cassirer.
I recognize from Cassirer the points that Fishbane makes about how the chaotic sensations of light, sound, hardness, softness, hunger and so on get turned into order through the symbolic system of language.
The point for Fishbane is that paying attention to the natural world that presents itself to us with reflection, thoughtfulness, and wonder is part of our care for ourselves. It is natural.
Certain events pull us out of our tendency to see the world as ordinary and orderly. Natural events like floods and earthquakes are examples. Life cycle events that impinge on routine like births and deaths are also such charged moments. Communal experiences of evil–I believe he is thinking of the Holocaust–are also in this category. What these moments do is challenge us and awaken us to “primordial forces underlying experience”.
Reflection on these moments has produced cultural classics like the great myths. He uses the Babylonian creation story and the Iliad as examples. They are prefigurations of theology.
He then points the artistic or aesthetic imagination as engaging in this same work of pulling back the veil on ordinary life to reveal the depths that underlie it.
About painting he says:
“The painter reformulates something of the great vastness of existence by descending into its inchoate possibilities; and in the making of images and emblems the artist responds to the vitality of Being. . . . And when fortunate, at such moments we may also be given to perceive something more–a trace of the elemental inhering in things, in forms of matter before matter took form.”
When he talks about music he reflects on the difference between music and ordinary sound. Music is non-discursive. It make a kind of sense that transcends words. And it trains us to “a patient attunement to the hearable” I think he means that there is a reality in the world that we often pay no attention to, but music challenges us to listen for “something more”.
Then he talks about poetry. We hear the flow of many words all the time. We may tune them out. But poetry jars us with the potential of language to reveal. It transports us into a zone where language does not just convey information, but is a creative event itself.
Thus the classic myths prefigure theology, but so do creative acts of painting, music, and poetry. They give testimony to the deeper realities of life that we are not always attuned to.
But they only prefigure theology. They are not theology. So Fishbane has arrived at the point where he can move on to theology itself.