“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Rot/Salvation/Happiness

I came across the story of Jacob Frank in Czeslow Milosz’s History of Polish Literature. I was looking up Jan Potocki (whose Turkish valet, Ibrahim, is, for some reason, given the name Osman by Milosz – out of such small deviations in the constant rain of microscopic facts come our free will and our myths).

Milosz wrote that Frank came from a family of Sabbateans – Jews who followed the heretical beliefs of the Sabbatai Zevi. His family fled to Turkey, which is where he had a vision of Poland as the promised land. “Upon his return there, he was greeted enthusiastically, mostly by poor folks opposing the rabbis, but also by some Jewish notables. Frank, as a new messiah, proclaimed the end of Jewish law and, as a matter of fact, of all law – “I have come to abolish all laws and religions in order to bring life to the world.” The ascent to the kingdom of freedom and wealth was to be accomplished by a descent into abomination and perversion. A Manichean tradition, so strong in the Balkans, is clearly perceivable in Frank’s teachings. Evil was to be overcome by doing evil, sin by sinning. The Frankists, like the Hasidim, practiced ecstatic dancing and singing accompanied by the clapping of hands, but also held orgiastic rituals whereby men and women undressed “to see truth in its nakedness” and copulated indiscriminately – while only the leader stood apart. Frank interpreted the idea of the mystic trinity in the cabbala as a union of the Holy Primeval (attika kadisha); the Holy King (Malka kadisha, who was the messiah (Frank himself); and the Primeval Mother (Matronita elyona), who was none other than Frank’s daughter, Eve.”

Frank’s followers were brought up before the Polish authorities by the orthodox rabbis, but turned the tables by “converting” – baptism being the lowest and most abasing thing one could do. Apparently the Christians themselves, after gloating about the conversions, began to suspect that Frank was not what he seemed, and ‘imprisoned’ him for thirteen years in a monastery, Czestochowa, where he was – oh how loose the world can become – inexplicably given leaway to practice his own rituals. His followers slowly filled up the region, and he was well supplied with money. Eventually, he ‘migrated to Offenbach in Germany, where, as “Count Frank”, he was surrounded by a mounted bodyguard in fanciful uniforms and used to drive in a princely coach. The French Revolution seemed to be an accomplishment of Frank’s prophecies, and many Frankists joined the Jacobins (among them, the heir apparent and nephew of Frank, known in Vienna under the name of Frank Thomas Edler von Schoenfeldt, and his brother Emanuel), only to be beheaded on the guillotine in 1794 along with Danton.”

Milosz’s source for this information is evidently Gershom Scholem, Benjamin’s friend, whose essay about Frank, Redemption through Sin, was, according to the famous Italian historian Arnaldo Momigliano, “perhaps one of his greatest essays”. Steven Wasserstrom makes the case for a parallel with Pierre Klossowski’s essay on Sade, “The Marquis de Sade and the French Revolution”, given in 1939 to the College of Sociology. The connecting link here is Klossowski and Scholem’s mutual friend, Walter Benjamin. Klossowski had this to say about Sade’s notion of evil: ‘the evil must, therefore, erupt once and for all; the bad seed has to flourish so the mind can tear it out and consume it. In a word, evil must be made to prevail once and for all in the world so that it will destroy itself and so Sade’s mind can find peace.” [quoted, Wasserstrom, 1999:219]
This is Scholem’s summary of Frankism:

“. . . just as a grain of wheat must rot in the earth before it can sprout, so the deeds of the
“believers” must be truly “rotten” before they can germinate the redemption. This
metaphor, which appears to have been extremely popular, conveys the whole of sectarian
Sabbatian psychology in a nutshell: in the period of transition, while the redemption is still in
a state of concealment, the Torah in its explicit form must be denied, for only thus can it too
become “concealed” and ultimately renewed.”

One might wonder why Milosz would even include a mention of the Frankists in a history of Polish literature. He was no doubt influenced by Mickiewicz, who mentioned the Frankists indirectly in his lectures on Poland before the College de France in the 1840s. After discussing the political mystic and mathematician, Wronski, who proclaimed the religious mission of Napoleon, Mickiewicz adds:

I would draw your attention to the fact that during this time, in Poland, there were numerous Israelite sects, half Christian and half Jewish, which were also messianic, and which believed to see in Napoleon a messiah or at least a precursor.” [Les Slaves, Mickiewicz 306]

According to Abraham Duker, ‘A correspondent from Warsaw in the Allgemeine Zeitung des Judentums in 1838 referred to Mickiewicz as a Frankist “belonging to our nation.” [Duker, 1963, 292]

To be continued

4 comments:

northanger said...

AQ 462 = ROT/SALVATION/HAPPINESS = HOW COULD YOU BE SO DR. EVIL = MARX AND THE NEW INDIVIDUAL (Ian Forbes, 1990; {211} Society is that condition where 'the action of men on one another' has been a mysterious and uncontrollable process. When individuals are no longer 'overawed and governed', society in the conventional sense ceases to exist. For this to occur, there has to be a radical change in the mode of production, and once more, this is a change that is not a natural one. It is not a natural working out of the contradictions inherent in the existing productive stage. All that is natural in the change process, for Marx, is AQ-941 THE MANIFESTATION OF CRISIS IN THE BOURGEOIS SYSTEM and the accompanying universalization of the conditions of existence for humankind. In effect, there is no available or ready-made agency of historical change, the mantle of which used to lie on class conflict. Such an occurrence is ruled out by Marx's insistence on universalization - humankind cannot struggle against itself. …{212} Individuals must bring about the appropriation of productive forces, and so bring about the end of capitalism, but they do so without such an aim specifically in mind. Instead, such action is under condition of the full development of the productive forces, and in the context of their own need to realize their powers as they have so far developed. Furthermore, the actions of individuals to bring about the end of natural society are also carried out on the basis of the needs of individuals to continue to develop their powers. Thus there is no appeal to any moral code or notion of abstract right, just the claim that the powers of individuals can be freed, and that those powers will seek to express themselves. The result of such action to achieve self-activity is communism, not as a society per se but as the transcendence of society, as the highest stage of development conceivable by Marx. 'Only at this stage does self-activity coincide with material life, which corresponds to the development of individuals into complete individuals and the casting-off of all natural limitations' ([German Ideology], p. 93); AQ-624 HISTORY AS A CONTINUOUS PROCESS {AQ-526}, AQ-649 UNIVERSALLY DEVELOPED INDIVIDUALS {p213}).

AQ 881 = MANIFESTATION OF CRISIS IN THE BOURGEOIS SYSTEM = SERFDOM AND HONOUR IN EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY GERMANY (David Martin Luebke) = THE RITUAL PROPER FOR THE INVOCATION OF AUGOEIDES (AQ-176 LIBER VIII).

AQ 1373 = IN WITNESS OF WHICH I INVOKE THE GREAT ANGEL HUA TO GIVE ME A PROOF OF HIS EXISTENCE = 3.1415926535 8979323846 2643383279 5028841971 6939937510 5820974944 5923078164 0628620899 8628034825 3421170679 8214808651 3282306647 0938446095 5058223172 5359408128 4811174502 8410270193 8521105559 6446229489 5493038196 4428810975 6659334461 2847564823 3786783165 2712019091 4564856692 3460348610 4543266482 1339360726 0249141273 724587 = COINCIDING WITH FUTURE EVENTS OR APPARENTLY UNKNOWABLE PRESENT REALITIES (AQ-164 VERIDICAL) = THE REAL CANON OF THE LOGIC OF CRISIS LIES IN IRREGULAR OR 'PARALOGISTIC' INFERENCES (Arianna Bove; A rule does not instruct on how it is to be applied to a specific case. There always is incommensurability between a norm and its concrete realisation. Virno claims that since regularity (or what is common to humankind) is the privileged place for innovation (and wit), the real canon of the logic of crisis lies in irregular or 'paralogistic' inferences. Enough of the phenomenology of crisis: it is time to investigate its logic; AQ-555 MOTTO DI SPIRITO PAOLO VIRNO)

AQ 2199 = YET BE THOU WAKE AND WARE, FOR THE GREAT ANGEL HUA IS ABOUT THEE, AND OVERSHADOWETH THEE, AND AT ANY MOMENT HE MAY COME UPON THEE UNAWARES (The Cry of the 4th Aethyr, Which is Called PAZ; AQ-70 PAZ) = RATHER THAN AN AGENCY OF CHANGE (USUALLY PRESUMED TO BE THE PROLETARIAT) IT CAN BE CONCLUDED THAT THERE ARE INSTEAD ONLY AGENTS OF CHANGE (AQ-462 MARX AND THE NEW INDIVIDUAL {p212}).

AQ 526 = THE ACTION OF MEN ON ONE ANOTHER = BASIC INPUT/OUTPUT SYSTEM = EMANATING FROM "THE FORM ITSELF" (AQ-400 MARX'S HUMANISM TODAY) = HOW COULD YOU BE SO HEARTLESS? = MARX'S CRITIQUE OF CAPITALISM.

AQ 730 = MARX'S GRUNDRISSE AND THE "POST-MODERN" ERA (Murray Kane; In what follows, I want to focus on a little-noted emphasis that recurs throughout the Grundrisse, on the way in which the self-expansion of capital by relative surplus value enriches the subjective basis for the transition to socialism. This is an emphasis which is largely suppressed in Marx’s polemical and strategic writings5 — the “AQ-537 CIVILISING INFLUENCE OF CAPITAL” and the growing cultural wealth of the working class; AQ-649 UNIVERSALLY DEVELOPED INDIVIDUALS) = A THOROUGHGOING NATURALISM OR HUMANISM (In a word, Capital is the culmination of the 25 years of labor that began when Marx, in 1843, first broke with bourgeois society and melded what he considered its highest achievements in thought - English political economy, French revolutionary doctrine, Hegelian philosophy - into a theory of liberation, a new philosophy of human activity which he called "a thoroughgoing Naturalism or Humanism"; AQ-338 RAYA DUNAYEVSKAYA, AQ-400 MARX'S HUMANISM TODAY) = FREE TRADE MAY HAVE FINISHED OFF NEANDERTHALS (AQ-392 COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGE).

AQ 537 = CIVILISING INFLUENCE OF CAPITAL = WHEN TRUE SIMPLICITY IS GAIN'D (AQ-234 SIMPLE GIFTS).

Anonymous said...

Piety through moral abasement - wasn't that also Rasputin's schtick? And the Ranters - though they were earlier and really more about demonstrating their confidence that they were living in a post-millenial primal state of grace. And possibly just a grift on their part.

roger said...

Anonymous, I live a mere hundred miles from the last stand of the sinful messiah outside Waco. Redemption through excess has a subterranean career - from the benedetti to Swedenborg, from Sade to Bataille. My own fave, Blake, once said, The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom - which could have been knitted into a sampler for David Kouresh!

Anonymous said...

"The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom" And where do they say that?

Chuckie K