Discovering Franz Rosenzweig

Tomorrow begins The Star of Redemption reading group at ICS. When Dean first suggested Franz Rosenzweig’s book, I was completely unfamiliar withP00417 the name. The short foreword to The Star by the translator, who was a student of Rosenzweig’s, presents the intriguing life story of this wonderful thinker.

Franz Rosenzweig was born December 25, 1886 in Cassel, Germany, as the only son of a well-to-do, assimilated Jewish family. It was during the war and his assignment to an anti-aircraft gun unit at the Balkan front, that Rosenzweig started to write The Star of Redemption, on army post cards (umm I’m struggling to write an MA thesis in the quiet of a library on a Macbook Pro, I can’t imagine attempting such a feat in the middle of a war using post cards and pencils).

Rosenzweig is another shining light in what seems to be an endless procession of German scholars clustered around the time of the World Wars. Reading his biography and introduction, which is really an autobiography of his philosophical thought, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Hannah Arendt, another Jewish German thinker whose life’s passion was sparked by the horrors of war, this time World War II.

Both Arendt and Rosenzweig are self described anti-philosophers, both were deeply influenced by Hegel, Kierkegaard, and Nietzsche and it strikes me as highly possible that the philosophical narrative moving through these three thinkers led Arendt and Rosenzweig to their anti-philosophical positions. Further, it is interesting that both appreciate the Heideggerian ontological emphasis on being-towards-death and contrast this with a proclamation of life, a life dependant on the uniqueness of each individual. For both thinkers humanity’s multiplicity, created by our uniqueness, results from the miracle of birth and the existential question—“who and what are you?”

Unlike Arendt who considers herself a political theorist, Rosenzweig has a more theological focus. His project in The Star of Redemption and elsewhere is to attempt to think about the connection between philosophy and theology. On this point, the translator’s foreword reads, “the new theologian envisaged by [Rosenzweig] will have to be a philosopher ‘for the sake of his own honesty.’ The two disciplines, theology and philosophy, are to be dependent on each other. ‘God did not, after all create religion; he created the world.’ The fact that people speak to each and hear one the other points to ‘revelation’” (xv).

The themes dealt with in the work of both Arendt and Rosenzweig continually pull me towards ICS and academics. Yet, Rosenzweig challenges this tendency calling us all out the academy’s oppressive shadow: “I [Rosenzweig] am anxious to answer the scholar qua man but not the representative of a certain discipline, that insatiable, ever-inquisitive phantom which like a vampire drains him whom it possesses of his humanity. I hate that phantom as I do all phantoms. Its questions are meaningless to me. On the other hand, the questions asked by human beings have become increasingly important to me.” Knowledge was to be the service of

rosenweig_franz-20021205.2To conclude I’ll leave you with an awesome quote by Rosenzweig:

“Man is only too well aware that he is condemned to death, but not to suicide. Yet this philosophical recommendation can truthfully recommend only suicide, not the fated death of all. Suicide is not the natural form of death but plainly the one counter to nature. The gruesome capacity for suicide distinguishes man from all beings, both known and unknown to us. It is the veritable criterion of this disengagement from all that is natural. It is presumably necessary for man to disengage once in his life. Life Faust, he must for once have felt himself in his fearful poverty, loneliness, and dissociation from all the world, have stood a whole night face to face with the Nought. But the earth claims him again. He may not drain the dark potion in that night. A way out of the bottleneck of the Nought has been determined for him, another way than this precipitate fall into the yawning abyss. Man is not to throw off the fear of the earthly; he is to remain in the fear of death—but he is to remain” (The Star of Redemption, 4).

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