“This shall be the reward when you hearken to these ordinances, and you observe and perform them; Hashem, your G-d, will safeguard for you the covenant and the kindness that He swore to your forefathers” Parshat Ekev; Deuteronomy 7:12
These are the words of Moses.
Todays is 21 Av 5772 by Hebrew calendar and Kabbalists are in the seven weeks long period of meticulous preparation for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.
I’ve been cleaning my place and planning the meals for Shabbat – the Day of Rest, which is the main measurement of my inner, psychological time.
Outside – it’s August10th, Montenegro is affected by tropical heat. Last night our national handball team secured the first medal by beating Spain at the Olympics, which is, naturally, a source of great pride.
August is the month of unbearable slowness of being in these parts, especially in the capital; the government slows its activities during this time, schools are still in vacation and if you stroll in the city’s center around noon on weekends – you might think you are in a ghost city, often there’s literally no one around.
I can’t stand the heat – and even less so the crowded beaches – so i am spending time in the freshness of my place and, as usually, in my own world, living by my own time.
Those two worlds of mine rarely intersect, except in my writing – other than that these two realities exist in two parallel dimensions.
Sometimes i get stuck between the two – between these realities of two different calendars, inhabited respectively by people who don’t speak a mutual language.
On times like that i travel, usually to Moscow.
In October i need to pass the exam in methodics and prior to that to write a paper for the admission; as a topic i choose the development of so-called Secondary Linguistic Personality which presumably comes of age as we study foreign languages.
It’s an utmost intriguing concept of intercultural transformation, which so far has not been researched extensively.
It’s been said that “to speak another language is to lead a parallel life” (Barbara Wilson), but these shifts in consciousness can be so profound that we could realistically speak of different personalities living those parallel lives.
You see, Russia has everything of its own, in the same way as China does - the realities of major cultures are indeed separate realities.
It’s not only down to language, for that is the easiest part – it’s the whole system of cultural references which natives of given language use to communicate and develop their respective discourses.
B. Wilson in ‘Trouble in Transylvania’ described it like this:
When I speak Spanish…I find my facial muscles set in a different pattern, and new, yet familiar gestures taking over my hands. I find myself shrugging and tossing my head back, pulling down the corners of my mouth and lifting my eyebrows…. I speak more rapidly and fluidly…. It’s the moment when you…allow the other language to possess you, to pass through you, to transform you… To speak another language is to lead a parallel life, the better you speak any language, the more fully you live in another culture.
It’s only during last couple of decades that via internet these cultures started to interact, but still, the world is quite divided and cross-cultural understanding far from flowing.
According to Leon Festinger’s Theory of Cognitive Dissonance, which i am reviewing for the exam, an individual placed in alien to them setting experiences the so-called cognitive dissonance – “an unpleasant state of arousal created when a person becomes aware of inconsistency among his or her attitudes and behavior.”
The dreaded contradiction between self-identification (avowal) and the way person is identified by others (ascription)* is one of the major reasons for a cultural shock, caused by communication problems.
This dissonance motivates the person to modify their attitudes and behavior so to re-establish the lost consistency – which is - to adapt with time to a new cultural environment via discovering the forms and ways of self-expression by means of a new verbal and cultural code.
My first year in Moscow i shared a teeny flat with a postgrad student from China, thanks to her and to my very modest knowledge of Mandarin i got involved into yet another magical reality with its own social networks and just about everything else.
Certain versatility is needed so to shapeshift from one of these realities to another, and versatility itself can often get quite confusing.
Remember the case of Woody Allen’s human chameleon Leonard Zelig , who could mimic the facial and vocal characteristics of whomever he happened to be around at the moment? Something like that.
But mostly it’s fun – perpetual shapeshifting enables one to confuse their surroundings which ever demand pragmatism and thus spend prolonged times in no man’s land, acquiring “useless knowledge”.
For abstract knowledge – such as philosophy – in the rushing 21st century is widely considered useless, but is it so?
In 1939 an American expert in methodics, Abraham Flexner, wrote: We hear it said with tiresome iteration that ours is a materialistic age, the main concern of which should be the wider distribution of material goods and worldly opportunities. The justified outcry of those who through no fault of their own are deprived of opportunity and a fair share of worldly goods therefore diverts an increasing number of students from the studies which their fathers pursued to the equally important and no less urgent study of social, economic, and governmental problems. I have no quarrel with this tendency. The world in which we live is the only world about which our senses can testify. Unless it is made a better world, a fairer world, millions will continue to go to their graves silent, saddened, and embittered. I have myself spent many years pleading that our schools should become more acutely aware of the world in which their pupils and students are destined to pass their lives. Now I sometimes wonder whether that current has not become too strong and whether there would be sufficient opportunity for a full life if the world were emptied of some of the useless things that give it spiritual significance; in other words, whether our conception of what is useful may not have become too narrow to be adequate to the roaming and capricious possibilities of the human spirit.
Fast forward to 2012 and the economical depression in which we are living – most didn’t get any smarter; it’s the perpetual obsession with doing - and if possible – doing something quite trivial, preferably buying or selling, that’s sadly still viewed as desirable occupation; never mind that the result of this idiocy is the backlash of the global financial crises.
So, i am really looking forward to lighting the Shabbat candles tonight and being officially exempt from all the other realities – except my own, which i live in no man’s land, spending the time in acquiring the “useless knowledge” of Kabbalah, which has been sustaining the Judeo-Christian tradition since its very dawn… as “useless” as such knowledge gets.
*Nota Bene: The contradiction between self-identification (avowal) and the way person is identified by others (ascription) in Tarot is denoted by positions 7&8 of the Celtic Cross spread, while the so-called objective truth, given that it exists, is usually found midway between the two: http://www.psychic-revelation.com/reference/q_t/tarot/tarot_spreads/celtic_cross.html
Zohar study Ekev, Live Kabbalah http://www.livekabbalah.org/index.php/home/weekly-zohar/deuteronomy-devarim/ekev/
The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge (Brain pickings): http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2012/07/27/the-usefulness-of-useless-knowledge/