Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Leon Wieseltier’s Tractatus

Leon Wieseltier has written his own Tractatus. At least that’s the unequivocal aphoristic style in which the first three paragraphs of his review of Ari Shavit’s My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel in The New York Times Book Review (“The State of Israel,” NYT, 11/21/13) read like. Here are some of his propositions: 1) “Israel’s problems are too often combined and promoted into a Problem, which has the effect of emptying the Jewish state of its actuality and consigning it to a historical provisionality” 2) “existence itself must never be regarded as an experiment” 3)“Israel is not a proposition…Its facticity is one of the great accomplishments of the Jews’ history.” If we think back on Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus his proposition 1 was “The world is all that is the case” and his last proposition number 7 reads, “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.”With respect to his first propostion, Wieseltier appears to be in complete agreement with Wittgenstein (the title of the review is incidentally a wonderful double-entendre). He creates a philosophical argument for a seemingly de facto state (unless one discountenances political realities in favor of biblical justifications for the piece of real estate we call Israel).Wieseltier, however, appears to be in disagreement with proposition 7, the most quoted and compelling of Wittgenstein’s statements. He is not silent about that which cannot be said. In fact, a lot of things can’t be said about any political entity and particularly one as young as Israel. The creation of both the Roman and Ottoman empires and modern nation states, like the birth and death of individuals, remains one of the great mysteries of human existence and something which great historians like Gibbon, Carlyle and Spengler have spent lifetimes trying to understand. 

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