Lev Shestov Symposium. Fragments of the Afternoon Discussion

KUD Logos

Pavle Rak
I would like to underline one question which was touched in two contributions during this afternoon and that is: what is /the/ faith and what does the almighty God want from us? Sometimes I have the strong impression that Shestov and maybe God with him want too much from us and that this /it/ is something that almost nobody can accomplish. This sort of absolute faith – sometimes I have the impression that if we demand that from ourselves – that then we are in a helpless position.

Matjaž Črnivec
Well, in my opinion Shestov is a very radical thinker, who could be related to the New Testament in his understanding of faith. Let us remember Jesus’ words about moving the mountains with faith. We should take these words seriously. Obviously, there is a provocation, just like in Shestov. Jesus is provoking his disciples saying: If You have faith everything should be possible for you. I understand that this creative provocation touches not only the faith … If you take Jesus’ sermon on the mountain, we find there other provocations, which are impossible if you take them just like that. But I believe that there is something behind that tension or that provocation: something that revelation demands from us. I mean the fundamental demand of revelation is losing yourself. The faith starts when you loose yourself to the point of despair.

Gorazd Kocijančič
I agree with you, Mr. Črnivec. We have sayings like that you quoted also in New testament – but that only brings back Pavles question on another level. Those sayings were namely great problem for the exegesis from the its very beginning, from the time of the Church fathers. And it is quite understandable, since they were in contradiction with the actual experience of the believers. We are faced here with an eminently practical problem. Christians were in first centuries often in horrible situations, they were confronted with death, with persecutions, with diseases, with wars, with internal struggles. They prayed and nothing happened. And they knew that Christ was saying: You just pray to your Father and it will be given to you. They believed Christ, they prayed – and nothing happened. What was the point of that “Shestovian” experience? Only loosing yourself and waiting? Well, the more obvious solution of problem was perhaps “loosing my religion”. Christ is lying; unfulfilment of prayers is a proof that the faith in Christ is false. But the solution of true believers took the other course. Church fathers already insightfully interpreted abovementioned passages in the sense that they are not meant to be prayers or demands for material goods or practices. In wider context of Jesus’ preaching it is obvious that he is taking above all about spiritual realities. When you are really praying for impossible, when you’re enacting impossible, you are disclosed for spiritual reality. But when and if you are expecting a material things to happen – you are already on the wrong way. It was a kind of Christian response to that paradox – which is in my opinion justifiable move away from Shestovs radicalism …

Matjaž Črnivec
I don’t agree, Mr. Kocijančič. Radical provocation that we find in New Testament is more than exegetical accommodations of these very hard sayings. I think that the good thing about Shestov is that he has brought the very impossibility, unexplained, unsoftned meaning of these hard words back to the front. I think that he challenges us, that he puts us again in this position that we are naked before God.

Vid Snoj
In my opinion three is another problem in Shestov’s understanding of faith. It is not my intention to make thematic New Testament understanding of faith as far as it is a faith in impossible. I think that the problem is on the other side. This wish for /of/ the possible becomes problematic, becomes a problem, when it is a wish of/for something determined. If we put ourselves in the situation of Abraham, well and when Kierkegaard for example explains that Abraham had the faith not that anything (in particular) happens in that situation but that he gets his son back. I think that here the problem begins.

Federico Scodler
There is a contradiction in Shestov according to Jacques Maritain. He is critisizing Shestov concept of revelation and his demands of faith as a kind of revelation of the necessity of the slavery …

Pavel Kuznecov
Well, the passage you have mentioned is very, very short. So, I think we must look for other texts of Maritain on revelation and freedom, not just in that passage related to Shestov but to Maritain’s own conceptualisations, which should not be taken as pure gold.

Vid Snoj
Concerning Shesotws concept of freedom – I think that Shestov agreed with Nietzsche that all truth all reference?? truth are ?? by reason, and that beyond reason opens this horizon which is a different kind of truth or if I change the term: absolute freedom. I think that we could find a formulation in his magnum opus that before man has eaten from the tree of knowledge, that he lived in the state of absolute freedom.

Pavel Kuznecov
Absolute freedom? The point is just degree of freedom …

Nikolaj Ivanov
I would like to introduce here the question of jewishness of Shestovs thought. Take into the consideration contemporary Jewish philosophy, its styles of thought. One can find some basic similarity in approaches to philosophy, in basic attachment to text. In Derrida and in smaller degree in Levinas one finds a secular transposition of rabbinic way of thought, a kind of expressing yourself in expressing the truth that you realize through the text of others – just like in Shestov.

Gorazd Kocijančič
Surely, Mr. Ivanov, we should not forget that Jewish dimension – but also not understand it as a kind of pseudo-exegetical, eis-egetical ornament of Shestov’s texts. You can find in Shestov many, many positive insights in the texts that he is commenting upon . And – I would like to emphasise that – not only insights concerning his themes”, faith and reason etc., but often intuitions, which are almost separated form the text. I admire Shestov mostly as I master of detail, of miniatures, which are samohowet hidden and are not at all mentioned in broad overviews of his thought. I mean his – often very dispersed, even contradictory – intuitions, which are expressed in brilliant aphorisms and are not linked to the main stream of the argument. This is his personal transposition of the Jewish way of thinking: thought which is not united in some way of the system, of hierarchy, in logical argument. Shestov is an ideal author for anthologies. Perhaps some important of the problems of interpretation – an above all interpretation of his understanding of faith – arise form the fact that we are still reading Shestov like a writer of great philosophical story, of the Discourse with one main thesis. And it is understandable, because he himself often expresses himself in this way. But I think that nevertheless Shestov is essentially a writer of aphorisms. His reasoning, his long thread od argumentation is just the frame that brings together these small, profound maxims.

Pavel Kuznecov
I cannot agree. Of course, Shestov has some important “small” insights, but his famous claims are repeated time and again, each time in every book in every article. If he is writing about Abraham or about Luther or wahever — he presents his general idea. And that general idea – it comes from the Old Testament. That is his distinctive Jewishness.

Gorazd Kocijančič
Is it really so clear? Well, the aim of my short paper was just that: we should question our knowledge about Shestovs “general idea” and also about its distinctive old testament hue. . I don’t think it is all so clear what is basic meaning of famous basic dichotomy in Shestov. I suggest that a proper philosophical exegesis of Shestov should question exactly these basic questions of our reconstruction of his thought: what is the meaning of that “obvious” dichotomies and his “claims”? Is it really that what he is saying us, his self – styling – or is it perhaps something else? Well, we all know: to put that kind of questions is a proper task of interpretation. This author is presenting himself as this or that, but is this a truth or is this a kind of self presentation, which does hide/hides, is hiding/ something behind it? I believe that it is very important to stop understanding Shestov as someone he is presenting himself to be, but to ask what lies behind his text.

Pavel Kuznecov
In the morning when we were discussing about Husserl, we have already started to do this: when Marko Uršič said, that debatte on irrationalism is something passé, that it has nothing to do with modern contemporary philosophy – and triggered a hot debatee … I am persuaded that that move behind Shestovs text is even connected with basic problems of ontology today. Our reluctance to dare this move is significant. During his lifetime, people were telling Shestov: “Shestov , you are repeating yourself!” and he answered: “Yes I am repeating myself, but you should ask yourself: Why do I touch your nerves by doing that? All people are repeating themselves but they do not touch the nerve of others, I touch the nerve by repeating, because I tell something they do not want to hear. If someone tells two plus two make four or something like that, well, they say he is repeating it all the time, but it is OK, but if I say two plus two may be five and I repeat it time and again, they say: That is crazy, he is repeating himself …

Gorazd Kocijančič
Mr. Kuznecov, do you agree – to put it very briefly – that Shestov has discovered neuralgical point of western philosophy? I personally think that it is really a great discovery. Shestov was of course writing in the tradition of great Christian thinkers which somehow combine radical scepticism and absolute faith, thinkers like Augustine, Ockham, Pascal, Kierkegaard … But he was, in a way, discovering something which is totally strange, very new and completely odd: the radical fragiliy of the very idea of logical thought. We can of course pursue philosophy, we can develop beautiful systems – but doing this, do we have any guarantee, any warrant, any reason that there isn’t a kind of reality behind and above thought – utter unconcievable reality which puts all our dreams and our systems, all our wishful thinking into nothing, not just in time, or somehow but you know, he shows that philosophy is a very human work. He is not writing simply against logic or philosophy, he is just showing that perhaps it has nothing to do with reality. Thought itself cannot have one single reason that guarantees its contact, its touch with reality. Perhaps reality it is totally different, it could be wholly other … And that is not all. Shestov has also developed – well before his time a sense for absence of identity of the author – which is of course not unconnected with that first insight.. His authorial identity is somehow elusive. He said once: people are criticizing me for my ideas, but I don’t know if I will have the same ideas one year after, I don’t know if my ideas will be the same next year. So, he is not pretending that by writing something he will remain the always present subject of writing, somehow encoded in text …

Pavel Kuznecov
Yes, I agree. And before we finish this discussion about Shestov I would really like to add that I hope we would soon meet in some other symposium with the same will to mutually enrich one another with wealth of ideas as we did today and yesterday. I have the impression that this symposium was fascinating and thought provoking. Thank you very much.