8th November 2022
3 minutes read
Did Ric Ocasek Go to Heaven?
8th November 2022
3 minutes read
In March, five classical musicians—having entered a subway station in Kharkiv—set up their instruments and began playing. Their audience had gathered to escape the Russian bombardments. The event became known as the “concert between explosions.”
Over a century earlier, a Jewish bookseller moved his family to a residence near to where the musicians would gather. The move was not surprising: the end of the Russian Empire and its censorship and the establishment of the Ukrainian state led to a cultural and literary renaissance. Its center was Kharkiv.
The bookseller had three sons.
The eldest, Emanuel, received a secular education in Kharkiv and, in 1923, commenced his study of philosophy at the University of Strasbourg. In the academic year 1928–29, he attended the seminars of Martin Heidegger and Edmund Husserl at the University of Freiburg.
For Emanuel Levinas, there was no returning to Kharkiv. By the end of the 1920s, the Soviet government was arresting and executing Ukrainian intellectuals.
During the Second World War, Levinas served in the French officer corps. Captured by the Germans, he was held in a prisoner-of-war camp. He survived the War but the rest of his family did not. After the War, he taught philosophy and ethics in Paris.
Levinas revived and ultimately expanded upon the tradition of negative theology—a way of thinking about God which continues to define my faith.
Negative theology holds that to speak about God is pointless and, worse, takes us in the wrong direction. It follows from this that if anything is going to be expressed regarding the divine, it must be stated in a manner which emphasizes our ignorance of the Divine.
Once we clear our minds of misleading, self-referential, and quotidian concepts of God, we can begin the ascent to a mystical experience of God.
A “knowledge beyond knowledge.”
Though having its origins in Greek antiquity, negative theology reached its most important expression in the late-5th and early-6th centuries in the writings of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite.
“…as we plunge into darkness which is beyond intellect, we shall find ourselves not simply running short of words but actually speechless and unknowing. The more we climb, the more language falters, and when we have moved to the top of our ascent, language will turn silent completely, since we will be near to One which is indescribable.” [The Mystical Theology]
Though the author of this passage identified himself as “Dionysius”—suggesting that he was Dionysius the Areopagite (the first-century Athenian convert of Paul the Apostle)—that authorship has been rejected, and the author is now referred to as “Pseudo-Dionysius,” with some believing him to be Damascius, the last scholar of the Neoplatonic Academy of Athens.
According to Levinas, we gain our first appreciation of the incomprehensible transcendence of God when we encounter other individuals, who hold a trace of this transcendence. This encounter, according to Levinas, is the foundation for ethics
Several years ago, a friend of my wife’s, Paulina, called to invite us to join her family in Greece. My wife and Paulina knew each other from Paris, where they modeled. Years later they lived around the corner from each other in New York, my wife as a painter and sculptor, and Paulina an activist.
Paulina’s husband was Ric Ocasek.
There is no better example of Levinas’ observation that humans are exposed to the ineffable God through their contact with others than my experience of Ric Ocasek.
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Michael RipsMore about the author