Tragically Jewish

Working in my wiki this morning, I found myself tagging this passage from Martin Buber with the theme “tragedy“:

If a man were only guilty toward himself, in order to satisfy the demanding summons that meets him at the height of conscience, he would only need to take this one road from the gate of self-illumination, that of persevering. But a man is always guilty toward other beings as well, toward the world, toward the being that exists over against him. From self-illumination he must, in order to do justice to the summons, take not one road but two roads, of which the second is that of reconciliation. By reconciliation is understood here that action from the height of conscience that corresponds on the plane of the law to the customary act of reparation. In the realm of existential guilt one cannot, of course, ‘make reparation’ in the strict sense — as if the guilt with its consequences could thereby be recalled, as it were. Reconciliation means here, first of all, that I approach the man toward whom I am guilty in the light of my self-illumination (in so far as I can still reach him on earth) acknowledge to his face my existential guilt and help him, in so far as possible, to overcome the consequences of my guilty action. But such a deed can be valid here only as reconciliation if it is done not out of a premeditated resolution, but in the unarbitrary working of the existence I have achieved. And this can happen, naturally, only out of the core of a transformed relationship to the world, a new service to the world with the renewed forces of the renewed man.

This is not the place to speak of the events in the sphere of faith that correspond to the events in the sphere of the high conscience that we have just discussed. For the sincere man of faith, the two spheres are so referred to each other in the practice of his life, and most especially when he has gone through existential guilt, that he cannot entrust himself exclusively to either of them. Both, the human faith not less than the human conscience, can err and err again. And knowing about this their erring, both — conscience not less than faith — must place themselves in the hands of grace. It is not for me to speak in general terms of the inner reality of him who refuses to believe in a transcendent being with whom he can communicate. I have only this to report: that I have met many men in the course of my life who have told me how, acting from the high conscience as men who had become guilty, they experienced themselves as seized by a higher power. These men grew into an existential state to which the name of rebirth is due.

Here is a tragic synthesis that cancels both Pharisaic/fundamentalist dogmatism and antinomianism.


As an experiment, I’ve tried reading three quotes from Nietzsche as if they agree with Buber’s view on guilt (setting aside the question of whether Nietzsche’s quotes on Jesus even agree with one another), to see what insights arise:

1.) From Birth of Tragedy:

It is an unimpeachable tradition that in its earliest form Greek tragedy records only the sufferings of Dionysus, and that he was the only actor. But it may be claimed with equal justice that, up to Euripides, Dionysus remains the sole dramatic protagonist and that all the famous characters of the Greek stage, Prometheus, Oedipus, etc., are only masks of that original hero. The fact that a god hides behind all these masks accounts for the much-admired “ideal” character of those celebrated figures. … If we wished to use Plato’s terminology we might speak of the tragic characters of the Greek stage somewhat as follows: the one true Dionysus appears in a multiplicity of characters, in the mask of warrior hero, and enmeshed in the web of individual will. The god ascends the stage in the likeness of a striving and suffering individual. That he can appear at all with this clarity and precision is due to dream interpreter Apollo, who projects before the chorus its Dionysian condition in this analogical figure. Yet in truth that hero is the suffering Dionysus of the mysteries.

2) From Thus Spoke Zarathustra:

[Jesus] died too early; he himself would have recanted his teaching, had he reached my age. Noble enough was he to recant. But he was not yet mature. Immature is the love of the youth, and immature his hatred of man and earth. His mind and the wings of his spirit are still tied down and heavy. But in the man there is more of the child than in the youth, and less melancholy: he knows better how to die and to live. Free to die and free in death, able to say a holy No when the time for Yes has passed; thus he knows how to die and to live.

3) From The Antichrist:

Until [the crucifixion] this warlike, this No-saying, No-doing trait had been lacking in [Jesus’s] image; even more, he had been its opposite. Evidently the small community did not understand the main point, the exemplary character of this kind of death, the freedom, the superiority over any feeling of ressentiment: — a token of how little they understood him altogether! After all, Jesus could not intend anything with his death except to give publicly the strongest exhibition, the proof of his doctrine … But his disciples were far from forgiving this death — which would have been evangelic in the highest sense; or even from offering themselves for a like death in gentle and lovely repose of the heart … Precisely the most unevangelical feeling, revenge, came to the fore again.


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