Dr. Andrew Shanks, Canon Theologian of Manchester's Anglican Cathedral, has just written a book about Gillian Rose, 'arguably the most original and significant recent philosopher of the Continental tradition in the English-speaking world'. Gillian - from a secular Jewish background - converted into the Anglican Church on her death-bed. She died of ovarian cancer in 1998, aged 48:
Gillian was an inspiration to the previous Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, and a friend of the present incumbent, Rowan Williams. In his book, Andrew discusses Gillian's view that one should live in 'brokenness' and in 'absolute shakenness', being open to a whole range of conversations, or aspiring to a wisdom which constitutes:
a supreme mastery in the art of holding a multitude of the most contrasting points of view, all at once, in one's head
Although neither Gillian nor Andrew mentions midrash, or the Talmudic concept of openness to many sides, as encapsulated by the dictum 'these and these are the words of the living God', this is what springs to mind in the wake of the above definition of openness:
Like Gillian herself at one time, Andrew lives in the heart of an Orthodox Jewish community, in Andrew's case that of Broughton Park in Greater Manchester. In fact, he is a neighbour and friend of ours. It is therefore perhaps apt to draw the conclusion that he may have been influenced by this environment and even some of our conversations when explaining Gillian in the context of the German philosopher, Heidegger: According to Gillian, Heidegger:
seems to give us Yahweh without Torah: the event [Ereignis] seems to inclue advent and redemption, presence and owning, but not the giving of the law on Mount Sinai, and its repeated disowning.
'Yahweh without Torah': Heidegger invokes the 'divine God' beyond all metaphysics, but has no real commitment to anything like the tough peace-negotiative work of halacha, the detailed legislative exegesis and development of what is said to have been initiated on Mount Sinai, within a living tradition of Sittlichkeit.
This positive approach to Torah and halacha (Jewish oral Law: the working out in practice of what is given us in Scripture) is the hub of the book. Andrew uses this imagery to condemn mere spirituality, past and present, as potentially leading to solipsism, totalitarianism or both.
The 'beautiful soul' who retreats from the world, and the 'hard-heart' who merely opposes are almost two sides of the same coin. What is needed is:
'the most patient readiness to abide in the brokenness of the 'broken middle'. The crying need, in short, is for a strategy capable of investing the pre-requisites of freedom with durable auctoritas. And this can only be accomplished by thinkers absolutely within the sort of community that can confer durable auctoritas - who are, however, forever patiently struggling to renegotiate the terms of their belonging, to that end.
I think that this means that community is important, including the religious community, but that the community must allow for those within it who are, as it were, maybe 'in it but not of it' - not completely 'of it', in any case. But that living in the proverbial cave, or becoming aggressively militant in one's beliefs are not the real answer and even constitute a form of escapism from the real work.
Although it cannot be said that Gillian reached that equilibrium within her own community, her work is awesome and deserves to be better known. As for Andrew himself (one of the most original thinkers from within the Anglican tradition), those present will never forget this really quiet man standing up for goodness and truth when (in 2006) he lambasted members of Synod, based in Manchester, for even considering voting to divest from companies in Israel, in the light - as he put it - of the Church's age-old antisemitism.
Against Innocence, published by SCM Press, with a Foreword by Giles Fraser, is difficult, but essential, reading, for anyone who longs to counter the present trends towards atheism, agnosticism, narcissistic spirituality, or sheer militancy, but isn't quite sure how to do it.
The image of Jacob wrestling with the angel springs to mind: