Monday, December 22, 2008

the science of the combination of letters (or alphabet mysticism)

wallace berman 1967

wallace berman 1969-70

wallace berman 1974

"perhaps the most inventive and imaginative explorer of alphabet mysticism was Abraham ben Samuel Abulafia (1240-1291), a spanish kabbalist who developed a concept of the use of the hebrew alphabet as an instrument of revelation. he called it hokmath he-tseruf ("science of the combination of letters").

abulafia wrote,"the kabbalistic tradition is divisible into two parts... the first occupied with knowledge of the deity, obtained by means of the doctrine oft he sefirot ("eminations," the ten spheres of the tree of life), as propounded by the sefer yetzirah... the second and more important part strives to know god by means of the twenty-two letters of the alphabet, from which together with the vowel points and accents, those names are combined, elevating kabbalists to a degree of prophesy, drawing out their spirit, and causing it to be united with god to become one with the deity.

abulafia believed that the mystery based at the spine of all things is the letter. every letter a sign, a symbol. the shadows of creation. pen in hand takes up ink and turns it into semen. the mind traces forms that language reveals, the letters clothe the invisible. every letter, within and without, imprints form, souls, minds, bodies, ghosts. into the letter into the word. contained, gathered up. each from each. one from the other.

divine language, the very atoms of reality. according to abulafia, "all things exist only by virtue of their participation in the great name of god." abulafia compared it to music. it is said the the systematic meditational practices he taught produced a sensation closely related to experiencing musical harmonies. hokmath he-tseruf, a music of pure thought beyond thought where the alphabet takes the place of the musical scale".

images and text from wallace berman retrospective, the fellows of contemporaty art, 1978. berman images: both untitled verifax collages, color 1967, b&w 1974. sculpture: topanga seed, 1969-70. text from the spectacular catalog essay by david meltzer. on the long list of things i would love to own, one of berman's verifax collages of hands and radios is high on the list!

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2 Comments:

Anonymous Mathieu said...

fantastic essay. beautiful text. berman has always been an absolute fav of mine. thanks for the post.

9:56 AM  
Blogger ArtSparker said...

The Kabbalah is a rich trove.

I linked to your post of Nov. 19 just now, it appears I have a work by the same artist.

2:32 PM  

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