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Ars Combinatoria (Sefer Yetzirah, Leibnitz Derrida, Culianu, Eco, Idel) – from Kabbalah to European culture

November 21, 2011

idelThe Romanian-Israeli scholar Moshe Idel (Hebrew University) gave a series of three lectures at Oxford last February on Ars Combinatoria, Gottfried Leibniz’s theory (based on his doctoral dissertation) on combining letters arbitrarily into words, and words arbitrarily together in combinatorially many combinations to achieve an alphabet of human thought to ultimately achieve characteristica universali, the universal pure language of science.

This type of thought was central to Abraham Abfulia’s project (which predated Leibniz) to find hidden names of God, and ultimately achieve ecstatic union with the Divine, through meditation on permutations of the letters.   Recently, Abfulia’s efforts at what we now call Ars Combinatoria has recently achieved wide attention through sources as varied as Umberto Eco’s bemused The Search for the Perfect Language to Myla Goldberg’s mystico-horror novel Bee Season (a book in which I identified with all four of the major characters.)

Alan Brill, whose blog post brought these lectures to my attention, speculates that these lectures are quite revelatory of Idel’s personal thought, and wonders “Can we reread the entire Idel project as disconnected from mysticism and see that it was originally language and magic (as well as esotericism and ecstatic techniques)?”

Idel’s lectures are difficult and somewhat strange (because Idel is, at least to some degree, a true believer in Ars Combinatoria as a method of generating knowledge) but may be of interest to those who are interested in the mainstreaming of magic and prophecy.

This is the second hat tip in two days that I owe to the remarkable Alan Brill (and this second one is really a double hat tip, since it incorporates a link from Alan’s post on the Museum Rietberg’s exhibit on comparative mysticism.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    November 21, 2011 2:25 am

    After reading the Sefer Yetsira in Hebrew and several translations, I became convicned that kabbala had a much wider influence on European thought. I can’t summarise it here but many of the translators from Hebrew to Latin, Pagninus and Montanus for example were Christian Kabbalists. Also Reuchlin. The very idea that the scholar should access the original language directly rather than using a translation as Aquinas did, has origins in beliefs about language in Kabbala.

  2. November 21, 2011 2:56 am

    Surely the idea of shunning translations goes further back than Kabbalah, the idea was already central in rabbinic thought.

    Did you read Peter Hayman’s critical edition of the Hebrew? I think that is by far the most interesting edition available.

  3. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    November 21, 2011 3:46 am

    Yes, I certainly read Haymans but I am not well tonight and I should not be writing.

  4. Zahra permalink
    July 29, 2018 12:22 am

    hello. i do like to listen to these lectures but the audio files are unavailable. i was hoping you could kindly send them to my email address. thanks a universe

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