THE ANNOTATED STAR
The Star of Redemption (Stern der Erlösung) is the philosophical-theological monograph of the German Jewish philosopher Franz Rosenzweig (1886-1929), otherwise most known for his collaborative German translation of the bible with Martin Buber. Being the final landmark of the tradition of German-Jewish thought, the Star is remarkable for its nuanced web of philosophical, religious, and literary allusions to both German and Jewish, ancient and modern sources.
This plethora of intertextual references invites and requires commentary, discussion, exploration and further learning, and provides fertile ground for scholarship, philology and interpretation. Yet many of these remain hidden to this day. To some of Rosenzweig’s contemporaries these allusions may have been more transparent, as they held the hybrid education in German philosophy and literature as well as thorough acquaintance with Jewish sources. Along with Rosenzweig, however, these readers were members of a dying world. In order to enter the philosophical-religious discourse of Rosenzweig and his contemporaries today, one needs an interpreter who will render explicit the wealth of allusions and reveal the required cultural sources.
WHY ROSENZWEIG, WHY STAR OF REDEMPTION?
Rosenzweig’s Star of Redemption occupies a unique and at the same time lachrymose spot in the history of German-Jewish cultural and intellectual history. It stands, as Amos Funkenstein has claimed in Perceptions of Jewish History at the end of German-Jewish history. Indeed, no less than Gershom Scholem writes in 1961 to Martin Buber on the occasion of the completion of a an undertaking that Buber had begun in 1924 with Rosenzweig: a translation of the bible from the original Hebrew into modern German.
“Now whether you consciously so intended it or not, your translation […] was a kind of Gastgeschenk which German Jewry gave to the German people, a symbolic act of gratitude upon departure.”
Yet, “seen historically”, adds Scholem, “it is no longer a Gastgeschenk of the Jews to the Germans but rather – and this is not easy for me to say this – the tombstone of a relationship that was extinguished in unspeakable horror.” To a certain extent, the same could be said about the entire life work of Franz Rosenzweig (1886-1929), perhaps the last German-Jewish philosopher whose work was self-understood as belonging both to a German and a Jewish tradition.
Along with the collaborative Bible translation and with his translations of Judah Halevi’s poems, Rosenzweig is most remembered for his philosophical-theological monograph The Star of Redemption, begun during the War and completed and published in 1921. Aiming for nothing less than a radical rejection of the German Idealist tradition, Rosenzweig draws on the writings of Hermann Cohen, Kant, Schelling, Hegel and many others to present a philosophically rigorous justification for Judaism’s relevance in modernity. Building on the revelation of Divine love in language, Rosenzweig argues the Christianity and Judaism share a system of revelation that allows Judaism in particular to anticipate the eternal kingdom in the here-and-now of daily religious practice. While the Star of Redemption’s significance in German-Jewish religious and philosophical discourse was immediately realized by its contemporaries and their followers (such as Scholem and Levinas), Rosenzweig’s magnum opus has ultimately remained on the margins of the philosophical canon of the twentieth century. And, perhaps due to the motifs Rosenzweig borrows from Judaism, Christianity, philosophy, German literature, history, linguistics, mathematics, chemistry and many more subjects, the book now inhabits a precarious space between our disciplines of philosophy, Jewish Studies, Religious Studies as well as German Studies. Yet, this curious and perhaps final landmark of the tradition of German-Jewish philosophy continues to attract readers and critical attention both for its historical significance as well as its complex paths of reasoning, its nuanced web of philosophical, religious, and literary allusions, and its powerful mastery of the German language.
THE STAR OF REDEMPTION IN HISTORY
Had the Star of Redemption been written in ancient times, it may have been crowned with much scholia and commentary through the ages; Had it been written a century earlier, it could have been meticulously explored in critical apparata and editions. It is even tempting to speculate on what current editions of The Star of Redemption would look like, had German-Jewish history in the twentieth century been different: would the book have not become a major milestone of continental philosophy, on par with Heidegger’s Being and Time?
Counterfactual histories notwithstanding, The Star of Redemption is without doubt a book that not only enables, but rather invites and requires commentary, discussion, exploration and further learning. It has become a true classic, in the sense that it provides fertile ground for scholarship, philology and interpretation based on Rosenzweig’s prolific usage of quotes and citations, allusions and topoi. Yet, like in the works of many of Rosenzweig’s contemporaries such as Walter Benjamin, many of these intertextual references remain hidden to this day, because they are not signed with the quotation marks and numbered references we may expect. To some of Rosenzweig’s contemporaries these allusions may have been more transparent, and still, they required a hybrid education in German philosophy and literature as well as thorough acquaintance with Jewish sources. Realizing this, Rosenzweig asked for the assistance of Nahum Glatzer in compiling an index of Jewish sources which was added to the second edition of The Star of Redemption, published in 1930. As Scholem indicates above, however, Rosenzweig, Benjamin and himself were members of a dying world. Soon after, the number of people who adhered to the unique way of living in both cultural spheres, and had the intimate knowledge of and connections to both languages, literatures, and philosophies rapidly declined.
In order to enter the philosophical-religious discourse of Rosenzweig and his contemporaries today, then, one needs an interpreter who will render explicit the wealth of allusions and reveal the required cultural sources. This interpreter cannot, and should no longer be, a single scholar. We therefore conceive of the Annotated Star as a community of interpreters and editors, who take as their task the uncovering, connecting, and sharing of intertextual references in Rosenzweig’s The Star of Redemption. Our goal is neither to propose a monolithic method for reading The Star of Redemption, nor to exclude other forms of engagement with or interpretation of the text. Rather, we hope to provide a collective resource that strives to unveil the hidden literary treasures that Rosenzweig alludes to, and thus help this work regain its cultural depths and historical resonances.
A unique assistance to the work of this community of interpretation would be given by a wizard in tracing text re-use: the Tracer tool. The tool has been developed by Marco Buechler in the framework of the sub-project E-Traces. Using text-mining approaches, it automatically finds text re-use and enables the crowdsourcing of its evaluation and annotations, as well as manually adding textual relations. The project is based on one of the largest digital corpus of German literature, the zeno.org-corpus, which is freely available under “TextGrid”. It contains 1.8 million word token, i.e. more than 130 million words of German literature from 1500 to 1900.
At least two types of references in The Star of Redemption invite collaborative commentary: On the one hand, Rosenzweig’s articles, letters, journal entries, and other texts provide a wealth of material upon which he draws in Star of Redemption. In them, he also discusses and documents the book’s successes and failures in the early 1920s. The web of references in text written by or attributed to Rosenzweig could thus be thought of as an internal citation network. On the other hand, Rosenzweig references works external to his textual corpus, from the riches of the Bible and the Talmud, through Kant’s three critiques to Hegel’s philosophy of history, and passing through Goethe’s literary heritage. The references The Star of Redemption makes to such works, which in turn refer the reader to further sources, builds what we could call an external citation network. The Annotated Star seeks to create an online platform through which Rosenzweig’s readers in the twenty-first century can collectively indicate these textual overlaps, the networks they trace, and the ideas that they inspire.
STAR OF REDEMPTION AND THE HISTORY OF THE BOOK
We see the Annotated Star as a Digital Humanities model of a new form of readership, and not merely because of the incorporation of machine to the ranks of interpretors. Rather, we conceive it as a model for new, and renewed ways of approaching text, and not only The Star of Redemption or German-Jewish intellectual history, but also our textual and philosophical traditions as a whole.
One of the factor that has stood in the way of The Star of Redemption from getting the philological attention and interpretation that it deserves was that it appeared in the heyday of the single author and the single scholar, a tradition in philosophy against which the book itself fights. Editions of and scholarship on Rosenzweig has typically followed the twentieth century paradigm of a “Man and His Work” editions expanded upon by philosophical-historical monographs and collections of scholarly essays on specific topics or themes. The Star of Redemption, then, had to await a new era in the history of the book, and we believe that this era has begun.
Digital annotations, can become, like ancient scholia and commentaries, social genres of scholarship, and create collaborative environments of learning. Hence, in as much as Rosenzweig argues that truth in the real world is shared by individuals through their connection to, and work towards, an eternal truth, it seems only apt that a commentary on The Star of Redemption itself would reflect the dialogic and collaborative impulses that underlie the book itself.