Posted by: HAT | December 9, 2014

Something New Already

drawing of a men walking through snow carrying a loaf of bread

Teller of tales, or their subject – or both at once?

Hi, Gang!

Here’s an amazing, and underappreciated, fact: utopian moments crop up frequently, all around us. By a “utopian moment,” I mean a sense that things can be different; a sense that there is far more to life than has been thought up until now; a subtle or fleeting sense that there are grounds for hoping that something new can take place. These moments may not happen daily, but when you begin to notice them and see them for what they are, you can begin to see little sparks of utopia flashing here and there regularly: a sentence in a book; a stray image on a wall, of a room or a website; an idea that flits across consciousness in response to a sight noticed or a conversation overheard; any of those can have a flavor of utopia.

Here is one of these utopian moments, this one in a text. It is a remark made by Martin Buber, a documented and unapologetic utopian thinker, about the Hasidic tales he collected and retold in his own words: “I stand in a chain of narrators, a link between links; I tell once again the old stories, and if they sound new, it is because the new already lay dormant in them when they were told for the first time.” [1]

The idea of a story – a tradition – that has built into it, that carries, an element of something new, something as yet unimagined – that is a utopian idea. Running across the idea and recognizing it, that is a utopian moment.

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[1] Martin Buber, in The Legend of the Baal Shem, quoted in Chaim Potok, Foreword to Martin Buber, Tales of the Hasidim, trans. Olga Marx (New York: Schocken Books, 1991) Nook edition 13.

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