Wednesday, 20 July 2016
The Boundaries of Tradition
Religion and Cultural Memory (tr. Rodney Livingstone),
Jan Assmann, Stanford University Press, 2006, page 64
According to Assmann, tradition has two boundaries. One is between itself and memory; the other between itself and writing. It is the latter that Assmann is going to examine in the third essay in his book.
Traditions are not normally writte. Where they are, it points to a break in tradition, or at the very least, a crisis.
This is what happened to cause the codification of Jewish oral tradition into what we now call the Mishnah. Rabbi Judah was sufficiently convinced that there would not be enough Jewish survivors in Israel to preserve the oral tradition if the fellowship/discipleship circles, that he organised for the tradition to be written down so it did not become lost. Because in moving to writing, something is lost.
The natural path of tradition leads not to writing, but to habit, not to explication, but to a process of becoming implicit, to habitualisation and a making unconscious. The impetus to introduce writing must come from outside, and when it comes it alters the tradition.
There is the choice then: to remain flexible and 'alive' but risk loss, or to prserve content but lose life.