Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Lamed Wufniks

Outside on a beautiful March day found myself thinking about these odd and wonderful beings. Here's what I once wrote about them "The 10th Symphony" (Georgia Review 35 [1981]: 583-93):

In his Book of Imaginary Beings, Borges describes, as part of his strange menagerie of creatures, an individual known to the Old testament Hebraic tradition as a "Lamed Wufnik." The Lamed Wufniks, Borges explains, were "thirty-six righteous men whose mission is to justify the world before God." "The secret pillars of the universe," without whom God "would annihilate the whole of mankind," the Lamed Wufniks cannot, or dare not, realize their true nature. If one should do so, immediate annihilation would result. Their vocation requires them to be unconscious of exactly what they are. Hannah Arendt has observed in The Human Condition that for the Western psyche "it is manifest that the moment a good work becomes known and public, it loses its specific character of goodness. . . ." So all our endeavors must face up to a most perplexing dilemma: "Goodness can exist only when it is not perceived, not even by its author; whoever sees himself performing a good work is no longer good. . . . Therefore: "Let not thy left hand know what they right hand doeth."

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