The Lost Mirror – Painting an Imaginary Picture

In: The Lost Mirror – Education in the Hebrew Tradition
  • 1 Jena Summer 2020
Free access

It is not possible for us to look directly into our own face. We can see other parts of our body with our eyes, but our face, our countenance, remains inaccessible to our own gaze for the time being. However, how we perceive ourselves depends very much on our face. Poetically speaking, our ego also depends on the fact that we can look into our own eyes with the help of the environment. Since the origins of culture, the mirror has been a crucial tool for this. Mirroring is not only a tool that we call “mirror” today. In the past it was often the surface of water, for example, where people could see themselves and their faces.

With all this we have to restrict ourselves to the fact that “the” mirror as such does not exist. What is reflected and how depends not only on the nature of the mirror surface, but also on the incidence of light and the perspective with which we approach the mirror. In the mirror image our views of ourselves are thus united with the conditions of our surroundings. Both our views and the conditions of our surroundings become one in perception.

The idea of the “Mirror” series in “Culture and Education” is to put our own vision to the test. This can be done with different mirrors. One possibility is to exchange views with people of other cultural backgrounds in a scientific discussion. An example here is the volume “West-Eastern Mirror. A German-Chinese Dialogue”. Another path is to remember contexts that are not obvious at first glance.

This includes the construction of what can be called “Hebrew” thinking. It is a construction – this fact must always be kept in mind. But perhaps it is a way to put one’s own thinking and perception to the test. In recent years, the professorship for Historical Pedagogy and Global Education at the Institute for Education and Culture at the University of Jena has emerged as a focal point to deal with the pedagogical ways of reflection of thinkers with a Jewish background. This is the context for the present studies on individual persons. The selection is more or less random, following a kind of bricolage technique. Something, perhaps a picture, emerges from the compilation of the individual studies. What this picture looks like, we do not know ourselves. In this case, the picture emerges to a special degree in the eye of the viewer. A loose framework is provided by the reflections on a “Hebrew paradigm” of culture and pedagogy. The origins of this approach go back to the early 1990s with the first reflections on a pedagogical thinking following Leo Baeck.

The focus is on reflecting on whether and to what extent Being Human must be understood by the anthropological facts of learning. The appreciation of learning is deeply rooted in the Hebrew way of thinking. Learning is understood as an open and historically conscious examination of the human being with culture. Historical awareness is shaped by the motif of the unavailability of the “other” and the difference to this “other”. This “other” is traditionally remembered as “God”, but can also be reflected in the motifs of the other or the other society.

The emphasis of the studies is on the thesis that in the Hebrew way of thinking the motif of learning and thus also of education is of fundamental importance. The Hebrew way of thinking was and is mainly connected to the challenges of the present day by Jewish women and men. The publication “The lost mirror. Thinking about Education in the Hebrew Tradition” traces cultural patterns in which the interpretation of learning and education was developed against the background of Hebrew thought.

The focus is on people and ideas from the European context. The series of studies opens with Leo Baeck and Janusz Korczak and ends with Jacob Taubes and Jean-François Lyotard. Many other people and positions would have been worthy of a deeper analysis. The arrangement of the studies follows the chronology of the year of birth of each person. All people – so the thesis – have developed their own reading of the universal anthropological phenomenon “learning”. These readings can also be called “cultural patterns”. The claim of dealing with a person and his or her work is therefore primarily a systematic and less a historical one. It is about what a person has provided in terms of cultural patterns of interpretation for the understanding of learning. The “cultural pattern” is first placed in its historical context by means of a biographical approach. In a second step, the hermeneutic key is identified by which the entire cultural pattern of interpretation (e.g. of society, of the individual or of Judaism as a religious community) is understood by a person. The third part of each article focuses on questions of learning and education. Fourthly, an outlook on the current relevance of cultural patterns of interpretation is given.

We would like to thank Mackenzie Lake for the linguistic supervision of the present volume. We would also like to thank Lena Bürichen for the editorial supervision of the publication. And we would like to thank Schöningh-Verlag and Martin Illert for accompanying this research project.

The motif of the “lost mirror” indicates that all ideas are reminiscent of a deficit. This deficit consists in the fact that in our everyday thoughts and actions we usually hide, forget and partially suppress the meaning and presence of the unavailable Other. In certain respects, the notion of the unavailable Other is virtually fought against, because unavailability is always accompanied by a loss of control. At the same time, “The lost mirror” reminds us that such cultural patterns, especially in the German-language interpretation of reality, were largely lost as a mirror of everyday life in the persecution and annihilation of the Jews during the Shoah in the 20th century. Reflecting on everyday life in the sign of difference to the unavailable Other, however, is a cultural heritage that must not be lost in the consciousness of loss.

Jena, Summer 2020

Ralf Koerrenz

Friederike von Horn