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Excerpt from: Israeli Poetry as Prayer / Rochelle Furstenberg

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Body of Prayer

Publisher: The Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture, New York, 2001

Jacques Derrida, Michal Govrin, David Shapiro

Design: Kim Shkapich

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The “Advanced Concepts” course has been an integral component of the education of architects within The Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture of The Cooper Uniun, researching the parallel disciplines of writing, art, sound, and their relations to architecture. Poet and professor David Shapiro, invited Michal Govrin, Israel’s great writer and theater director, to lecture on certain spatial problems of the sacred. She, in turn, invited Jacque Derrida, the celebrated French philosopher, to elaborate questions. Their visit coincided with the English publication of The Name, a novel “voiced” as a prayer, which became the starting point for this meditation on prayer.

Body of Prayer is a rare trialogue recorded October 14, 1998. It is also a book of reverberation, containing parallel writings, poems, and fragments of novels by three participants and an almost silent host, the late dean of the school, John Hejduk. A chapel, built not by bricks but by “blocks” [teivot; teiva; Hebrew synonym for words] – with crossing motifs, so many and so startling. Prayer and mothers. Death of mothers. Mothers and sons, and daughters. Death and life. And the body – so present. Skin and Eros. Body in prayer. Body as prayer. Body of prayer. What is prayer? Invocation, petition, self-reflection, praise, lament? – or what Kant regarded as a “disagreeable bending of the knee to beg an intervention?”. Discussing the poetics of prayer, and the spiritual tradition in Judaism of the woman of prayer; interrogating guilt, prayer without hope, when the addressing is always on the edge, never with certainty that there is a listening, a reception. An extreme moment of the uncertainty of the addresser, an outrageous hope that the “I” will be confirmed, will take shape, will voice itself by the mere outburst of prayer and by the listening, the reception, the reverberation. The multiple “I”, with all its hidden overtones. The dizzying archeology of book and/as sky. From Saint Augustine and his quote from Revelation: “The heavens shall be folded together as a book”, spliced with a quote from Psalms 104:2 (used in Jewish Liturgy) [covering Thyself with light as with a robe and] stretching out the skies like a tent. (The homonym in Hebrew between ‘light’ and ‘skin’, and the tent here is made of skin). And then again, the expression from Revelation, echoing Isaiah 34:4 “…and the skies shall be rolled up like a scroll [a book in Hebrew]”. Body of Prayer is the latest work published by The Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture of the Cooper Union.

Jacques Derrida and Michal Govrin read Derrida’s “What is poetry?” in English, Hebrew, and French.
The picture was taken in Mount of Olives Jewish Cemetery, Jerusalem.

David Shapiro is a poet and critic, and his more than twenty volumes include January, Poems from Deal, A Man Holding an Acoustic Panel, The Page-turner, Lateness, To an Idea, House (Blown Apart), and After a Lost Original. He collaborated with John Hejduk on the Jan Palach Memorial in Prague and the New England Mosque projects. Shapiro teaches art history at William Paterson University, and since 1980, has led a seminar on the relations of poetry and architecture at The Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture of The Cooper Union. He has also taught at Columbia University, Brooklyn College, Princeton University, and Bard College.

Preparatory sketches for the writing of The Name

Michal Govrin is an Israeli writer, poet, and theater director. She has published six books of poetry and fiction, largely anthologized in Hebrew and other languages. The Name was published by Riverhead Books of Penguin-Puntam in 1998. Govrin is the laureate of several literary prizes and theater awards, among them the Israeli Prime Minister’s Prize for Writers, and The Kugel prize in Israel for The Name, also nominated for the Koret Jewish Book Award in the United States. She teaches at The School of Visual Theater in Jerusalem, is a visiting Writer in Residence at Rutgers University, and visits for an annual lecture at the Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture of The Cooper Union.

Jacques Derrida’s manuscript of “what is poetry?”

Jacques Derrida the French philosopher, was a professor at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes in Social Sciences in Paris, and also taught widely in the United States. His immense contributions to philosophy have taken the form of more than eighty significant volumes, including Of Grammatology, Dissemination, Margins of Philosophy, Glas, The Truth in Painting, Writing and Difference, and more recently Adieu to Emmanuel Levinas and The Gift of Death.

Kim Shkapich is a bookbuilder. She was Director of The Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture Archives from 1983 until February 2001. She has won International Architecture Book Awards from the American Institute of Architects, the Golden Letter and Medal from the Leipzig Stiftung Buchkunst for the “best designed book in the world”; and has been nominated for a Chrysler Award for Innovation in Design.

Jacques Derrida, Michael Levinas, Michal Govrin, Cerisy-La-Salle, 1992