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Beneath the Veil of the Strange Verses: Reading Scandalous Texts

Jeremiah L. Alberg
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 160
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.14321/j.ctt7zt6r6
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  • Book Info
    Beneath the Veil of the Strange Verses
    Book Description:

    Jeremiah Alberg's fascinating book explores a phenomenon almost every news reader has experienced: the curious tendency to skim over dispatches from war zones, political battlefields, and economic centers, only to be drawn in by headlines announcing a late-breaking scandal. Rationally we would agree that the former are of more significance and importance, but they do not pique our curiosity in quite the same way. The affective reaction to scandal is one both of interest and of embarrassment or anger at the interest. The reader is at the same time attracted to and repulsed by it.Beneath the Veil of the Strange Versesdescribes the roots out of which this conflicted desire grows, and it explores how this desire mirrors the violence that undergirds the scandal itself. The book shows how readers seem to be confronted with a stark choice: either turn away from scandal completely or become enthralled and thus trapped by it. Using examples from philosophy, literature, and the Bible, Alberg leads the reader on a road out of this false dichotomy. By its nature, the author argues, scandal is the basis of our reading; it is the source of the obstacles that prevent us from understanding what we read, and of the bridges that lead to a deeper grasp of the truth.

    eISBN: 978-1-60917-364-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. xiii-xviii)

    Mark Danner is a widely admired journalist for his reporting on world conflict. To introduce his recent book,Stripping Bare the Body: Politics Violence War,¹ he uses the following episode from Plato’sRepublic.

    Leontius, the son of Aglaeon, was going up from the Piraeus under the outside of the North Wall when he noticed corpses lying by the public executioner. He desired to look, but at the same time he was disgusted and made himself turn away; and for a while he struggled and covered his face. But finally, overpowered by the desire, he opened his eyes wide, ran toward...

  5. CHAPTER 1 The Language of Scandal and the Scandal of Language
    (pp. 1-18)

    Let’s begin by looking more carefully at the surface of the episode from theRepublicin which Leontius desires to both look and not look at the executed corpses he is passing by. This encounter is decidedly not a psychological conflict of desires. His desire to look at the corpses and not to look is not like my desire both to eat chocolate cake and not eat it, since I am on a diet. In the latter case either act has its pros and its cons. The chocolate cake will taste good; it may even taste all the better, being...

  6. CHAPTER 2 The Fascination of Friedrich Nietzsche
    (pp. 19-38)

    We began with Leontius going up from the Pireaus. In his encounter with the corpses he was aware of three things: that he wanted to look at the executed corpses, that he did not want to look, and that neither the looking nor the not looking would leave him fully satisfied. He was seemingly unaware of the executioner, whom he saw but did not address. The scandalous nature of Leontius’s struggle, consisting of both an explicit struggle with his desires to look and not to look on the victims and an implicit rivalry with the executioner, is not rare. Even...

  7. CHAPTER 3 The Scandal of Jean-Jacques Rousseau
    (pp. 39-54)

    The nature of scandal is such that often, the more one tries to get beyond it, the more deeply ensnared one becomes. We call to mind again Leontius’s struggle with looking at the corpses. He wants to look and, at the same time, he is ashamed and angry that he wants to look. The desire provokes the shame and anger, and they, in turn, further inflame the desire. In an analogous way Nietzsche’s choice between the rational Socrates and the irrational Dionysus, between the theoretical optimism of the former and the tragic pessimism of the latter, forever leads the reader...

  8. CHAPTER 4 The Interpretation of Dante Alighieri
    (pp. 55-70)

    In Canto IX of theInfernothe character Dante is standing outside the city of Dis. Dante’s descent has reached an impasse at the gates of this city. The devils who guard the city refuse to listen to Virgil’s entreaties. The Furies then appear and threaten the appearance of the Medusa. Virgil has to cover Dante’s eyes with his own hands to make sure that he does not look upon the Gorgon and turn to stone. One look would be enough to ensure that Dante could not continue the journey. The feelings evoked by this scene are those of frustration,...

  9. CHAPTER 5 The Lesson of the Gospels
    (pp. 71-98)

    Plato understood the limitations of reason. Reason cannot, on its own, withstand the temptation of looking at corpses. For that, Plato enlists another part of the soul, the spirited part with its anger. Anger does not enable one to look at the victim; instead, it keeps one’s gaze steady as one walks by the spectacle. The spirited part of the soul plays a role, as we shall see, analogous to that of primitive religion. Religion, in its traditional role, allows one to walk past the victim; in other words, it hides the victim.

    In this sense Rousseau and Nietzsche were...

  10. CHAPTER 6 The Challenge of Flannery O’Connor
    (pp. 99-116)

    We began this journey with Leontius’s encounter with the corpses. We saw there that we both want and do not want to encounter reality at its deepest level. We long for it and dread it at the same time. We then widened our perspective through some reflections on language. Words, spelled out in her palm, opened up a glorious world for Helen Keller as a child. These same words, though, can also close off reality, rendering it nugatory. Neither the opportunity nor the danger can be avoided. Even a glance, held a moment too long, may bring the kind of...

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 117-120)

    We conclude with a story that is meant to serve as a pendant to the story with which we began. We opened with Socrates relating the story of Leontius’s encounter with the corpses. Socrates prefaced his telling by saying, “I once heard something that I trust.”¹ At the close we have another story relating something that the writer has heard and in which he emphasizes the credibility of what he relates. This story also is an encounter with a corpse, but it brings this scandalous scene to a different end.

    31Since it was the day of Preparation, the Jews did...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 121-130)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 131-136)
  14. Subject Index
    (pp. 137-140)
  15. Index of Scripture Passages
    (pp. 141-141)