Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
To Make the Hands Impure: Art, Ethical Adventure, the Difficult and the Holy

To Make the Hands Impure: Art, Ethical Adventure, the Difficult and the Holy

Copyright Date: 2015
Published by: Fordham University Press
Pages: 512
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    To Make the Hands Impure: Art, Ethical Adventure, the Difficult and the Holy
    Book Description:

    How can cradling, handling, or rubbing a text be said, ethically, to have made something happen? What, as readers or interpreters, may come off in our hands in as we maculate or mark the books we read? For Adam Zachary Newton, reading is anembodied practice wherein "ethics" becomes a matter of tact in the doubled sense of touch and regard. With the image of the book lying in the hands of its readers as insistent refrain, To Make the Hands Impure cuts a provocative cross-disciplinary swath through classical Jewish texts, modern Jewish philosophy, film and performance, literature, translation, and the material text. Newton explores the ethics of reading through a range of texts, from the Talmud and Midrash to Conrad's Nostromo and Pascal's Le Memorial, from works by Henry Darger and Martin Scorsese to the National September 11 Memorial and a synagogue in Havana, Cuba. In separate chapters, he conducts masterly treatments of Emmanuel Levinas, Mikhail Bakhtin, and Stanley Cavell by emphasizing their performances as readers a trebled orientation to Talmud, novel, and theater/film. To Make the Hands Impure stages the encounter of literary experience and scriptural traditions he difficult and the holy through an ambitious, singular, and innovative approach marked in equal measure by erudition and imaginative daring.

    eISBN: 978-0-8232-6355-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[x])
  3. PROLOGUE: Meaningful Adjacencies
    (pp. 1-24)

    Take this as a moment ofanagnorisis—a recognition scene, long after Aristotle.¹ But let us take it also as a scene of reading. Although it begins with an attempt at deciphering, the passage quite deliberately escorts us into a different precinct:what happens to us when we read, or, as we might also say,what our reading makes happen. Granted, it is probably more customary to think of what we do when standing before a headstone as something other than “reading.” It is not quite scanning, which we routinely perform when we see a billboard or sign. Nor does...

  4. INTRODUCTION: Laws of Tact and Genre
    (pp. 25-42)

    In the now-severely reduced Jewish population on the island of Cuba (a high estimate of 1500 persons out of eleven million total), it was not uncommon for the quorum of ten required for public prayer in the small Orthodox synagogue of Havana to consist of “ocho hombres, la Torah, y Dios,” with the Torah scroll—and God—standing in for the missing men.¹ In Havana’s Conservative Sinagoga Bet Shalom (also known as “El Patronato”), the situation used to be even starker: “For more than 30 years, the daily minyan usually consisted of seven elderly men and three Torah scrolls placed...


    • CHAPTER 1 Pledge, Turn, Prestige: Worldliness and Sanctity in Edward Said and Emmanuel Levinas
      (pp. 45-69)

      Every great magic trick consists of three parts or acts. The first part is called “The Pledge.” The magician shows you something ordinary: a deck of cards, a bird or a man. He shows you this object. Perhaps he asks you to inspect it to see if it is indeed real, unaltered, normal. But of course, it probably isn’t. The second act is called “The Turn.” The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary. Now you’re looking for the secret, but you won’t find it, because of course you’re not really looking. You don’t want to...

    • CHAPTER 2 Sollicitation and Rubbing the Text: Reading Said and Levinas Reading
      (pp. 70-94)

      Tum’at yadayim, as we saw, signifies a special halakhic category within the vast apparatus of cultic observance during the First and Second Temple periods by which objects (vessels, clothes, and houses, for example) and persons were distinguished as either ritually clean or unclean:tahor/tamei. In Judaism, the concept oftum’ah(from the Hebrew for “sealed” or “blocked”), as the marked term of the binary, applies not only to animal sacrifice and vicissitudes of the human body (childbirth and death, emissions and exudates) or food and liquid, but also to questions of propriety regarding ritual intent or location (while making a...

    • CHAPTER 3 Blaise Pascal, Henry Darger, and the Book in Hand
      (pp. 95-128)

      Late at night on November 23–24, 1654, in his chambers on the rue des Francs-Bourgeois Saint-Michel, Blaise Pascal experienced something momentous. A spiritual ecstasy, a dream-vision, a psychotic episode, a premonition of his own mortality: one or all these things, Pascal’sNuit de feumarked his so-called “second conversion,” which was to be dramatic and lasting for his association with the Jansenists of Port Royal. Materially, it impressed itself upon him threefold. First, he transcribed the experience in a single page of fervent and ciphered prose; an elliptical fusion of his own rapturous sentiments and scriptural allusions from the...


    • CHAPTER 4 Ethics of Reading I: Levinas and the Talmud
      (pp. 131-160)

      That is the philosopher Stanley Cavell writing about the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. Cavell will himself be shepherded back in Chapters 4 and 5; philosopherreader Emmanuel Levinas, however, is this chapter’s explicit focus. Previous chapters have staged sonorities between Levinas and Said, Henry Darger and Pascal, Sebald and Michael Arad. The dialogism on display in this chapter, by contrast, depends on the way a given text solicits on its own or dialogically affiliates with, another—a proximate shepherding, let us call it.

      This describes the manner in which Levinas reads rabbinic texts (indeed, describes the commentarial driveofthose texts), and...

    • CHAPTER 5 Ethics of Reading II: Bakhtin and the Novel
      (pp. 161-189)

      Like Levinas, there are more than a few Bakhtins, depending on the prevailing winds that blow through various academic disciplines and beyond their terrain. A liberal pluralist Bakhtin, a Western Marxist Bakhtin, a cultural studies Bakhtin, a sociology of knowledge Bakhtin, a genre studies Bakhtin, a semiotics and linguistics Bakhtin, a rhetoric and pedagogy Bakhtin, a philology Bakhtin, a Slavics Bakhtin, an Anglo-American and European Bakhtin, a narratology Bakhtin, a legal studies Bakhtin, a women studies Bakhtin, a cyber and haptics Bakhtin, a performance and film studies Bakhtin, a punk Bakhtin, a gender, race, and nation Bakhtin, a postcolonialism and...

    • CHAPTER 6 Ethics of Reading III: Cavell and Theater/Cinema
      (pp. 190-232)

      Stanley Cavell’s memoirLittle Did I Know: Excerpts From Memory(2010) introduces us to a rather thickly described Jewish upbringing for which his non-autobiographical writings may not quite have prepared us.¹ References to Jewish material culture do not exactly stand out in the body of his work. It is fair to assume that the passage from the mishnaic tractate on Temple measurements that stands as the first epigraph to this chapter is not one with which he would necessarily be familiar. The mechanism it describes, however, can be taken for a somewhat uncanny precedent for two harbingers of the cinematic...


    • CHAPTER 7 Abyss, Volcano, and the Frozen Swirl of Words: The Difficult and the Holy in Agnon, Bialik, and Scholem
      (pp. 235-276)

      The excerpt from Bialik’s poem as the first epigraph begins with a contact between scroll and person far more intimate than any proscribed by the Talmud. It terminates, at least as I have reproduced it here, with the poem’s title—transliterated as “Lifneiaron ha-sefarim”—rendered in Hebrew characters. Part of what Levinas calls the Gemara’s “secret scent” lies in its orthography and graphemes, the characters that make up the Hebrew-Aramaic alphabet. So, indeed, does the secret scent of Bialik’s poetry. If the classic books of Jewish religious instruction no longer exert their pull on the poem’s speaker, if their columns...

  8. EPILOGUE: The Book in Hand, Again
    (pp. 277-292)

    This book, fittingly, concludes with “the book.” The voice immediately preceding belongs to Levinas, excerpted from “Signification and Sense” (also translated as “Meaning and Sense”). In the first section of this rather difficult essay from 1964, Levinas wants to think through receptivity as the means by which he have access to meaning, and also the role of metaphor (as that which “carries something away”) in describing, but therefore also seeming to falsify or “overload” the date empirically given to our senses. Aslant Husserlian theories of intuition, and other intellectualist models of consciousness from Plato through Hume to the logical positivists,...

  9. NOTES
    (pp. 293-422)
    (pp. 423-482)
    (pp. 483-490)
    (pp. 491-502)