The Open Past: Subjectivity and Remembering in the Talmud

The Open Past: Subjectivity and Remembering in the Talmud

Sergey Dolgopolski
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Fordham University Press
Pages: 394
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  • Book Info
    The Open Past: Subjectivity and Remembering in the Talmud
    Book Description:

    The Open Past challenges a view of time that has dominated philosophical thought for the past two centuries. In that view, time originates from a relationship to the future, and the past can be only a fictitious beginning, the necessary phantom of a starting point, a chronological period of "before." This view of the past has permeated the study of the Talmud as well, resulting in the application of modern philosophical categories such as the "thinking subject," subjectivity, and temporality to the thinking displayed in the texts of the Talmud. The book seeks to reclaim the originary power and authority the past exerts in the Talmud. Central to the task of reclaiming a radical role for the past are medieval notions of the virtual and their contrasting modern appropriations, the thinking subject among them. These serve as both a bridging point and a demarcation between the practices of thinking and remembering displayed in the conversations held by the characters in the Talmud by contrast to other rhetorical or philosophical schools and disciplines of thought.

    eISBN: 978-0-8232-5025-7
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-18)

    Zero and the “imaginary number”iin mathematics; paper money in economics; the vanishing point and the royal vista point in perspectivist painting; the free will of a person bound by the chain of causes and effects in the physical world as posited in theology; virtue as a power to practice what is known to be right (as opposed to only knowing what is right) in ethics—all these make up a short list of examples of the virtual. These examples entail agents, agencies, or instances that actively participate in the real world without being real in the same way...

    • ONE What Happens to Thinking?
      (pp. 21-33)

      What does it mean “to think” in the age of technology? As unexpected as it may sound, this question—as I will show in this chapter—is highly relevant for analyzing thinking processes in the Talmud. In the first three chapters, I therefore introduce, in an inevitably general form, a broader background and the stakes of my inquiry shaped by three questions: Who speaks? Who thinks? And who remembers in the Talmud?

      To begin, we need to ask what thinking has to do with the “age of technology” in the first place. Did not thinking exist prior to the technological...

    • TWO Ego Cogito, Ego Meminí: I Think, Therefore I Remember
      (pp. 34-43)

      How does modern thinking about thinking differ from historically known methods of thinking, particularly within the Jewish tradition? Late ancient rabbinic schools of thought differ from modern intellectual habits in their understanding of the role of memory in thinking. Modern practices of thinking limit the role of memory to providing data. In contrast, the rabbis viewed thinking as an essential instrument of memory. This contrast in the relationship between thinking and memory allows rabbinic—specifically Talmudic—practices of thinking to provide valuable insight into the complexity of human thinking in the modern age.

      Through a critical assessment of the process...

    • THREE Through Talmud Criticism to the Talmud as Thought and Memory
      (pp. 44-54)

      In analyzing the tridimensional territory of speaking, thinking, and remembering displayed in the Talmud’s text, I proceedthroughcontemporary Talmud text-critical scholarshiptothe Talmud as a thought form, and in particular a memory form. For brevity I dub the hitherto predominant text-critical scholarship on the Talmud “Talmud criticism.”¹ By that I mean a set of theories and empirical textual analyses in contemporary Talmud study, which are comparable, in a sense, to biblical criticism, if the latter is understood as using philological and historical tools of analysis to see the Bible as a document produced by historically distinct groups of...

    • PREAMBLE: The Virtual Author
      (pp. 57-58)

      “Who speaks in the Talmud?” is not a question I asked, nor is my goal to add to the answers given to it. Rather, the question arose in contemporary Talmud criticism. My purpose in this part is to understand the question and its hidden structure. To that end, I attend to the answers the scholars of Talmud criticism have given to the question and pay even closer attention to a question these answers implied. As I will argue, that implied question was “Who thinks in the Talmud?”

      The text-critical scholars answered that implicit question using a certain notion of authorship;...

    • FOUR Thought and Memory in the Talmud: The Ambiguous Status of “The Author”—and Beyond
      (pp. 59-77)

      Who speaks? Who in the first text is calling Tom? And who says “No answer”? And where and when does this action take place?¹ Who in the second text exclaims “Obvious!”? And who is responding? And where and when does that conversation occur?

      Luckily, the first text has all we need to answer those first questions. It has a preface signed “The Author, Hartford, 1876.” It lets us know it was “The Author” who said “No answer.” As the text ofThe Adventures of Tom Sawyercontinues, “The Author” introduces Aunt Polly and the other characters. Aunt Polly is first...

    • FIVE Human Existence in the Talmud: Thinking as Multiplicity and Heterogeneity
      (pp. 78-104)

      In the last chapter, I identified three aporias in which, given the assumption that in the Talmud thinking must occur in a person (character, author) found either in historical reality or in the reality represented and/or constructed in the text, it is undecidable where the position occupied by what I have been calling “The Author” can be located. In addition to (1) the “in/of” aporia (the undecidability of whether the redactors of the Talmud should be placed inside the reality represented in it), there is (2) the aporia of the emendation versus the interpretation of the texts of thetann’aim...

    • SIX Sense in the Making: Hermeneutical Practices of the Babylonian Talmud
      (pp. 105-128)

      If thinking is disconnected from the notion of a unitary and homogeneous thinking subject in the Talmud, and if understanding and remembering are likewise disconnected from the notion of such a subject, how do the literary characters in the Talmud, who collectively, yet multiply, diversely, and heterogeneously, contribute to thinking and remembering, make sense of the texts of the Mishnah?¹ To answer these questions, I both juxtapose and mutually complement medieval Talmudists’ rhetorical theories of sense in the Talmud with the logical approaches to sense in Bertrand Russell’s and J. L. Austin’s truth theories.² I use the resulting theoretical lens...

    • PREAMBLE: The Virtual Subject
      (pp. 131-133)

      From the question “Who speaks?” we arrive at an answer Talmud criticism gave to the implied question “Who thinks?” Answering both questions with their respective notions of “The Author” as either “redactors” or “composer” of Talmudic discussions, scholars in Talmud criticism assumed a strong and rigid connection between thinking and a person who thinks. By the logic of that connection, a thinking person has to be the center, the source, the root, and the moving force of thinking, in which that person participates. That rigid connection allowed the scholars in Talmud criticism to prove the existence, albeit ultimately virtual, of...

    • SEVEN Who Thinks in the Talmud?
      (pp. 134-157)

      If person-centered models of the authors as well as other—named and unnamed—characters in the Talmud cannot suffice to answer the question “Who thinks in the Talmud?” what can?¹ To approach this question, I again simultaneously invoke the traditions of scholarship in the Talmud and in philosophy in a mutual hermeneutics of the Talmudic and philosophical traditions. Juxtaposed, these traditions provide an opportunity to illuminate each other’s conceptual foundations and in that way create a new approach to the question of the thinking processes in the Talmudic and philosophical traditions. From the point of view of Talmudic studies, this...

    • EIGHT The Hand of Augustine: Thought, Memory, and Performative Existence in the Talmud
      (pp. 158-178)

      The thinking process in the Talmud has nothing to do with the modern notion of the thinking subject. Instead, as this chapter will show, it is a process of the collective rational reinvention of the memory of tradition produced through the conversations that the characters conduct in the text. How are we to place the thinking and remembering practices embodied in these conversations? How do these practices connect to other practices of thinking and remembering in late antiquity, in the disciplines of rhetoric and philosophy?

      As we will see, contemporary text-critical views of the Talmud once again can help us...

    • PREAMBLE: The Virtual
      (pp. 181-184)

      From the question “Who speaks?” through the question “Who thinks?” we have arrived at the question “Who remembers?” Addressing that question requires a careful analysis of its structure. We have discovered structural foundations of the first two questions in the notion of the thinking subject, as dubious as this notion would have been in late ancient thought, and as self-obvious as it became in medieval and modern traditions of thinking. What both connects these so different approaches to thinking and, by the same token, makes possible historical shifting from one of them to the other, is the notion of the...

    • NINE What Is the Sophist? Who Is the Rabbi?: The Virtual of Thinking
      (pp. 185-211)

      On computer screens, where current perceptions tend to locate virtuality, the virtual limits itself—practically and normatively—to only one, frontal view at a very limited distance and with exposure for only a very short time and/or with a very high speed of comprehension. However, this is only one kind of virtuality. There are other, much broader and older kinds that can perhaps teach us important lessons about new virtual times and spaces, while the knowledge of the new can help us better discern the old.²

      The older phenomena of virtuality are not necessarily to be wed to any visual...

    • TEN The Talmud as Film
      (pp. 212-246)

      The virtual in the Talmud is not only an agency embodied in remembering but also the reality remembered. How is that remembered reality created and what exactly does it entail, if compared to the reality dealt with in philosophical thinking? This question is best asked by way of contrast to Cartesian thinking, which pointedly did not require embodiment. By extension, the contrast applies to post-Cartesian thought as well. Even though post-Cartesian philosophers¹ underscored the importance of embodiment for thinking, they invariably did so by criticizing, and thereby building on, the Cartesian thinking subject. What is more, in approaching reality, post-Cartesian...

  9. Conclusion
    (pp. 247-256)

    Let me conclude with a series of questions I posit that “you” are asking me, and my response will be a soliloquy similar to the anonymous soliloquies we have seen in the Talmud. Thinking aloud invites the audience to think along, attending to the next steps in exploring the relationship between thinking, memory, and the virtual that this book has prepared.

    Where, in broader terms, do the techniques of discussions in the rabbinical schools as presented in the late ancient text of the Babylonian Talmud stand vis-á-vis five rhetorical techniques conceived and taught in other ancient schools of rhetoric: memory,...

  10. APPENDIX: TALMUD CRITICISM, AN ANALYTICAL EXAMPLE: “Composer” versus “Redactors”: David Halivni’s and Shamma Friedman’s Competing Readings of Baba Metzi‘a 76ab
    (pp. 257-306)
  11. NOTES
    (pp. 307-356)
    (pp. 357-368)
    (pp. 369-370)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 371-380)