Language, Eros, Being: Kabbalistic Hermeneutics and Poetic Imagination

Language, Eros, Being: Kabbalistic Hermeneutics and Poetic Imagination

Copyright Date: 2005
Published by: Fordham University Press
Pages: 792
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    Language, Eros, Being: Kabbalistic Hermeneutics and Poetic Imagination
    Book Description:

    This long-awaited, magisterial study-an unparalleled blend of philosophy, poetry, and philology-draws on theories of sexuality, phenomenology, comparative religion, philological writings on Kabbalah, Russian formalism, Wittgenstein, Rosenzweig, William Blake, and the very physics of the time-space continuum to establish what will surely be a highwater mark in work on Kabbalah. Not only a study of texts, Language, Eros, Being is perhaps the fullest confrontation of the body in Jewish studies, if not in religious studies as a whole.Elliot R. Wolfson explores the complex gender symbolism that permeates Kabbalistic literature. Focusing on the nexus of asceticism and eroticism, he seeks to define the role of symbolic and poetically charged language in the erotically configured visionary imagination of the medieval Kabbalists. He demonstrates that the traditional Kabbalistic view of gender was a monolithic and androcentric one, in which the feminine was conceived as being derived from the masculine. He does not shrink from the negative implications of this doctrine, but seeks to make an honest acknowledgment of it as the first step toward the redemption of an ancient wisdom.Comparisons with other mystical traditions-including those in Christianity, Buddhism, and Islam-are a remarkable feature throughout the book. They will make it important well beyond Jewish studies, indeed, a must for historians of comparative religion, in particular of comparative mysticism.Praise for Elliot R. Wolfson:Through a Speculum That Shines is an important and provocative contribution to the study of Jewish mysticism by one of the major scholars now working in this field.-Speculum

    eISBN: 978-0-8232-4735-6
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. Prologue: Timeswerve/Hermeneutic Reversibility
    (pp. xv-xxxiv)

    The figures I shall discuss in chapter one are philosophers who for years have accompanied me on the path of an often relentless attempt to elucidate hermeneutical assumptions in the hope of illumining the mystery of the imaginative faculty andars poetica. The field of my vision, so to speak, has been leveled, to the degree that is possible, by a focus on kabbalistic sources ranging from the twelfth to the twenty-first centuries, a large temporal swath by anyone’s account. The use of German and French philosophers primarily from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries to interpret texts of traditional kabbalah,...

  5. CHAPTER ONE Showing the Saying: Laying Interpretative Ground
    (pp. 1-45)

    In this book I set out once again to expose the veil of poetic imagination woven within the fabric of the Jewish esoteric tradition, demarcated generically by scholar and adept as “kabbalah.” The semantic range of the term encompasses practice and theory, in Western philosophical jargon, or, in rabbinic locution,maʿasehandtalmud, a way of doing and a way of thinking. To speak of one is not to exclude the other, a perspective that has been enhanced by a critique of the so-called Scholemian school for focusing more on the speculative dimensions of kabbalah to the detriment of the...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Differentiating (In)Difference: Heresy, Gender, and Kabbalah Study
    (pp. 46-110)

    To the extent that thinking poetically is embodied thinking, and it does not seem possible to conceive of human embodiment that is not gendered—even the construct of an immaterial body that has figured prominently in many theological mythologems is engendered—it is necessary to delve into the matter of gender construction in kabbalistic lore before we proceed to an exposition of the erotic nature of poiesis through the prism of the poetic nature of eros. The preliminary discussion will span two chapters, the first on the larger question of gender and the study of kabbalah, itself cast into something...

  7. CHAPTER THREE Phallomorphic Exposure: Concealing Soteric Esotericism
    (pp. 111-141)

    As I intimated in the preceding chapter, the project of reshaping the feminine in contemporary liturgical discourse—and thereby destabilizing the male-centered symbolic that has dominated Judaism—can proceed without relying on philological and historical research, but the re/envisioning is proportionately impoverished to the degree that it neglects or obfuscates the tradition it purports to reflect. I am not so naïve as to ignore the fact that shared existential circumstances impact the reader’s interpretative stance. On the contrary, I readily acknowledge that the reader is prejudiced by hermeneutical assumptions that mirror a complex web of factors ranging from the socioeconomic...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Male Androgyne: Engendering E/Masculation
    (pp. 142-189)

    As a number of biblicists and historians of religion have noted, the monotheistic ideal that evolved in ancient Israel was inextricably bound to the patriarchal rejection of the female element within the divine. Raphael Pattai observed in the introduction to his monographic study on theHebrew Goddess, “In view of the general human, psychologically determined predisposition to believe in and worship goddesses, it would be strange if the Hebrew-Jewish religion, which flourished for centuries in a region of intensive goddess cults, had remained immune to them. Yet this precisely is the picture one gets when one views Hebrew religion through...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE Flesh Become Word: Textual Embodiment and Poetic Incarnation
    (pp. 190-260)

    For kabbalists in the late Middle Ages, in consonance with contemporaneous patterns of Christian and Islamic piety but especially the former, the body was a site of tension, the locus of sensual and erotic pleasure on the one hand, and the earthly pattern of God’s image, the representation of what lies beyond representation, the mirror that renders visible the invisible, on the other. Given the intractable state of human consciousness as embodied—not to be understood, as I will elaborate below, along the lines of Cartesian dualism of mind/body but rather in Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenological sense of the embodied mind/mindful body—...

  10. CHAPTER SIX Envisioning Eros: Poiesis and Heeding Silence
    (pp. 261-295)

    As scholars have long noted, a salient feature of medieval kabbalah is the portrayal of religious experience in intensely charged erotic symbolism. Any attempt to separate the sexual and mystical threads in the tapestry of Jewish esotericism will prove to be futile.¹ From the kabbalists’ vantage point, ecstatic experience—ek-stasis, standing out, which conveys metaphorically leaping to the ground in taking flight, turning inward by projecting outward²—facilitates knowing the secrecy of secrecy, the doubling of secret as secret, the eros of mystery wrapped in the exposé of the mystery of eros.

    The specific qualities of erotic consciousness—a term...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN Eunuchs Who Keep Sabbath: Erotic Asceticism / Ascetic Eroticism
    (pp. 296-332)

    At first glance, it might appear that the title of this chapter brings together two mutually exclusive themes. Asceticism, conventionally understood, implies rigorous discipline of body and mind, the adoption of an austere lifestyle, which can lead to the abrogation of desire, expressed as denial and mortification. Eroticism, by contrast, entails the sense of ecstatic rapture that ensues from inspirited indulgence in bodily matters and the full embrace of the sensual. In the case of both, there is a confluence of life and death, albeit from opposite ends of the spectrum: Asceticism promotes the negation of life in the simulation...

  12. CHAPTER EIGHT Coming-to-Head, Returning-to-Womb: (E)Soteric Gnosis and Overcoming Gender Dimorphism
    (pp. 333-371)

    There is a variety of literary settings in which the ideal of spiritual eroticism cultivated in the mystical piety of various traditions has found expression, but one medium that has been especially significant in the history of Judaism and Christianity is the commentarial tradition on the Song of Songs, the biblical book that most overtly employs tropes of sensual love and carnal sexuality.¹ As Bernard McGinn astutely articulated the matter, “Among the many intimate bonds between Jewish and Christian mystical traditions none is more important than the fact that both found in the Song of Songs the mystical text par...

  13. Epilogue
    (pp. 372-390)

    The sway of thought, like the trajectory of time at once circular and linear, seems always to lead one back to where one has not been, retracing steps yet to be imprinted. In this book, I have once again labored long in the orchard of kabbalistic texts to articulate philosophically the poetic imagination and hermeneutic orientation of the medieval Jewish esoteric lore. In great measure, my effort herein, reflective of my scholarly project since I began graduate school in 1980, has been impelled by a keen sense that kabbalah—not to speak of the spiritual comportment of Judaism more generally—...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 391-598)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 599-714)
  16. Index of Names and Book Titles
    (pp. 715-728)
  17. Index of Subjects and Terms
    (pp. 729-761)