MOBI Sacrificing Commentary Reading the End of Literature Ý

In Sacrificing Commentary Sandor Goodhart proposes a new view of literary reading arguing that the writing we have designated as literary is in fact a form of commentary or critical reading In the case of our most important cultural documents Shakespeare for instance or Sophocles this commentary remains our most powerful inuiry into uestions of reading aesthetics violence and ethical responsibilityTo support his argument Goodhart offers a close analysis of Sophocles's Oedipus Tyrannus Shakespeare's Richard II four passages from the Hebrew Torah the story of Joseph and his brothers the ten commandments the story of Jonah and the story of Job and a talk given shortly after the war by Yiddish poet and playwright Halpern Leivick Goodhart concludes that criticism as we know it within a formal academic humanities setting far from expounding the critical reading a given work makes available to us often acts out or repeats the very structures or conflicts which are its subject matter As a result the most powerful forms of commentary upon our myth making capacities may be found less in these critical texts than in the literary texts they model and whose perspectives they would usurpExploring themes introduced in his well known essay on Oedipus Goodhart concludes that literature is best understood as an interpretation of criticism The demystifications provided by critics are often recreations of the myths that literary texts attempt to expose Others have suggested as much but have not pursued the issue as he and Ren Girard do to the foundations of Western thought His dialogic relation to Girard illuminates both the Judaic and Christiantraditions Wallace Martin University of Toledo

8 thoughts on “Sacrificing Commentary Reading the End of Literature

  1. says:

    Goodhart is an accomplished literary critic who writes like a novelist when he argues his points His arguments unfold gradually like a plot in a novel Goodhart follows and implements to a certain extent René Girard’s thesis that literature and to a large extent our culture including Christianity show the central role of the sacrificial violence and the way out of it by demystifying it in terms of rituals and sanctifications demystification in the sense of annulment or sublation 100 102 103 04 106 138 199 201 Goodhart follows Girard only to an extent and stops He stops where Girard goes on to argue that the violence perpetuates despite the demystification within the literature and the culture How is Girard’s latter part of the thesis overcome? Following Levinas Goodhart finds the way out of the perpetual cycle of violence by finding ethical practices in Judaism specifically in the Torah Thus literary criticism or commentary must stop so as to stop the violence perpetuated within literature and our culture despite demystification Hence Goodhart situates himself at the end of literature and hopes to usher it in by exercising what he would call a prophetic reading from within the text a kind of reading that will actualize in life and culture what one reads in a performative sense Commentary or criticism too must be sacrificed or given up so as to stop the perpetuation of violence for moving into ethical practice embedded in the two thousand years of Jewish practice of reading the text of the Torah the ethical practice or subjectivity that Emmanuel Levinas proposes to be responsible for the other humans Goodhart thus proposes displacing criticism with ethics text with ethical life Hence the book title Sacrificing Commentary Reading the End of Literature If as Goodhart shows along with Girard the story of Oedipus Rex and Richard II stage the ambiguity if not the absurdity of the logic of the sacrificial violence that perpetuates within those stories themselves despite staging the demystification thereof Goodhart demonstrates by also staging that the Hebrew Bible the story of Joseph the Ten Commandments the story of Jonah and the Book of Job in contrast tells us to stop and give up the way of the perpetual violence committed in the name of sacrifice and its demystification A midrashic story told by Gershom Scholem as in turn retold by Goodhart in this regard is instructive a Talmudic scholar is sitting in his study reading Talmud and he suddenly sees himself sitting in his study reading Talmud He comes in other words to see his own double to recognize himself in the other to recognize the other as himself Moreover he understands that other as his own past or his own future the road he is already traveling And having had this vision he comes finally at the critical moment to distance himself from it He fictionalizes it He tells a story about it a midrash 120 21Notice the Möbius strip at work here which Goodhart employs at crucial juncture of each of his analyses of the aforementioned texts 118 156 196 etc The inside of the midrashic story told here leads to the outside like the Möbius strip As the story goes the Talmud one is reading shows the reader’s own past and future the road he has taken and where it is leading All this is in turn taken up to be told as yet another story like the commentaries that surround the Torah where the boundary between Torah and the commentaries thereof is blurred This blurring becomes effective for the entire Tanakh the Jewish Bible In fact the whole Bible is an extension of the Torah 124 Thus the Books of the Prophets the wisdom books the Talmud etc are but an extension of the Torah In fact the rabbis believe that the whole universe is an extension of the Torah because as they like to say the Torah existed before the creation 198 or that it serves as the “blueprint” of the world 131 198 There is thus no distinction between the inside and the outside of the text “We have never been outside of the text” 118 Just as the literature demythologizes the sacrificial violence so as to perpetuate violence Girard’s thesis the Biblical texts on the other hand pull us out of the world of violence by the force of the Torah which is a teaching that says in essence “I am the LORD your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt out of the house of bondage” Ex 202 italics added It is in this First Commandment a teaching rather than an imperative that contains all the rest of the Ten Commandments; and it is further in the unpronounceable name of God that contains all of the Ten Commandments as the Kabbalists are fond of saying 137 Because the essence of the Jewish Law is for Goodhart summed up in anti idolatrism which is to say in a call of God “to live otherwise than by the being of the sacrificial structures of the worlds in which Judaism appeared” 202 Thus Goodhart writes at the outset of his book with a clear reference to LevinasIn Judaism at the altar before the ark of the covenant in the place where older cultures would identify a sacrificial victim one discovers a text—a teaching a torah—which speaks anti sacrificially of that victimage from one end to the other In place of sacrificing a victim one intones or recites or reads this text which is taken itself as the trace of an encounter with the infinitely Other and as such the foundation of ethical response xiii xivFor Goodhart Levinas provides the ultimate point of reference because Levinas enables him to overcome Girard’s pessimism or nihilism that in demystifying the sacrificial violence the western culture ends up perpetuating the violence Judaism enable to stop the cycle of violence and to give up its logic by the Law that commands in essence Stop repent and become responsible for what you are not and what you have not created The impetus to stop and to give up comes from the Biblical texts that ultimately boil down to the saying of the First Commandment “I am the LORD your God” and thus abandon the ways of idolatries of the world The strongest argument that appears at the center of the book comes from Goodhart’s brilliant analysis of the Book of Job It is crucial to understand as Goodhard successfully shows that the Book of Job is not about the “problem of evil” and that Job is not much different from his three visiting friends who attempt to explain the origin of evil through a system of causality or of free will Levinas’s interpretation of Job is followed here wholeheartedly; cf Of God Who Comes to Mind 133; Nine Talmudic Readings by Emmanuel Levinas 48 49; Otherwise Than Being or Beyond Essence 122 Job complains about his banishment from his community like a victim in the mode that Girard describes Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World—from the community where he was respected and where he “dwelt as a king in the army as one that comforteth the mourners” Job 2921 25 301 8 10 29; as uoted in Goodhart’s 183 84 In the end however Job turns from his way of thinking and repents In the face of God in response to “God’s prophetic presentation” 205 italics added he overcomes his “problem” and acknowledges “But now mine eye seeth Thee; Wherefore I abhor my words and repent Seeing I am dust and ashes” Job 426; as uoted in Goodhart’s 205 His so called “problem of evil” becomes small in comparison to the magnitude of God the Creator “Creation is larger than justice God says to him” 201 It is not that Job felt sorry for his complaints which is otherwise legitimate His repentance teshuvah—another key term for Goodhard as it is in Judaism—involves stopping shavat from which we have 'Sabbath' and giving up the way his three friends were thinking; in fact the way of Satan the term ‘satan’ means “accuser” who unlike Job does not stop accusing God cf 164 65 207 “Repentance” says Goodhart “is the regenerative force par excellence in Judaism and therefore appropriate to the one day Yom Kippur the day of repentance or atonement ordained since creation for purification for the separation of light from darkness” 165; cf 143—hence the Book of Jonah is read in the ritual of Yom Kippur Goodhart writesAfter posing these uestions what is reuired of Job is that he give up insisting upon the sanctity of his own position that he humble himself before the condition of his own possibility indeed the condition of the possibility of the universe itself and return to the way of God 209At this point of Goodhart’s argument Levinas becomes decisive uoting from Levinas’s 1955 essay “Loving the Torah More Than God” Goodhard argues that the issue of suffering is not a uestion of justice the metaphysical uestion but of being a Jew It is at this point Goodhart cites Levinas “The suffering of the just for a justice that is without triumph is lived concretely as Judaism” Difficult Freedom Essays on Judaism 144 in Goodhart’s translation as uoted in his book 180 181 194 To be a Jew in turn means to be responsible for God’s creation “Thus to live in accord with God’s Law in this account says Goodhart to live according to the law of anti idolatry is to participate in God’s creative act to create the world as God did via Torah” 198 The so called “problem of evil” is overcome by redeeming act of repentance negatively; and by becoming responsible for the evil one did not commit positively in short to be “responsible as Levinas puts it for what was neither one’s self nor one’s work” “Transcendence and Evil” in Of God Who Comes to Mind 133 or again to uote Levinas to “substitute oneself for others” which is the uality that defines Job’s 'uprightness' temimut Nine Talmudic Readings by Emmanuel Levinas 49; as uoted in Goodhart’s 168 211 Goodhart thus concludesWe are interested in reading today because the condition of our contemporary being is the Holocaust and post Holocaustal reading is a form of ethical practice one that shares certain similarities with the ethical practice exercised for than two thousand years as the reading of the Hebrew Torah and one that has as its end or goal witness the ownership of one’s responsibility for the other individual 276I ask Is prophetic reading that leads to ethical practice possible in any great texts outside the Hebrew Bible—be it the New Testament or any other texts of the world’s great religions? Goodhart leaves a room for “Eastern religions” 203 More specifically is ethical practice possible in the Christian liturgy which imitates if not seek to revive the Jewish sacrifice or the ritual of atonement? Goodhart was surprised in our recent conversation by how similar the Catholic liturgy was to the Jewish liturgy except of course for the Eucharist If we are at the end of literature and if commentary must be sacrificed what next? If practicing ethical life ie being responsible for the other humans is integrally associated with Judaism and if we are thus to live like the Jews the people of the book; how is the Jewish life to continue at the end of literature and commentary? Must we abandon literature and take up the study of Torah? Shall we continue the Talmudic tradition of commenting on the Torah and thus living the Torah? Once again the following Jewish wisdom that refuses to separate the study of the Torah with living is instructiveThese are things that are limitlessof which a person enjoys the fruit of the worldwhile the principal remains in the world to comeThey are honoring one's father and motherengaging in deeds of compassionarriving early for study morning and eveningdealing graciously with guests visiting the sickproviding for the wedding coupleaccompanying the dead for burialbeing devoted in prayerand making peace among peopleBut the study of Torah encompasses them allMishkan T'Filah A Reformed Siddur New York Central Conference of American Rabbis 2007 88Lastly is not Logos who was with God and was God in the beginning John 11 in fact the Law incarnate? Logos perhaps should be translated as 'the Law' in John's Gospel Goodhart sees that both Jews and Christians can arrive at an agreement in the following summation of the Law that was offered by Jesus himself “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and all your soul” Deut 65; cf Goodhart’s 138; Matt 2237; Mark 1230; Luke 1027 Christians and Jews can also join in agreement in the verse that precedes it “Hear O Israel The LORD is our God the LORD alone” Deut 64 which is a repeat of the First Commandment itself Ex 202 “But Goodhart objects the displacement of the Word of God that is Torah with another is a stumbling block” 138 his italics Incarnation is the problem But did not Levinas use the exactly the same word to designate the ethical self as “substitution”? Levinas it would appear then is Christian than he or Goodhart would acknowledge This is to say both Jesus and Paul I propose were the proto Levinasians Notwithstanding and despite the undeniable atrocities the Cross represented for the Jews and Muslims in history and politics in the past and present both Judaism and Christianity at bottom is one religion nonetheless The difference seems to lie in which way one nudges the core toward the old or the new where the term the ‘new’ does not necessarily mean ‘better’ or ‘improved’ beyond and despite the rhetoric of the ‘new wine’ and the ‘old wineskins’ in the synoptic Gospels Matt 917 Mark 222 Luke 537

  2. says:

    Brilliant essays on Greek drama the Hebrew Bible applying René Girard's mimetic theory For my thoughts on mimetic theory see my blog Imaginary Visions of True Peace at