Literature as a burning bush: hierarchitectitiptitoploftical, with a burning bush abob off its baubletop

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    The reason why Levinas distances himself from a mere historico-critical reading becomes clear from his philosophy: neither the object/text nor the subject/reader can be understood solely from their historical contexts, not even by
    merging the two historical horizons. This holds well for the understanding of the Talmud and for understanding literature tout court. In a way, the Bible offers a model for understanding literature as such, by emphasizing the status of
    the book (and any book) as a living reality, opening up the reader to that living reality. The Talmud offers an access to the living reality in all its details and paradoxes, without being submerged into pre-critical adherence to miracles 10 Searching the biblical context of each quotation in order to assess the tonality of the argument is one of the hermeneutical devices that Levinas learned from his Talmud teacher Chouchani. See also the debate between Rabbi Joshua and Rabbi Eliezer, a battle of quotations from Scripture, each adding an aspect of freedom versus constraint, in Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 97b–98a, and my Het gelaat van de Messias (1992, 76–97 and 162). 11 See Levinas, Quatre lectures talmudiques, (1968, 26–33, 120). The reference to Chouchani is on page 26. 12 Here again the influence of Chouchani may be felt, who constantly and bluntly confronted his disciples with different conclusions of the same debate, mocking pious readings. See also Elie Wiesel, “Le juif errant” in Le chant des morts (1966), for a romanticized picture of this legendary teacher-clochard. Salomon Malka, in Monsieur Chouchani: L’énigme du maître du xx siècle (1994), offers many anecdotes, but apparently the Talmudic method remains for the writer an enigma. Reading literature is being confronted with “sense,” sense of life and sense of the other. The subject confronted with the other is ultimately confronted with a sense that transcends horizons. Levinas’s understanding of the Talmud displays considerable distance from a hermeneutical process in which the subject is merely enriched by broadening his horizon. Levinas understands literature as a serious matter, dealing as it does with the meaning of life and uprooting the reading subject from its comfortable instalment in the world. On one hand, philological and historical tools as such are not sufficient to realize this confrontation.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationLevinas and Literature
    Subtitle of host publicationNew Directions
    EditorsMichael Fagenblat , Arthur Cools
    Place of PublicationBerlijn
    PublisherWalter de Gruyter
    Number of pages14
    ISBN (Electronic)9783110668926
    ISBN (Print)978-3-11-062966-8
    Publication statusPublished - Jan 2021

    Publication series

    NamePerspectives on Jewish Texts and Contexts


    • Literature, Comparative
    • Levinas


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