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280Philosophy and Literature The Slayers ofMoses: The Emergence ofRabbinic Interpretation in Modern Literary Theory, by Susan A. Handelman; xxi & 267 pp. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1982, $39.00 cloth, $12.95 paper. In this volume, part of the "SUNY Series on Modern Jewish Literature and Culture," Susan A. Handelman seeks to show that there are "striking and profound structural affinities between the work of some of our most recent and influential (Jewish) diinkers like Freud, Derrida, and Bloom, and Rabbinic models of interpretation" (p. xv). To demonstrate these affinities, she sketches in the first half of the book a history ofWestern theories of interpretation wherein the "Graeco-Christian" thinkers, following Plato, Aristotle, and Augustine, seek always to pass through or beyond text, language, and history to ground meaning in some source or end independent ofwords or time, in some final "Fulfiller of Signs." But this main tradition of "escape from textuality" is opposed by "Rabbinic thought," which is more inclined to see language as the repository of ultimate wisdom and hence more concerned to look at language rather than dirough it. The result is a body of writing and commentary in which the commentary itself assumes canonical status and engenders further interpretation, all text becomes "intertext" woven through time, and the fulfillment of signs is endlessly deferred. Having set forth this neatly oppositional history, Handelman argues in the second half of her book that many of the most influential modern theorists of interpretation, and especially Freud, Lacan, Derrida, and Bloom, are much indebted to — or at least very much in harmony with — the Rabbinic tradition. Further, Handelman sees Freud, Derrida, and Bloom as extending the line of "Jewish heretic hermeneutics" since each applies die concepts of language and time implicit in Rabbinic diought to realms other than Scripture, yet each ends by creating a new, secular scripture for which he is the chief interpreter. Thus each ofthese thinkers reveals a "negative and dialectical" (p. 222) identification with Jewish tradition and each seeks to become a "slayer of Moses" who would displace the original lawgiver. (Freud's "swerve" to the classical tradition to find a name for this "Oedipal" maneuver is itself an example of the maneuver it names.) And yet the would-be slayer can never quite succeed, for, as it is the burden of Handelman's book to show, by using the Rabbinic mode of thought the thinker remains within it. "I suggest that, especially in the cases ofFreud, Derrida, and Bloom, there is tradition at the heart of heresy, a tradition that is compelling and reembracing" (p. 207). And so, in Handelman's reading, each "heretic" reaches a resolution in endless interpretation, a resolution fully consonant with die tradition ofRabbinic thought and one which is, as she says specifically of Harold Bloom's, a "resolution in the Jewish mode, not as fulfillment of signs in the incarnate word, but as the raising of the Jewish historical condition into a paradigm of existence: to be is to be in exile; to create is to endure catastrophe; to make texts is to already interpret; absence is presence" (p. 222). In the end, then, Handelman wants to do more than simply demonstrate the "structural affinities" promised in her preface; she wants to assert die direct and powerful influence of distinctively Jewish modes of thought on these would-be heretics (in typical psychoanalytic reversal their denial of this influence becomes a proof for it) for she seeks finally to historicize and psychologize them, not merely to offer an account of Freud, Reviews281 Derrida, and Bloom but to account for them. Not surprisingly, this method appears more convincing when applied to Freud and Bloom, figures who seem to invite understanding in these, their own, terms. Derrida, of course, calls these very terms into question. But whatever his views on these matters, and despite the book's oversimplified history (large and unqualified abstractions like "the Hellenistic mind," "the Hebrew mind," "Christian thought," and "Western thinking" cluster thickly in the earlier pages), the student of literary theory will find Handelman's study worth reading for it provides a clear description of a largely unfamiliar interpretive tradition, one that affords a thoughtprovoking perspective on...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 280-281
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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