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Beneath the Veil of the Strange Verses

Reading Scandalous Texts

Jeremiah L. Alberg

Publication Year: 2013

Jeremiah Alberg’s fascinating book explores a phenomenon almost every news reader has experienced: the curious tendency to skim over dispatches from war zones, political battlefields, and economic centers, only to be drawn in by headlines announcing a late-breaking scandal. Rationally we would agree that the former are of more significance and importance, but they do not pique our curiosity in quite the same way. The affective reaction to scandal is one both of interest and of embarrassment or anger at the interest. The reader is at the same time attracted to and repulsed by it. Beneath the Veil of the Strange Verses describes the roots out of which this conflicted desire grows, and it explores how this desire mirrors the violence that undergirds the scandal itself. The book shows how readers seem to be confronted with a stark choice: either turn away from scandal completely or become enthralled and thus trapped by it. Using examples from philosophy, literature, and the Bible, Alberg leads the reader on a road out of this false dichotomy. By its nature, the author argues, scandal is the basis of our reading; it is the source of the obstacles that prevent us from understanding what we read, and of the bridges that lead to a deeper grasp of the truth.

Published by: Michigan State University Press

Series: Studies in Violence, Mimesis and Culture


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pp. 1-1

Title Page, Series Page, Copyright, Dedication, Frontispiece

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pp. 2-7


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pp. 8-9

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pp. ix-xi

The translation of Dante that I have used for my title comes from Prof. William Franke; it occurs in his work, Dante’s Interpretative Journey (84). It is a book that I return to often and from which I always learn more. The long quote after the title page is used with kind permission from its author, Prof. Nicholas Boyle. Again, the whole work from which it was...

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pp. xiii-xviii

Danner is correct, I believe, in seeing political violence as a privileged access or portal to what is going on in a society, but at least in this short introduction he merely identifies the problem rather than providing a way through it. That is, his recommendation for Leontius, and through him to us, to shed...

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1. The Language of Scandal and the Scandal of Language

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pp. 1-17

Let’s begin by looking more carefully at the surface of the episode from the Republic in which Leontius desires to both look and not look at the executed corpses he is passing by. This encounter is decidedly not a psychological conflict of desires. His desire to look at the corpses and not to look is not like...

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2. The Fascination of Friedrich Nietzsche

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pp. 19-37

We began with Leontius going up from the Pireaus. In his encounter with the corpses he was aware of three things: that he wanted to look at the executed corpses, that he did not want to look, and that neither the looking nor the not looking would leave him fully satisfied. He was seemingly unaware of...

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3. The Scandal of Jean-Jacques Rousseau

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pp. 39-54

The nature of scandal is such that often, the more one tries to get beyond it, the more deeply ensnared one becomes. We call to mind again Leontius’s struggle with looking at the corpses. He wants to look and, at the same time, he is ashamed and angry that he wants to look. Th e desire provokes the shame...

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4. The Interpretation of Dante Alighieri

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pp. 55-70

In Canto IX of the Inferno the character Dante is standing outside the city of Dis. Dante’s descent has reached an impasse at the gates of this city. The devils who guard the city refuse to listen to Virgil’s entreaties. The Furies then appear and threaten the appearance of the Medusa. Virgil has to cover...

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5. The Lesson of the Gospels

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pp. 71-97

Plato understood the limitations of reason. Reason cannot, on its own, withstand the temptation of looking at corpses. For that, Plato enlists another part of the soul, the spirited part with its anger. Anger does not enable one to look at the victim; instead, it keeps one’s gaze steady as one walks by the...

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6. The Challenge of Flannery O’Connor

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pp. 99-115

We began this journey with Leontius’s encounter with the corpses. We saw there that we both want and do not want to encounter reality at its deepest level. We long for it and dread it at the same time. We then widened our perspective through some reflections on language. Words, spelled out in her...

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pp. 117-120

We conclude with a story that is meant to serve as a pendant to the story with which we began. We opened with Socrates relating the story of Leontius’s encounter with the corpses. Socrates prefaced his telling by saying, “I once heard something that I trust.” At the close we...


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pp. 121-129


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pp. 131-136

Subject Index

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pp. 137-139

Index of Scripture Passages

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pp. 141-160

E-ISBN-13: 9781609173647
E-ISBN-10: 1609173643
Print-ISBN-13: 9781611860764
Print-ISBN-10: 1611860768

Page Count: 160
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: Studies in Violence, Mimesis and Culture
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OCLC Number: 820124126
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Beneath the Veil of the Strange Verses

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Philosophical anthropology.
  • Scandals.
  • Scandals in literature.
  • Violence.
  • Violence in the Bible.
  • Sacrifice.
  • Forgiveness.
  • Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm, 1844-1900. Geburt der Tragödie.
  • Dante Alighieri, 1265-1321. Inferno.
  • Rousseau, Jean-Jacques, 1712-1778.
  • O'Connor, Flannery -- Criticism and interpretation.
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