Levinas and Medieval Literature
The "Difficult Reading" of English and Rabbinic Texts
Publication Year: 2009
Levinas and Medieval Literature takes the unique approach of connecting Christian allegory, talmudic hermeneutics, and Levinasian interpretation. Levinas’s philosophy illuminates what it means to classify medieval texts as profoundly ethical; and the medieval works, in their aurality, fragmentation, and layered narrative structures, provide a crucial context for understanding Levinas’s “difficult reading” and his underappreciated aesthetics.
These discussions draw inspiration from Levinas who, as a philosopher and talmudic commentator, continues premodern traditions in a postmodern key. In their view, Levinas’s “postmodern” method of reading, his ethical sensibilities, his very language, appear anachronistically medieval. At the same time, they discover that Levinas hyperbolically amplifies the themes with which medieval writings resonate: hospitality, onto(theo)logy, infinity, theodicy, Creation, eros, the maternal, the Face, substitution, and pardon. They find in medieval interpretive practices the very concerns with ethical reading that powerfully engaged Levinas.
Encountered dialogically, these mutual themes and concerns of the medievals and Levinas inform and transform our sense of intellectual history.
Published by: Duquesne University Press
Title Page, Copyright Page
Download PDF (68.0 KB)
The idea for this collection was inspired by sessions held two years in a row at the International Congress on Medieval Studies in Kalamazoo, Michigan in 2004 and 2005. We want to thank the organizers of those Congresses for accepting our proposals for special sessions on the topic âLevinas and Medieval Literature.â The response to the calls for papers, the papers delivered, and the ensuing discussions made it clear...
Download PDF (83.4 KB)
1. Before the Face of the Book: A Levinasian Pre-face
Download PDF (145.8 KB)
In an Anglo-Saxon riddle, the Bible speaks, alive as a book after its death as an animalâs skin. It describes its killing by an enemy, its washing in water, its drying in the sun, the scraping off of its hair, its being cut with a sharp knife, its inscription with a pen, its binding, its rubrication with blood-red letters, its illumination with gold, its great usefulness to humanity. At the end of its cryptic autobiography, it teases...
2. Difficult Reading
Download PDF (179.7 KB)
Whereas Russian was the language that Levinas initially spoke with his family, the first language he learned to read was Hebrew. Contrary to the sequence of most childrenâs acquisition of a language, namely, from oral to literate, Levinas read Hebrew before he spoke it. Moreover, the feel he developed for the âextraordinary presence of its characters"...
3. Levinas, Allegory, and Chaucerâs Clerkâs Tale
Download PDF (204.5 KB)
Although Emmanuel Levinas has seldom (if ever) been called an allegorist, some of his writings share surprising elements with medieval allegory. His work, for example, is rich in figurative language, including such terms as the face, the trace, the hostage, and...
4. âIn his eyes stood a light, not beautifulâ: Levinas, Hospitality, Beowulf
Download PDF (211.1 KB)
I begin with an ending.1 In Adieu to Emmanuel Levinas, Jacques Derrida argues that Emmanuel Levinasâs philosophy, especially in Totality and Infinity, has bequeathed to us an âimmense treatise of hospitality.â According to Derrida, although âthe word âhospitalityâ occurs relatively seldom
5. There Is Horror: The Awntyrs off Arthure, the Face of the Dead, and the Maternal Other
Download PDF (208.3 KB)
The Gospel according to St. Luke records Jesusâ parable (unique among those in the synoptic Gospels) of the rich man and Lazarus, the poor man, to whose hunger, rags, and sores the wealthy one, living luxuriously, pays no heed. Tormented after his death in the flames of Hades (the Greek term used to translate the Hebrew...
6. Doing Justice to Isaac Levinas, the Akedah, and the Brome Play of Abraham and Isaac
Download PDF (221.5 KB)
As Eric Auerbach so famously noted, the account of Abrahamâs near sacrifice of Isaac is spare and enigmatic, but in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, Middle English dramatists fleshed out Genesis 22 to suit their own dramatic needs, religious aims, and ideological purposes.1 Six versions of the Abraham and Isaac episode are preserved in Middle...
7. The Personifi cational Face Piers Plowman Rethought through Levinas and Bronowski
Download PDF (198.7 KB)
Among the ancient rhetorical tropes, prosopopeia, or personification, has, along with its superordinate mode allegory, come to enjoy some renewed attention in Piers Plowman studies. Most notably (and recently) Mary Carruthers has urged readers of the poem to think of a scale or spectrum concerning Langlandâs figural language, ranging...
8. The Infinite Desire of Pearl
Download PDF (205.8 KB)
Theodore Bogdanosâs beautiful meditation on Pearl begins to define the inexpressibility of the poemâs theopoetics: âA fraction of historical time in a manâs life is engulfed in eternity; yet it suddenly expands and possesses eternity within itself â if only for a flashing moment of powerful vision.â1 The vision at the heart of the poem cannot be properly...
9. Criseydeâs Chances: Courtly Love and Ethics About to Come
Download PDF (194.3 KB)
As is well known Troilus and Criseyde stretches the readerâs conception of moral and political agency where important constraints on human freedom are concerned, constraints that are repeatedly figured by chance, adventure, and fortune.1 To take a conspicuous example, Troilusâs amorous feeling is generated as a result of a fortuitous glance...
10. The Wound of the Infinite: Rereading Levinas through Rashiâs Commentary on the Song of Songs
Download PDF (179.5 KB)
According to Hamlet, âthere is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it soâ (II.ii.259). While to the contemporary mind this might suggest moral relativism, a medieval as well as a Renaissance audience (to a large degree) would have rather emphasized the implications of the...
11. âA Land that Devours Its Inhabitantsâ: Midrashic Reading, Levinas, and Medieval Literary Exegesis
Download PDF (205.0 KB)
The Gospel according to St. Luke attributes the historical beginning of Christian exegesis of the Hebrew Scriptures in chapter 24:13â32 to Jesus himself.1 Two disciples, on their way to Emmaus, encounter (but do not immediately recognize) Jesus after his resurrection from the dead. âBeginning with Moses and with all the prophets,â Luke relates,...
12. When Pardon Is Impossible: Two Talmudic Tales, Chaucerâs Pardonerâs Tale, and Levinas
Download PDF (206.5 KB)
In the long history of thought about pardon, questions about the impossibility of forgiveness have traditionally arisen at one of two poles in the affected relationship: that of the injured party and its capacity to forgive or that of the offender, who must first beg and then accept forgiveness. Emphasizing the first of these, Emmanuel Levinas sees...
13. Those Evil Goslings, Those Evil Stories: Letting the Boys Out of Their Cave
Download PDF (209.5 KB)
How can stories of allegorical caves help demonstrate the value of ethical criticism summoned and scrutinized by Levinas? Unlike narratives in which, according to Levinas, âimage[s] neutralize [the] real relationshipâ between a concept and an object,1 Boccaccioâs introduction to the fourth day...
Download PDF (322.4 KB)
About the Contributors
Download PDF (105.7 KB)
Download PDF (4.7 MB)
Page Count: 384
Publication Year: 2009