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Language, Eros, Being

Kabbalistic Hermeneutics and Poetic Imagination

Elliot Wolfson

Publication Year: 2005

This long-awaited, magisterial study-an unparalleled blend of philosophy, poetry, and philology-draws on theories of sexuality, phenomenology, comparative religion, philological writings on Kabbalah, Russian formalism, Wittgenstein, Rosenzweig, William Blake, and the very physics of the time-space continuum to establish what will surely be a highwater mark in work on Kabbalah. Not only a study of texts, Language, Eros, Being is perhaps the fullest confrontation of the body in Jewish studies, if not in religious studies as a whole.Elliot R. Wolfson explores the complex gender symbolism that permeates Kabbalistic literature. Focusing on the nexus of asceticism and eroticism, he seeks to define the role of symbolic and poetically charged language in the erotically configured visionary imagination of the medieval Kabbalists. He demonstrates that the traditional Kabbalistic view of gender was a monolithic and androcentric one, in which the feminine was conceived as being derived from the masculine. He does not shrink from the negative implications of this doctrine, but seeks to make an honest acknowledgment of it as the first step toward the redemption of an ancient wisdom.Comparisons with other mystical traditions-including those in Christianity, Buddhism, and Islam-are a remarkable feature throughout the book. They will make it important well beyond Jewish studies, indeed, a must for historians of comparative religion, in particular of comparative mysticism.Praise for Elliot R. Wolfson:Through a Speculum That Shines is an important and provocative contribution to the study of Jewish mysticism by one of the major scholars now working in this field.-Speculum

Published by: Fordham University Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. iii-iv

Contents

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pp. ix-

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Preface

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pp. xi-xiv

When I happened upon the study of Jewish mysticism over two decades ago, of course, I could not have had any idea that the words of Scholem would serve as the guideword on my path, an evocation at the beginning, challenging and leading me on the way to crafting a poetics of kabbalah. ...

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Prologue: Timeswerve/Hermeneutic Reversibility

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pp. xv-xxxi

The figures I shall discuss in chapter one are philosophers who for years have accompanied me on the path of an often relentless attempt to elucidate hermeneutical assumptions in the hope of illumining the mystery of the imaginative faculty and ars poetica. The field of my vision, so to speak, has been leveled, to the degree that is possible, by a focus on kabbalistic sources ranging from the twelfth to the twenty-first...

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Chapter 1: Showing the Saying: Laying Interpretative Ground

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pp. 1-45

In this book I set out once again to expose the veil of poetic imagination woven within the fabric of the Jewish esoteric tradition, demarcated generically by scholar and adept as ‘‘kabbalah.’’ The semantic range of the term encompasses practice and theory, in Western philosophical jargon, or, in rabbinic locution, ma'aseh and talmud, a way of doing and a way of thinking. ...

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Chapter 2: Differentiating (In)Difference: Gender, and Kabbalah Study

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pp. 46-110

To the extent that thinking poetically is embodied thinking, and it does not seem possible to conceive of human embodiment that is not gendered—even the construct of an immaterial body that has figured prominently in many theological mythologems is engendered—it is necessary to delve into the matter of gender construction in kabbalistic lore before we proceed to an exposition of the erotic nature...

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Chapter 3: Phallomorphic Exposure: Concealing Soteric Esotericism

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pp. 111-141

As I intimated in the preceding chapter, the project of reshaping the feminine in contemporary liturgical discourse—and thereby destabilizing the male-centered symbolic that has dominated Judaism—can proceed without relying on philological and historical research, but the re/envisioning is proportionately impoverished to the degree that it neglects or obfuscates the tradition it purports to reflect. ...

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Chapter 4: Male Androgyne: Engendering E/Masculation

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pp. 142-189

As a number of biblicists and historians of religion have noted, the monotheistic ideal that evolved in ancient Israel was inextricably bound to the patriarchal rejection of the female element within the divine. Raphael Pattai observed in the introduction to his monographic study on the Hebrew Goddess, ‘‘In view of the general human, psychologically determined predisposition to believe in and worship goddesses...

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Chapter 5: Flesh Become Word: Textual Embodiment and Poetic Incarnation

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pp. 190-260

For kabbalists in the late Middle Ages, in consonance with contemporaneous patterns of Christian and Islamic piety but especially the former, the body was a site of tension, the locus of sensual and erotic pleasure on the one hand, and the earthly pattern of God’s image, the representation of what lies beyond representation, the mirror that renders visible the invisible, on the other. ...

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Chapter 6: Envisioning Eros: Poiesis and Heeding Silence

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pp. 261-295

As scholars have long noted, a salient feature of medieval kabbalah is the portrayal of religious experience in intensely charged erotic symbolism. Any attempt to separate the sexual and mystical threads in the tapestry of Jewish esotericism will prove to be futile.1 ...

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Chapter 7: Eunuchs Who Keep Sabbath: Erotic Asceticism/Ascetic Eroticism

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pp. 296-332

At first glance, it might appear that the title of this chapter brings together two mutually exclusive themes. Asceticism, conventionally understood, implies rigorous discipline of body and mind, the adoption of an austere lifestyle, which can lead to the abrogation of desire, expressed as denial and mortification. ...

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Chapter 8: Coming-to-Head, Returning-to-Womb: (E)Soteric Gnosis and Overcoming Gender Dimorphism

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pp. 333-371

There is a variety of literary settings in which the ideal of spiritual eroticism cultivated in the mystical piety of various traditions has found expression, but one medium that has been especially significant in the history of Judaism and Christianity is the commentarial tradition on the Song of Songs, the biblical book that most overtly employs tropes of sensual love and carnal sexuality.1 ...

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Epilogue

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pp. 372-390

The sway of thought, like the trajectory of time at once circular and linear, seems always to lead one back to where one has not been, retracing steps yet to be imprinted. In this book, I have once again labored long in the orchard of kabbalistic texts to articulate philosophically the poetic imagination and hermeneutic orientation of the medieval Jewish esoteric lore. ...

Notes

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pp. 391-597

Bibliography

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pp. 599-714

Index of Names and Book Titles

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pp. 715-728

Index of Subjects and Terms

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pp. 729-761


E-ISBN-13: 9780823247356
Print-ISBN-13: 9780823224180
Print-ISBN-10: 082322418X

Page Count: 792
Publication Year: 2005

Research Areas

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Subject Headings

  • Masculinity of God.
  • Femininity of God.
  • Cabala -- History.
  • Hermeneutics -- Religious aspects -- Judaism.
  • Poetics.
  • Imagination -- Religious aspects -- Judaism.
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