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The Open Past

Subjectivity and Remembering in the Talmud

Sergey Dolgopolski

Publication Year: 2012

The Open Past challenges a view of time that has dominated philosophical thought for the past two centuries. In that view, time originates from a relationship to the future, and the past can be only a fictitious beginning, the necessary phantom of a starting point, a chronological period of "before." This view of the past has permeated the study of the Talmud as well, resulting in the application of modern philosophical categories such as the "thinking subject," subjectivity, and temporality to the thinking displayed in the texts of the Talmud. The book seeks to reclaim the originary power and authority the past exerts in the Talmud. Central to the task of reclaiming a radical role for the past are medieval notions of the virtual and their contrasting modern appropriations, the thinking subject among them. These serve as both a bridging point and a demarcation between the practices of thinking and remembering displayed in the conversations held by the characters in the Talmud by contrast to other rhetorical or philosophical schools and disciplines of thought.

Published by: Fordham University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 1-6


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xi

This book reclaims the originary power that the past exerts on the characters in the Talmud. To discern and explore that unusual power both in the late ancient text of the Talmud and in the broader context of connected disciplines of thinking and remembering, I engage competing—modern and ancient—notions of virtual agents....

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pp. 1-17

Zero and the “imaginary number” i in mathematics; paper money in economics; the vanishing point and the royal vista point in perspectivist painting; the free will of a person bound by the chain of causes and effects in the physical world as posited in theology; virtue as a power to practice what is known to be right (as opposed to only...

Part I. Stakes

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pp. 19-32

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1. What Happens to Thinking?

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pp. 21-33

What does it mean “to think” in the age of technology? As unexpected as it may sound, this question—as I will show in this chapter—is highly relevant for analyzing thinking processes in the Talmud. In the first three chapters, I therefore introduce, in an inevitably general form, a broader background and the stakes of my inquiry...

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2. Ego Cogito, Ego Meminí: I Think, Therefore I Remember

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pp. 34-43

How does modern thinking about thinking differ from historically known methods of thinking, particularly within the Jewish tradition? Late ancient rabbinic schools of thought differ from modern intellectual habits in their understanding of the role of memory in thinking. Modern practices of thinking limit the role of memory...

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3. Through Talmud Criticism to the Talmud as Thought and Memory

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pp. 44-53

In analyzing the tridimensional territory of speaking, thinking, and remembering displayed in the Talmud’s text, I proceed through contemporary Talmud text-critical scholarship to the Talmud as a thought form, and in particular a memory form. For brevity I dub the hitherto predominant text-critical scholarship on the Talmud “Talmud...

Part II. Who Speaks?

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pp. 55-68

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Preamble: The Virtual Author

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pp. 57-58

“Who speaks in the Talmud?” is not a question I asked, nor is my goal to add to the answers given to it. Rather, the question arose in contemporary Talmud criticism. My purpose in this part is to understand the question and its hidden structure. To that end, I attend to the answers the scholars of Talmud criticism have given to the...

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4. Thought and Memory in the Talmud: The Ambiguous Status of “The Author”—and Beyond

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pp. 59-77

Luckily, the first text has all we need to answer those first questions. It has a preface signed “The Author, Hartford, 1876.” It lets us know it was “The Author” who said “No answer.” As the text of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer continues, “The Author” introduces Aunt Polly and the other characters. Aunt Polly is first introduced in her little...

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5. Human Existence in the Talmud: Thinking as Multiplicity and Heterogeneity

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pp. 78-104

In the last chapter, I identified three aporias in which, given the assumption that in the Talmud thinking must occur in a person (character, author) found either in historical reality or in the reality represented and/or constructed in the text, it is undecidable where the position occupied by what I have been calling “The Author” can be...

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6. Sense in the Making: Hermeneutical Practices of the Babylonian Talmud

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pp. 105-128

If thinking is disconnected from the notion of a unitary and homogeneous thinking subject in the Talmud, and if understanding and remembering are likewise disconnected from the notion of such a subject, how do the literary characters in the Talmud, who collectively, yet multiply, diversely, and heterogeneously, contribute to thinking...

Part III. Who Thinks?

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pp. 129-142

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Preamble: The Virtual Subject

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pp. 131-133

From the question “Who speaks?” we arrive at an answer Talmud criticism gave to the implied question “Who thinks?” Answering both questions with their respective notions of “The Author” as either “redactors” or “composer” of Talmudic discussions, scholars in Talmud criticism assumed a strong and rigid connection between thinking...

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7. Who Thinks in the Talmud?

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pp. 134-157

If person-centered models of the authors as well as other—named and unnamed—characters in the Talmud cannot suffice to answer the question “Who thinks in the Talmud?” what can?1 To approach this question, I again simultaneously invoke the traditions of scholarship in the Talmud and in philosophy in a mutual hermeneutics...

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8. The Hand of Augustine: Thought, Memory, and Performative Existence in the Talmud

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pp. 158-178

The thinking process in the Talmud has nothing to do with the modern notion of the thinking subject. Instead, as this chapter will show, it is a process of the collective rational reinvention of the memory of tradition produced through the conversations that the characters conduct in the text. How are we to place the thinking and remembering...

Part IV. Who Remembers?

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pp. 179-192

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Preamble: The Virtual

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pp. 181-184

From the question “Who speaks?” through the question “Who thinks?” we have arrived at the question “Who remembers?” Addressing that question requires a careful analysis of its structure. We have discovered structural foundations of the first two questions in the notion of the thinking subject, as dubious as this notion would...

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9. What Is the Sophist? Who Is the Rabbi?: The Virtual of Thinking

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pp. 185-211

On computer screens, where current perceptions tend to locate virtuality, the virtual limits itself—practically and normatively—to only one, frontal view at a very limited distance and with exposure for only a very short time and/ or with a very high speed of comprehension. However, this is only one kind of virtuality. There are other, much...

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10. The Talmud as Film

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pp. 212-246

The virtual in the Talmud is not only an agency embodied in remembering but also the reality remembered. How is that remembered reality created and what exactly does it entail, if compared to the reality dealt with in philosophical thinking? This question is best asked by way of contrast to Cartesian thinking, which pointedly did not require...

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pp. 247-256

Let me conclude with a series of questions I posit that “you” are asking me, and my response will be a soliloquy similar to the anonymous soliloquies we have seen in the Talmud. Thinking aloud invites the audience to think along, attending to the next steps in exploring the relationship between thinking, memory, and the virtual that this book...

Appendix: Talmud Criticism, An Analytical Example: “Composer” versus “Redactors”: David Halivni’s and Shamma Friedman’s Competing Readings of Baba Metzi‘a 76ab

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pp. 257-305


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pp. 307-356


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pp. 357-368

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pp. 369-370

I am thankful for the example and inspiration I find in Daniel Boyarin’s scholarship and intellectual personality. Important for, and divergent from, the argument in this book, Boyarin’s recent research highlights that dialogues both in Plato and in the Babylonian Talmud are far from being as open as they might seem. In the same argument...


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pp. 371-379

E-ISBN-13: 9780823250257
Print-ISBN-13: 9780823244928
Print-ISBN-10: 082324492X

Page Count: 394
Publication Year: 2012

Edition: Text

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Thought and thinking -- Philosophy.
  • Memory (Philosophy).
  • Time perception -- Philosophy.
  • Subjectivity -- Philosophy.
  • Jewish philosophy.
  • Talmud -- Criticism, interpretation, etc.
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