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Winged Words and Wounded Voices: Geoffrey Hartman on Midrash and Testimony

From: Jewish Quarterly Review
Volume 103, Number 2, Spring 2013
pp. 133-140 | 10.1353/jqr.2013.0016



Geoffrey Hartman’s distinctive contribution to Jewish Studies encompasses two separate spheres—a reflection on testimony, poetry, and culture after the Holocaust, as well as an exploration of the Jewish textual tradition, more particularly Midrashic commentary. While seemingly unrelated, Hartman’s writings in the two domains display striking similarities. Both bodies of texts are informed by a tension between two forces: on the one hand an attraction towards an unnamable absolute that eludes representation, disrupts the quotidian, and escapes human grasp, and on the other a humanizing impulse turned towards the unintelligible, the moderate, and the concrete that embraces the impure diversity of everyday life. A reconstruction of the oscillation between these two poles in Hartman’s “Jewish” writings will focus on the intersection between his idea of Judaism and the role of literature and commentary in invoking an intellectual, aesthetic, and ethical intensity without succumbing to the totalizing dangers of the ecstatic and the sublime.

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