Culture is the element we inhabit as subjects.
Our body is medium and message.
Culture embraces the whole range of practices, customs and representations of a society. In their rituals, stories and images, societies identify what they perceive as good and evil, proper, sexually acceptable, racially other. Culture is the location of values, and the study of cultures shows how values vary from one society to another, or from one historical moment to the next.
But culture does not exist in the abstract. On the contrary, it is in the broadest sense of the term textual, inscribed in the paintings, operas, sculptures, furnishings, fashions, bus tickets and shopping lists which are the currency of both aesthetic and everyday exchange. Societies invest these artefacts with meanings, until in many cases the meanings are so 'obvious' that they pass for nature. Cultural criticism denaturalises and defamiliarises these meanings, isolating them for inspection and analysis.
The subject is what speaks, or, more precisely, what signifies, and subjects learn in culture to reproduce or to challenge the meanings and values inscribed in the signifying practices of the society that shapes them.
If culture is pervasive and constitutive for us, if it resides in the documents, objects and practices that surround us, if it circulates as the meanings and values we learn and reproduce as good citizens, how in these circumstances can we practise cultural criticism, where criticism implies a certain distance between the critic and the culture? The answer is that cultures are not homogeneous; they are not even necessarily coherent. There are always other perspectives, so that cultures offer alternative positions for the subjects they also recruit. Moreover, we have a degree of power over the messages we reproduce. A minor modification changes the script, and may alter the meaning; the introduction of a negative constructs a resistance.
The present moment in our own culture is one of intense debate. Sexual alignments, family values, racial politics, the implications of economic differences are all hotly contested. And positions are taken up not only in explicit discussions at political meetings, on television and in the pub. They are often reaffirmed or challenged implicitly in films and advertisements, horoscopes and lonely-hearts columns. Cultural criticism analyses all these forms in order to assess their hold on our consciousness.
There is no interpretative practice without theory, and the more sophisticated the theory, the more precise and perceptive the reading it makes possible. Cultural theory is as well defined now as it has ever been, and as strongly contested as our social values. There could not, in consequence, be a more exciting time to engage in the theory and practice of cultural criticism.
Step into the gallery where the exhibits are human corpses, immaculately preserved, then flayed, dissected, sliced and posed with an artist's precision and flair. Peer with impunity into the secret recesses of bellies, skulls, chest cavities, the wombs of pregnant women. Have your photograph taken with the skinned chess player whose brain rises like a loaf from his opened skull; gaze straight through a man laid out in thin transparent slices from the scalp to the hardened skin of the toes. In the gift shop afterwards, choose from a range of anatomical gadgets and desk toys, or post grisly cards to your friends. Before leaving you could even begin the legal procedure of bequeathing your own body to the project for subsequent exhibitions.
This is not futuristic fantasy, but the Body Worlds exhibition from German anatomist Gunther von Hagens, whose revolutionary technique of `plastination' — removing the body's fluids and replacing them with liquid plastic — enables bodies to be presented and observed by the public as never before. The exhibition, which has been touring Japan and Europe for several years, has been both controversial and a huge commercial success. Yet one might wonder why, given that we don't need von Hagens to show us how bodies look on the inside: centuries of anatomical science already enable us to view them in infinitesimal depth and detail. The sensational appeal of Body Worlds has to do with the authenticity of the bodies on display: the viewer is not sup-posed to forget that they are real, a contemporary momento mori, asserting a democratising mortality in a culture which strives to keep disease and death as far as possible from everyday life. Here medicine, art and old-fashioned horror converge in a spectacle staged to challenge the taboos which dictate acceptable contexts for viewing the dead; or, in psychoanalytic terms, for containing the threat of the real.'
Gunther von Hagens' Body Worlds: The Anatomical Exhibition of Real Human Bodies by Angelina Whalley Gunther von Hagens and Wilhelm Kriz (Institut fur Plastination )
But these cadavers, glossy, exempt from decay, flamboyantly posed and, in von Hagens's own words, 'imbued with a new and characteristic identity',2 have little to do with death's ineffable 'real'. Instead they reflect a sense of what it means to have a body in twentyfirst century life; which is indeed to have a 'characteristic identity' above and beyond the blueprint of anatomy: a countenance which we likewise strive, by whatever means possible, to keep glossy, exempt from decay and appropriately (if not flamboyantly) posed.
Body Worlds The Anatomical Exhibition of Real Human Bodies by Gunther von Hagens (Arts and Sciences)
If anything, the exhibition serves more as a memento vivendi, reminding the viewer less of the body's perishability than of its resilient plasticity in a technologised world. For how else is the body — living or dead — to be understood in a 'real' world informed by airbrushed images and special effects, cosmetic surgery and virtual reality, cybernetics and the genome? How do we recognise the real or natural in our own bodies? Even their most intimate processes own meanings which are not ours alone to determine, but always already inherited from culture, the medium in which we exist from earliest infancy. What we know of our bodies' 'nature' is available to us only through the ideologies which fashion our understanding of the world and our place in it. Even death itself offers no consensus in this field. Consider how the testaments in the Body Worlds guidebook, from people who have already donated their bodies to the project, engage widely differing world-views: 'I would like to make interested persons understand better what a "work of art" the human body is' stated one donor. 'I have always felt the need to provide my body for scientific purposes' declared another. 'Grave maintenance is obviously the last opportunity to fleece you' opined (ironically, in the event) a third, while a fourth maintained that 'when Jesus Christ rises from the dead, he will wake me up in a new body as it is written in the Bible'. What could the precise nature and meaning of the body possibly be in an era professing such divergent attitudes? How, for that matter, could any two people at the exhibition be seeing and understanding the same thing?
Contemporary culture loves body-gazing. Geri Halliwell's figure, David Beckham's tattoos, Michael Jackson's face, the derigeur gore of horror films and medical dramas, the ravaged subjects of newsreel footage, the person in the magazine or changing-room who may or may not look better in those clothes than oneself: all take their place in the daily negotiation of what it means to be embodied. But this fascination, far from proving the essential naturalness of bodies, emphasises how they are produced and made meaningful only by the discursive frameworks which position them as objects of knowledge. Clearly, this makes the significance of bodies both radically unfixed and historically contingent. Chaucer, for instance, gave his Wife of Bath gap teeth to signal her implicit licentiousness, not to comment on the shortcomings of medieval orthodontics. For Chaucer's audience, physiognomy was a valid, common-sense way of discerning character through physique. Nor is this an entirely outmoded way of reading the body: the jut-ting jaw-line of the contemporary comic-book hero, for example, arguably functions in the same way.
Yet it is one thing to examine how the trappings of culture — fashion, body-language, permissible and taboo behaviours, sexual activity, even skin-colour — shape how the embodied subject is perceived. Only delve beneath the surface, however, and one will soon strike an inescapable material presence, the body as organism, whose status must be one of universal reality. Indeed, the biomedical rhetoric of Body Worlds suggests precisely that we are all, fundamentally, the same on the inside.
But even what we understand to be the 'inside' of the body has its own rich cultural history, and is intimately bound up with modern conceptions of the self Notions of 'inner personhood' are a reflex which it seems counterintuitive to contest. As the ubiquitous TV talk-show verifies, expressing oneself, letting rip, coming clean, getting things off one's chest and out in the open, has become a cultural imperative. Keeping things 'bottled up' is almost akin to disease in the popular imagination: thus we are daily enjoined by advertising, new age and therapy culture, pop lyrics and Hollywood cinema, to express our 'inner selves' as though our lives quite literally depended on it. The metaphors so often used to articulate this desire are an index of how closely expressive individuality is bound up with a profound sense of corporeal reality, privacy, depth and distinctness.
There is, however, an anecdote often invoked in critical discussions of embodiment which proves that the very notion of the body as a discrete social entity is neither universal, nor essential to human culture. Jonathan Sawday relates it thus:
A Melanesian, asked by [nineteenth-century anthropologist] Maurice Leenhardt what the west had contributed to the culture of the islands, did not reply by listing technological, scientific, or medical achievements, nor even (ironically) the disastrous disease history which was the product of western encounters with Pacific peoples ... Instead his response undermined the very categories which framed the question: 'What you have brought us is the body:
The western sense of `bodiliness', apparently the most natural and self-evident ground of personhood, is thus revealed as a particular ideological understanding, and one which should by no means be taken for granted. On closer inspection, it is indeed hard to discern what exactly is denoted by 'the' body in an abstract, totalising sense, when even to visualise a body is to plunge immediately into the particulars of gender, race, age, posture and so forth. This in turn begs the question of why, and to what ends, a category of the body' exists for the west in ways so radically different from those of Pacific peoples. Michel Foucault's enquiry of a quarter-century ago, 'what mode of investment [in] the body is necessary and adequate for the functioning of a capitalist society like ours?' is still pertinent.' Or, to put it another way, we might ask how, to paraphrase Matthew Arnold, 'each culture gets the bodies it deserves'.
Of course, this is not to say that the physical body does not 'really' exist. Even as you read this, yours may be asserting its hunger, discomfort or restlessness in frank contradiction. It is, rather, to foreground that how it exists, or becomes meaningful for us as embodied subjects, is produced by culture in ways which are not always immediately apparent. As feminist theorist Judith Butler maintains, 'to call a presupposition into question is not the same as doing away with it; rather, it is to free it from its metaphysical lodgings in order to understand what political interests were secured in and by that metaphysical placing'. The cultural critic therefore 'reads' bodies in much the same way as s/he might read a literary text: not in the hope of revealing an essential truth about embodiment, but precisely to expose how various 'truths' and norms are constructed and broadcast as bodies are discussed, represented and managed in everyday life. For the very instability of the body's significance offers leverage to the critic who is enlisted in processes of political change. The body's meanings (and they are always plural) can be contested and reconfigured, not simply through physical modifications, but by activating and putting into circulation alternative understandings of embodiment. One might consider how queer theory, for example, has enabled the articulation and validation of a range of subject positions beyond the heterosexual convention. This is not merely an instance of greater discursive freedom, but the claiming of a real political space within which the very 'norms' of sexual practice can be exposed and materially renegotiated. Indeed, the multiple ways in which sexuality, gender and race have been theorised in the interests of urgent social transformation have been crucial to the increasing sophistication of contemporary 'body theory' and its impact on mainstream culture.
Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of Sex by Judith P. Butler (Routledge) In Bodies That Matter, Judith Butler further develops her distinctive theory of gender by examining the workings of power at the most ``material'' dimensions of sex and sexuality. Deepening the inquiries she began in Gender Trouble, Butler offers an original reformulation of the materiality of bodies, examining how the power of heterosexual hegemony forms the "matter'' of bodies, sex, and gender. Butler argues that power operates to constrain "sex'' from the start, delimiting what counts as a viable sex. She offers a clarification of the notion of "performativity'' introduced in Gender Trouble and explores the meaning of a citational politics. The text includes readings of Plato, Irigaray, Lacan, and Freud on the formation of materiality and bodily boundaries; "Paris is Burning,'' Nella Larsen's "Passing,'' and short stories by Willa Cather; along with a reconsideration of ``performativity'' and politics in feminist, queer, and radical democratic theory.
With the publication of Gender Trouble in 1990, Judith Butler spearheaded a movement in feminist theory which has become known as 'radical constructivism'. Taking its departures from psychoanalytic and poststructuralist theory, and also informed by speech-act theory, Gender Trouble contends (albeit with sophistication and nuance infinitely greater than this) that gender is not an internal essence, but one produced 'in anticipation' by a repeated and naturalised set of acts, behaviours and stylings. Gender and sexual categories are held in place by the restrictive norms of heterosexuality, but these can be revealed as artificial by their very citability — as demonstrated in extremis by, for example, drag and camp performance.
In Bodies That Matter (1993) Butler extends and complicates the theories put for-ward in Gender Trouble to contend that not only gender, but the materiality of the body itself, is discursively and performatively produced. We cannot, therefore, speak of a natural, prelinguistic, 'given' body, because what we think we know about bodies is an effect rather than a cause of signification. As with Gender Trouble, this is not to say that bodies are entirely, unchangingly determined by language, but a recognition that, in Butler's words, there can be 'no reference to a pure body which is not at the same time a further formation of that body' (1993, p. 10). Referring to a body is thus, in quite a strict linguistic sense, always almost performative or constitutive, and governed largely (though not entirely) by habitual understandings and norms (such as heterosexism). Again, the citation and iterability of the norms that subjects are expected 'naturally' to embody belies their instability in a classic deconstructive manoeuvre: the natural or intelligible body shores itself up against, and thereby defines or summons the appearance of the deviant or unintelligible (just as the legitimate summons the illegitimate, the authentic the false, the proper the improper, and so forth). The 'performance' of alternative sexualities and gender identities both denaturalises normative suppositions, and pushes for the articulation of new bodily possibilities.
Butler outlines her theory of how bodies are produced, or materialised, in discourse, and clarifies the oft-cited notion of performativity in its twinned senses of speech-act and theatrical agency. The textual style in this instance is relatively straightforward by Butler's standards: her work is renowned for what can seem like a wilfully opaque syntax. This, however, is central to her critique, which is shot through with a relentless critical suspicion of the 'common sense' of linguistic transparency.
The celebrated 'naturalness' of the body is a key point of debate in this kind of rethinking, for seldom is the 'natural' invoked where it cannot secure some kind of political or economic interest. A trivial example of this can be found in the 'bare-faced chic' so cherished by the cosmetics industry. Anyone who has tried to achieve the 'natural look' will probably agree that it requires more painstaking artifice and a vaster array of products than a more up-front maquillage; but the agenda is of course to appear, not actually to be, natural (and to bolster the industry in the process, without, what's more, even being seen to do so). 'Naturalness' is thus revealed as one among many masquerades available to the embodied subject, with the advantage, in an ageist culture, of suggesting youthfulness, innocence and purity. Yet, cosmetics aside, the positing of any kind of embodiment as 'natural' or 'normal' is freighted with political consequences, demanding as it must an opposing field of the unnatural and deviant, often in ramified and subtle ways. Naturalising is a cultural process: as Derrida has remarked, 'there is no nature, only the effects of nature: denaturalisation or naturalisation'. The normative body cannot exist without its 'other'. While it is relatively easy to observe this process with the advantage of cultural or historical distance, it takes a more astute and committed reader to examine current and familiar assumptions on the same critical terms. For bodies are not just objects of enquiry out there; they are the very location of the thinker's here and now, a site of ongoing negotiation between subject and object, inside and outside, thought and sensation, personal and political, self and world. Indeed, their complex materiality makes them both readily confirm and, at the same time, potentially disrupt almost any dichotomy which culture thinks to impose.
For all of these reasons, an intellectual fascination with bodies is not in itself new. Science, philosophy, art, and even literary criticism have long been preoccupied with the nature and representation of mortality, the relation of body to mind, and the status of flesh in the technological world. Histories of the human subject are inevitably histories of the body, or, more precisely, of the problems embodiment poses to human consciousness and categorisation. It has become conventional to describe western attitudes to embodiment, from at least as early as Plato, as dualistic and hierarchical to the extent that mind, spirit and rational processes are systematically valued over matter, flesh, and sensory experience. It is, moreover, a characteristic of symbolic oppositions like this to become overdetermined, as other, prevailing coupled terms, such as those of gender or race, are mapped onto the hierarchical structure. According to this logic, a common critical tactic is to scrutinise texts for traces of those equations whereby 'mind' = rationality = masculinity = culture = 'white', or 'body' = sensation = femininity = nature = 'black', and so on, in an infinitely extended articulation of antithesis. Such hierarchised codings operate at the very core of western culture and ideology.
When considering bodies, the cultural critic must be alert to this tendency to cement difference as opposition. Yet s/he should also be wary of supposing that symbolic patterns wholly determine the way we actually live, or of assuming that they never change. To medievalist scholar Caroline Bynum, this is especially pertinent when assessing the place of the physical in cultures far removed from our own. For example, while dualities can be found in medieval accounts of embodiment, the divisions did not work in the same way that they do in a world that, since Descartes, equates identity to consciousness and relegates the body to secondary status. The medieval opposition between body and soul, or corpus and anima, invests the body with a different value. After all, within a Christian Catholic culture, God is made flesh and consumed physically in the eucharist, so that flesh, both God's and the worshipper's, becomes the source of personal salvation and the immortality of the soul. This symbolic economy cannot be said to debase the body. On the contrary, as Bynum asserts, medieval corporeality was in fact a 'place for encounter with meaning, a locus of redemption'. Indeed, following the thirteenth-century theology of Thomas Aquinas, matter was held to be activated and informed by the principle of soul to such an extent that '[the] body, restored at the resurrection, retained all the specific structures it had in earthly life (organs, height, even — in certain cases — scars)'. Suffering and death thus owned radically different meanings from their present ones, when the body, as in the arch-narrative of Christ's crucifixion and resurrection, was seen as existing continuously between life and afterlife. Only within such a framework could holy relics acquire so potent a signifying charge: their latent power being their empirical connection to the resurrected body of the saint. The anatomised objectification of the human frame in the terms of Body Worlds would have been unthinkable in medieval culture, for the body was an integrated, immanently divine part of a theological cosmos. To unravel the material body would have been to pick at the very fabric of the world.
Bynum also stresses that gender difference does not map so neatly onto the medieval body/soul axis as the modern reader might expect, refuting the critical generalisation that 'vast binaries — reducible to a male/female binary — marched through the medieval past from Plato to Descartes'.'° While gender oppositions can be traced in medieval practice, story and belief, they are rendered more complex than the essentialised relation of femininity to flesh that obtains in later culture. Christ's incarnation, the status of the Virgin, and the androgyny of God the creator and nurturer in Catholic theology all unsettle the grounds of a symbolically gendered hierarchy. Indeed, recent scholarship has tended to emphasise the fluidity of medieval gender positions, or at the very least, the radically different terms on which anything like an 'identity-position' was figured and experienced." While this brief account of Bynum's work offers only the most simplistic preface to this collection's focus on modern embodiment, it may also be a reminder of the complexity of relations between present and past, and, where bodies are concerned, the perils of adopting an uncritical stance toward homology or difference.
It is, of course, impossible to point to an exact moment when premodern bodies ceded to those of modernity. But what can be discerned about the broad contexts in which the structuring relation of soul and body become one of antagonism between mind and body, and a source of anxiety to the divided 'self'? While medieval thought developed a richly nuanced concept of soul, it employed only rudimentary ideas of body, mind and person — all notions indispensable to modern individualist society. Clearly, at some point, the mind of the 'I' that thinks and reflects on itself, and the body that independently feels, desires, reproduces and sickens, emerged as objects of enquiry, thus founding the modern subject even as they threatened its coherence by pulling in opposite directions. Fields of knowledge which could establish body and mind as autonomous entities in this manner could not but have profound consequences for the ways in which human beings figured their own relation to the universe. The epistemological trails to this now familiar opposition were blazed most decisively in the early modern period by the strangely twinned discourses of anatomy and Cartesian philosophy.
With the opening of the cadaver to the scientific gaze, anatomists effectively became 'the first modern persons to distinguish man from his body'. The first official public dissections, dated by the construction of the earliest anatomy theatres in Montpellier and Padua in the mid-sixteenth century, marked a decisive rupture of taboos around the 'divine' body which forbade dissection in the Middle Ages. Science was loosening the theological network which bound the natural universe to God. The dissected body, severed from its theological moorings, had become, like the rest of the material world, an object of human knowledge in its own right. As the corporeal mechanism was exposed, scrutinised, mapped and described as little more than the sum of its working parts, the modern biomedical body, 'the western sense of interiority' was born. Jonathan Sawday's research into early modern anatomical discourse examines how the 'discovery' of the body interior not only shaped our now habitual sense of 'inner self', but was also entwined with the colonialist expansion and humanist moral philosophy of the early modern period, and became a central figurative concern of its art and literature. Anatomy afforded a new sense of perspective in a yet more literal sense, for the development of perspectival drawing and chiaroscuro enabled the cubic body to be projected onto canvas with a newly convincing depth. As Sawday maintains:
The study of anatomy was the study of the organisation of space. For, if it was nothing else, anatomy was concerned with volume, and it became the testing ground for that key experience, which was the transmission of three-dimensional space onto the flat surface of canvas, wood, fresco, or copperplate.
Perspectivalism was not, however, a neutral way of seeing, nor of grasping reality objectively. It was an organisation of reality, a formally codified view of the world through human eyes rather than God's, asserting the primacy of people's spatial co-ordinates and the ascendancy of the eye over the other bodily senses. It also naturalised a sense of authentic and private bodily depth which would remain largely unchallenged in western art until the early twen-tieth century. The body henceforth owned a signifying interior, regardless of whether or not that interior was actually visible.
This would change the way that people thought about themselves. Against the backdrop of the early anatomy theatres (at which he was, significantly, a regular observer), René Descartes, in the Meditations of 1637, posed a series of questions crucial to the process of humanist individuation: 'What, then, am I? ... What is a thing that thinks?' when the consciousness of the thinker so palpably exceeds the 'assemblage of limbs', such as 'appears in a corpse ... designated by the name of body'. When reality is grasped objectively only through mind's experience of itself, corporeal experience is by contrast reduced to the unreliable and mechanical — to the extent that Descartes can, in all seriousness, deny 'that I have any senses or body'. The absurdity of this claim is tempered only by acknowledging the magnitude of what had been constituted in the body (or body-as-world)'s place. For with Descartes, the sovereign subject, 'I', had appointed itself at the centre of discourse, and asserted the primacy of individual awareness (its own perspective), even as its knowledge would henceforth separate the subject from its objects — its own and others' bodies included.
So where does the body go in the face of this scepticism — in Francis Barker's words, 'banished from the scene of the state culture ... to a new — barely visible — place'?' Of course, it ceases neither to signify nor to function: after all, even the most ascetic populace needs to nourish, maintain and reproduce itself. Rather, its processes, passions and predilections, not unlike the organic systems studied in anatomy theatres, were gradually, infinitesimally, itemised and managed through a proliferation of discursive regimes; what would become the 'social sciences' such as criminology, sociology and psychology. Michel Foucault has explained how, once defined, the problematic person of the criminal or the lunatic could be confined, segregated and studied further with a view to ever more sophisticated diagnosis and management: thus the early modern spectacle of public torture and execution gave way to incarceration as the foundation of the modern penal system, and the assimilation of insanity by the community ceded to the asylum.' Foucault's extensive cultural history describes a new form of social control which was realised in multiple ways through the individual's body. Throughout the seventeenth century, the physical coercion of sovereignty over the collective body politic became a more diffuse, invisible circuitry of power based on ramified knowledges and observations of the embodied individual. But these disciplinary networks extended beyond state institutions such as law courts, prisons, church, school and army, and produced the autonomous subject in the very act of his or her private self-surveillance: an internalising of the disciplinary gaze which should be familiar to the modern reader in his or her own daily management of appearance and behaviour. To maintain one's own person within the bounds of the normative (and free) requires systematic scrutiny of both one's own and others' bodies for those signs of deviance which shore up a provisional sense of the 'proper' and 'normal'. The modern individual, in the deepening private enclosure of his or her body, became, through what Foucault describes as a 'micro-physics' of power, both subject and object of a 'compulsory visibility'. The modern body is thus doubly 'occupied' by the subject, being both fleshly house of self and an unruly terrain whose mapping and control becomes, for the self-disciplining individual, a matter of almost military exactitude.
It is largely from this premise that work on the modern and contemporary body takes its many departures. This essay does not attempt to provide an exhaustive historical survey. But it does aim to unravel the distinctive strands of modern discourse which contribute to a contemporary (common) sense of the body: a 'given' which the postmodern impulse is at the same time beginning to erode. The thinkers represented in this collection range historically from Descartes' meditation on the nature of body and mind to recent reflections on eating disorders and body-art, and the topics discussed in each of the book's three sections follow an approximate chronology. But the overall aim of the volume is not to offer a teleology of the body, or to produce a master-discourse of embodiment as, for example, a medical history might. Its concern is, rather, an epistemological one: to do with how these knowledges and definitions have been variously, often obliquely fashioned in modern culture, and to what ends. For this reason, the sections are organised primarily so that each represents a distinctive mode and style of thinking about bodies, for all that the essays within each employ different discursive frameworks and political agendas. In conclusion, a brief overview of the sections may help to situate the individual essays within the book's overall structure.
Death and Representation (Parallax: Re-visions of Culture and Society) by Sarah Webster Goodwin and Elizabeth Bronfen (The Johns Hopkins University Press)
Death is a subject of increasing interest in virtually all academic disciplines, yet there is surprisingly little theoretical work on the representation of death in literary contexts. Death and Representation offers a unique collection of international and interdisciplinary essays, rich in cultural perspectives but sharing a relatively common vocabulary. It provides models for a number of interrelated approaches -- including psychoanalytic, feminist, and historical -- with essays by prominent and promising scholars. Contributors are Ernst van Alphen, Mieke Bal, Regina Barreca, Elisabeth Bronfen, Carol Christ, Sander Gilman, Sarah Webster Goodwin, Margaret Higonnet, Regina Janes, Ellie Ragland-Sullivan, Rajeswari Sunder Rajan, Ronald Schleifer, Charles Segal, and Garrett Stewart.
SANDER L. GILMAN, "WHO KILLS WHORES?"
"I DO" ', SAYS JACK: RACE AND GENDER IN VICTORIAN LONDON
In examining Victorian speculations about the Jack the Ripper murders in the East End of London, Sander L. Gilman reveals how the body of the murdered prostitute, together with the unsolved enigma of Jack's identity, together enacted a powerful confluence of bourgeois anxieties about sexuality, race, revolutionary politics and class. In these anxious discourses, the contaminating sexuality of the prostitute, and the perversity of the prostitute's murderer (or seducer), activate a closed symbolic circuit held in place both by viral and economic metaphors: as Gilman points out, the Jew and the prostitute are linked in the Victorian imagination by their association with sexual dis-ease, and their 'sexualised' relation to capital — a moral pathology supposedly inscribed on the skins and genitals of both. As symbolic counterparts, the bodies of the Jew and the prostitute defined a complex otherness against which the social body defended its own sexual, political and economic health: a cultural narrative which found an opportune crystallisation in the (ongoing) mystery of the Whitechapel murders.
At first we broadly historicises the ways in which modern embodiment has been figured as a fundamental relation between surface and depth, or 'superficial' and 'authentic' fields of knowledge. Central to these texts is a concern with how the body — or embodied individual — is to be known and described from without, whether in philosophy, anatomy, psychoanalysis, or the social institutions of Victorian bourgeois culture. All share a desire for the body to yield up its meanings, or 'contents', to the application of intellectual rigour, and thereby to be brought under a measure of discursive control. These are largely patriarchal discourses which map cultural terms onto an essentialised anatomical difference, ultimately coding the penetrable, know-able body as 'feminine', and the incisive, enquiring gaze as 'masculine'. Arguably, the very expressiveness of the volumetric body — its amenability to reading — is also the means of its potential subjection.
SIGMUND FREUD, 'A CASE OF HYSTERIA: FRAULEIN ELISABETH VON R.' (1895)
A Case of Hysteria: Three essays on sexuality and other works [The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud: Volume VII (1901-1905)] by Sigmund Freud, James Strachey, and Anna Freud (Hogarth Press)
Hysteria owns a long and complex medical pedigree. From Hippocrates through to French neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot (one of Sigmund Freud's own teachers), it designated a gender-specific pathology whereby nervous disorders were invariably, often ingeniously, linked to the 'unruly' behaviour of the female reproductive organs, and 'treated' accordingly. Following Charcot's experimentation with hypnosis, Freud and Breuer's Studies on Hysteria marked a decisive shift in emphasis. In maintaining that hysteria was a psychosomatic (cultural) disorder rather than a physiological (natural) one, their work technically uncoupled hysteria from biological determinism; inscribing its physical symptoms instead with the deep psychological significance of repressed Oedipal conflict, a condition to which both men and women might be susceptible. The externalising, through speech, of this inner psychic distress, as prompted and interpreted by the analyst (described by one of Breuer's own patients, 'Anna 0.' as the 'talking cure') became the core methodology of the new psychoanalytic project. This often richly metaphorical case-study illustrates the analytic process of uncovering, and to a large extent authorising the latent meaning of the hysteric's inarticulate 'body language'. The implicit coding of probing analytic discourse as masculine, knowing and civilised, and the symptomatic, penetrable body as feminine, unknowing or primitive, is not, of course, without its own problematic sexual and cultural politics.
Seldom has this been accomplished more decisively than in the project of psychoanalysis. Freud and Breuer's seminal publication of 'the talking cure' in Studies on Hysteria (1895) marks the birth of the psychoanalytic subject, whose unconscious 'depths' break the surface of the body in the cryptic form of the physical symptom. In the classic Freudian schema, it is the task of the (male) analyst to prompt and interpret the (female) patient's verbal 'externalising' of her psychical conflict: a conflict invariably (and problematically) traced back to a sexual/anatomical difference which casts woman as 'lacking'. Freud memorably likens the process of uncovering the symptom's latent con-tent to archaeology — a trope which, coupled with his later description of femininity as a 'dark continent', itself 'speaks volumes' about the colonial unconscious of his texts, and, indeed, of modernity itself The evolutionary logic of imperialism is mapped by Freud onto the unconscious, which, as manifested by the hysteric, is the repository of all precivilised, polymorphously perverse desires. The ungovernable body of the primitive thus acquires a tantalising symbolic ubiquity in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century: it is simultaneously 'within' the subject as body and unconscious, and without, as the object of a burgeoning anthropological discourse. The neo-primitive art of the modernists sought precisely to recover this lost quality of supposed corporeal immediacy. As Lieve Spaas explains:
The primitive is then a quality which mankind has lost, ignores, or has repressed, a quality which pre-literate societies may have preserved or which may lie hidden in the human consciousness ... Whereas the anthropologist travels to exotic societies for an encounter with 'primitivism', the surrealist attempts to explore the 'primitive' within himself.22
Freud's analytic project, which seeks to externalise in language the 'truth' of the repressed carnal body, thus performs a powerful suturing of the Cartesian mind/body opposition, while at the same time mapping it more decisively onto the axes of gender and race.
The essays under the rubric of 'Difference' shift from a concern with plumbing the depths of the individual, to the definition and organising of communities and populations according to a distinctively western binary logic of identity and difference. These texts represent a range of both nor-malising and counter-discourses, and at stake in all of them is the tendency of 'normative' white male embodiment to appropriate, naturalise and codify cultural power at the expense of its others. Theorists as culturally different as Frantz Fanon and Catherine Clement, for example, both engage in a similar textual struggle to reverse the terms by which racial or sexual difference is solidified into opposition by those in power. Ultimately, however, the political efficacy of such reverse-discourses is doubtful, in so far as the framework of oppositions which underpins them rests fundamentally unchallenged.
Formations of Fantasy by Victor Burgin, James Donald, and Cora Kaplan (Routledge) Do we live in the real world? Rather than dismissing fantasy as a mere supplement to reality, the authors stress the "physical reality" of fantasy in shaping our perceptions, beliefs and behaviour.
JOAN RIVIERE, 'WOMANLINESS AS A MASQUERADE' (1929) This best-known of Joan Riviere's writings holds a key place in discussion of female sexuality in psychoanalysis, and the masquerade has become an important and nuanced theoretical aspect of femininity and its representation. Insofar as Riviere wrote this extraordinary essay in 1929, it is hard not to infer some symmetry between Riviere's own situation and her patient's struggle to understand what it means to be a woman and an intellectual in a patriarchal world.
In psychoanalytic terms, the patient's academic performance is the assumption of a masculine role, or castrating in order to possess the phallus. Her exaggerated display of femininity following a professional presentation is a means of averting the retribution of men: by presenting herself as a sexual object she placates rivals by flaunting her own castration or lack, thus disguising herself as only a woman. The theory thus far is relatively straightforward. The knotty bit arises later, when Riviere is obliged to make a distinction between authentic womanliness and its masquerade, where upon she concludes that heterosexual femininity admits no such distinction; it is only ever a dissimulation with no organic integrity. Femininity, in other words, is essentially superficial. This tantalising oxymoron still seems very germane to discussions of female bodily culture and recent debates around cosmetic surgery, for example.
ABIGAIL BRAY, 'THE ANOREXIC BODY: READING DISORDERS' (From Cultural Studies, 10.3 , 413-29) This essay examines a popular and 'commonsense' feminist interpretation of anorexia nervosa: that it is a pathology brought about by women's excessive consumption of media images of thin femininity. The anorexic body, so the theory goes, hyperbolises the general alienation of female corporeality from phallocentric representation.
Abigail Bray takes to task this negative view of women's uncritical 'consumption' of media texts and connects it with nineteenth-century discussions of the causes of hysteria, revealing a similar pathologisation of women's reading practices. In so doing, she complicates notions of a causal, coercive or 'toxic' relationship between the cultural representation of bodies and lived corporeality. Instead, invoking the paradigms of Michel Foucault and Judith Butler she emphasises the sheer volume of discourses which continue to be inscribed on the anorexic body, and which it persistently evades and subverts. Bray herself resists a totalising approach to anorexic identity, preferring to open the idea of the 'metabolic' body as a means of discussing the historical specificity of contemporary anorexia in relation to an ongoing negotiation between production and consumption.
`Deconstructions', looks those theoretical approaches, broadly defined as poststructuralist, which challenge and destabilise depth-invested, dualistic or normative notions of the body, particularly in the field of sexual politics. Joan Riviere, for example, though chronologically a modern thinker, sets the scene for a more postmodern theoretical trajectory by outlining the paradox of femininity as essentially superficial, a masquerade or construct which takes effect without reference to an organic original: a contention which in some respects anticipates the complex theories of gender performativity as developed by Judith Butler. The remainder of the essays assume the post-Saussurean premise that meaning depends on differ-ence, and that the impression of actuality is an effect of language, not its origin. They consider bodies as constituted in discourse and, at the same time, deferred or relegated by it. We know (or think we do) in language, and in the process language itself takes the place of the reality we seem to know. Though each of these texts recognises that the configuration of bodies and bodily identities is cultural and provisional, they mobilise this instability in different ways. None of them makes universal claims. On the contrary, they all fore-ground their partiality in both senses of the term: the knowledges they put forward are both committed to a position and incomplete. These essays tend to celebrate rather than limit the capacity of the body to signify in different ways, tracing a plurality of inscriptions and offering multiple readings. Discursive deconstruction, however, for all its textual complexity, need not imply disembodiment. Indeed, the final two essays in this section are concerned precisely not to lose sight of the contemporary body at 'gut level'.
This section reflects several potential futures for body-criticism, albeit in a an unstable climate where theories of the posthuman sit uneasily alongside the deepening political claims of the individual over his or her bodily destiny. Indeed, advances in medical technology seem to be pressing the point of indi-vidual corporeal rights to new levels of complexity, as evidenced by recent legal battles over issues such as euthanasia and reproductive autonomy. Tensions like this make body criticism a complex, even contradictory business. It is precisely one such tension which characterises Marianna Torgovnick's troubled fascination with contemporary neo-primitive body-art in an essay which, usefully, raises more questions than it answers. How are tattoos and body-piercings to be understood in relation to their 'primitive' cultural antecedents, in a postmodern epoch, yet one which routinely invokes Freudian symptomatology to understand cultural 'deviance'? Of what, exactly, is body-art expressive? Torgovnick concludes, ironically, with the hope that through her reflections the reader will experience these superficial inscriptions as a 'gut issue': an explicitly visceral metaphor which invokes an instinctive, 'authentic' response, one which might be said to issue from the depths of the body itself. The challenge and reward for the cultural critic lies precisely in these vexed, instructive areas where body and theory collide. After all, it can be difficult to reconcile the finer points of academic analysis with everyday embodied experience. Discussion of 'the body' in the abstract becomes an altogether more unwieldy matter when it is 'your body' that is at stake.
Reading the Human Body by Mladen Popovic (Studies on the Texts
of the Desert of Judah: Brill) deals with two manuscripts
from the Dead Sea Scrolls whose contents are physiognomic and
physiognomic-astrological. These manuscripts contain material that
was unknown to have existed in this form in Hellenistic-Early Roman
period Judaism (ca. third century CE-first century 5th CE) before
the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls near Qumran 1. The to
manuscripts are fragmentary, the style of both texts is succinct,
and some of the terminology is enigmatic. Despite these
difficulties, the manuscripts contain enough to understand some of
the arcane things these texts reveal to their intended reader.
The two texts considered here are the Hebrew manuscript 4Q186 (hereafter named 4QZodiacal Physiognomy) and the Aramaic manuscript 4Q561 (hereafter named 4QPhysiognomy ar).2 The intention of this study is the reconstruction and understanding of what remains of these texts; what sort of texts they represent, what their sense is, and which functions they may have had and in what contexts. The approach is comparative, understanding these two texts in relation to other physiognomic and astrological writings, mainly from Babylonian and Greco-Roman traditions. The ancient Jewish manuscripts from Qumran share certain features with texts from these other
traditions, but, not surprisingly, they also exhibit some peculiar and distinct features of their own.
This inquiry is not the first to try to reconstruct and understand different
aspects of 4QZodiacal Physiognomy and 4QPhysiognomy ar, but it is the first
attempt at a comprehensive treatment of both texts in comparison with similar
writings from Babylonian and Greco-Roman cultures.
John Allegro published the extant fragments of 4QZodiacal Physio-gnomy more than forty years ago, but he himself did not comment extensively on the text.31 Allegro clearly could not make much of it, something he expresses vividly in a letter to his wife Joan, written several days after deciphering the inverted and mixed writing:
I worked this morning on my piece of the cryptic script, and after puzzling all morning decided that the script was the least cryptic thing about it. It doesn't make sense, and I think some bored Essene was amusing himself making life difficult for a later generation. [letter December 13, 1953132
Although Allegro's edition was criticized, many scholars accept his understanding of 4QZodiacal Physiognomy as an astrological text dealing with the influence of the stars on the human body and spirit, which was related to the so-called Two Spirits Treatise in the sectarian Rule of the Community ( 1 QS 3:13-4:26).
Scholars such as Roland Bergmeier, Francis Schmidt, and Matthias Al-bani focused on elucidating the astrological background of the text, while others such as Jacob Licht and Philip Alexander stressed its physiognomic nature. These approaches have contributed many valuable insights to our understanding of 4QZodiacal Physiognomy. However, instead of paying attention to just one approach and neglecting the other, this study will integrate them in order to do justice to both the physiognomic and astrological elements in the text and to further our understanding of its sense.
The manuscript of 4QZodiacal Physiognomy has been known to Dead Sea Scrolls scholars for fifty years now. Allegro's rapid publication of it has contributed to the familiarity of scholars with this text, as is demonstrated by the many references to it in books and articles. The manuscript of 4QPhysiognomy ar has also been known for nearly fifty years,35 but until recently only part of the text had been published, and the final publication by Emile Puech in DJD 37 is still forthcoming.36 Undoubtedly, this has impeded scholars taking full account of all the manuscript fragments, hindering the proper study of 4QPhysiognomy ar. In the case of 4QZodiacal Physiognomy Veltri had the opportunity to study the fragments themselves at the Israel Antiquities Authority Dead Sea Scrolls Laboratory in Jerusalem, but as the fragments of 4QPhysiognomy ar are not yet officially published in the DJD series he did not have access to these. Veltri's reading of the text is based on the available photographs, as well as previous transcriptions. Nevertheless, my reading and understanding of 4QPhysiognomy ar differ at some points from earlier publications.
In Chapter One, introducing 4QZodiacal Physiognomy and 4QPhysiognomy ar, Veltri argues that 4QZodiacal Physiognomy represents the remains of a physiognomic-astrological list: the structure of the different elements in the entries of this list demonstrate that it is organized according to physiognomic descriptions from which some astrological data can be discerned, possibly in relation to magico-medicinal stones. Regarding 4QPhysiognomy ar represents the remains of a physiognomic list and that the text originally provided predictions for each physiognomic type, but that there is no evidence for references to zodiacal signs or other astrological notions. As for the relationship between the two manuscripts, Veltri claims that there is no evidence that suggests they contain the same literary composition; there is no reason to assume that the Hebrew is a translation of the Aramaic.
In Chapter Two, discussing various aspects of physiognomic writings and their backgrounds in Babylonian and Greco-Roman traditions, it will be argued from a comparative perspective that the Qumran lists cannot be directly linked to either a Babylonian or Greek Vorlage; despite some simiarities in form, there are significant differences. As for the possibility of tracing a cultural influence from either Mesopotamia or the Greek world on the Jewish physiognomic tradition witnessed by 4QZodiacal Physiognomy and 4QPhysiognomy ar, Veltri claims that neither can be excluded as far as the physiognomic aspect is concerned. With regard to the combination of physiognomic and astrological aspects in 4QZodiacal Physiognomy, comparison with other texts demonstrates that this text is familiar with the notion that the zodiacal signs have an effect on the appearance of the human body, but also that the relationship between the two elements is expressed differently: lists from Babylonian as well as Greco-Roman traditions that combine astrology with physiognomics are arranged according to astrological criteria, whereas 4QZodiacal Physiognomy is organized according to physiognomic descriptions. Remarks from Greco-Roman (astrological) literature demonstrate that people believed it possible to reason the other way round: discerning from a person's physiognomy his ascendant zodiacal sign. It is this line of reasoning that informs the textual arrangement of the physiognomic and astrological aspects in 4QZodiacal Physiognomy.
In Chapter Three Veltri investigates in detail the astrological framework behind 4QZodiacal Physiognomy, reviewing previous hypotheses against the background of notions from Babylonian and Hellenistic astrology. I will support Albani's so-called ascendant interpretation as the most likely hypothesis, but also propose some modifications and elaborations. Most importantly, it will be argued that 4QZodiacal Physiognomy can be situated within an astrological tradition that combines the notions of dodecatemoria and melothesia. When the text mentions a specific part of the zodiacal sign, saying in 4Q186 1 ii 9 that a person was born "in the foot of Taurus," it refers to that part of the zodiacal sign ascending above the eastern horizon (this is what "horoscope" literally meant in antiquity). According to the ascendant interpretation, the realization of the numbers in the "house of light" (area above the earth) and the "house of darkness" (area below the earth) is thus the result of the division of the zodiacal sign during its ascendancy over the eastern horizon. This division of the sign and the names given to its different parts, such as "foot of Taurus," is, I suggest, due to merging the astrological concepts of dodecatemoria and melothesia. The original text of 4QZodiacal Physiognomy would have represented an elaborate catalogue that listed physiognomic typologies, which lead the intended reader to the various subdivisions between light and darkness of each of the twelve signs of the zodiac. In addition, Popovic argues that this astrological framework points to a Hellenistic background for 4QZodiacal Physiognomy: the concern with the ascendant is typical of Hellenistic astrology and is lacking in Babylonian astrology.
In Chapter Four, focusing on what 4QZodiacal Physiognomy means when it connects the numbers in the "house of light" and the "house of darkness" with the rtn ("spirit") there is said to be for the type of person described, I will argue against the interpretations of rtn as a reference to the space or room occupied by the zodiacal sign or as a reference to the human spirit. Within the latter interpretation many scholars have related 4QZodiacal Physiognomy to the Two Spirits Treatise, arguing that the former text provides the arithmetic for the notion of two spirits of light and darkness fighting over human beings as attested by the latter text. However, this connection between the two texts is not feasible in light of a numerical discrepancy between the number of twelve zodiacal signs and the number of alleged divisions of the human spirit that are possible on the nine-point scale that is supposedly used in 4QZodiacal Physiognomy. Instead, it will be argued that rnn ("spirit") refers to the zodiacal spirit, because if the numbers listed in 4QZodiacal Physiognomy are a result of the ascendant zodiacal sign, then the "spirit" should also be related to the zodiacal sign. The notion of zodiacal spirits will be demonstrated by adducing other texts, most notably the Testament of Solomon. Although the division between the "house of light" and the "house of darkness" is astrologically the result of the ascendant zodiacal sign's position vis-à-vis the eastern horizon, Popovic suggests that this was understood in 4QZodiacal Physiognomy in terms of the zodiacal spirit being divided between light and darkness.
In Chapter Five, addressing the social and cultural background of the physiognomic and physiognomic-astrological lists from Qumran in terms of their status, function, and context, Veltri argues that these texts represent forms of ancient Jewish science, suggesting further that in the case of 4QZodiacal Physiognomy a notion of cosmic sympathy may be behind the combination of different aspects of learning: physiognomics, astrology, stones of a possibly magico-medicinal nature. Taking account of the ways and possibilities for transmission of and education in physiognomic and astrological arts in Babylonian and Greco-Roman traditions, Popovic claims that the persons who were interested in such texts and the knowledge they contain were part of a well-educated body of people in ancient Jewish society; both priestly and secular scribes or scholars could have been responsible for the dissemination of these learned arts in Hellenistic-Early Roman period Palestine. It is also argued that familiarity with these learned forms of physiognomics and astrology came from outside Palestine; 4QPhysiognomy ar possibly from the Babylonian cultural realm, although a Hellenistic origin cannot be excluded, and 4QZodiacal Physiognomy most likely from the Hellenistic realm, possibly Greco-Egyptian. In relation to the scientific interests evinced by parts of 1 Enoch and the lists of revealed things in apocalyptic texts, I will suggest, first, that the physiognomic and physiognomic-astrological lists from Qumran were possibly not framed by religious interests, acknowledging the danger of an anachronism here, and, second, that they show that during the Hellenistic-Early Roman period Jews in Palestine were interested in contemporary scientific learning, and not just in "outdated" forms of Mesopotamian astronomy as in the Astronomical Book. Although astrology attracted ambivalent attitudes, Popovic states that 4QZodiacal Physiognomy reflects an interest in astrological matters on the part of members of the Qumran community, as well as other Jews. The inverted and mixed writing of this manuscript signifies, Popovic suggests, the high status that was accredited to its learning; the use of these writing techniques being a scribal means to limit accessibility to and availability of this expert knowledge to those who were suitable to understand it. Finally, realizing that these texts may simply have been read as pieces of speculative, scientific learning, Popovic also hypothesizes on contexts and functions of practical use. The predictions in 4QPhysiognomy ar may have been used in a divinatory practice, while the information in 4QZodiacal Physiognomy, concerning the nature of people's zodiacal spirits as divided between light and darkness, may have served a diagnostic function both in and outside the sectarian community of Qumran to indicate the harmful nature of these spirits. In general, the learning in the latter text may have been used in a magico-medicinal context, diagnosing which zodiacal spirit was troubling a person and which measures, such as apotropaic or magico-medicinal stones, should be used against it. In a sectarian context, it may have been used, as part of the Qumran community's fight against the evil spirits of Belial and the sons of darkness, to control the admission of potential candidates for community membership by keeping people with more dangerous and harmful zodiacal spirits outside the group.
The Jewish Body: Corporeality, Society, and Identity in the Renaissance and Early Modern Period edited by Maria Diemling and Giuseppe Veltri (Brill Academic Publishers)
The tension between the "book" and the "body" has in recent years attracted the attention of scholars interested in the perception of the body in Judaism and the impact of religious law and performance on the body. The fifteen contributions in this volume deal with perceptions of the "Jewish body" in a broad range of legal, poetic, mystical, philosophical, and polemical early modern Jewish sources and employ a variety of methodological approaches. The first part of the book examines the construction of the body in specific historical and social contexts. Part two discusses normative texts and the notion of an "ideal Jewish body." Part three explores body, mind, and soul in Jewish philosophy and mysticism. The last section of the book discusses body issues in Jewish-Christian discourse.
The volume includes contributions by Howard Tzvi Adelman, Ruth Berger, Saverio Campanini, Maria Dienaling, Eleazar Gutwirth, Don Harran, Moshe Idel, Sergius Kodera, Arthur M. Lesley, Gianfranco Miletto, Giuseppe Veltri, Roni Weinstein, Elliot R. Wolfson, Jeffrey R. Woolf, and Nimrod Zinger.
THE BODY IN HISTORICAL AND SOCIAL CONTEXT
The Rise of the Body in Early Modern Jewish Society: The Italian Case Study --Roni Weinstein
Jewish Bodies and Renaissance Melancholy: Culture and the City in Italy and the Ottoman Empire --Eleazar Gutwirth
"Den ikh bin treyfe gevezn": Body Perceptions in Seventeenth-Century Jewish Autobiographical Texts --Maria Diemling
"Who Knows What the Cause Is?": "Natural" and "Unnatural" Causes for Illness in the Writings of Ba'alei Shem, Doctors and Patients among German Jews in the Eighteenth Century --Nimrod Zinger
PART II: THE HALAKHIC BODY
"La'avodat Bor'o": The Body in the Shulhan Arukh of R. Joseph Caro --Jeffrey R. Woolf
Virginity: Women's Body as a State of Mind: Destiny Becomes Biology --Howard Tzvi Adelman
Mental and Bodily Malfunctioning in Marriage: Evidence from Sixteenth- and Early Seventeenth-Century Responsa from the Ottoman Empire and Poland --Ruth Berger
PART III: BODY, MIND AND SOUL
On the Performing Body in Theosophical-Theurgical Kabbalah: Some Preliminary Remarks --Moshe Idel
Giving Birth to the Hebrew Author: Two Compositions by Johanan Alemanno --Arthur M. Lesley
The Idea of Beauty in Leone Ebreo (Judah Abravanel) --Sergius Kodera
Body of Conversion and the Immortality of the Soul: The "Beautiful Jewess" Sara Copio Sullam --Giuseppe Veltri
PART IV: THE BODY IN JEWISH-CHRISTIAN DISCOURSE
Shaping the Body of the Godhead: The Adaptation of the Androgynous Motif in Early Christian Kabbalah --Saverio Campanini
The Human Body as a Musical Instrument in the Sermons of Judah Moscato --Gianfranco Miletto
Angelic Embodiment and the Feminine Representation of Jesus: Reconstructing Carnality in the Christian Kabbalah of Johann Kemper --Elliot R. Wolfson
"Adonai con voi" (1569), a Simple Popular Song with a Complicated Semantic about (what seems to be) Circumcision -- Don Harrcin
Maria Diemling, Dr. Phil. (1999) in History, University of Vienna, is senior lecturer in Religious Studies at Canterbury Christ Church University, Kent, United Kingdom. She has published on Jewish-Christian relations in the Early Modern Period, with a particular interest in conversions and images of the body.
Giuseppe Veltri, Ph.D. (1991), Free University of Berlin, is professor of Jewish Study in Halle (Germany) and director of the Zunz Centre. He has published on Jewish hermeneutics, philosophy, magic, folklore, and Renaissance studies. His titles include Eine Tora fur den König Talmai (1994), Magie und Halakha (1997), Gegen wart der Tradition (2002), Cultural Intermediaries (2004 with David Ruderman), and Library, Translations, and "Canonic "Texts (2006).
The exploration of the body as a social and historical construct has in recent years become a popular and perhaps even fashionable topic. "Why all the fuss about the body," medievalist Caroline Walker Bynum asked and pointed out that "Nil a sense of course, 'the body' is the wrong topic. It is no topic or, perhaps, almost all topics." The paradoxical view of being a "wrong" subject because it encompasses almost the totality of human concerns, is historically reflected in the intellectual world which examined it in manifold contexts and in many different understandings, long before it became an academic trend. Even today, with an increasing number of book titles that include the word "body" available, there are many different ways how "the body" is being understood. What do we mean when we speak about "the body"?
Recent research has been particularly productive when examining the "real" body in all its facets, such as birth and death, illnesses, medicine, sexuality and reproduction, gestures, food, and the cultural and historical processes that shaped the perceptions of the body.' On the other hand, and in inverse proportion to the increase of interest in the body, there is little concern with its "old-fashioned" counterpart, the "soul." The soul has become—at least since Sigmund Freud—the field of research of psychologists and psychoanalysts while the philosophy of, or the system of ideas, method, and conception evoked by the soul (metaphysics, center of knowledge and acknowledgment, con-junction with the divine intellect, etc.), a central topic in the ancient, medieval and early modern periods, lost its attraction and turned into the philosophical and ethical discussion on pure epistemology. Only in the theological discourse do the soul and the mind retain their validity as doctrines of ethical commitment to the beyond.
Yet, religion, or theology, is an important, if not the decisive, factor in understanding the forces that shape the body in pre-modern society even if this was not obviously understood as a private matter but as an all-embracing cultural and social system. It has been argued that the human body is "always treated as an image of society" and that "there can be no natural way of considering the body that does not involve at the same time a social [and historical, one should add, M.D./G.V.] dimension" (Mary Douglas). This understanding of the body informs the present volume of collected essays which aims to develop new perspectives in envisioning Jewish corporeality in the Renaissance and the Early Modern Period.
Jews have often fashioned themselves as the "People of the Book." However, as Howard Eilberg-Schwartz has noted in the introduction to the important collection of essays on "People of the Body" he edited in 1995, this may be an "excessively spiritual image."4 Jews have bodies and the exploration of the ways in which Jews understand and handle their bodies is an important aspect of what it means to be Jewish.5 In contrast, Moshe Idel, in his contribution to this volume, warns against what he regards as a "recent overemphasis on the centrality of the body" in regard to Judaism. The more traditional understanding of Jews as the "People of the Book" seems to be replaced by the idea of the "People of the Body" stressing the physical aspects of the performance of the commandments. Idel urges scholars interested in the perception of the body in Judaism to study the "role played by the religious actions dependent on it, and the manner, in which the importance of those performances impact on the perception of this body" The body not only performs certain rituals but is changed by this performance, as the most obvious physical signifier of Judaism, circumcision, demonstrates. To have a circumcised body means, therefore, to be a Jew, exactly like being a Jew implies a ritual corporality, and indirectly, a variety of being ,`carnal Judaisms," to modify the well-know expression of Boyarin's coinage.'
Louis Jacobs has pointed out that "no article on the body is found in the standard Jewish encyclopedias," since there is no single, unique view in Judaism.' This volume is not offering a summary of Jewish attitudes on the body in the Early Modern Period either, but rather snapshots of a living world of references, which we call generalizing and therefore historically distorting, Judaism. For the Jewish world of the Early Modern Period was "characterized by a cacophony of discourses" (Bynum), just as any other culture of the time. The Judaisms presented here cover a wide geographical range from the Ottoman Empire to Polish and German Ashkenazi Jewry, with a particular focus on Italy.8 The sources discussed include, among others, legal core texts, autobiographical notes, poetry philosophical treatises, letters and a sixteenth-century Italian folk-song. As the contributions demonstrate, these Judaisms engage intellectually and on a day-to-day basis with the non-Jewish world, share similar beliefs, and borrow cultural values. This cultural exchange is mutual, occurs on many different levels, and includes philosophers and priests, converts, healers and mothers.
The book is divided into four parts which reflect different methodological approaches and source material. Part I(The Body in Historical and Social Context) ddiscusses the construction of the body in specific historical and social contexts.9
Roni Weinstein'sarticle on body perceptions in Jewish communities in early modern Italy sets the tone with a brief discussion of the increasing interest of the body in early modern European society. In a parallel development, kabbalistic writing during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was suffused with body images, especially in relation to divinity Early modern Kabbalah reached out beyond the exclusive esoteric circles of the earlier period of Jewish mysticism to a growing part of Jewish society in an attempt to restructure Jewish life and religious practices. Weinstein argues that this had far-reaching implications for the shaping of the human body. Based on sources from a variety of literary genres, Weinstein shows that the discussion of the body and its functioning was not confined to a lofty theoretical level, but deeply affected the social and personal realities of bodily behavior, such as consumption, sleep, or body gestures, which is directly related to notions of the civilizing process and the refining of social manners, shame and shyness, and social control. The body is a focal point of reference to the crucial processes of changes that Jewish-Italian communities underwent in the Early Modern Period. An important observation is that these changes were closely related to the increasing cultural discourse on the body and its role in non-Jewish society in Italy, particularly in relation to the religiosity of the Baroque.
Italy is also an important part of the cultural context ofEleazar Gutwirth's contribution. He explores the concept of melancholy as a facet of late medieval and early modern medical discourse, which links the notion of body and soul with being in exile. Gutwirth argues that Amatus Lusitanus, in exile from his native Portugal, was an agent of culture closely interacting with the community within which he was active. His case notes are more than clinical observations of ailing bodies; they are an important source for the culture of the Jewish community of Salonika between 1559 and 1561. Although not all of those who sought Amatus' advice were Iberian, many of those who did were exiles or their descendants. An important aspect of this culture was the intellectual network of which Amatus, Afia, Almosnino, and others were part and which emphasized its ties to Italian and Iberian reading practices. Gutwirth especially stresses Amatus' curiosity about his patients' intellectual makeup. For Amatus does not see his role as purely clinical, physical, or technical because the body was neither divorced from the soul nor was it seen outside the city. Following this perspective, the link between exile and creation is as ancient as the link between alienation from place and alienation from self, i.e., between exile and melancholy.
The following two contributions deal with aspects of Ashkenazi early modern culture. While normative texts deal extensively with bodily functions,Maria Diemling explores the tension between halakhic expec-tations and the actual physical experiences of early modern Jews as described in seventeenth-century autobiographical texts. Focusing on descriptions of pregnancy and birth, illness and the plague, Diemling argues that the body is perceived in these examples of "self-fashioning" as a source of crisis, suffering and despair, not one of pleasure, satis-faction and enjoyment. The body has to be controlled according to halakhic expectations and the inability to do so leads to a sense of guilt and is regarded as potentially life-threatening. It is ultimately God, however, upon whose mercy and justice physical experiences depend. Diemling notes that close interaction with non-Jews is described as a daily occurrence but could turn problematic in a real crisis, such as death in childbirth when under the attendance of a Christian midwife or during outbreaks of the plague. Similarity in attitudes toward the body and its treatment suggest a common culture with clear religious boundaries, with the regulations of religious law ascribing some physi-cal experiences with a specific Jewish meaning.
While Maria Diemling's article focuses on the perspective of the people experiencing illness,Nimrod Zinger's contribution deals with the side of the healers. He notes that modern language and perceptions make it difficult to define early modern healers and their methods. On the one hand, as different healers apparently belonging to different categories bear similar characteristics, a dichotomous division cannot properly define the condition of medicine. On the other hand, in spite of their common ground, distinctions between healers did exist, and these differences were clearly understood by their contemporaries. Zinger discusses the reasons given for illnesses by eighteenth-century German-Jewish Bdalei Shem (experts in practical Kabbalah), doctors, and their patients. He proposes a model of "medical pluralism" that enables a better understanding of the nature of the medical world of the German Jews in the Early Modern Period. Zinger shows how the Ba'alei Shem, many academically trained doctors and their patients believed that only a treatment based on three spheres, the medical, the spiritual and the popular, simultaneously will deal successfully with all the possible causes of illness. The suggested model treats each healer, healing method, and medical perspective individually, as they are expressed within a specific text. The model reflects the pluralistic outlook of the period's contemporaries, while it also demonstrates how various categories co-existed within their world./p>
The three contributions in part II(The Halakhic Body) discuss normative texts and examine the construction of the "ideal Jewish body" in law codes and responsa.
Jeffiey R. Woolf'sarticle examines the attitude toward the body and physical pleasure in R. Joseph Caro's Shulhan Arukh, an important legal work with a lasting impact on Jewish religiosity Woolf argues that the Shulhan Arukh is not characterized by an attitude of contempt for the body or the sensual. An individual's physicality or personal pleasure are not, per se, evil. They are evaluated solely in terms of their contribution in toto one's living in accordance with God's Will. At the same time, the maintenance of the body and the satisfaction of its drives are not merely necessary actions to enable corporeal man to observe the mitzvot; they are enlisted as elements of Divine service. However, Woolf also detects an ascetic bent in the discussions contained in the Shahan Arukh. While R. Joseph Caro codifies the relevant rulings that express a positive attitude towards sexuality he also codifies attitudes that are much more ascetic, and much more in tune with the author's inner mystical life. Woolf argues that in the latter case, a mystical impulse expresses itself in traditional halakhic terms and, thereby, becomes part of normative Halakhah.
Questions of sexuality sex and gender have attracted much attention in the recent surge in cultural studies on the body. The articles by Howard Tzvi Adelman and Ruth Berger examine specific aspects of Jewish attitudes toward marital sex as discussed in legal sources.Howard Tzvi Adelman focuses in his article on the rabbinic discourse of virginity as a relationship between physical and emotional categories, between body and mind, and between biology and culture. Adelman notes that virginity can either refer to a specific physical marker or to the cultural state of a woman without any previous sexual experience, but that virginity may be more of a state of mind than a biological category. Based on Mary Douglas' taxonomy on the role of sexual relations in social systems and applied to examples from early modern Italy, Adelman argues that the discourse on virginity was also about honor, economic bargaining, sexual adversity, and pollution. In the negotiations of the female body when honor was at stake, the natural functioning of the body is obfuscated or misinterpreted, involving loss of the integrity Social and economic aspects of the virginity are to be emphasized, because by raising questions about a woman's virginity, a man could attempt to renegotiate the entire financial package to his benefit. The negotiation of a woman's body mostly originated in the application of the category of honor of the opponents while the elaborated discussion on virginity might erase the meaning of it at all.
Ruth Berger arargues that the prototypical early modern Jewish body is the married body. By examining the prevalent attitudes in responsa from the Ottoman Empire and Poland to "deviant bodies," people who fall below the "minimal standards" for being a husband or wife, Berger demonstrates that these minimal standards did not include physical health but rather focuses on the suitability for marital sex, which included male virility and female purity Surprisingly, fertility was not considered part of these minimal standards. Mental and physical health were relevant when they impacted sexual relations, either by weakening the body or by making it repulsive. Berger suggests that the tendency to apply stricter standards to female than to male bodies may be partly due to practical halakhic constraints and partly due to the gender bias inherent in a male-centered legal system. There appear to be no discernible differences between the Ashkenazi and Sephardi models of how a spouse should be, although Berger notes differences in the halakhic decisions taken in cases when one partner malfunctioned. She argues that these differences have less to do with an Ashkenazi predilection for protecting the sick or the family as an institution than with a more puristic, cautious, and not particularly pragmatic attitude toward Halakhah that had developed in the Ashkenazi tradition.
Part III(Body, Mind and Soul) includes four articles with a particular focus on Jewish mysticism, thought, and philosophy with reference to body, mind and soul and their correlation.
Continuing the theme of the body in the relationship between husband and wife raised by Adelman and Berger,Moshe Idel examines texts of the theosophical-theurgical Kabbalah. He explores the way in which the husband's attitude to the body of the wife reflects the importance of the body in general, and is related to some form of spiritual/theurgic experience. The isomorphism between a human and a supernal body serves as a condition for an experience of the spiritual by the corporeal. The pattern of the approach to the human wife became the exegetical pattern for understanding the attitude to the supernal feminine power. The triadic structure of the discussion is obvious: the three biblical obligations of the husband toward his wife are described in terms of the relationship between the Shekhinah to three divine sefirot: Ifesed, Gevurah and Tiferet. The rabbinic system of commandments has become a manner of living in communion with the feminine divine power, just because they first functioned theurgically. Idel introduces the concept of ritual in the speculation of the Jewish body, as a power to affect and create other bodies as part of the extension and proliferation of the divine body in this world.
Arthur M. Lesley explores the early modern conception of the author in two works by the Hebrew scholar and physician Johanan Alemanno. Both books were intended to teach the attainment of immortal attach-ment to God and both open with an extensive account of the birth and infancy of the author discussed. Solomon's life, described from the narrative in the first book of Kings, is presented in the categories of
virtues from Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics and also through the stages of natural development of Tufayl's Hayy Ibn Eqzan. The ways the arts of physiognomy and chiromancy read the physical features of the infant to discern his moral character corresponds to Alemanno's interpreta-tion of the Song of Songs. A person with a physical defect has a spiri-tual defect, and the literal sense of the biblical book corresponds to the allegorical sense, and their combination thereof expresses the character of the author. Readings of Alemanno by a physiognomist and a chiro-mancer are found in the margins to the first draft of the book. They confirm his understanding of Alemanno's character and his life. Lesley argues that the correspondence between Alemanno's interpretation of the body and of the text does not match the findings of Daniel Boyarin's contrast between the attitudes of Greek Jews and Palestinian rabbis to the body and to the texts.
In the next article, Sergius Kodera
suggests that Johanan
Alemanno may have influenced Leone Ebreo in his understanding of the Song of
Songs as the legitimate Urtext
of all discourses on Love and in
regarding Mosaic wisdom superior to Platonic Philosophy. Kodera's contribution
examines the concept of beauty in Leone Ebreo's
Dialoghi d'amore. Kodera
argues that beauty functions as a universal agent of coherence on all levels of
being and the ensuing, decidedly positive, assessment of the role of the body in
the order of creation. The attraction generated by beauty unites higher and
lower beings, matter and form, men and women. It is by the sexual union of these
opposites that the divine creation unfolds. Thus, the universe is structured
along one metaphysical principle: the desire for the beautiful and/or the good,
the urge to reproduce that beauty, and thereby to make the material world a
perfectly beautiful representation of its Creator. The
Dialoghi thus present a
remarkably sensual and erotic account of a beautiful cosmos, modeled on human
heterosexual relationships. Love for Christian Neo-Platonists, "of the like and
for the like," is based on homoerotic relationships which led to a far less
positive attitude toward the body, which is seen as a prison from which the soul
had to escape, and a reduction in spiritual unity instead of reproduction as the
central and unique human goal. Kodera argues that Leone Ebreo's
are a distinctly Jewish contribution to a Gentile debate on the cognitive
potential of the emotional life. The intellectual exchange of philosophical ideas in early
modern Italy is also discussed by
The intellectual exchange of philosophical ideas in early modern Italy is also discussed byGiuseppe Veltri in his article on the correspondence between Sara Copio Sullam and two Christian clergymen, Gelia and Baldassarre. Veltri argues that the exceptional aspect of Copio Sullam's personality lies less in her great literary talents; much more fascinating and intriguing is her ability to bring into focus, in and through her life, two central Christian and Jewish topics of the seventeenth century in an exemplary fashion, namely conversion and identity. In this her exceptional physical beauty and artistic gifts played a great role as a paradigm of philosophical discussion about the immortality of the soul. That was a question much discussed at the time and also, probably not incidentally so, influenced by contemporary debate on conversion. It was a contemporarily accepted tenet that aesthetics is but the expres-sion of the divine world (imago divina). That this understanding of aes-thetics was moored on the pillars of Christian religious philosophy is not really touched on until the discussion on the immortality of the soul and the eternity of matter.
Veltri's discussion of the intellectual dialogue between Sara Sullam Copio and two Christians links to part IV (The Body in Jewish-Christian Discourse) which deals with Jews in a Christian environment and the impact of their traditions on Christianity.
The question of how a Christian reading of Jewish mystical sources shapes ideas on the Jewish body lies at the core of the contribution by Saverio Campanini who discusses two of the first Christian Kabbal-ists in the early Renaissance period, and examines the combination of Jewish, Greek, and Christian motifs of the androgynous and ques-tions how those motifs shaped the doctrine of Christian Kabbalah in its beginnings. Paulus Ricius, a Christian convert from Judaism, dis-cussed the topic of the body of the Godhead in his Isagoge, first pub-lished in 1509. Campanini contrasts Ricius with Francesco Giorgio Veneto's De harmonia mundi totius cantica tria (1525), focusing particularly on the different disposition of the reproduction organs and the sign of circumcision, the main element of Jewish culturization of the body. Campanini notes that the sign of circumcision, which is very much present in the kabbalistic sources on which these Christian authors heavily draw upon, disappears from the representation of the body in their writings. Campanini argues that this was the price to be paid for the integration of Jewish mystical lore into a Christian system of thought.
Also focusing on Francesco Giorgio Veneto's De harmonia mundi, Gianfranco Miletto demonstrates in his article how a Jewish and a Chris-tian author each integrated Renaissance culture into their respective religious tradition. One of the typical features of the Renaissance is harmony, expressed in art and as a life-ideal whose patterns were sought after in classical culture. A considerable discrepancy existed between this ideal and reality, however. The desire for equilibrium and for artistic and intellectual serenity was jeopardized by the crisis of traditional values. Within a Christian (neo)platonic philosophy, one tried to find a new synthesis, that would offer a solution to the crisis of the traditional hierarchy of values. Particularly important in this con-text is De harmonia mundi: Miletto argues that Francesco Giorgio Veneto understands the world order in (neo)platonic-Pythagorean meaning as a series of numeral ratios which yield a musical harmony. Miletto shows through a textual comparison that Giorgio Veneto influenced the first sermon in Jehudah (Leone) Moscato's homiletical collection Sefer Nefuzot Tehudah ("The Dispersions of Judah," 1589). Moscato does not only use similar expressions but indeed displays the vision of the world as Giorgio Veneto, and some particular interpretations are also closely drawn from the De harmonia mundi and adapted to the Jewish context.
The concept of Jewish mysticism in Christian garb also appears in the contribution of Elliot R. Wolfson, who explores the theme of the body in the Christian Kabbalah of Moses ben Aaron of Cracow, also known as Johannes Kemper (1670-1716), focusing particularly on the perspec-tive of the representation of Jesus in female images. Wolfson argues that the views expressed by Kemper reflected a much older polemical tac-tic employed by both Jews and Christians in their respective efforts to belittle the opposing faith by associating it with corporeality, typically engendered as feminine, in contrast to true spirituality, which is charac-terized as masculine. Kemper subtly undermines this line of attack by concomitantly ascribing a spiritual status to the somatic and a somatic status to the spiritual. The polemically-charged female characteristics are adopted by Kemper and transferred to the incarnate Christ. The ostensibly broken body, the humbling of the Divine taking on the investiture of the material world, is thereby redeemed and upheld as an icon of a new form of textual embodiment, affording an opportunity to the one who accepts Jesus, and especially to the Jew whom Kemper is seeking to convert as part of his own messianic scheme, to transmute the flesh into word by patterning itself on the Word made flesh. Wolf-son suggests that the female representations of Jesus, therefore, indicate a reappropriation on Kemper's part of the Christian barb regarding the carnal nature of the Jews. The Jewish body is problematized to the extent that the Jews reject Christ. By returning to faith in Jesus, however, the Jews can redeem their flesh and thereby reclaim the true angelic body to become the new human, which is the word incarnate, the Oral Torah, the Son who bears the image of the Father by being both the Mother exalted above in heaven and the Daughter despoiled below on earth.
The volume closes with a contribution by Don Harran, which deals with the Renaissance art par excellence, music. A seemingly trivial Italian poesia popotaresca set to music in the mid-sixteenth century about Jews and their customs raises serious questions. On the surface, the verses appear to be about Jews in Bologna, where the composer (Ghirardo da Panico bolognese) and presumably the (unnamed) poet resided, and about the rite of circumcision. Even so, the verses cannot be so precisely pinned down: they refer to Jewish doctors and Jewish moneylenders; they can be linked to boisterous Purim celebrations; they perpetuate an earlier tradition of canti carnascialeschi and, at the same time, are influenced by the contemporary madrigal, particularly through the topos of "doctor poems" and their music, starting from the later fifteenth century; and they exemplify the ebraica, or popular, satiric songs about Jews composed in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries as one of sundry regional, behavioral, and ethnic genres. It is not clear whether the poet is mocking the Jews or portraying them as they mock themselves. Harrán contexualizes the unusual vocabulary and suggests that the song might have been commissioned by Jews for inclusion in a Christian publication, and thus liable, then and now, to a double reading from Christian and Jewish points of view.
Renaissance Philosophy in Jewish Garb: Foundations and Challenges in Judaism on the Eve of Modernity (Supplements to the Journal of Jewish Thought and Philosophy) by Giuseppe Veltri (Brill Academic Publishers) This study is an exceptional attempt to draw out the main lines of jewish philosophy as it emerged during the Renaissance.
Excerpt: In a letter dated April 7, 1797, German poet and dramatist Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller wrote to his compatriot, the polymath Johann Wolfgang von Goethe:
Among various Kabbalistic and astrological works that I have taken out of the library here, I have also come across a "Dialogue on Love," translated into Latin from the Hebrew, which I find not only very entertaining, but which has also greatly enhanced my knowledge of astrology. The mixture of things from the realms of chemistry, mythology, and astrology has been taken to major proportions here and is truly available for poetic use. I am having some astonishing and richly connotative comparisons between planets and the human limbs copied out for you.
Schiller's reference was to the Dialoghi d'Amore by Leone Ebreo. The Latin translation he most probably read was printed in the first volume of the Artis Cabahsticae: hoc est, Reconditae Theologiae et Philosophiae, Scriptorum by Pistorius, published in Basel in 1587. It is likely that Schiller had come across Leone's Dialoghi in the course of his preliminary studies for Wallenstein, a work in which he presents man—entirely in keeping with Goethe's view as being "close to nature and firmly intentioned."' Leone's presentation of the doctrine of microcosm and macrocosm must have made a deep impression on Schiller. All of these elements were available here, as he himself put it, "for poetic use" as the ingredients, the building blocks of poetic inspiration.
In his autobiographical Dichtung und Wahrheit (Poetry and Truth), Goethe describes three episodes involving the "Wandering Jew" The third concerns a visit of the Wandering Jew to Spinoza, which Goethe "outlined, as a worthy subject for a poem," but on which he failed to elaborate. Here, too, as with Schiller, we encounter the idea that each single element of reality, or of the imagination, is nothing but an element at the poet's disposal for use in his works, just as a painter makes use of his sketches and colors.
Both of these literary anecdotes touch upon the question of the attitude of the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century (German) intellectual world toward the Jewish philosophical tradition of the Renaissance and early modern period. The question of whether Jewish thought was considered in any way relevant to the perceptions and values of this intellectual community can be answered only in the negative. While, particularly at the end of the nineteenth century, the Italian Renaissance came to be seen as the measure of humanity humanism, and theories of individuality Jewish scholarship and Jewish traditions were marginalized, if not totally ignored or even proscribed. It is not my intention to deal here with the historical background, the ideological reasons, and the fatal consequences of the scholarly dismissal of Jewish philosophical literature. The Enlightenment, the increasing Protestantization of culture and philosophy, incipient race theories, and the political predominance of so-called "Western civilization" are only some of the columns on which the temple of "humanism" was built, a temple devoted to a faith in reason that excluded all minorities from the social, political, cultural, and educative discourse.
Even today, the situation has not entirely changed. The intellectual history of humanistic Jewry in Italy is a chapter in cultural and philosophical history still largely unexplored, although since the pioneering work of the Wissenschafi des judenturns in Germany and the later efforts of Cecil Roth' in Britain and the United States, a number of studies have tried to shed some light on the impact of the Renaissance on Judaism, and on the contribution of the Jews to that Renaissance. The German "science of Judaism" showed a particular interest in the cultural history of humanism, a tendency probably best interpreted as an attempt by its adherents to discover in the arsenal of their own history a foundational act for the emergence of the new "critical" sciences. It was not by chance that the founder of the Wissenschafi des judentums, the literary historian Leopold Zunz, wrote a biography of the humanist scholar Azariah de' Rossi, who had directly attacked the reliability of the aggadah in the face of non-Jewish sources and scientific discoveries. Renaissance Judaism was an object of keen interest in nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century German-Jewish scholarship, not least in response to the new "Geist" that had been infused into historiography by Jacob Burckhardt and his epoch-making work on Renaissance culture.
At the same time, knowledge of humanist Jewish culture was quite limited among German scholars, who were, however, amenable to change: the successive editions of Burckhardt's work contain a number of additions and corrections added by Ludwig Geiger at Burckhardt's own request. The emendations were, however, entirely deleted from edi-tions published after the 1920s. A parenthetical remark on Cecil Roth's interest in Renaissance studies is also in order here. His enthusiasm seems to have been the result of a backward projection onto the Renais-sance of the experiment that had so unmistakably and so dramatically failed in Germany in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In his own words: "There has never been any other period in history when Jews achieved so successful a synthesis between their ancestral Hebraic cul-ture and that of the environment." What the Jewish-German symbiosis failed to achieve is here portrayed as having been already been fully realized in the Renaissance. Roth's statement, historically inaccurate, squares entirely with nineteenth-century Romantic enthusiasm for an idealized vision of humanist Italy and its scholarship.
Despite the enthusiasm mirrored in the scholarship of the past fifty years, early modern Judaism can still be considered a field of study that has remained largely untilled. Let me recall two general obstacles that also affect the study of the history of Jewish science and philosophy.
A large number of literary works from the period spanning the two centuries from 1450 to 1650 are still available only in manuscript form or in rare printed editions scattered throughout the world. This situa-tion is due, among other things, of course, to the numerous burnings of Jewish books and documents, the censorship of the Inquisition, and the practice of unscrupulous librarians who used folios of Jew-ish manuscripts to construct the covers of Christian volumes. To this day, there is no catalogue of Hebrew European manuscripts compa-rable to Kristeller's Iter Italicum. As other scholars have already noted, we cannot seriously treat Jewish attitudes to the sciences without an analysis of the material at our disposal, which implies, in the main, the charting of a map of all extant manuscripts and prints, including such secondary sources as Christian notices, Inquisition acts, the index librorum prohibitorum, etc.
The main question, however, is whether we can even speak of Jewish humanism, or a Jewish Renaissance, at all. If we define Renaissance culture in Romantic terms that is, if we allow ourselves to be guided by the idealistic conclusions of Jacob Burckhardt (and, similarly, of Cecil Roth) concerning the humanist spirit of freedom, the origins of individualism, and the birth of sciences—we run smack up against the obvious reality: the Jews of the Renaissance were neither freer nor more individualistic than in earlier centuries; then as before, they constituted an alienated minority If, on the contrary we define the spirit of the Renaissance as more or less autonomous reflection on the sources of knowledge (the Bible, science, the classical sources), embodied in a cult of letters and scholarship, we find in Judaism a timid, but nevertheless demonstrable affinity shrouded though it may sometimes be in the traditional "orthodoxy" of the fathers. Perhaps one of the most evident expressions of the new spirit was, as Ruderman has remarked, the rise of a new class of intellectuals that grew out of the large numbers of Jewish students who studied medicine together at university during this period.8 Cross-pollination between the scattered Jewish communities and their Christian environment was much furthered with the help of Jewish physicians (and their itinerant lifestyle) and Jewish intellectuals who served as advisers to publishing houses and scholars.
Although they were initially very hesitant and infrequent visitors to the respublica litteraria et philosophica, the Jewish intellectuals contributed to, or at least mirrored, some of the ideas, concepts, and movements that came to serve as the coordinates of European philosophical maps of this "new" era. Among these concepts, ideas, and intellectual discourses are the inclusion of poetry in the philosophical discourse, conceptions of history and historical truth, the challenges of modern geography, the new sciences and scientific discovery, political philosophy and conceptions of the city, the debate on the immortality of the soul, and the legal definition of religion and religious ceremonies. All of these find their reflection in Jewish intellectual discourse on the eve of so-called modernity
Based on several years of research on Jewish intellectual life in the Renaissance, this book tries to distinguish the coordinates of "modernity" as premises of Jewish philosophy, and vice versa. In the first part, I am concerned with the foundations of Jewish philosophy, its nature as philosophical science and as wisdom. The second part is devoted to certain elements and challenges of the humanist and Renaissance periods as reflected in Judaism: historical consciousness and the sciences, utopian tradition, the legal status of the Jews in Christian political tradition and in Jewish political thought, aesthetic concepts of the body, and conversion.
In this volume, the term "foundations" refers only to the premises underlying the philosophical interpretation of Jewish tradition, with explicit reference to the humanist and Renaissance periods. An important result of my research is the demonstration that it was not until this period that the adjective "Jewish," used in connection with philosophy, first took on the meaning that became characteristic in the modern period. It was at this time that Jewish philosophers, far removed from the universities, began increasingly to refer to a specifically Jewish theology, in contrast to a Christian/universal worldview, as a means of grounding and defending their own significance in the history of the world. In the Middle Ages and the early modern period, the Jews were still a part of the general philosophical discourse. By the nineteenth century, that was no longer the case. A second, very important, foundation on which Jewish philosophy rested was the inclusion of poetry as an act of inspiration similar, or equal to, that of the prophetic mind. While this was, of course, no special prerogative of Jewish philosophy, it was a central element, the origins of which also belong to this period.
Chapter 1 will thus be concerned with the modern definition, or conception, of "Jewish" philosophy and its roots in the humanist and Renaissance periods. We will deal with the question of the historic use of the term "judische Philosophie" in the Wissenschafl des judentums, and address the question as to the nature of the terminology in its dual historical sense as both Jewish wisdom and Jewish theology We will observe that a decisive role in the creation of this perspective was played by the "little" history of Jewish philosophers by the Venetian rabbi Simone Luzzatto, who was the first to attempt to define the nature of what was "Jewish" about philosophy. We will also discuss the question as to how central, or peripheral, to this process of self-identification was the perception of Christianity.
Chapter 2 deals with the introduction of poetry (and mysticism) into philosophical speculation, as both a medium and a goal of knowledge, beginning with the works of Immanuel of Rome.1° The focus on poetry as inspired and, thus, as a medium of knowledge was a debate that emerged in the thirteenth century reaching its climax between the four-teenth and fifteenth centuries with Petrarch and Ficino, in Christianity, and later with Leone Ebreo, in Judaism. This period can be character-ized as an epoch of intellectual and practical inclusion of almost all elements in a universal conception of humanity and, paradoxically, as a period of exclusion of unity—a consequence of the political indi-vidualization of states, the rise of autonomous cities, and the increasing criticism of religion and its exclusive claims on the sources of truth. The new epoch shows a strange and precarious balance between the established scholasticism of the universities and the incipient tenden-cies of (Neo-)Platonic schools to include mysticism and emotions in their considerations, as cognitive acts of individuals a conception in which prophecy, too, plays a role as an act of "inspiration." Emotion and inspiration are also the interpretative keys to the works of Leone Ebreo, who is the subject of chapter 3." A Neoplatonist in his soul, and a humanist in his style, Leone succeeded in making philosophical ideas understandable, a task at which Ficino had failed entirely. Cosmic love, as emanated in the world of creation, is nothing but the kiss of the lover and the beloved, a kiss that leads back to the Godhead with the death of the individual.
The second part of the book is devoted to the intellectual challenges of the humanist and Renaissance periods, as mirrored in Judaism. The first two essays focus on the bases for historical and philosophical research and on the status of science, two issues that are closely inter-related: criticism of the canonical status of ancient and recent sources of knowledge (in medicine, astronomy, astrology physics, etc.) is the premise for accepting new scientific discoveries and facing the challenges of the new epoch. This is also an aspect of the new interest in philology and historical criticism, which takes on interesting connotations if we consideration the pansophic attitudes of the seventeenth century, manifest also in the so-called scientific community.
We begin, in chapter 4, with a consideration of this new historical consciousness as it is reflected in the works of Azariah de' Rossi.12 De' Rossi's contribution to scholarship was wide-ranging, including critical analysis of the aggadah, a theory of Bible translation, critical analysis of Philo, research in piyyut and Jewish chronology, and so forth. The novelty of his achievement, however, lies elsewhere: what sets Azariah apart is his methodological approach. The distinction he draws between the "essence" and the "side issues" of tradition, that is, between the constant and its variants, introduces a new element into Jewish self-perception. This new element is that of the possibility of autonomous judgment, based on the state of the sources.
Azariah's positive attitude toward the new sciences and philosophy and his criticism of the aggadah subjected him to attacks by his contemporaries. Chapter 5 focuses particularly on the challenges represented by the sciences and the arts, and the Jewish reaction to them: the inclusion of the sciences in the educational curriculum, the role of antiquarian and encyclopedic works in disseminating the sciences, and the new hermeneutic accent on the relationship between the sciences and the Torah. The central figure in this chapter will be the Jewish theologian Rabbi Low of Prague, who in many ways epitomizes what we can call the exegetical reaction to and hermeneutic transfiguration of the new challenges and discoveries that typified the early modern period. Here hermeneutics is the key word that will enable us to penetrate his holistic view of the world and to understand the theoretical premises of his interpretive scholarship.
Very closely linked to both the scientific discoveries of the early modern period and to the apologetic attitude toward Judaism's biblical past are Jewish speculations on musical theory and their resonance in Christianity. This is the subject of chapter 6. The exegetical approach of the Maharal, in which the prisca theologia is seen as the hermeneutical key to understanding the new discoveries, is also the method followed by Abraham Portaleone and his reader Athanasius Kirchner, enabling them to establish the connection between theology and music. Kircher considered music as a branch of mathematics, tracing its origins to a hermetic-Pythagorean conception of numbers as symbols of an intrinsic mystical, and universal, harmony. As expressions of the universal harmony, the numbers themselves take on a mystical and cosmological significance, symbolizing the most intimate connections and correspondences between the four worlds.
A further facet of Renaissance scholarship was the development of new directions in political thought. Three aspects will be examined here: the utopian dimension of Jewish history the Christian legal perception of Judaism, and the reflections of Simone Luzzatto on the condition of Jews in the new concept of the city-state. Utopian thought is, by nature, always both creative and explosive. Often it is also subversive, or at least perceived as such: the myth of the "Ten Lost Tribes," to which is linked the idea of Judaism as "oriental" wisdom, was interpreted during this period in the context of a political preoccupation with potential, or purported, Jewish military might. The legend of the Ten Tribes of Israel, which had a particular impact on Sephardic Judaism, came to be used as a kind of military propaganda. As such, it functioned as both the utopian construction of an alienated minority and as the means of that same minority's political deconstruction by the surrounding, dominant culture. This is treated in chapter 7, which deals with the struggle between identity, past glory, and utopian thought.15
The legend of the Ten Tribes played a dominant role particularly in the intellectual and geographical space of Sephardic Jewry. Among the Jews living in German-speaking and Protestant regions, intellectual interest tended to focus mainly on questions of their legal and political status and on matters relating to rites and ceremonies. In chapter 8, we will look into the reasons for the growing production of commentaries on Jewish rites and customs in these regions. More precisely: What was it that made Jewish laws and practices on the observance of Shabbat, on circumcision, ritual purity temple cults, and the like, of such great popular interest as to occasion the writing of entire tractates, and chapters of more general books, devoted exclusively to their description and elucidation? In order to explain this profusion of writing on Jewish traditions and customs, some scholars speak of an ethnographic interest among Christians in non-Christian ideas, customs and beliefs. I would like to show here that the reduction of Jewish legal tractates to a compendium of rituals and ceremonies was not primarily the result of an interest in Jewish ethnology but rather the expression of a political decision aimed at undermining the authority of Jewish law.
Not surprisingly a major preoccupation of Jewish thinkers in this period was to find their own place in society. The Venetian rabbi Simone Luzzatto provides an interesting example of this endeavor (chapter 9). His political thesis is both simple and daring: Venice can put an end to its current political decline by offering the Jews a monopoly on foreign trade, and thus reap the benefits from the fact that the Jews are more "well suited for trade" than others. Luzzatto was the first to define Judaism in terms of its economic and social functions in society, ignoring the classic analysis of Judaism in terms of its status in the history of the world as a (privileged or hated) religion.
Chapter 10 deals with the question of conversion and identity as reflected in an exchange between Sara Copio Sullam and two high ecclesiastics, again in Venice, at the beginning of the seventeenth century. Sara's exceptional physical beauty and artistic gifts played an important role in this debate, as a complement to the philosophical views concerning the immortality of the soul, on which it centered. Beauty of the body, it is agreed, is nugatory unless bound up with morality of the soul, which for Christians is possible only through the sacrament of baptism. This becomes the central line of argument, constantly reiterated in the numerous attempts to convert Sara. It expresses the underlying principle of Christian aesthetics and anthropological attitudes, according to which the conversion of the soul is prerequisite to the healing of the body For Jews, the question of the individual soul remained controversial. Sara appears rather to believe that all Israel will be healed and saved in its entirety, which is why she excludes the alternative of personal, individual conversion. The philosophical conviction suggested here is that body and soul (in Judaism) constitute a synholon, an essential composite guaranteeing the continuity of Judaism even beyond the span of human life. In his novel The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, Giorgio Bassani speaks, in reference to Sara Copio Sullam, of "a grand woman," describing her aptly as "the honor and pride of Italian Jewry at the height of the Counter-Reformation."
The Body Emblazoned: Dissection and the Human Body in Renaissance Culture by Jonathan Sawday (Routledge) The broad project of Jonathan Sawday's compelling book The Body Emblazoned is the study of the 'culture of dissection' in the English Renaissance, and the ways in which it informed intellectual discourse in Europe for nearly two hundred years. An outstanding piece of interdisciplinary scholarship, The Body Emblazoned is a study of the Renaissance culture of dissection which informed intellectual inquiry in Europe for nearly two hundred years. Though the dazzling displays in Renaissance art and literature of the exterior of the body have long been a subject of enquiry, Jonathan Sawday considers in detail the interior of the body, and what it meant to men and women in early modern culture.
Sawday links the frequently illicit activities of the great anatomists of the period, to whose labors we are indebted for so much of our understanding of the structure and operation of the human body, to a wider cultural discourse which embraces not only the great moments of Renaissance art, but the very foundation of a modern idea of knowledge. Illustrated with thirty-two black and white prints, The Body Emblazoned re-assesses modern understanding not only of the literature and culture of the Renaissance, but of the modern organization of knowledge which is now so familiar that it is only rarely questioned.
Sawday details how the body-interior, newly visible in the early Renaissance anatomy theatre, posed a challenge to structures of understanding and representation not merely in the scientific community, but in culture at large: as he states in the introductory chapter, 'as the physical body is fragmented, so the body of under-standing is held to be shaped and formed'. In this chapter Sawday explores how anatomy feeds into the metaphorical registers of John Donne and his contemporaries, outlining two distinctive discursive strands — those of colonisation and invention — which sought to make sense of the new body, liberated form theology by the scientific gaze.
RENE DESCARTES, 'SECOND MEDITATION: OF THE NATURE OF THE HUMAN MIND; AND THAT IT IS EASIER TO KNOW THAN THE BODY' (1644)
The Philosophical Writings of Descartes: Volume 1 by René Descartes(Cambridge University Press) The Philosophical Writings of Descartes: Volume 2 by René Descartes(Cambridge University Press) The Philosophical Writings of Descartes: Volume 3 by René Descartes(Cambridge University Press)
The Meditations of René Descartes, who is often considered the 'father' of modern philosophy, marked a decisive break with the Aristotelian and Scholastic philosophical traditions of the Medieval period, and sought instead to integrate philosophy within the new sciences. The foundation of his methodology, detailed throughout the Discourse on Method and the Meditations, is a radical and hyperbolic scepticism, whereby all that can be doubted must be rejected in pursuit of an indubitable truth. Descartes opens his second Meditation, reprinted here, by describing the extent of this doubt, especially with regard to the dubious 'knowledge' acquired through the bodily senses. By ruthless process of elimination, Descartes can ultimately state only that he cannot doubt that he doubts, and that this thereby proves a mental existence, thinking substance or cogito which functions independently of physical substance, and which, indeed, precedes and makes possible all knowledge of the material world. The first-person, almost autobiographical narrative style of Descartes's writing is not incidental to his intellectual project, replicating textually the newly appointed centrality of individual consciousness in ontological and epistemelogical enquiry.
The History of Sexuality, Vol. 1: An Introduction by Michel Foucault (Vintage) The History of Sexuality, Vol. 2: The Use of Pleasure by Michel Foucault (Vintage) The History of Sexuality, Vol. 3: The Care of the Self by Michel Foucault (Vintage) Broadly speaking, Michel Foucault's characteristically wide-ranging genealogies examine how the human subject constructs itself (and its others) sociohistorically and discursively, often emphasising the complex and mutually sustaining relationships which pertain between knowledge and power. The three volumes of The History of Sexuality explore how sex and sexual behaviours are not natural and given, but produced in, and to some extent productive of, the discursive and ethical structures of a historical moment. In the extract reprinted here from Volume One, Foucault counterintuitively maintains that European culture between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries did not so much repress sexuality (as the commonplace would have it) as encourage and manage its expression by myriad discursive and disciplinary means. Central to these is the notion of confession, whose imperative is the ongoing and minute translation of fleshly desire into discourse. The description of sexual activities in the confessional effectively put sex into the public domain, where agencies of power could better classify and manage them, notably in the embryonic 'social sciences', pedagogy and psychiatry.
Male Fantasies, Vol. 1: Women, Floods, Bodies, History (Theory and History of Literature, Vol. 22) by Klaus Theweleit, Barbara Ehrenreich, Chris Turner, and Stephen Conway (University of Minnesota Press)
Male Fantasies, Vol. 2: Male Bodies - Psychoanalyzing the White Terror (Theory and History of Literature, Vol. 23) by Klaus Theweleit, Anson Rabinbach, Erica Carter, and Chris Turner (University of Minnesota Press)
Klaus Theweleit's two-volume study, Male Fantasies (Meinnerphantasien), might be described as a psycho-sexual history of fascist male desire in Germany from its incep-tion in the aftermath of World War 1. Theweleit seems especially informed by the psychoanalytic paradigms of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, insofar as their work, like Theweleit's, consistently emphasises the productive force of fantasy or the unconscious in relation to the material world and its sociopolitical formations. Stylistically, Male Fantasies is made up of textual fragments — diaries, memoirs, letters, works of fiction, visual art — which, although historically and culturally specific, are not presented in a stable or overarching historical, narrative or theoretical framework. Instead, Theweleit's text suggests affinities or connotations between symbolic and bodily practices, material production and fantasy, which are not limited to a given historical moment, but which, arguably, maintain both resonance and relevance today.
According to Theweleit it is through the body, and the discourses of the body, that fascist desires (and anxieties) take their sociopolitical formations and effects. The threat to the soldier male of bodily dissolution and collapse is played out, or in psychoanalytic terms, projected onto the bodies of its others — notably those of women, Jews, communists, the proletariat, homosexuals, and other marginalised groups, who can thus be subjected and annihilated in fantasy — if not in reality. The extracts reprinted here illustrate the brutalising symbolic practices and fantasies by which the soldier male's 'armoured' body is structured and impelled to action.
Black Skin, White Masks by Frantz Fanon (Grove Press) One of the ironies of history is the pervasive debt anti-colonial revolutionaries owe to European thinkers. The writings of the late FLN theoretician and apostle of "negritude," Frantz Fanon, for instance, ripple with the Marxian class war, Sorelian violence, Rousseauist utopianism and, of course, the polemics of Sartre, his master and friend. Fanon's famous manifesto, The Wretched of the Earth, described his experiences as a psychiatrist at a French Military hospital in Algeria, the "colonial neurosis," the struggle for liberation, and the dream of an African "Third World." It is a tough, rich, infuriatingly rhetorical work in which pleas for and diagrams of socio-political revamping almost always get swamped by fiery displays of Jacobin idealism, imperious exhortations, threats. Black Skin, White Masks, his first effort, written just about a decade before his death at thirty-six in 1961, is of much less interest or importance. It suffers from a good deal of youthful pretentiousness (Fanon had a mania for arbitrary citations), a rhapsodically muddled style, a by-now trite theses ("the black soul is a white man's artifact"), and a summation ("For the black man there is only one destiny. And it is white"). This appears to fly in the face of his later position. An intermittently powerful racial study.
FRANTZ FANON, 'THE FACT OF BLACKNESS' (1952)
If the core psychological imperative of Frantz Fanon's Black Skin, White Masks is to understand how black consciousness, both individual and social, has been shaped by the (colonial) forces of history, its political aim is to consider how black identity might be (re)claimed on a different set of terms. Central to Fanon's work is the premise that racism objectifies: a contention which can be (and indeed is, by Fanon himself and his many commentators) variously interpreted in grammatical, political, psychological, philosophical, anthropological and economic aspects. In 'The Fact of Blackness', however, it is the corporeal sense of racist objectification which is most powerfully emphasised. The fact of blackness as Otherness is detailed autobiographically here at the level of the bodily schema, the first ground of objectification. For Fanon, the black body is a barrier in the humanist dialectic between self and world, since it is always already defined from without by white power. In Fanonian terms, the black has 'no ontological resistance' in the eyes of the white. Even the Negritude movement, which sought to articulate and celebrate blackness in and on its own terms, proves for Fanon a false ally, insofar as its discourses retain traces of a western racist ethnology which always positions blackness as 'primitive'. Fanon's dialogic style is distinctively powerful in its yoking of intimate physicality to a sweeping range of conceptual, philosophical and psychological thinking.
CATHERINE CLEMENT, 'SEDUCTION AND GUILT' (1975)
The Newly Born Woman (La jeune née), co-authored by Catherine Clement and Hélène Cixous )University of Minnesota Press), is considered a pivotal text in the French feminist theoretical move-ment, especially insofar as it considers the possibilities of écriture féminine (or 'feminine writing'), the rhetorical matrix within which woman might adequately 'write herself', her sexuality and her experience beyond phallogocentric logic. The latter, Cixous and Clement maintain, has systematically excluded women from its cultural narratives, be these classical myths or the more contemporary legends of psycho-analysis. The Newly Born Woman is structured as a dialogue between the authors over the signifying agency of the excluded feminine.
The hysterogenic body, with its ancient historical pedigree, is a key figure in this deliberation: questions as to whether the hysteric's cryptic body language renders her a victim or a heroine for feminist theory, or whether her 'sickness' signifies complicity with, or dissent from, patriarchal society oscillate throughout the book. Broadly speaking, the two theorists approach different conclusions on this point; Cixous tending to emphasise the radical potential of non-linear hysterical language, while Clement, in the extract reprinted here, reminds the reader of the hysteric's troubling association with the stigmatic, the witch and the heretic. Moreover, Clement unpicks the Freudian narrative whereby the infant's bonding with the mother's body (so crucial a premise of écriture féminine) is inscribed with seduction, guilt and repression; the cornerstones of the Oedipally-structured bourgeois family, and ultimately (via analysis), the means of bringing hysterical discourse back under the rubric of the patriarchal family narrative. /p>
Eye On The Flesh: Fashions Of Masculinity In The Early Twentieth Century (Cultural Studies) by Maurizia Boscagli (Oxford University Press)
MAURIZIA BOSCAGLI, NIETZSCHEANISM AND THE NOVELTY OF THE SUPERMAN'
Eye on the Flesh examines changes in the representation of the male body in European culture between 1880 and 1930, as models of 'unassuming' bourgeois masculinity ceded to a modern ideal of virile musculature which found its keenest expression in fascist statuary. The spectacular, warrior-like male body, signifier of 'phallic plenitude', was, Maurizia Boscagli observes, coincident with the rise of early mass consumer culture, and was thus inserted alongside the female body in the circuitry of commodity culture, conformity and display. Boscagli reads in this phenomenon a complex masculine anxiety about gender roles, authority, sexuality and national identity. In the extract reprinted here, she explores how the Nietzschean ideal of the superman provided a structuring trope for the re-imaging of the male body: a trans-formation whose effects may still be discernible in the physical culture of today.
MARIANNA TORGOVNICK, TIERCINGS'
(From Late Imperial Culture (Postmodern Occasions) by Roman De LA Campa, E. Ann Kaplan, and Michael Sprinker (Verso) , pp. 197-210.)
In this candid and often speculative essay, Marianna Torgovnick considers how best to theorise the contemporary phenomenon of 'modern primitivism', the multiple piercings, tattoos and scarification which have recently emerged from subculture into the mainstream. Torgovnick is troubled by these bodies' ability to confuse familiar binary systems of categorisation, such as primitive/postmodern, adornment/ mutilation, rebellion/conformity, life-force/death-force, pleasure/pain, and so forth. Arguably such bodies push the limits of cultural intelligibility, and pose a timely challenge to prevailing modes of understanding embodiment. Indeed, this concluding text seems emblematic of the necessary collision between theory and lived corporeality which is part of the ongoing business of cultural criticism. (Parenthetically, it is interesting that in the penultimate paragraph, Torgovnick cynically anticipates the contemporary work of German anatomist Gunther von Hagens).
The Body (Readers in Cultural Criticism) by Tiffany Atkinson (Palgrave) What do we mean when we talk about "the body"? This reader challenges the assumption that it can be invoked as a neutral, or indeed natural, point of reference in critical discussion or cultural practice. The essays collected here foreground the historical construction of "the body" throughout a range of discourses from the modern to the postmodern, and seek to present it not as a biological "given," but as a contestable signifier in the articulation of identities.
Reading the Human Body by Mladen Popovic (Studies on the Texts of the Desert of Judah: Brill) deals with physiognomic and astrological texts from the Dead Sea Scrolls that represent one of the earliest examples of ancient Jewish science. For the first time the Hebrew physiognomic-astrological list 4Q186 (4QZodiacal Physiognomy) and the Aramaic physiognomic list 4Q561 (4QPhysiognomy ar) are comprehensively studied in relation to both physiognomic and astrological writings from Babylonian and Greco-Roman traditions. New reconstructions and interpretations of these learned lists are offered that result in a fresh view of their sense, function, and status within both the Qumran community and Second Temple Judaism at large, showing that Jewish culture in Palestine participated in the cultural exchange of learned knowledge between Babylonian and Greco-Roman cultures.
The Jewish Body: Corporeality, Society, and Identity in the Renaissance and Early Modern Period edited by Maria Diemling and Giuseppe Veltri (Brill Academic Publishers)
The tension between the "book" and the "body" has in recent years attracted the attention of scholars interested in the perception of the body in Judaism and the impact of religious law and performance on the body. The fifteen contributions in this volume deal with perceptions of the "Jewish body" in a broad range of legal, poetic, mystical, philosophical, and polemical early modern Jewish sources and employ a variety of methodological approaches. The first part of the book examines the construction of the body in specific historical and social contexts. Part two discusses normative texts and the notion of an "ideal Jewish body." Part three explores body, mind, and soul in Jewish philosophy and mysticism. The last section of the book discusses body issues in Jewish-Christian discourse.
The volume includes contributions by Howard Tzvi Adelman, Ruth Berger, Saverio Campanini, Maria Dienaling, Eleazar Gutwirth, Don Harran, Moshe Idel, Sergius Kodera, Arthur M. Lesley, Gianfranco Miletto, Giuseppe Veltri, Roni Weinstein, Elliot R. Wolfson, Jeffrey R. Woolf, and Nimrod Zinger.
Renaissance Philosophy in Jewish Garb: Foundations and Challenges in Judaism on the Eve of Modernity (Supplements to the Journal of Jewish Thought and Philosophy) by Giuseppe Veltri (Brill Academic Publishers)
Based on several years of research on Jewish intellectual life in the Renaissance, this book tries to distinguish the coordinates of "modernity" as premises of Jewish philosophy, and vice versa. In the first part, it is concerned with the foundations of Jewish philosophy as well as its nature as philosophical science and wisdom. The second part is devoted to certain elements and challenges of the humanist and Renaissance period, as reflected in Judaism: historical consciousness and the sciences, utopian tradition, the legal status of the Jews in Christian political tradition and in Jewish political thought, and aesthetic concepts of the body and conversion.
Scholarship loses its human dimension and research may not even be feasible, unless it is motivated by a genuine curiosity for the subject, enthusiasm for the challenges presented by the past and the present, and an unrestrained passion for the pure pursuit of knowledge. My enthusiasm for Renaissance and early modern studies has a long his-tory dating back to my youth, when, as a Gymnasium student in Siena, 1976-1978, I first began to appreciate the world of humanist culture and history The world of the Renaissance made an enduring impression on me, as I marveled at the size and beauty of Tuscany's monumental cathedrals, at the magnificent sculptures, the breathtaking paintings, the handsome buildings, and the geometrically perfect squares and narrow winding streets of its cities.
A decade later, when I had already begun to pursue Jewish studies in Berlin, I came across a learned article by Joanna Weinberg dealing with the Mantuan scholar, Azariah de' Rossi. Thus was I introduced to the most singular intellectual figure of Renaissance Italy. Azariah was an avid reader, deeply versed in both Jewish and Christian sources, and open to new hermeneutics and intellectual innovation. He had suc-ceeded in establishing himself as a mediator between religious cultures, and his unique place in the pantheon of scholarship was recognized by Christian and Jewish intellectuals alike, if for differing reasons. For myself, Azariah took on the role of a virtual guide to humanist scholar-ship, with all its challenges and discoveries.
This book is a first installment drawn from the years I have devoted to the study of Jewish thought in the Renaissance; a second volume, a handbook of Jewish philosophy, is in preparation and will appear, hopefully, in the not too distant future. Some of the chapters in the pres-ent volume were published previously, in German, Italian, or English, over the course of the last decade. These I have reworked, however, adapting them to focus more strongly on the central question: the foundations and the challenges embodied by what is commonly called the "(pre)modern era." Debate over the Jewishness of philosophy, the introduction of poetry into philosophical speculation, the philosophic value of history utopian and "real" political developments in the Jew-ish community as well as the discussion of the new status of Judaism in Christian polemics and "ethnographical" literature—these are all elements that contributed to the construction of the intellectual world of a Renaissance Jew.