The Ritual of New Creation: Jewish Tradition and Contemporary Literature

The Ritual of New Creation: Jewish Tradition and Contemporary Literature

The Ritual of New Creation: Jewish Tradition and Contemporary Literature

The Ritual of New Creation: Jewish Tradition and Contemporary Literature

Synopsis

Finkelstein examines a wide range of recent Jewish writing, including poetry, fiction, and literary criticism, in order to determine the changes such writing has undergone in its exposure to modern and postmodern conditions of culture. Featuring discussions of such figures as Gershom Scholem, Harold Bloom, George Steiner, Cynthia Ozick, and John Hollander, The Ritual of New Creation explores certain themes that recur in modern Jewish literature: the relation of the sacred to the secular in Jewish writing; the role of loss and exile; wandering meaning and textual transformation.

This is a book for all readers interested in modern Jewish literature, but especially for readers concerned with literary theory, the relations of text and commentary, and the fate of literary traditions in the contemporary and postmodern cultural milieu."

Excerpt

The Book In Tatters

If it is true, as I have been arguing, that a theoretical understanding of modern Jewish literature (I hesitate at this point to call it secular Jewish literature) comes into being when Walter Benjamin observes that Aggadah no longer modestly lies at the feet of Halakah but instead raises a mighty paw against it, then in what ways can this initial insight be developed or refined? In Ozick's case, we have seen that her narrative genius lies precisely in her resistance to this historical rupture and what might be called her divided loyalties, despite her vociferous denials, between halakhic restraint and aggadic freedom. As the most recent in a line of writers who have had to negotiate what I take to be a given of modern Jewish culture, Ozick challenges us to rethink our received critical assumptions, no matter how useful they may be.

Consider the aggadic nature of modern Jewish literature. In raising its mighty paw, is such writing anything more than another participant in the traditional interpretive process of midrash? Characterized by elaborate verbal play,

Midrash—the act and process of interpretation—works in both the halakhic and agggadic realms.... Curiously, both halakhic and aggadic sorts of Midrash develop out of the same set of forces. Primarily we can see the central presence . . .

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