Sodomscapes: Hospitality in the Flesh

Sodomscapes: Hospitality in the Flesh

Sodomscapes: Hospitality in the Flesh

Sodomscapes: Hospitality in the Flesh

Synopsis

Sodomscapes presents a fresh approach to the story of Lot’s wife, as it’s been read across cultures and generations. In the process, it reinterprets foundational concepts of ethics, representation, and the body. While the sudden mutation of Lot’s wife in the flight from Sodom is often read to confirm our antiscopic bias, a rival tradition emphasizes the counterintuitive optics required to nurture sustainable habitations for life in view of its unforeseeable contingency.

Whether in medieval exegesis, Russian avant-garde art, Renaissance painting, or today’s Dead Sea health care tourism industry, the repeated desire to reclaim Lot’s wife turns the cautionary emblem of the mutating woman into a figural laboratory for testing the ethical bounds of hospitality. Sodomscape—the book’s name for this gesture—revisits touchstone moments in the history of figural thinking and places them in conversation with key thinkers of hospitality. The book’s cumulative perspective identifies Lot’s wife as the resilient figure of vigilant dwelling, whose in-betweenness discloses counterintuitive ways of understanding what counts as a life amid divergent claims of being-with and being-for.

Excerpt

The Cleveland Museum of Art houses one of the most challenging treatments of the Sodom story in twentieth-century visual culture, Anselm Kiefer’s multimedia work Lots Frau (plate 1). It is easy to miss the pale script spelling out “Lots Frau” in the painting’s lower right-hand corner; yet, without it, the work hardly bears relation to either Sodom’s biblical account or the art-historical archive. the inscription supplies only minimal clues, just enough so that the railway tracks and the postapocalyptic landscape eventually prompt recognition of the Sodom story’s generic narrative elements—the drama of exile, the specter of annihilation. For viewers who are familiar with Kiefer’s aesthetic and political preoccupations, these elements suffice to identify the painting as a piece of postwar traumatic memory work, imagining the Nazi death camps (more precisely, the apparatus of forced transit) as Sodom’s anamorphic modern avatar. Arguably, however, the painting’s most perplexing formal feature is the conspicuous missing element—Lot’s wife. There is no indication of the fleeing woman or the salt pillar. Paradoxically, this absence testifies to Kiefer’s fidelity to the biblical source’s narrative conundrums. Like the Genesis text, Kiefer’s . . .

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