The Rhetoric of Suffering: Reading the Book of Job in the Eighteenth Century

The Rhetoric of Suffering: Reading the Book of Job in the Eighteenth Century

The Rhetoric of Suffering: Reading the Book of Job in the Eighteenth Century

The Rhetoric of Suffering: Reading the Book of Job in the Eighteenth Century

Synopsis

The Rhetoric of Suffering provides a fresh approach to such topics as the rise of the novel, sociability of sentiment, and the communitarian emphasis in eighteenth-century literature. Lamb draws on the Book of Job as a touchstone for the contradictions and polemics found in various eighteenth-century works--poetry, philosophy, political oratory, accounts of exploration, commentaries on criminal law--which try to account for the relations between human suffering and systems of secular and divine justice. Deliberately downplaying questions of chronology or discursive coherence, genre, or topic, he offers considerations of Richardson and Fielding, Hawkesworth and the South Pacific, Goldsmith and Godwin, Hume and Bolingbroke, Blackstone and Bentham, Burke and Longinus, and Blackmore and Wright of Derby.

Excerpt

All men can skill to complayne with Job. Wherefore is it that the faythfull speake so? It seemeth that they be nice and womanish. (John Calvin, Sermons on Job)

This study is not intended to be a literary history, tracing the evolution of readings of the book of Job from the neoclassical and providentialist to the Enlightenment or rationalist, and thence to the Romantic and sublime. The confidence needed for such a narrative is exactly what the book of Job undermines, being the story of a man who becomes womanish in refusing to sacrifice the particularities of his woes to the symmetry his friends claim to see in them. It is a story destructive not only of the connections which Job's comforters (and perhaps many of his readers) expect to be binding causes to effects, but also of any theory of verisimilitude which assumes an interpretable meaning or moral to be embedded in a representation of events. For connections it substitutes interruptions, and for meanings repetitions. This has raised much debate about its genre -- whether it is epic, allegory, or history -- and about its status as theodicy -- whether it is in fact intended to justify God's ways to humankind. There is no dispute pursued inside the story of Job's sufferings that is not capable of being renewed on the outside by readers trying to make sense of that very dispute. It is a story that provokes imitations of itself by resisting what interpreting readers want it to say, and by inviting the less prescriptive to inhabit its strange indiscipline. It is as impossible to define as it is to get quit of it.

Instead of constructing a developmental model of the changing tastes and priorities of eighteenth-century readers, therefore, this study offers to treat Job as a figure and a name for a recurrent cultural antinomy that emerges in fields as diverse as monumental sculpture and voyages of discovery, as well as in politics and literature, whenever the interpretation and the point of first-person testimonies are at stake. This antinomy is always recognizable in its basic form as a conflict between the law -- in its broadest sense of principle, rule, and precedent as well as of statute -- and those elements of a personal history, usually painful, for which there is no prescription or parallel. Job refuses to be read as an example, or as a case with wider significance: he voices doubts about all the available forms of narrative. When Job is quoted or gestured at, he . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.