From a Desire Not to Do Violence: Encountering the Song of Songs

By Klangwisan, Yael | Hecate, May 2011 | Go to article overview

From a Desire Not to Do Violence: Encountering the Song of Songs


Klangwisan, Yael, Hecate


Draw me after you, let us run together. Song 1:4 (1)

Embodied words

Elusive, transgressive, fatherless, godless--finding a genre of investigation, a writing that works for the Song of Songs is a challenge. There seems to be an insufficiency in conventional (phallocentric?) academic writing to map the concept of struggle-to-become embedded deeply in an ancient ecriture feminine. (2) In approaching the Song for a reading I have made several forays and plans for a method of capture. More than once I felt some guilt in a trialled approach. Each time I approach the text I hear a voice crying and at once I am in a quandary.

Would I take this beautiful butterfly and pin it out flat? Take a scalpel to it and examine its internal spaces. Cut her open, map her organs, preserve her in academic formaldehyde, and hope to have my dissecting notes published by some reputable group. But such treatment is sure to silence her, still her voice and kill her. But this is how it's done, what's expected. By killing her I mean making this woman-poem an object; something to dispassionately analyse for the appropriate reading: a sacred reading, a natural reading, a critical reading. Use the purest scientific methodology; make a hypothesis and then test it, gather the results, the evidence; make my deduction and then observe whether or not she will dance to this tune.

But what if the better question is not how to approach the Song but perhaps how the Song might want to be approached; to respond to the Song in the manner of its own invitation; to reciprocate somehow. My reflections might now become polarised around the phenomenon of reading and the resurrection of the dead. Reading is a dialectic activity by which I dialogue, monologue, chronologue with the thoughts and ideas of those who may be long gone. In the Song, something of the author's humanity is evoked because the Song is the result of a human act of communication and imbued with qualities of humanness that characterise life. And she (the one who conceived the song) is seemingly brought to life in some degree, in some sense by my reading. In reading she rises and meets me, the reader, in the present moment. This dusty, ancient text literally writhes with life in the reading. My consciousness meets hers, these words, this extension of her consciousness, even though all her physical remains have decayed into earth.

Embodied words? In the reading she lives once more drawing on my consciousness. This phenomenon means she can cease to be an 'it' and our discourse can become 'you and me' as in Martin Buber's philosophy of relation; a philosophy that finds sacred space in encounter. (3) I also remember that Buber believed in the converse that the very moment I dehumanise the other I also dehumanise myself. And so I wonder about the cry I heard on first approaching the text with dissecting tools in hand. Perhaps the cry came from me.

    The basic word I-It can never be spoken with one's whole being.
(4) 

Buber pleads encounter. And a text so full of humanity, that presents a face, I can encounter. I can encounter her! She takes shape (although I admit I gaze through a convex lens). Still, in that moment of encounter something of her is resurrected, intangible but present. This is an imaginary encounter, it happens in the crevices of my consciousness but the outcome is real, in my re-imagination of the woman of the Song, I am enabled to drink in the words something new and unexpected.

Mysticism, necromancy, a thousand broken laws of beloved tradition, I fear the dour sideways glances of Augustine, Origen and Jerome who authoritatively closed the book on the Song. But I must attempt anyway to describe the phenomenon of reading, of language, the quickening of the reader and how this might have implications or an ethics for writing such that the Song may still have some human rights, or may possibly request humanisation. This is that ethics argued by Levinas, (5) she (this other) through the text calls to me and I feel the obligation (the need) for response. …

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