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

By Jonathan Hoeber Lamb | Go to book overview

2
Job and the Practice of Writing

Conscious unhappiness is not a delusion of the mind's vanity but something inherent in the mind, the one authentic dignity it has received in its separation from the body. This dignity is the mind's negative reminder of its physical aspect; its capability of that aspect is the only source of whatever hope the mind can have. The smallest trace of senseless suffering in the empirical world belles all the identitarian philosophy that would talk us out of that suffering.

( Theodor Adorno, Negative Dialectics)

The stories of Sitis and Martha exhibit the arrogance of systems of doctrine and interpretation towards the emergencies faced by individuals. The system wants to display private distress as a public example and an accountable event; the individual prefers to regard distress as a shock, unexpectable and therefore beyond the scope of prescription, exemplification, and consolation. These women propose alternative methods of making sudden pain tolerable that depend on practical adaptations of Job's story suitable to complaints made in the first person singular. Such adaptations ignore or undermine the universality of official consolation by developing a relation of the complaining voice to a redeeming voice capable of doing justice to the particulars of the case. They make no gestures towards the fulfilment of norms or law; they accumulate the circumstances of a private and personal grief in an effort of practical vocality determined by self-reference and the unfolding of tautologies. The successful relation of voice to voice and 'I' to 'I' depends not upon a recovery of innocence and identity but on a redoubled writing, a superscript or a writing upon writing. This is how improbable selection combinations are going to be realized, how the improbability of complaint is to be overcome, and how access to power may be obtained by the victim of power. Authority loses its pretext in proportion as energy is exchanged between first persons singular whose voices may sound alike, but whose interests in power are urgent and peculiar to themselves, and therefore socially illegitimate. Beyond the recurrent intensities punctuating the flow of energy from one subject to another, there is no wisdom or lore to rely on but the skill for adapting the improbabilities of complaint to an imitating and imitable form, and for turning barren seriality into a range of practical options. It is a skill for

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