Sunday, May 17, 2009

My UCLA Talk

My UCLA talk ("Literature, the Holocaust, and the Midrashic Impulse") can now be heard online. You can even hear my post-illness smoker's voice. There were lots of lovers and haters in the audience, which is evident in the question/answer session. I never really thought of my work as being so provocative until this talk, but I realize now that typically, people either love or hate what I'm doing.

One female scholar of Rabbinic Midrash (who I actually respect and admire quite a bit) told me I should abandon the idea of midrash altogether. If there's one thing I've learned, it's that it will be very difficult to persuade some people to accept the use of a sacred term ("midrash") outside of its sacred context. I don't aree with this woman, but it's certainly something to think about.


Dylan Trigg said...

Very interesting, indeed. Are you planning on turning your thesis into a book? Best Dylan.

anarkissed said...

I think your use of the word "impulse" is the important "secular" corrective. Still, considering Levinas' specific meaning of the word "sacred" (and Foucault's question about the sacralization of certain writing into "literature"--in this case, into that which counts as "midrash") isn't there something more important that you're tapping into--viz., community and reconciliation? That's my defense. After all, I put you in my dissertation, so I have vested interest in your work... yo'm sayin'?

Insignificant Wrangler said...

I enjoyed the talk Monica--Casey and I have been talking about (or poking each other through it) over at his blog.

I've been looking at Levinas's Talmudic writings/thinkings as a way of integrating his ethics with both non-Platonic rhetoric (rhetoric concerned with social relations rather than egoist persuasion) and digitality (and the values it generates: plurality, interactivity, transience, risk).

I, too, am a bit concerned about incorporating theological themes into academic discourse. I've turned to Derrida's discussion of "faulty" writing in "At this Moment..." for aid in "secularizing" this approach to writing, thinking, knowledge, and meaning. Not that I completely agree with what D does in the essay (choosing to adopt the identity of a woman to critique Levinas's "rape" of the feminine), but I do like the way he approaches writing on/after Levinas: as a faulty process in which we "give" meaning to others on the supposition that it is already "faulty," that we wrong them, and that the experience of alterity begins once we hesitate to reduce all meaning to the internal economy of "logic, semiotics, grammaticality, lexicon, or rhetoric" (161).Derrida identifies the displacement Levinas's text urges by constantly referring to the dislocation, in time, between writing and reading; the diachrony of experience; the experience of absolute heteronomy.

But I'm one of those readers who believe Levinas and Derrida's differences soften in their later works (L toward D in OTB and Of God Who Comes to Mind, for instance. Certainly, I think its fair to say that D in "At This Moment..." doesn't still harbor the criticisms of L that he did in "V&M"). What's your take on the L and D relation?

Oh well, guess I'm babbling a bit here--thanks for the post M!

shahar ozeri said...

Hi, Monica. Enjoyed the talk. I started to leave a comment, but it became far too unwieldy so I posted it over at PE:

Monica said...

Thanks, Dylan. Yes, I'm trying to turn the diss into a book, with a number of changes. But the talk pretty much sums up the project, though in a somewhat condensed and diluted way.


Anarkissed--thanks! We should talk about the whole Foucault and the "sacralization of certain writing into literature" thing. I just got through telling someone today (quoting Geoffrey Hartman) that midrash is neither literature nor commentary. It's something else--something in between. However, I've started to argue that while it's neither, it's also both, if that makes any sense. I met with someone from UCLA today who gave me some great if challenging feedback regarding whether "midrash" is truly the correct term here, given that what we're calling "midrashic" shows up (at least I argue) in other cultures as well.


Wrangler--I'd love to talk to you some time (or hear more) about your ideas regarding Levinas and digitality. Are you saying that interactivity constitutes recognition or communication or dialogue that is on par (to a certain degree) with Levinas's notion of ethics?

Regarding Derrida--I certainly don't know Derrida's texts as well as I know Levinas's, but my understanding (and impression) is that you are right about their differences softening, though I think that has more to do with Derrida meeting Levinas at a place closer to Levinas's terms, if that makes any sense.


Shahar--Awesome, thanks! I'm going to head on over to your blog and comment over there. No doubt you've articulated my own points better than I have :)

Casey said...


I wonder if you've ever felt the "impulse" to write neither literature nor criticism yourself -- do you ever consider "performing" your argument in a midrashic way? I think I mentioned to you that I felt tremendously frustrated by the "form" of the dissertation, and the form known as "first academic book" offers little more than a dissertation in the way of experimental freedom. I told my committee that I could not end my dissertation properly without turning to narrative. They laughed. I said, "No, really." They stopped laughing and said, "No, you can't do that."