Sunday, June 28, 2009

Multiplicity and the Secret of the Text

I often find treasures in the middle of night, when everything is opened up and illuminated by darkness. Here, silence is not golden, but it is razor sharp.

I'm in Toronto for the North American Levinas Society conference. I have a presentation tomorrow on Levinas's essay "Reality and its Shadows," in which he questions the nature of art and criticism. I'm going to use this essay to offer a reading of Anne Michaels' Fugitive Pieces, which is so perfect that my heart hurts every time I read it.

Of course it's 2am and I have not finished my presentation, so I'm working--alone, where it's silent and I can see the darkness outside.

Accidentally, a few minutes ago I started re-reading Levinas's essay "Revelation in the Jewish Tradition." I read the following:

"...the totality of truth is made out of the contributions of a multiplicity of people: the uniquness of each act of listening carries the secret of the text; the voice of Revelation in precisely the inflection lent by each person's ear, is necessary for the truth of the Whole. The fact that God's living word can be heard in a variety of ways does not only mean that the Revelation adopts the measure of the people listening to it; rather, that measure becomes, itself, the measure of the Revelation. The multiplicity of people, each one of them indispensable, is necessary to produce all the dimensions of meaning; the multiplicity of meanings is due to the multiplicity of people."

Even when I am unabashedly appalled by someone else's viewpoint, I must--according to my reading of this passage--listen to his or her contribution in order to discover the "secret of the text." Perhaps one only finds meaning in a room where a number of people are engaging in disagreement.


Casey said...


Monica, is this a good opportunity (after your presentation, of course) to get you to comment on one of the other major four ways of reading in the Jewish tradition (Pardes?):

Namely, "Sod," which wikipedia defines briefly like this: "Sod (סוֹד) (pronounced with a long O as in gold) — "secret" ("mystery") or the mystical meaning, as given through inspiration or revelation."

I'm interested in that phrase "Secret of the text."

Very interested. Mwhahaha.

Insignificant Wrangler said...

I used part of that passage in my dissertation. I really enjoy Levinas's theological writings as well. Enjoy Toronto!