richardf8: (Default)
But it's going to be hard. Daniel Matt is going to be at Temple Israel this weekend as a scholar in residence. He will be speaking from the Bimah tonight, leading Torah Study tomorrow morning, speaking again after lunch tomorrow, and again on Sunday morning. To all intents and purposes, it's a Shabbaton.

Daniel Matt is a rabbi and scholar currently working on a solid, academic translaton of the Zohar, one of the texts comprising the Kabbalistic tradition in Judaism. This is no fluffy, feel-good translation for the red-string crowd, but a serious academic treatment being published by Stanford University Press. He is working from a text he edited using standard paleographic methodologies from multiple manuscript sources and some early print editions. His translator's preface details his methodology, and calls to mind many of the same textual issues I remember wrestling with in grad school. The text, as he edited it and is translating from it, is available as PDF's from Stanford's Web site, in all its unpointed Zoharic Aramaic* glory. Matt's translation is not afflicted with victorian coyness that hampered the Soncino translation published in the early 20th century, which is good because one can ill afford such coyness when working with a text that relies heavily sexual metaphor to carry its meaning forward. Another area in which Matt's translation/edition excels is in his notes. The Zohar has lots of inputs - Torah, Prophets, Writings, Talmud, Midrash, Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha, classical (i.e. Greek) sources, and texts that, while referenced by name, no longer appear to be extant - and is nearly incomprehensible unless you can follow what is being referenced where. Matt's notes do an excellent job of citing and summarizing these references, allowing the reader to be able to understand the text before him. Notes range in purpose from citing a source, to illuminating a bit of wordplay being made in the original, to demonstrating the relationship between vaious elements of metaphor and the nodes of the sefirotic paradigm to which they refer.

But in addition to being an amazing Scholar, he is also a great theologian.

He wrote God and the Big Bang, a magnificent work that goes beyond merely "reconciling" religion and science to viewing scientific observation and discovery as a path to belief. It probably won't convince hardcore rationalists or young-earth creationists, but I tend to regard it as an excellent work of natural theology.

So anyway, I'm excited about this weekend. I hope I don't drool on him, and I hope my expectaions are not unreasonably high. The two things one worries about when one is a hopeless fanboi I suppose.

*Zoharic Aramaic is a bit of a different animal from biblical or talmudic Aramaic. It is rife with loan words, from not only the spanish spoken in the area, but from Greek as well. As if that weren't entertaining enough, it is also full of neologisms, often combining roots from mutiple language families. This is another thing discussed at length in the translators preface.

A Meme

Nov. 14th, 2005 09:10 am
richardf8: (Default)
tortured conceptual artist
You are a Tortured Conceptual Artist. Your fellow
postmodernists call you an anachronism, but
you've never cared much about the opinions of
others. After all, most of them are far too
simple-minded to appreciate the nuances of your
work. They talk, while you are part of a lived

What kind of postmodernist are you!?
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richardf8: (Default)
I've been mulling over a post in rain_luong's journal, that struck closer to home for me than I suspected its like still could:

"I wonder if I am in the wrong field. Or the wrong place. Of course, I always second-guess anything I happen to be doing at the time. It's just, having had to argue with a prof who apparently believes 2+2=4 only because humans arbitrarily invented the idea (and a friend who thinks the same, although we were both sort of drunk), and had to listen repeatedly to words like "paradigm," "post-positivist," and "semiotic" being spoken seriously by very somber people, I kind of think I will get through grad school only by focusing and not taking anything all that seriously."

First, my heart goes out to rain, I've been there, done that, and got the rag to hang on my wall.

One of the major shortcomings of contemporary philosophy, which is driving both literary criticism and, apparently, communications theory, is that it dismisses reality as irrelevant, or worse yet, an invention. The way this is achieved is by granting primacy to the signifier while dismissing the signified out of hand. Or put another way "Image is Reality." This trend has completely and utterly destroyed American culture. It has robbed us of the ability to see that there is no sense in phrases like "Black is the new White," or "War is the new Peace." Indeed, it has turned reality into something so thoroughly malleable that it ceased to matter.

This leads to a morally bankrupt society. Now what do I mean by morally bankrupt? I mean a society so distanced from reality that it is incapable of making choices with reference to reality. Morality is not, as some would have us believe, adherence to an established set of norms. Morality is the ability to make ones choices based on an understanding of real harms and real goods. When the relationship between signifier and signified shatters, two things occur:

1) The emperor has no clothes.
2) The clothes have no emperor.

In this case the emperor represents reality, and the clothing represents language. The purpose of language is to couch reality in comprehensible terms, just as it is the purpose of clothing to let us know that the emperor is, in fact the emperor. But these days we worship the empty robes. This serves people who try to sell us things and ideas very well. But when we look for value, we are at a loss.

Deconstructing the tools we use to represent reality can be a useful exercise, but it is not an end in itself. The task that follows deconstruction is reconstruction. And I have yet to see anyone who is interested in taking up that particular yoke. After all deconstruction is the simple task of knocking something down. It's fun, its easy, and we can then point and laugh about how weak the structure was. But until we build a new structure, we are homeless.

And that is where we are right now. We have a president who became president by deconstructing the electoral process and dismissing the reality of the popular vote, who calls tyranny patriotism, and who happily destroys other nations and runs away when someone says "fix that." And what we call "Reality" these days is a genre of TV Programs based on sick power fantasies of superficial competition. Our obsession with signifiers is a type of idolatry. And when signifiers are all we pay attention to, fascism finds fertile ground.

As a final note to rain, who does not watch my journal, and is therefore probably going to find this post in his inbox, you are in the right field. You are in the field where a David Craig Simpson is most necessary. Grad school is not something to enjoy. It is a rite of passage, a hazing ritual, and vocational training all rolled up in one. Do not assume you are there to learn anything. You are there to survive long enough to pick up the qualifications to join the profession. If you should happen to learn anything along the way, that is an unintended consequence. But once you are through it, you have the capacity to put your own theories out there, to contribute to the field. And what the field needs, more than anything else, is scholarship that is willing to reassert the link between signifier and signified, to heal the disconnects, to demonstrate, by counting on your fingers, that 2+2=4, and that to argue otherwise is to cripple our intellectual faculties by denying them the tools with which to describe reality.

August 2017

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