Friday, March 06, 2009

Three drowned books: Jeremiah 51 and the cultural "nature" of textuality

What did Jeremiah and his school think a text was? Building on Edward Silver's reading of Jeremiah 36 as based on a trope of materialization, this paper reads Jeremiah 51's command to weight the scroll of his prophecy and sink it in the Euphrates as the key moment in the articulation of a Jeremian language ideology that runs counter to modern assumptions about textuality. At least for this Jeremiah, the word of God was something that need to be both read and destroyed to be effective. It then reads Jeremiah's destruction of the materialized word of God with two other drowned books: those of the early 17th-century Marathi poet Tukaram and the early 17th-century English playwright William Shakespeare.

The conflicting tropes of destruction and salvation, communication and incommunication, mediation and concealment (consider Darius' invisible Behistun inscription or Ezekiel's edible, unread scroll), that these accounts manifest suggest that cross-culturally, textuality may lack fundamental features, such as fixity and openness to critique, that have been attributed to it in the late 20th-century Western scholarly tradition represented by Ong, Goody et al. In conclusion, the paper will suggest a different cross-culturally emergent feature of
textuality, that of materialization, that emerges from comparison. The recommendation is then that any discussion of textuality should begin with study of the local language ideologies, production formats and participation frameworks in which a text-artifact emerged.

Possibly to be given in the 2009 SBL's Textuality section.

References:
Erving Goffman, "Footings" in Forms of Talk -- concepts of 'production format' and 'participation framework'
Sheldon Pollock, The Language of the Gods in the World of Men on Tukaram
Edward Silver, "Entextualization and Prophetic Action: Jeremiah 36 as Literary Artifact" (2008 SBL paper)

1 comment:

Primitive Democracy said...

Enjoying your blog (again). This evokes all sorts of interesting questions, not only about HB, e.g. Mesop. genre of letters to gods, and the first -millennium development of epigraphic foundation deposits. Thanks for the post!