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Language, Eros, Being Kabbalistic Hermeneutics and Poetic Imagination by Elliot R. Wolfson

Language, Eros, Being Kabbalistic Hermeneutics and Poetic Imagination


Language, Eros, Being Kabbalistic Hermeneutics and Poetic Imagination by Elliot R. Wolfson

This long-awaited, magisterial study-an unparalleled blend of philosophy, poetry, and philology-draws on theories of sexuality, phenomenology, comparative religion, philological writings on Kabbalah, Russian formalism, Wittgenstein, Rosenzweig, William Blake, and the very physics of the time-space continuum to establish what will surely be a highwater mark in work on Kabbalah. Not only a study of texts, Language, Eros, Being is perhaps the fullest confrontation of the body in Jewish studies, if not in religious studies as a whole. Elliot R. Wolfson explores the complex gender symbolism that permeates Kabbalistic literature. Focusing on the nexus of asceticism and eroticism, he seeks to define the role of symbolic and poetically charged language in the erotically configured visionary imagination of the medieval Kabbalists. He demonstrates that the traditional Kabbalistic view of gender was a monolithic and androcentric one, in which the feminine was conceived as being derived from the masculine. He does not shrink from the negative implications of this doctrine, but seeks to make an honest acknowledgment of it as the first step toward the redemption of an ancient wisdom. Comparisons with other mystical traditions-including those in Christianity, Buddhism, and Islam-are a remarkable feature throughout the book. They will make it important well beyond Jewish studies, indeed, a must for historians of comparative religion, in particular of comparative mysticism. Praise for Elliot R. Wolfson: Through a Speculum That Shines is an important and provocative contribution to the study of Jewish mysticism by one of the major scholars now working in this field. -Speculum


Elliot Wolfson's new volume is massive in every respect: it is massive in

scope, in intellectual reach, in methodological range, and in thematic sweep.

Readers will be especially interested in his formulation of a poetics of Jewish

mystical language, and in the new and strong articulation of his insights into

the topics of gender and the dialectics of absence and presence in the

sources. This is a major work that will certainly stimulate much discussion

and interest. -- -Michael Fishbane
Nathan Cummings Professor of Jewish Studies
The University of Chicago In Wolfson's work each tradition and each field of thought retains its specificity and yet they all come together on the page to talk with each other. Elliot R. Wolfson's _Language, Eros, and Being_ is a prodigy of scholarship. From the book's core, the construction of sexuality in religious consciousness and practice, three voices radiate: Continental philosophy and psychoanalysis; mysticism in Hellenistic, Christian; Islamic, and Buddhist traditions; and the esoteric dimension within Judaism known as Kabbalah. Because of the artful way in which Wolfson orchestrates the polyphony of their fugue-like conversation, the voices converge, dissolving into concord, without ever losing their definitive particularity. Read one way, Wolfson allows Martin Heidegger, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Jacques Derrida, Jacques Lacan, and Maurice Blanchot to introduce and clarify the poetics of Sufi or Kabbalistic thought. Read another way, Wolfson allows Zen masters, Gnostic myths, Ibn al-Arabi, Rabbi Hayyim Vital and authors of the Zohar to introduce and clarify poststructuralism. Throughout the conversation, Wolfson never indulges in apologetics or New Age gobbledygook. He never stumbles into the trap of ahistorical, apolitical, disembodying mystocentrism.

He never loses sight of his polemical focus on Judaism's lamentable androcentrism. He never compromises the most rigorous demands of historical-philological argumentation. Making the opposites of diverse discourses to coincide, Wolfson has rendered Kabbalah intelligible and useful to the world of critical learning. -- -Kalman P. Bland Wolfson subjects the sexual elements to an unprecedented, and radical examination. This book is sure to be controversial and generate much discussion. One is tempted to say that Wolfson's Language, Eros, Being is alchemical: Amazingly, it transforms the base metals of hermetically sealed Jewish studies into the gold of exoteric humanities.

About the Author

Elliot R. Wolfson holds the Marsha and Jay Glazer Endowed Chair in Jewish Studies in the Department of Religious Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara. His recent books include Giving beyond the Gift : Apophasis and Overcoming Theomania (2014), A Dream Interpreted within a Dream: Oneiropoiesis and the Prism of Imagination (2011), and Open Secret: Postmessianic Messianism and the Mystical Revision of Menahem Mendel Schneerson (2009).

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Book Info

Publication date

30th November 2004


Elliot R. Wolfson

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Fordham University Press


792 pages





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