Reading the Underthought explores the question of how readers from one tradition can approach the poetry of another. Based on the assumption that readers from diverse cultural backgrounds may have something positive and generative to bring to an alien text, this book examines the contribution that a reader schooled in Jewish hermeneutic practices may offer to the interpretation and appreciation of mainstream Christian religious poetry.
Through detailed analysis of the procedures of talmudic interpretative practice, Kinereth Meyer and Rachel Salmon Deshen explain the dynamics of a rabbinic hermeneutic approach and show how it can provide new insights into the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins and T. S. Eliot. While they illustrate how the modes of talmudic interpretation resonate with other contemporary critical approaches—such as intertextuality, deconstruction, and performance theory—they also demonstrate how these critical modes can be differentiated in ways significant for the reading process. Connections between rabbinic hermeneutics and modern literary theory have been examined in recent scholarship, but this is the first study that considers the effect that Jewish interpretive strategies might have on the reading of literary texts of the Western tradition.
The authors concretely illustrate how differences in cultural and interpretive assumptions can be brought into fruitful conversation, and they suggest a model for readers who approach texts from various "outside" positions. The book provides a significant contribution not only to Hopkins and Eliot scholars, but to general readers interested in the enterprise of cross-cultural reading and in the interrelationships between literature, religion, and interpretive theory.
Kinereth Meyer and Rachel Salmon Deshen are professors in the Department of English at Bar-Ilan University in Israel. Meyer is the author of numerous articles on poetry and essays in published works on T. S. Eliot and Gerard Manley Hopkins. Salmon Deshen has published many journal articles on Gerard Manley Hopkins and on Jewish hermeneutics.
PRAISE FOR THE BOOK
"The contribution of this book is indeed significant. I know of no other 'rabbinical' readings of these poets. The readings they provide—as well as their introduction to this hermeneutical tradition—are helpful to both Christian and non-Christian readers."—Paul J. Contino, Professor of Great Books and Associate Director of the Center for Faith and Learning, Pepperdine University
"Dashingly original, two Israeli scholars read Christian poets the way Rabbis read Torah, exploring text-resonances within Hopkins and the intertextuality of Eliot and Jewish Wisdom literature. The resulting 'non-finalizability of interpretation' stimulates both a 'perpetual return to language' and an approach to God. Scholarly, pellucid, and grounded in literary theory, these fresh readings offer breadth, mystery, and intellectual joy to Jews and Christians alike."—Joseph J. Feeney, S.J., Professor of English, Saint Joseph's University
"Reading the Underthought is a major contribution to the field of literature and religion. With great discipline and restraint, it hones the possibilities of interreligious dialogue. A remarkable achievement."—Lee Oser, Associate Professor of English, College of the Holy Cross