Shamefully, I must admit that for various reasons, I found myself (for the third time in my life) at the American Academy of Religion in San Diego last week. Overall, I haven’t much liked the AAR over the years. Nothing personal, I just find that the Association for Jewish Studies and SPEP to hit closer to my own particular interests. However, on the upside, all of the “Study of Judaism” sessions I attended were quite good. Of particular interest was a panel on The Talmud and Philosophy that dealt with Solomon Maimon’s rather negative views of the Talmud, Levinas, the Talmud and translation and a fascinating paper by Serguei Dolgopolskii‘ entitled “Talmud, And, Philosophy.” Here’s the abstract (although the paper was quite different, as per usual):
This paper addresses the Talmud not only, nor even primarily, as a book or a historical object that for other disciplines to appropriate, but as an intellectual project coextensive in scope to those of philosophy and its significant other, rhetoric. By comparing the theory of Talmudic learning in the work of R. Yitzhak Canpanton (d. 1463) with R. Moses Chaim Luzzatto’s (d. 1746) view of the Talmud as an organon of a perfect rational thinking, this paper asks how the project of the Talmud and that of Enlightenment relate to each other. More specifically, the paper addresses the place of the Talmudic notion of disagreement (machloket) in these two thinkers, proposing to re-read Canpanton’s notion of disagreement in the broader context of the value of agreement that has hitherto been tacitly dominant in philosophy.
The paper was part of a larger project (most papers are) that deals with Rhetoric and Talmud. The presentation began with a rather Derridan problematization of “and” as either conjoining or severing the two terms/disciplines/lines of thought “philosophy” and “Talmud.” More broadly, the argument explored sophistics, which in the tradition of Western metaphysics is either wholly excluded from philosophy or minimally, allowed into it as a second-order discipline of philosophy. Dolgopolski suggested that in post-structuralism rhetoric/sophistics is at times considered the very “ground” for any philosophical approach. He then tied this instabilty to the instabilty of the reception of the Talmud–explored in the panel vis a vis Solomon Maimon and Emmanuel Levinas– explored in his presentation vis a vis the traditional Western dialogue between dialectics and rhetoric. At any rate, I will look forward to the complete forthcoming project: What Is Talmud? The Art of Disagreement (Fordham University Press).
I will say, that in many of the groups, the AAR has become closely tied to identity politics of the worst kind. Take a look at the program book and you can see what I mean, e.g. Men’s Issues Group, Lesbian Issues Group, etc. Everyone has their own issues I suppose.
I attended a couple of the “Philosophy of Religion” and “Religion and Continental Thought” sections and found them to be on the whole, rather disappointing even though there were a couple of promising panels that featured the thought of Giorgio Agamben. I have found that at the AAR (and other conferences), at times, when people are presenting work on philosophers there is a great deal of summarizing of that particular thinker’s work. This repeats itself in a lot of secondary literature. I am sure I’ve been guilty of this too. I will only offer two possible reasons for this:
1. the presenter assumes little knowledge of the audience at the AAR, reasonable I suppose.
2. quite frankly, many of the “continentals” esp. someone like Levinas or even Agamben are both using terms in a unique way and this demands summarization. That’s fair too.
It can be tedious at times, I know. (in fact, an exchange between PE’s sometimes caustic and sometimes creepy Mikhail and the folks at an und fur sich circle around this issue in some heated comments, my favorite, “You Sir, are a dick”). For the record (as if anybody cares), the only full paper I caught at that session was Phillip Goodchild’s (rather Marxist I thought) discussion about his new book The Theology of Money which I found rather interesting if only in its audacity. I think it would be interesting to have a panel that explored the “turn to the political” that engaged both Christian theological perspectives as well as Jewish (and Muslim) perspectives. Certainly not a critique of that panel, just a thought since I’m not a Christian theologian/philosopher etc. Then again, wasn’t that very AAR? I’m X, why did you not talk about my issues? You are leaving me out of the conversation. Oy vey. I almost hate myself for saying that!
Oh yes, Judith Butler took the prize for goofiest aside. Besides responding to a question by saying “I will fist dominate you before I submit to you,” in the q and a after her lecture, she made a strange comment to the effect that any sort of gathering memorializing the queer victims of 9/11 would be squashed by the political machine and that we all need to remember the queer victims of 9/11.Err…Ummm…..ok?? A very “AAR moment” indeed!