To Make the Hands ImpureArt, Ethical Adventure, the Difficult and the Holy

To Make the Hands ImpureArt, Ethical Adventure, the Difficult and the Holy

Adam Zachary Newton

Print publication date: 2015

ISBN: 9780823263516

Publisher: Fordham University Press

Abstract

To Make the Hands Impure explores the act of reading as an embodied practice where ethics becomes a matter of tact—in the doubled sense of touch and regard. With the image of a book lying in the hands of its readers as insistent refrain, Newton’s argument To Make the Hands Impure stages the encounter of literary experience and scriptural traditions—the difficult and the holy—by cutting a provocative cross-disciplinary swath through classical Jewish texts, modern Jewish philosophy, film and performance, literature, translation, and the material text. The book’s conception of impurity as the redemptive effect of the sacred offers a profound rethinking of the postmodern meanings of Jewish tradition.  Instead of continuing to engage theology, either Christian or Rabbinic, To Make the Hands Impure uses and reinterprets other resources of Rabbinic tradition in order to rethink reading a literary text, both holy and secular, as secular midrash. Its tapestry of comparative readings, through which authors and their works are made to shed light on each other, can also be described as a contrapuntal symphony. The range of works and authors includes the Talmud and midrash, Conrad’s Nostromo and Pascal’s Mémorial, Henry Darger and Martin Scorsese, the September 11th Memorial and a synagogue in Havana. Separate chapters conduct masterly treatments of Emmanuel Levinas, Mikhail Bakhtin, and Stanley Cavell by emphasizing their performances as readers—a trebled orientation to Talmud, Novel, and Theater/ Cinema.