SS: “Revisiting Mamre”: The Stranger in the Three Abrahamic Faiths

Monday’s Clementé Class

creation of man
creation of man (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We will be reading parts of Genesis on Monday in the class. I will (like a good critic) point to certain aspects of the story: ideas, literary devices, and such. Much of my comment will come from my book, Reading the Bible: Intention, Text, Interpretation.



The book of Genesis is a collection of stories woven together by some unknown redactor. The work contains legend, poetry, fantasy, genealogy, short story, and other literary forms which are blended together to form a more or less coherent whole. Genesis is a kind of universal history; like other myths, it presents a story about what the beginning of time may have been like. It opens with two distinct creation myths: one emphasizing the transcendental nature of the creator god and the other emphasizing the human-like properties of the same creator god. The first god creates by fiat, by giving verbal commands; the second creates by breathing air into a lump of clay. The two may be different versions of the story by different poets, or they may be contrary projections of the complex human creation called god. The “third,” if the projection is read as a psychological ground, would be this: the verbal is the lump of clay. God speaks and the world begins. God speaks and life begins. The creative power of speech is celebrated in the beginning. Language with its formal aspects – its rules of syntax and semantics – is the perfect analog for creation itself, since language gives us the power to create order and meaning out of the chaos of experience.

The creation myth can be read as a description of any act of creation: first the intention, then the translation from mind to matter, and then the evaluation: “and it was good.” Professor Douwe Stuurman, who taught The Bible as Literature at the University of California in the nineteen sixties, pointed out in lectures that the creation myth, when read aloud, will be heard to be an accurate description of the completion of any creative act. He told us the story of his first wife, a blind poet, who had asked him to read Genesis 1 and 2 aloud to her and who when he finished said “that is precisely the feeling of creating a poem.” In writing a poem one starts with an idea and a blank and formless page. The creative act of beginning to “blow” life into that page and after some time (and with some luck) giving form to the stuff of the mind, transforming it into a new medium has formed a completed work. Human creation, like Eliot’s The Wasteland, is often a multi-staged affair with false starts, revisions, crumpled failed attempts tossed away, and a complex of discovery and creation. The poet does not know the poem until it is finished. And when finished the feeling is there to be expressed: “And it is good.” (From Reading the Bible, Lane)



WB prof._dr._rainer_forst_0_01

Wendy Brown and Rainer Forst

The Power of Tolerance: A Debate

Wendy Brown and Rainer Forst, The Power of Tolerance: A Debate, Luca di Blasi and Christoph F. E. Holzhey (eds.), Columbia University Press, 2014, 107pp., $15.00 (pbk), ISBN 9780231170192.

Reviewed by Peggy H. Breitenstein, Philipps-Universität Marburg

This book documents a discussion between Wendy Brown and Rainer Forst about tolerance and — as the title indicates — about the connection of power and tolerance. It took place as part of the series “Spannungsübung” (“tension exercise”) at the Berlin Institute for Cultural Inquiry (ICI) in December 2008. The objective of this series is to make space for productive tensions in various manners: in focusing on controversial problems such as tolerance, it turns central tensions of our present into subjects of fruitful confrontations between different approaches or discussants.

Brown and Forst are outstanding scholars as well as authors of important books on this ambiguous term, which also expresses an ideal of the Western political and social practice. But they have different theoretical backgrounds and use different methods. Brown refers back to Foucault and his discourse-power analysis whereas Forst draws upon Critical Theory and Habermasian discourse ethics. So, Brown’s Regulating Aversion (Princeton University Press, 2006) particularly focuses on the discursive uses of tolerance by liberalisms. The aim of her genealogical critique is to show how this discourse of tolerance constructs and positions social identities as well as liberal and non-liberal subjects. She examines the limited, asymmetrical, normalizing aspects of this discourse and criticizes the effect of de-politicization, which means that the tolerance discourse masquerades the social powers that are constitutive of difference. In his voluminous work Toleration in Conflict (Cambridge University Press, 2013, an abridged version of the German edition, published 2003), on the other hand, Forst as a “Frankfurter” offers a conceptual analysis as well as a grand dialectical story about the history of the Western discourse of toleration from antiquity to the twentieth century (to Wendy Brown) and also develops his own normative theory of toleration.

The really good, often humorous dialogue between the two leading theorists of tolerance is deeply influenced by these works but also understandable for “beginners” because it offers a short and clear overview of their central arguments.