Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Reading Hagar: Genesis 16

The first three of our four questions seem most relevant this week, although I will make a couple of suggestions as to how the fourth is also relevant. I see the first three as interconnected through three intertwining themes that strike me particularly as I read this chapter. To get the themes out on the table, I will state them simply and then list a series of (often leading… sorry about that) questions in order to generate some discussion on these themes (I hope, then, that my questions are not too leading, or misleading). After these three themes, I’ve written out a couple of paragraphs on some other interesting things I see in the text, for whatever they’re worth. The two intertexts open the possibility of thinking about the relevance of a uniquely LDS reading of the text.

Three philosophical themes

Verse 7 marks the very first appearance of an angel (by that name) in Genesis (there are, of course, the cherubim of the Garden story). Why would an angel show up for the first time here, of all places? And why is it that the first angel comes specifically to Hagar? How does this play into the theme of mediation that has been a question in the last two chapters (14-15)? Is it significant that Hagar considers the angel to be the Lord Himself (see verse 13)? The angel comes specifically to perform a rather common function in the scriptures, that is to announce the birth of a promised child; why does an angel perform that task? Does this bear on Joseph Smith’s reading of Hebrews 11-12, where he sees angelic visitation to be a function of the fathers turning to their sons and the sons to their fathers in the work of the covenant?

In verse 10, the already repeated promise of innumerable children is given to Ishmael, but the promise is given without the metaphorical elaborations that have appeared in chapters 13 and 15 when the promises were given to Abram. What is to be made of this non-metaphorical promise, especially since the promise is just as disruptive, so to speak, as the metaphorical promises given to Abram? If the promise goes on to use metaphor about Ishmael specifically (“a wild ass of a man”) but not about the promised multitudes of children, what can be read into that? Why is the non-metaphorical promise put in the mouth of the angel?

The chapter is punctuated by references to seeing and hearing (hearing: verses 2, 11, 15—“Ishmael” means “God hears”; seeing: verses 2, 4, 5, 13—“El-roi” means “I saw God”). How do these two themes interplay? How does seeing differ from hearing here? How does the theme of seeing play into the earlier hints of idolatry on Abram’s part? Is it significant that only Hagar is reported in the chapter as seeing? What is the significance in verse 2 of Sarai’s assuming that Abraham has seen something? How is this theme of seeing connected with the introduction of the angelic? How does hearing differ from seeing here? Is it significant that Abram is the only one reported to have “hearkened” besides the Lord Himself in this chapter? Why doesn’t the author ever use the verb to describe Hagar’s relation with the angel? Why is the Lord described as hearing but not seeing? What is the significance of seeing and hearing both being wrapped up in the names given in the chapter? Is one justified to read the body into the theme of seeing, and the “spirit” into the theme of hearing? Is there a connection between the fact that the angel is only described as seen (not heard) and the fact that the angel gives the non-metaphorical promise (metaphor can only be spoken, not shown)?

Allusions, anticipations,… types?

There are some curious parallels between this story and the Eden narrative. “And Abram hearkened to the voice of Sarai” (verse 2); “And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and has eaten of the tree…” (Gen 3:17). “And Sarai Abram’s wife took Hagar her maid the Egyptian, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife” (verse 3); “she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat” (Gen 3:6). Curiously, in the Sarai/Hagar narrative, this is followed by a sort of opening of the eyes: “and when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress was despised in her eyes” (verse 4; compare NRSV: “and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked with contempt on her mistress”). More curiously still, this echo of the “Fall” story in Gen 16 traces the development from Sarai’s inability to have children (like Eve’s inability, according to one reading—not my reading, I should probably add—of 2 Nephi 2:23) to her ability to do so (albeit through a surrogate).

More obvious, perhaps, are the anticipations in the Gen 16 narrative of the Exodus story, though things are essentially backwards. The Egyptian is the slave, and Sarai “dealt hardly” (the same Hebrew word that will appear in Exod 1:11) with her. The Egyptian, instead of the Hebrew, flees into the wilderness, apparently on the way to Egypt. If all of this constitutes a sort of reversed anticipation of the Exodus to come, it is fascinating how the story wraps up: Hagar is commanded to return to her mistress. In short, the reversal is reversed in the end, and by the Lord Himself. I’m not sure what is to be made of this reversed reversal.

Finally, the scene at the well seems to be typical. Perhaps the scene that most comes to mind is John 4, the Samaritan woman at the well with Jesus. In both the present text and John 4, the Lord engages the outcast kin. In the end, I’m not sure what can be taken from the tie between these two texts, but the connection is intriguing to me.


Two other books of scripture deal with this chapter in interesting ways that probably deserve mention, at least because they draw from the present text some aspects of the story that might otherwise be ignored. The first is Galatians 4:21-31, Paul’s allegorical reading of Hagar and Sarah. Verse 23: “But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the freewoman was by promise.” The distinction Paul draws is tied, of course, to the great gulf between “salvation by works” and “salvation by grace.” This suggests to me that what is at work in Gen 16 is a sort of “fulfillment of the promise by works.” In Gen 16, it is not quite clear whether this sort of an approach is condoned or condemned: on the one hand, the promise of countless seed is confirmed on Ishmael (verse 10); on the other hand, as the NRSV translates it, “He shall be a wild ass of a man, with his hand against everyone, and everyone’s hand against him; and he shall live at odds with all his kin” (verses 11-12). My own predilection is to condemn this attempt at fulfilling the commandment one’s own way, this “fulfillment by works” business (to condemn it, perhaps, as totalitarian).

But the other intertext suggests otherwise, a text I approach only with fear and trembling, a text that for Joseph Smith himself might have been the very gift of death: D&C 132. Verse 34 there: “God commanded Abraham, and Sarah gave Hagar to Abraham to wife. And why did she do it? Because this was the law; and from Hagar sprang many people. This, therefore, was fulfilling, among other things, the promises.” Two points to raise. First, what are we to make of this reading? It is quite different, ultimately, from the most obvious reading of Gen 16. Is there some way to reconcile the two texts? Would that even be desirable? Second, did Joseph read his own experiences with Emma into this story (Emma giving certain women to Joseph as wives, and then rejecting them and demanding Joseph break off those marriages)? If so, then verses 64-65 are important as well: if “a wife… receive not this law… she then becomes the transgressor; and he [the husband] is exempt from the law of Sarah, who administered unto Abraham according to the law when I commanded Abraham to take Hagar to wife.” I’m not personally quite sure what to make of these verses, but it seems quite clear that “a uniquely Latter-day Saint” reading of Abraham has to engage them. Perhaps all of this raises at least this major question: Why was Abraham so central to Joseph’s temple/marriage revelations in Nauvoo?

Setting these two intertexts side by side, it certainly appears that there are two very different ways to read this story: it might be read on the one hand as pointing to the wrong of an attempt to fulfill the promise (to be saved?) by works, or it might be read on the other hand as an example of Abraham’s strict obedience to the word (command) of grace.

An afterthought for fun

Any thoughts on how the master-slave dialectic might be read into Hagar’s work of mothering a child for Sarai?


Blogger Adam S. Miller said...


Thanks for the excellent introduction and the very challenging questions.

(For instance, I don’t have the faintest idea about what to say about Gen 16 in relation to D&C 132, but I’d be very interested if someone were to take it up. And Hegel’s master/slave dialectic as an approach to what happens between Sarai and Hagar – would someone please write that paper?)

I found the parallels you point out between Gen 16 and Gen 3 to be especially helpful. I’d like to reflect a little on that parallel (perhaps, at least, in the ambience of the master/slave dialectic) particularly in connection with the chapter 16's emphasis on sight and seeing.

The connection between the chapters that most immediately strikes me is shame. In Gen 3.7, the very first product of having eaten the fruit of knowledge, the very first product of their “eyes being opened,” is a sense of shame that prompts them to hide themselves, to attempt to withdraw from the gaze of the Other. Until this moment in the Garden, they were perfectly capable of seeing - but until this moment they had never seen themselves being seen. Their initiation into “knowledge” appears to consist primarily in this doubling of consciousness. We could say: knowledge is a result of the fact that we become capable of “metaphorically” or symbolically substituting our own perspective with the Other’s so that we see them seeing us.

In 16.2, Sarai’s explanation of why she wants Abram to take Hagar to wife appears to be profoundly rooted in her own sense of shame about not having born the promised child (and it’s probably important not to underestimate the biting intensity of this shame in her culture and epoch). In particular, her shame expresses itself (classically) in blaming someone else: “the Lord has kept me from bearing children . . .” It’s not her fault, it’s the Lord’s. (Of course, it really isn’t her fault - the basic problem is that she mistakenly feels that it is).

Sarai then theorizes: “perhaps I shall be built up in her [Hagar] . . .” (16.2). Clearly Sarai believes that God’s promise needs to be fulfilled, but her shame/fear limit her to conceiving of its fulfillment strictly in terms of what’s possible. Does this withdrawal in shame and fear from the impossible mark a misstep in one’s relation to God? In a way, God purposefully structures the whole process so that the promise can have only an impossible fulfillment. Is a faithful relation to God one that simply does not withdraw in fear and shame from the blatant impossibility of what we have been promised? (Though, perhaps, good can certainly come from seeking its fulfillment in projects that remain possible? E.g., the good that comes from Ishmael?)

Robert Alter’s rendering of Hagar’s experience of conceiving a child in 16.4 also follows along with the above mentioned parallels to Gen. 3:

“She [Hagar] conceived and she saw that she conceived and her mistress seemed slight in her eyes.”

Here, again, what is at stake is the metaphorical/symbolic interplay of perspectival substitution in which Hagar BOTH conceives AND sees that she conceives. She experiences it first-hand and sees it through Sarai’s eyes second-hand. And, in seeing it through Sarai’s eyes second-hand, she sees the burning shame that tinges everything that Sarai sees. As a result, Sarai “is diminished in Hagar’s eyes” because she has already become “slight” in her own. Nonetheless, Hagar’s gaze extends only to the point of seeing her own advantage in Sarai’s eyes. It doesn’t extend beyond the orbit of her own advantage to the experience of empathy. In other words, Hagar’s gaze, having stopped short, is idolatrous: Sarai is a frozen mirror of Hagar’s own vanity at having produced an heir. Saria is not an-Other person in her own right (an icon).

One more wildly speculative comment on 16.14 as a way of quasi-tying this up. Here, Hagar has just received the Lord’s message promising her a multitude of seed and directing her to return to Sarai. In response (as Joe points out) she significantly calls God “El-roi” or "the God who sees me” and then offers this penetrating and (perhaps) thoroughly surprised explanation for this name:

“Did I not go on seeing here after He saw me?”

Could we read this admission of surprise that it’s possible to be seen by God without withering under his gaze as a mark of the fundamental religious mistake inaugurated in the Garden itself: the mistake of thinking God’s gaze is a rebuke rather than a promise of fidelity and solidarity? What is shame but the inability of conceiving the other’s gaze as other than burningly judgmental? Could we, then, read this as the key to understanding the relation that God wants to have with us: “Stopping running from me because you recognize your own imperfection! Stop trying to hide your imperfection or somehow make yourself perfect! Believe that I can look at you and that you can be with me just as you are without my gaze destroying you!”

My best,

2:46 PM  
Blogger Joe Spencer said...

In the end, Adam's comments may suggest that we ought to do some serious thinking about the master-slave dialectic right here.

When Gen 16 opens, the battle to the death that opens the dialectic must already be complete, since Saria and Hagar already have their related roles of master and slave. The moment, that is, of possible mutual recognition is passed. That the master's (Sarai's) eyes are so quickly drawn the slave (Hagar)--that is, that they are drawn so much more quickly than are the master's eyes in Hegel's dialectic--may well be connected with the nature of the work to which Hagar is put. In other words, because Hagar's world-transforming work is the creation of a child that dwells within her, Sarai (as master) consumes that work only through a direct engagement with Hagar (as slave).

It seems to me that this makes for a rather turbulent dialectic. Rather than moving into the development of the two separate relations to the created work of the slave, the master's attention is drawn to the slave herself. And this results, apparently, in a return to the battle to the death. As before (implicitly, at least), Hagar opts out, but now with this added curiosity: she flees (breaking the master-slave relation).

The role the angel ultimately plays is to send Hagar back to the master-slave relation, to reassemble the relation that will result (if it is followed to its fruition) in the mutual recognition of Sarai and Hagar (their both having sons?). The importance of Hagar's name for the angel/God--and especially her explanation of it as Adam pointed out--emerges here: she sees and is seen by the angel in a moment of mutual recognition, and she has become a full self-consciousness (in Hegel's terminology). When she thus returns to her bondage, she does so "authentically," and her return opens (in the next chapter) right onto the promise about Sarai's giving birth.

These few notes are just reactions, off the top of my head, to Adam's underscoring of the importance of the dialectic here. They are unfortunately messy. But I do think that an important next step would be to think carefully about how the words that are heard should be taken as disrupting this dialectic of seeing.

As a final note for now:

Adam, I think your last paragraph points to a very "New Testament" sort of spirit about this story (the scare quotes emphasize that this spirit pervades the OT): grace grounds the possibility of the impossible for the humble.

4:19 PM  
Blogger Adam S. Miller said...


This is, for me, a very productive reading of the Sarai/Hagar relation in terms of the master/slave dialectic.

There surely is a way in which the dialectic is fundamentally inflected in a different direction in this chapter by the way that the work of the slave is to bear the child of the master. A crucial wrinkle in the exchange. If a moment of mutual recognition is possible here perhaps it is because (as you suggest) of this wrinkle?

Also, one of the most striking things about Hegel's dialectic is the way that what appears to be the slave's defeat (the acceptance of the inferior position) actually turns out to be the key to human success and advancement: the master is left to dumbly enjoy the fruit of the slave's work while the slave, in performing work, is able to recognize herself in the work she performs. What looked like a disaster (slavery) turns out (in a stunning reversal!) to be what gives the slave a crucial advantage over the master. (It's difficult not the love the dialectic!)

Perhaps this is what we see happening here in Chapter 16: only the slave women is rewarded with a conversation with an angel/the Lord. The master is left to stew in her own juices.

Advancement in the dialectic is dependent on adopting the position of the servant and abandoning the pretension to mastery (the very pretension leads to the experience of shame in the first place: I'm ashamed because I'm not really the independent master [god] I pretend to be; thus shame shares the same root as pride: the pretension to mastery).

My best,

11:42 AM  
Blogger Joe Spencer said...

Indeed, "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (though I think Hegel's philosophical context for the dialectic makes more mileage of this OT saying than Gen 16 can... unless perhaps we take up Philo's insistence that Sarai is wisdom...).

I'd like to do some more thinking and digesting about all of this, and hopefully have some more to say by tomorrow.

11:46 AM  
Blogger Joe Spencer said...

Two of the philosophical themes, taken up again:

Metaphor. This story marks the first mention of a concubine in Genesis, I believe (and by concubine, I mean a "lesser" wife who serves as a surrogate mother for a "full" wife). Might one read this (disruptive) family structure as parallel to the (disruptive) linguistic structure of metaphor? That is, Hagar serves as a kind of metaphor for Sarai. How might all of what we've said to this point about metaphor be taken up into thinking about this marital structure? If a sort of patriarchy survives the vertical calls of the Lord, what does this horizontal call (which D&C 132 makes vertical as well) do to the prevailing patriarchy? Perhaps this question is all the more interesting in that the metaphor itself collapses (deconstructs itself?): Hagar takes off when the full weight of her metaphorical position is heard. Might we say that Hagar is a sort of visual metaphor, hence one that plays into the Hegelian dialectic all the more profoundly (whereas if she were a verbal metaphor, it might escape the "metaphysics of presence" that Hegel does not escape)? I'm not sure exactly where to let that take me.

Angel. Following the Gen 3 parallel, Adam=Abram, Eve=Sarai, and the fruit=Hagar? Eve takes and gives the fruit to Adam, as Sarai takes and gives Hagar to Abram, and Adam and Abram both "hearken" to their wives. Does this suggest that Hagar's flight might be understood as a sort of backwards Fall? That is, Hagar, the fruit, leaves (taking the garden with her), while Abram and Sarai stay. And then the visitation of the angel: might this be read as parallel to the placement of the cherubim? This angel is sent to save (protect, guard?) the fruit/Hagar. But all of this seems a bit forced. I'm still not sure where to take up the angel.

Beyond that, I'd still like to think more carefully about the role of hearing here. And perhaps about how it plays back into the other chapters we've already read. Is it significant that the metaphors for the covenantal promise have been spoken/heard, but ultimately visual, etc.?

1:55 PM  
Blogger Jim F. said...

I like Joe's and Adam's reading of the text; I think it is fruitful, sufficiently so that I need to think about all of this some more.

In the mean time, let me throw in two comments from my paper:

1. From the start of our story, Abram has labored to bring about community. However, he has been mistaken on two counts: First, not seeing the difference between community and collective, he has wanted to create the community out of himself. We have seen this in his attempt to create community with Lot and when he agreed to have a son with Hagar. Second, Abram has not understood that the community of his blessing cannot be a collective like that from which he came. Entry into the desert—the absence of historical foundation—is necessary to the community that God has promised. The promised community begins in the desert and wilderness, in separation and difference rather than in the imitation and replaceability of the collective.

2. Since at least Hobbes, philosophers who write about the social covenant as the foundation for the state understand covenant as a species of contract, a contract to protect the weak. Nevertheless, we cannot reduce this covenant to a contract, neither with other persons nor with God. Contracts are mutual promises, but Abraham makes no promise to God, and the promise that God makes is no different than the promise God makes to Hagar for Ishmael, with whom he specifically does not covenant. Before and after the birth of Isaac, YHWH makes it clear that the blessing of numberless posterity is not a blessing only for Isaac; Ishmael shares that blessing. (See Genesis 16:10 and 21:17-18.) The Lord makes the same promise to each son—each will be a great nation—but he does not covenant with each.

How does covenant differ from mutua promise? Is promise at the heart of covenant, or is something else?

9:37 PM  
Blogger Adam S. Miller said...

A couple of quick comments:

Joe, I like the characterization of Hagar's insertion as a second wife as an additional metaphor/substitution that disrupts a patriarchal linearity. (Though, as I write this, I wonder to what extent polygamy can be read as an interruption of patriarchy - or maybe it really isn't that difficult to read it that way? And, in this case, it is Sarai who insists on the addition of a wife, not Abraham. This insistence might itself mark such an interruption?)

Jim writes: "The promised community begins in the desert and wilderness, in separation and difference rather than in the imitation and replaceability of the collective." Are you suggesting that a covenant community will be formed in a way that exceeds/eludes the logic of metaphor/substituion? This may be an important point: genuine community is formed not in relation to the symbolic but in a post-symbolic relation to the symbolic's aporetic "Real"?

We might glance ahead and see such an idea succinctly formulated by Derrida's "tout autre est tout autre" - every other is wholly other. A formula which nicely combines the necessity of the symbolic with its play of substitutions and metaphors ("every other is every other") with the necessity of every other being a wholly singular and irreplaceable or unsubstitutable Other. Not that substitution and metaphor can be disposed of, but that their very foundering in relation to the Real must be included in the community's foundation.

Is this the difference between contract and covenant? A contract works only at the level of symbolic substitution while a covenant is grounded in the post-symbolic recognition of the singularity of an incomparable and inassimilable aporetic "Real"?

Just throwing things out on Sunday morning.

My best,

7:06 AM  
Blogger Joe Spencer said...

Adam, I really like what you're saying, but I'm not sure I'm following it perfectly, and I don't want to misunderstand this point: "Are you suggesting that a covenant community will be formed in a way that exceeds/eludes the logic of metaphor/substituion? This may be an important point: genuine community is formed not in relation to the symbolic but in a post-symbolic relation to the symbolic's aporetic 'Real'?" Can you elaborate a little bit? It would be helpful for me, perhaps for others as well.

7:10 AM  
Blogger Jim F. said...

Adam, I think I like your way of explaining what I'm saying. It is helpful--I think. Like Joe, though, I could use some help understanding what you are saying, which means help understanding what I am saying.

5:44 PM  
Blogger Rosalynde said...

Nice discussion so far, everybody. Joe, your comments on the intertexts are very stimulating, although I don't have anything to add. I can't talk knowledgably about the Hegelian master-slave dialectic, but I'm enjoying listening in. I do have a thought or two on slavery and covenant, however, included below.

Part of the work of this episode, like the Babel episode with which we began, is a narrative etymology of a toponym, Beer-Lahai-Roi. I don't think the author explicitly implies any parallel between the episodes, but it's interesting nevertheless to contrast the nature of the revelation in each: in Babel, a jealous Lord punishes an ascendant group by disrupting the coherence of its ethnic "name" and seed; at Beer-Lahai-Roi, a benificent (mostly) messenger of the Lord vouchsafes to an outcast slavegirla revelation and a remarkable promise of, precisely, name and seed.

As Jim has pointed out, however, the Lord's relationship with Hagar is not covenantal in the same way that Abram's is, despite their cognate promises. (And not only cognate, in fact, but precisely coextemsive: in multiplying Hagar's seed, the Lord IS multiplying HAgar's seed.) Presumably the Lord CANNOT covenant with Hagar, because she, being the slave property of Sarai, is not free to pledge fealty to another master (the Lord); and indeed, the Lord's messenger does not offer to release Hagar from subjection to Sarai in order to free her up to covenant with the Lord, but instead seems to reinforce her subjection. Abram, in contrast, is free, and by virtue of his freedom can refuse fealty to the world and pledge it to God. Can the Lord covenant with a slave? For that matter, can he covenant with a woman, who owes fealty to her husband? (Maybe this is obvious to everybody else already, but thinking about covenant in this way---as a freeman's pledge of fealty to a Lord---makes some sense of LDS temple worship, particularly of the ways mens' and womens' covenants differ.)

It has been suggested that Hagar's surrogacy enacts a logic of interruption and substitution(which we've been associating with metaphor) similar to that structuring the Lord's interruption of Abram's patriarchal line. I don't think this is quite right, though: Hagar does indeed work as a sexual substitute for Sarai (a kind of metaphor, in this sense), but she does so not to INTERRUPT the patrilineal series but precisely to GUARANTEE it. She might be seen perhaps to interrupt the matriline, but I'm not sure about this, either: Sarai hopes that Hagar will conceive a son FOR Sarai, that Sarai herself will be the mother. Alter suggests an alternative rendering of 16: 2 as "I will be sonned through her."

I'm out of gas for tonight. I'll think about these things some more.

8:20 PM  
Blogger Adam S. Miller said...

Joe and Jim,

I'm always willing to take a stab at telling us what Jim really thinks :)

There is the "self," naively at home in the immediacy of the world. When this naivete is interrupted by the self's initiation into the symbolic order (an initiation that ultimately interrupts the self's own sense of self), then the self comes to belong (as Kierkegaard would say) to the ethical order.

In a way, the ethico-symbolic order is characterized above all by metaphor, i.e. the possibility of symbolic substitution. We become capable of recognizing everyone as equal before the law of the symbolic order.

I'm suggesting that we read Jim's notion of "contract" as belonging to this level of intersubjectivity. The ethico-symbolic order is the level of substitution, exchange, economy, etc.

However, the interruption of the "identity" of naivete with symbolic substitution also simultaneously produces a third order: the order of the "Real." Real, here, in the Lacanian sense of what exceeds the bounds of the symbolic order, as what shows up as a symbolic aporia, as what resists symbolization. The Real is that crack in the symbolic order that makes the symbolic possible.

For example, the Real has to do with the crisis that symbolic substitution introduces into self-identity by making self-reflection possible. Reflecting on myself, I'm never able to coincide with myself because there is always a minimal difference between myself, myself seeing my myself, and myself seeing myself seeing myself, etc. Reflecting on myself, I can never catch up with myself. It's this gap that makes symbolic or metaphorical substitution possible but which also simultaneously makes it impossible to totalize the field of possible substitutions (a la Derrida's condition of im/possibility).

I meant to suggest that we might read Jim's point about a covenant community being rooted in difference rather than substitution as belonging to the order of the "real" rather than to the symbolic. Not in the sense that the community of the "real," the community of difference, recovers its original, naive unity by leaving behind substitution, etc. - but in the sense that the covenant community shifts its relation to the symbolic in such a way that the "crack" in the symbolic order that makes it possible itself becomes the center of attention.

God shows himself in the ethical interruption of naive immediacy but he also then shows himself in the aporetic cracks of that ethical order. Showing himself in the aporetic cracks in the ethical order would be something like Kierkegaard's level of religios singularity that exceeds the universality of ethics. (Though it exceeds the universality of ethics because ethics proves itself to be incapable of universality. Or, better, ethics is capable of universality only if it recognizes its own failure to be entirely universal [i.e., if it become "religious" in K's sense].)

This, I think (and I'm sure we'll have to talk about this when we get to Derrida's book), is what Derrida attempts to summarize with the pithy formula "tout autre is tout autre." The formula is simultaneously a tautology of naive identity, an assertion of ethical responsibility in which every other is substitutable with every other, and an affirmation of the fact that such a substitution is never absolutely possible (every other is wholly other: no other is like any other Other).

So covenant is, in a way, simply the product of a subjective re-orientation of our relation to the contract: an orientation that also takes into account the irreducible difference (the "real") that makes the contract possible in the first place.

Or maybe we could say: a covenant is a contract split and spilt by love.

Reading this over, I realize that I may have only made the point more obscure rather than more clear. At any rate, that's what I've got for the moment.

My best,

PS Rosalynde, I'm inclined to agree with the points you make about Hagar's slavery. Any suggestions about what we do with it?

7:16 AM  
Blogger Joe Spencer said...

Trying to think all of these things together... and with an eye to summarizing this discussion later today....

Rosalynde, I don't think I could have understood your comment without Adam's mediation here. But I think his comment gives us a way of thinking about your reorienting the question of metahpor here: Hagar as a metaphoric substitution (for Sarai) according to the logic of the symbolic order (symbolic=patriarchal, perhaps), while God is trying to lead Abram and Sarai into the post-symbolic order Adam describes.

How interesting that the master-slave dialectic reopens according to the logic of presence (seeing) during the surrogacy: as the symbolic order is confirmed through Hagar's substitutionary pregnancy, Sarai finally sees herself (the naive self-identity is canceled for Sarai), though inevitably (according to the logic of the symbolic order) at some remove from herself, and so she engages herself (her other) in the resumed (perhaps the originary?) master-slave dialectic. And then she loses herself in Hagar's flight.

Rosalyne and Jim together perhaps suggest that what happens in the wilderness between Hagar and God cannot be understood as a covenant (is this marked by the angel's presence?). Does this suggest that the symbolic order remains, even as Hagar receives the promise? The whole of this story is going to be repeated a couple of chapters later, when Sarai (by then, Sarah) gets jealous of Ishmael. Do they remain for now on the level of the symbolic? Will they until chapter 22?

D&C 132 is never far from my thoughts here, probably mostly because I've spent far too much time in the past two years reading about Joseph Smith and most particularly about the Nauvoo era. How do we read the play of the symbolic and the post-symbolic in D&C 132? It is fascinating to me that D&C 132 discusses (though never explicitly stating that it discusses) the "second endowment." That there are two endowments, or even, if you will, two sealings (marriages) to be performed (call and election, and then call and election made sure--you can think about this in a number of ways through the temple) might suggest that there are two orders in the implicit theology of the temple: the symbolic order (first endowment, first sealing, call and election), and the post-symbolic order (second endowment, second sealing, call and election made sure). If the first "set" of temple ordinances introduce us into the symbolic order of "the mysteries of God... the hidden things of his economy" (D&C 77:6), then the second "set" might introduce us into the post-symbolic order, into the symbolic order as it is disrupted by the Real. And would this perhaps explain the continuation of the (necessarily?) patriarchal nature of the symbolic order of the temple Rosalynde mentions?

I won't write up the summary for a few hours yet, in case anyone decides to add anything that will change my thinking dramatically. If anyone has anything to add after the summary is up, though, feel free still to make comments, and I can update the summary if need be.

10:37 AM  
Blogger Joe Spencer said...

I only just noticed that Jim had posted some belated comments on chapter 15. I was interested to find there this comment, that I think anticipated what I wrote an hour ago or so about calling and election versus calling and election made sure: "Verse 6: For Paul, this verse is a key to understanding grace: God counted Abram's belief as righteousness prior to the covenant of circumcision, so circumcision (and, by extension, the Law) is not necessary for righteousness. Belief—trust in God—is sufficient. The Hebrew word translated 'believe' is cognate with the word 'amen.' Literally the verse says something like 'Abraham came to be sure or confirmed in the Lord.' 'Believe' is a good translation, but so is 'trust.'"

This suggests to me that ethics (a "true" or "real" ethics... perhaps an ethics on the order of the symbolic that has been disrupted by the Real and so moved into the realm of the post-symbolic) is going to be very much a question of faith, hope, and charity (all genuinely relational), rather than of belief, wish, and serenity (all of which might be taken as trapped within the "merely" symbolic).

Some further thoughts for the moment.

11:51 AM  

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