Monday, November 17, 2008

Erotic Animals II: Adam in Paradise

by Karl Steel

Please enjoy and comment on the continuing journey of Jeffrey's Mandeville paper below, but, if you like, also enjoy what follows as a kind of hors d'oeuvre.

One of our very first posts, and (unsurprisingly?) an all-time (and I trust disappointing) hit among the pages that draw people (?) into ITM, was Jeffrey's "Erotic Animals" entry for the Encycopedia of Sex and Gender. Consider this post its descendant (and not, exactly, a descendant of my several posts on necrobestiality).

I stress a pedigree with the staid genre of the Encyclopedia to underscore a claim not to be (self-consciously) outré in my critical interests. I deny this for a lot of obvious reasons. It's usual to "push the boundaries" by studying "outsiders" (e.g.), but of course this critical practice:
1) cements the various outsiders--Jews, Lepers, Sodomites, Freemasons, Nazis, Furries, Sciopods, &c.--into a structural position as outsider and thus marks the critical interest as a subset of tourism of the bizarre (the analog might be the white American salaryman who cuts loose on a Caribbean vacation, before returning home into a sublated version of his salaried existence);

2) upholds the "cultural center" as a site without systemic antagonism, as a place that cannot be dissolved without an infestation from the outside.
It's been said many times before, but, well, to quote from a comment I wrote on a student's paper:
My own tendency in doing queer theory has been to argue for the queerness at the heart of what has otherwise been thought normal, to refuse to exclude the purportedly 'straight' from the queer, to disengage queer theory from its exclusive focus on samesex desires/acts, and ALSO to argue, as my friend Eileen Joy does, that all sex is hetero, in the sense that there is never an erotics of the same, of the homo (maybe), because we are never same to ourselves or to the social roles into which we've been thrust by our gender &c. This is not to say, however, that there's nothing politically efficacious in a focus on gays but I think there's also much work that can done in overturning straight confidence in its own straightness.

With that hypertrophied introduction, or apologia, I want to share with you a nugget from a great article I discovered yesterday, Eric Lawee's "The Reception of Rashi's Commentary on the Torah In Spain: The Case of Adam's Mating with the Animals," Jewish Quarterly Review 97.1 (2007): 33-66.

Genesis 2:19-23 runs:
19 And the Lord God having formed out of the ground all the beasts of the earth, and all the fowls of the air, brought them to Adam to see what he would call them: for whatsoever Adam called any living creature the same is its name. 20 And Adam called all the beasts by their names, and all the fowls of the air, and all the cattle of the field: but for Adam there was not found a helper like himself.

21 Then the Lord God cast a deep sleep upon Adam: and when he was fast asleep, he took one of his ribs, and filled up flesh for it. 22 And the Lord God built the rib which he took from Adam into a woman: and brought her to Adam. 23 And Adam said: This now is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman, because she was taken out of man.
We've several problems here, perhaps chiefly the opening clause of 2:23, zot ha-pa'am, "this now": does this mean that God had provided a previous unsatisfactory Eve? That Adam was disatisfied in some way with what had happened before and thus that there was dissension in Eden from the very beginning?

Following earlier commentators, and to solve these problems, Rashi wrote "this time'—it teaches that Adam mated with (she-ba' adam) every [species of] domesticated animal (behemah) and wild animal (ḥayah) but his appetite was not assuaged (lo' nitkarerah da'ato) by them" (qtd Lawee 50). Unsurprisingly (?), this was a controversial interpretation. Lawee tracks several Iberian commentaries on Rashi's Commentary on the Torah that mysticize, deny, or strenuously ignore Rashi's reading; 13th- and 14th-century Jewish converts like Nicholas Donin used this interpretation against their former coreligionists. So it is recorded that in the Talmud disputation of 1240 in Paris, one of the Jews "concessit quod adam coiit cum omnibus bestiis et hoc in paradiso" (confessed that Adam had sex with all the beasts in paradise), and no doubt this confession helped justify St. Louis's Talmud-burning.

The question at this stage is: what can I do with this? Note that the interpretation disgusted both Christian and Jewish exegetes. One semi-sympathetic response suggested that bestiality was an important step in Adam's emotional and mental paideia. While this is at once sympathetic AND patronizing to Adam, it's hardly sympathetic to the animals. From Lawee, n.84:
Commenting on Gn 8.19, an anonymous Rabbanite Byzantine writer who may predate Rashi prolonged the period of human-animal sexual interaction until after the flood: "they [the animals] left the ark 'in their families'—indicating that until then humans mated with beasts." See Nicholas de Lange, Greek Jewish Texts from the Cairo Genizah (Tübingen, 1996), 86. This same writer also posited an element of coercion in the primordial human-animal relationship ("humans mated with beasts and made the beasts mate with them"), thereby raising moral issues (like lack of consent on the part of the animals) that figure in modern discussions of bestiality's moral status.
We have disgust, a dissatisfied Adam, and yet another abjection of animals on the path to adulthood. This doesn't give us much to work with. But it still might be possible to play with this strange sex, to discover in it, prior to the interruption by the arrival of Eve, an almost effaced site of lost possibilities (cf. what I do with Gowther). This obviously connects with Jeffrey's "Inventing with Animals in the Middle Ages," where he suggests that the yena might be understood as "an invitation to explore a spacious corporeality beyond the specious boundaries of the human, to invent through alliances with possible bodies a monstrous kind of becoming that carries history within but which is not reducible to historical allegory" (55). We might even see in Adam's bestiality a possibility for an anti-narcissistic relation to the other, a desire that does not seek satisfaction in "bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh."

Likely having exhausted your patience, I can only ask what might you do with Genesis 2:19-23? What (else) can we do with it that desubliminates the 'normal' or puts it in motion? What else can we do that is not drawn to Adam's bestiality only because of its sauciness?

UPDATE Thanks very much for the link from Michael Pitkowsky's blog for directing me to Gil Student's excellent summary of the various exegetical responses to Rashi's bestiality comment.

4 comments:

Jeffrey J. Cohen said...

This is great! Thank you for a welcome break from writing about Mandeville and evaluating a journal proposal and ... well anyway, thank you for letting my mind drift to Adam's first desires.

And one of those, in some medieval Jewish traditions, is Lilith, the possible first wife of Adam ... and a woman associated with animals and the monstrous. So I wonder if Rashi isn't substituting an animal (or a whole series of animals) for a woman in this case. I don't know commentaries on the passage or its interpretation history well enough to speculate. But I do know -- as does everyone else, I am sure -- that Lilith was rescued via feminist intervention and rendered a kind of saint after the fact. Lilith magazine anyone? And remember Lilith fair?

So I don't know, Karl: an animal rights magazine called, um, Rashi? A musical festival called Rashi fair?

Nicola Masciandaro said...

Karl,

A student of mine wrote on this topic using Lawee's article for my English 2 course on animals last semester, remember? If you want to see his paper email me and I will procure.

Nicola

Eileen Joy said...

Nicola: where have you been, darling? Salzburg? I thought so. Welcome back.

Karl: as to thinking about what else might be lurking within the phrase "this time" in Genesis, that is a bit of a brain teaser, and I thought of Lilith, too, which Jeffrey has mentioned, but I mainly wanted to also jump in and qualify a bit your qualification of my belief [which you pretty much get spot-on] that we are all "hetero," or as I put it more specifically, "heteroqueer." No one can ever be "homo" in my mind, not *just* because we are never even the same to ourselves [although that is a really important point], but also because even the very notion of "same"--either with ourselves or anyone/thing else--is terribly hard to pin down, as is "difference" [because difference, in the end, is dependent upon some kind of notion like "same" which itself depends on certain "stabilities" of identity that just aren't there]. But this does not mean that there is not difference--I think, actually, desire [sexual or other desires] depends upon it and I've always hated the terms "homosexual" and "same-sex" anything because those terms, historically, have always under-estimated & under-described the complex trajectories of both "gay" *and* "straight" sexuality/affections. "Hetero," further, cannot just mean opposite: that is idiotic and banal, and also calls into question, of course, how any gender/biological sex can be only one thing which could then be opposite to some other "only one thing." There are orientations, of course, but even an orientation is fraught, not with sameness, but with differences of a certain sort [with "sort" being my cowardly way, at present, because I am rushing out the door to an "engagement," of delineating the idea that there are indeed particular "attractors," in any given temporal moment, that exert some force on each one of us]. Whew. Ciao.

Karl Steel said...

To remind you Nicola, yes, please!

Eileen, thanks for the clarification/elaboration. It good to have the words.

And Jeffrey, from what I read, Lilith--or some kind of proto-Eve--was one of the suggestions for what Adam meant by "this one."

I'm still interested in the dynamic of sameness and difference: while we can understand the eros here as negotiating between exogamy and endogamy (marriage with the radically other or the radically same), there's a sense in which Adam's frustration stems from the workings of desire itself. I wonder, then, if the unsatisfying sex with animals is a mask for the fact that Eve, to the extent that she is her own person, is not quite flesh of his flesh, that Adam's eros always requires him to give himself to an unknown?

By the way, Prince, let him be blessed for his (early) funk forever, is a raging weird homophobe, but a homophobe in a way relevant to this discussion:

When asked about his perspective on social issues—gay marriage, abortion—Prince tapped his Bible and said, “God came to earth and saw people sticking it wherever and doing it with whatever, and he just cleared it all out. He was, like, ‘Enough.’ ”

"Cleared it all out": that would seem to be the only way to get Adam's eros under control.