Bound to retell: Biblical studies, poetic rewriting, and disciplining Jacob's deconstructive angel

Tongue, Samuel Arthur Thomas (2012) Bound to retell: Biblical studies, poetic rewriting, and disciplining Jacob's deconstructive angel. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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This thesis examines how poetic retellings of Genesis 32:22-32 enact an interdisciplinary paragesis, an interpretive rewriting that exists along and within the interdisciplinary boundary lines of biblical studies, literary theory and poetry, raising questions for each. I argue that this hybrid concept helpfully foregrounds many of the issues involved in creating and reading the afterlives and otherlives of biblical material in contemporary cultures.

I first outline the historical backdrop to the different types of ideal Bible that circulate across the disciplines (particularly focussing on the ‘historical-critical’ Bible and ‘poetic’ Bible respectively), with Robert Lowth’s work as an eighteenth century wellspring for both tendencies. How does this Enlightenment-Romantic legacy continue to shape how biblical studies imagines its critical work?
I then go on to demonstrate how contemporary biblical studies manages and disciplines its epistemologies in debates between ‘postmoderns’ and ‘historical-critics’. Asking questions of how concepts of the ‘literary’ and the ‘historical’ are defined and deployed is central to these first two chapters. I conclude that biblical studies is implicitly beholden to a modernist literary realism whilst it also sidesteps the issues raised by Michel de Certeau and Jacques Derrida in their thinking on the writing of history.
Chapter three injects more ‘literariness’ into my analysis by situating poetry as a conceptual outsider in both biblical studies and literary theory, arguing that this position can be turned to an advantage on at least two levels. Firstly, poetic retellings of biblical material question the constitution of biblical studies and how it defends its epistemological territory, exiling the overly creative imagination from its critical centre. Secondly, such retellings offer an interpretation of Genesis 32:22-32 (popularly known as ‘Jacob’s struggle with the Angel’) that is a literary intervention in the biblical canon and, paradoxically, contributes to its survival even as it tells biblical stories ‘otherwise’. The practice of retelling demonstrates that Bible only lives on by more writing. This is where I formulate the neologism poetic paragesis as a way of accounting for the phenomenon of how poetic retellings enact multiple levels of interpretation from their parasitical positions in and between disciplines, canons, and writing practices.
Chapter four builds on this argument to indicate how the double-canonicity of the Bible between literary and religious canons leads to a necessary canonography in poetic paragesis. This is to explore how imaginary canons are accessed for cultural capital (following the work of John Guillory) and are operational in performing the limits and permissions of the ‘act-event’ of poetic retelling. Important canonographical questions are raised: is a poetic paragesis host or guest to the biblical? How does this position add to the theoretical complexity of a paragesis caught in a nexus of hostipitality as it retells a biblical narrative? The poems I have chosen here all set up these problematic borders, only to cross them through writing. Derek Attridge’s understanding of the ‘act-event’ allows me to argue that a paragesis is both a performance of interpretation (that enacts alterity, invention and singularity) whilst also being a critical/creative act that happens to the rewriter. The practices of reading and writing on the biblical also form the interpreter in important ways.
This suggestion leads me to mix poetic paragesis with androcritical studies as a way of accounting for and staging the act-event of reading the human and divine male bodily performances in Gen. 32:22-32. The poems I choose as illustrations circle the problems of perceiving the visual textuality of these bodies but do so in ways that stress how this unrepresentability actually causes difficulties in maintaining patriarchal discourse. This form of retelling is especially useful in provoking questions that are often elided in biblical scholarship as I couple this with Mieke Bal’s concept of ‘ethical non-indifference’ through literary interventions in canonical material.
My conclusions offer some thoughts as to how this paragetical writing can be usefully extended into broader questions between the disciplines of literary theory, biblical studies and creative interpretation. The particular focus is around the work being done in ‘reception histories’; how might this reconfiguration of tradition, context and imagination question the oft-repeated binaries—the ‘secular’ and the ‘religious’—that are often deployed in biblical studies as simplistic points of orientation?

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Additional Information: Due to copyright restrictions the full text of this thesis cannot be made available online. Access to the printed version is available once any embargo periods have expired. Some sections of this thesis have been published in an earlier form. Tongue, Samuel. "Dancing between the Disciplines: The Mobile Bible." In Testing the Boundaries: Self, Faith, Interpretation and Changing Trends in Religious Studies, edited by Patricia 'Iolana and Samuel Tongue, 127-146. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2011. Tongue, Samuel. "Scripted Bodies: Reading the Spectacle of Jacob Wrestling the Angel." Journal of Men, Masculinities and Spirituality 6, no. 1 (January 2012): 20-37.
Keywords: biblical studies, poetic retellings, literary theory, Jacob and the Angel, Genesis, Bible, afterlives, poetic paragesis, androcriticism, canonography
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BS The Bible
P Language and Literature > PR English literature
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts & Humanities > School of Critical Studies > Theology and Religious Studies
Supervisor's Name: Sherwood, Prof. Yvonne and Walton, Dr. Heather
Date of Award: 2012
Embargo Date: 15 May 2015
Depositing User: Dr. Samuel Tongue
Unique ID: glathesis:2012-3378
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 17 May 2012
Last Modified: 10 Dec 2012 14:06

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