Type of Document Dissertation Author Herer, Lisbeth Diane URN etd-07182004-152345 Title Tropes of Otherness: Abjection, Sublimity and Jewish Subjectivity in Enlightenment England Degree Doctor of Philosophy Department Humanities Program Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title Linda Saladin-Adams Committee Chair Helen Burke Committee Member Karen Laughlin Committee Member Stuart Baker Committee Member Keywords
Date of Defense 2004-06-02 Availability unrestricted AbstractABSTRACT
My dissertation examines Jewish cultural subjectivity and English cultural subjectivity through a reading of Richard Cumberland's 1794 play The Jew and Matthew Lewis’ 1794 novel The Monk. I use two perspectives from the eighteenth century, the aesthetic discourse of the sublime and the Enlightenment discourses of benevolence and tolerance. I also make use of two twentieth-century perspectives, the contemporary reformulation of the aesthetic discourse of the sublime and the psychoanalytic concept of abjection. These theoretical perspectives apply to key issues of otherness and excessiveness that characterize representations of Jews and the performance of Jewishness in these late eighteenth-century texts.
Richard Cumberland’s The Jew (1794) overtly upholds the Enlightenment ideas of toleration and benevolence and attributes these characteristics to the Jewish character of Sheva, but it also paradoxically figures Sheva as alterity or the Other within, essential components to the concept of abjection. Matthew Lewis’ The Monk (1794) overtly addresses itself to the eighteenth-century aesthetic discourse of the sublime and signals its connection to Edmund Burke’s 1757 seminal work on the sublime. Yet, this text as well shares an affinity with evidence of the contemporary reformulation of the eighteenth-century concept of the sublime. Some contemporary theorists see the sublime as an unincorporable “remainder” of the experience of encountering an “other” in society, one who cannot be appropriated or included within any known discursive network. The figure of The Wandering Jew in The Monk could be seen as a “remainder” or excess. Both texts locate the Jewish characters inside and outside the definition and control of English cultural subjectivity. A certain literary violence takes place in these texts when erecting differences between Jewish cultural subjectivity and English cultural subjectivity, clouding the hegemonic constructions of both Jewish and English cultural subjectivity.
These texts at once differentiate and conflate Jewish and English cultural subjectivity because of the overly determined nature of subjectivity generally and the instability of English national identity specifically in late eighteenth-century England. Sheva the Jewish moneylender embodies the abject’s “alterity” as otherness, as the possibility of inhabited impossibility. Sheva is possibly an English cultural subject as well as Jewish cultural subject. Further, the figuration of the Jew as a wasted body, in the character of Sheva, refigures the classic picture of the Jewish body as an (over)consuming one, a “consumer” of too much food, too much money, too much space in a mercantile culture wanting to assert itself by dominating uncontrollable elements and relegating Jews to another place in the culture. The Wandering Jew figure embodies the sublime’s formulation of excess, a surplus that is at once aligned with the natural world and the unnatural world. This theoretical space is occupied by the Jewish cultural subject, the incommensurable space of the Irigarayan “no-thing,” a formulation of sublime subjectivity in which “no identity can be defined.”
Jewish cultural subjectivity cannot be successfully read and reinterpolated into English society, nor is it able to be (re)presented as other than an incommensurability, but neither can English cultural subjectivity be represented fully. Thus, these characters can be seen as metonyms for Jewish subjectivity, at once viable possibilities, recuperated as viable through access to Enlightenment discourse of toleration and benevolence, and nonviable possibilities, undermined as alterity, excess and incommensurability of the abject and sublime. Sheva and The Wandering Jew function as subjectivities that accord with but also are incommensurable with the representation of Jews imaginatively available at this cultural moment of late eighteenth-century England. These representations of Jews challenge the possibility that the concept of English cultural subjectivity as something distinct is in fact a fiction.
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