ISHAY ROSEN-ZVI: Shall we?
SPEAKER 1: Yes.
ISHAY ROSEN-ZVI: OK. So I want to study some sugya together and, of course, to end with the beginning, right? As we do. But before that, I want to say some-- you know, because of the [HEBREW] and because of the time, I want to say some kind of free meditations about what we had here and [SPEAKING HEBREW].
So, you know, this [INAUDIBLE] used to say "Before I'll talk, I'll say a few things." Right? It's better in Hebrew. [SPEAKING HEBREW]. So that's what I want to do. So-- OK.
So, you know, always when we play with one thing, we assume another thing as a constant. Right? That's how we work. So we assumed that we know what performance is.
But actually performance is a very tricky concept, of course. And, as Chris already remind us, it is used both to characterize unique phenomena and also a perspective about basically everything. Right? It's a method, but it's also a claim about the actual world.
And we know that many concepts function like that. And when I wrote the introduction to Boyarin's-- the other Boyarin-- Intertextuality, that's exactly what I've struggled about, right? How this intertextuality is used here-- as a unique phenomenon of midrash, or as a way to read any text, or both. Right? And so how should I juggle between these two meanings?
So I want to in a very simplistic way, kind of remind us what are we talking about in terms of performance. So performance is, in a way at least, logically first and foremost a type of activity. Right? Theatre, for example. And historically that's basically where it started. Right? Theatre that became a kind of hermeneutic [? key. ?] [INAUDIBLE] and [INAUDIBLE] and others that thought that this is a phenomenon that can explain other phenomena.
And then it's a type of reception, right? Reading is performance. Right? In Barbara [? Browning ?] and others. And then it's a theory of human behavior. Right? Social drama.
And then it kind of transferred to everyday life. And then it's a general theory about identity and identity construction. Goffman and Judith Butler.
And then, kind of derived from that, it's a political tool. And that's something we did not so much, you know, use. But it has to be kind of kept in mind that some of the importance of performance is exactly that. Right? That the drag queen in Gender Trouble is not just performing his or her identity but uncovers that any gender identity is performed. Right? But it is performed so regularly that it becomes natural. Right?
And that's why performance kind of tries to capture both the norm, the normative, the system, and what subverts and deviate from the system. Right? Because what subverts from the system kind of uncovers the artificiality of the system itself. So it's neither reality nor illusion. Right? It's exactly what allows us to make these differences. And it's the constructiveness of what allows us to make this.
And that's what makes this game a serious game. Because there is a lot at stake, in terms of politics, of morality, et cetera. So we're talking about kind of different beginnings that then became, I would say, kind of metaphors or, as I said, hermeneutical keys to understand larger phenomena. Theatre, rituals, language, [INAUDIBLE], right? --social relations, and gender.
And the way we used, in this workshop, is also very much varied, explicitly and mostly implicitly. And I want to offer some kind of typology or, in the language of the [HEBREW], [SPEAKING HEBREW], of the different ways that it was used. Because it mostly remained kind of implicit.
So [? Chris ?] [? launches ?] with performance is a methodological tool. Right? [? Es ?] versus [? is ?] --as a way of reading. And, of course, as a way of reading it has to work. And that's what she showed us. Right? Because there is-- we know that we can use very many tools.
But there is some kind of feedback, right? And if it's too artificial, we throw it away. And many times we don't throw it away, and then it sticks. Like the way we use, for example, legal concept for the Bavli, and many times in a very artificial way. Right? Or [HEBREW] concept and things like that.
And I want to claim that I agree with Chris that it doesn't have to be an alternative to source criticism, but it can and sometimes even kind of invite alternative to source criticism. So, in your example, to kind of re-evoke this [? textual item here, ?] the Mishnah. The Mishnah that the sugya is about enters into the scene in the middle. Right? And so why does it enter into the scene only in the middle? That's our Mishnah! Right?
So, of course, source-critical answer would be, because this sugya did not originate here. It's clear. Therefore it evoked in the middle. Right? But [? performant ?] theory could offer an alternative and say no, because that's where the magician wanted to-- right? --it to appear. So it may function as an alternative.
Then [? Mooney ?] and [? James ?] use it as a kind of literary form or rhetorical form that explain how the text works or how different layers or different specific forms in the text works and that explain things that otherwise seems redundant, seems unnecessary, seems like just kind of [HEBREW], and so on. And [INAUDIBLE], who could not come, but I read her paper, she actually kind of brought a totally different usage of performance. And this is the thematic usage. Because she reads sugyot in [INAUDIBLE] and tries to show how the Bavli performs the ideal of publicity in public sphere. And so it could be used to [HEBREW], but it could be used also to [HEBREW] or [HEBREW] or [HEBREW]. Right?
And then [INAUDIBLE] used it as a historical concept that allow us to make differences between different kinds of discourses of the Bavli and different kinds of usages of the constructions, even, of this text. Right? The way the Bavli is consumed until it becomes our Talmud. And then something very deep change from this open Talmud to this relatively closed text, but never-- but never quite. Right?
So the play goes on, but these are different games. And so the next conference should be really to trace these different games. Right? Because [HEBREW]-- [INAUDIBLE] [HEBREW] is not the [? Gaonic ?] versions, and the [? Gaonic ?] versions are not the Stammaitic. These are different games. And so they should be historically located.
And, from time to time, we should allow kind of historians, you know, to ruin our games. Because that's what they do, right? They say no, it's impossible in the 13th century. So, whatever. OK.
And Zvi-- surprise, surprise-- use it in the strongest way, in this conference, as a, I would say, kind of ontology of the Bavli, I dare say. There is no other Bavli. There is no Bavli except for its performances, which I think we could-- from this, we could extract that this is what the Bavli is, these different performances. And even though Zvi used an historical analogy, the lesson, the [HEBREW], is not historical. Right? It is either transhistorical or even metahistorical or, god forbid, essential.
And already in the initial invitation, or mission statement, if you will, Zvi used it in two rather different ways. One is what the Bavli is, right? Though it sits as a book on the shelf, it cannot be read but rather must be performed. And then as a kind of reception, Right? The Talmud is traditionally read in a group setting of two or more.
So there is some kind of assumption, of course, about the connection between what the Talmud is, some kind of inner characteristic, and how it is used. But what is exactly this connection? It does not derive, yet there is some--
Moulie talked about cues, right? Cues in the text. So what are these cues, and how they determine the afterlife or the life of this text? And that's, again, an open question.
So, in a way, the other papers in this workshops kind of, on the one hand, mitigated and restrained Zvi's battle cry. But, on the other hand, they also kind of explicate and embodied it. Right? For to make it more specific and concrete.
But what I've also heard in this mission statement is not just a descriptive move but also a normative one. Right? Let's bring back the game. Right? Let's bring back the playfulness. And I'm all for it.
And it has to do also with-- and, with this, I'll complete, you know, the [? bubbling ?] and we'll read something. But it also has to do with the question, how sui generis the Bavli is. And is it more sui generis that the Mishnah or Midrash or [HEBREW] or [HEBREW].
And we should be wary from romanticism, because there is-- I mean, Bavli's scholarship kind of has two stumbling blocks that we kind of move between-- opposite, in a way. One is the mystification of the Bavli, right? Making this kind of metahistorical, almost metaphysical creature that does not allow any kind of systematization or historical account, et cetera.
And the other is-- and these are usually not the same scholars that fall in the same. The other is the assumption that we kind of cracked, decoded, the Bavli because we have higher criticism. Right? And we kind of-- so we should be wary.
And the last thing that I want to say, in terms of introduction, is that I think we should not give up or let go the pretension-- pretension in a good way-- to kind of cover the whole Bavli, in terms of mapping phenomena. We don't actually need 60 reciters. Right? There is 60 [HEBREW] of the Mishnah. There is only 36 of the Bavli. But, in terms of-- you know, it's-- measure is a relative thing, and my friend classicists don't really understand what we do all day. It's a book, so let's-- you know, from beginning to end, and what's the big deal, right?
The corpus is pretty limited. I don't know if you know this encyclopedic edition of the Bavli in one volume. It's nice to remind us, from time to time, that it could be put between two covers. And I think both James and Moulie gave us, I think, a good feel of how much such a mapping or [? topology ?] could help us, you know.
How many of the sugyot are closed-- you know, closed-ended and open-ended? These things can be measured. It doesn't mean that we'll get to a kind of solution, but this mapping was not done. And I think it's part of this mystification, that there's something here that cannot be domesticated or-- anyway. OK, enough.
So [HEBREW]. I want to do a very, very simple exercise. So I've taken the first sugya, maybe the most famous sugya in the Shas, and I've asked myself, in what ways performance theories and tools can help us see interesting things, new things, in this sugya. So let's begin, of course, from the very beginning. Right? [SPEAKING HEBREW]. Right? And that's-- I mean, we tend to forget how revolutionary this question is. Where does the [HEBREW] stand? Right?
Placed. And this question only appeared, like, five times in the Bavli and always in the same way. Right? Context. Give me the context.
So where does the [HEBREW] come from. Right? And this demand of context is especially revolutionary because of the nature of the Mishnah as a text that comes from nowhere. Right? [SPEAKING HEBREW]. Right? It really comes from nowhere. And deliberately so, right?
I mean, [SPEAKING HEBREW]. There is no beginning. Certainly there is no origin or source, et cetera. So [SPEAKING HEBREW] kind of dismantle all this, and that's what performance does.
Because performance, almost by definition-- well, not "almost"-- by definition, undermines doctrine, right? Because it emphasize presence, because it emphasize openness. Right? That's why the emphasis moved from the text, from the script, to the director, and ultimately to the performer. Right? Because that's where things happen.
And then the answer goes [SPEAKING HEBREW]. Right? The [HEBREW] from the verse. Right? And then, if this is not enough, the Bavli is reformulating the Mishnah in order for it to recover its biblical roots.
So the Bavli says [SPEAKING HEBREW]. Right? This is what the Mishnah actually say. Right? [SPEAKING HEBREW]. "When is the set time of [HEBREW] in"-- when it's time to lay in bed? [SPEAKING HEBREW].
But the Mishnah does not use [HEBREW]. The Mishnah use [HEBREW]. The reason the Bavli use [HEBREW]-- right? You like words that points-- that kind of lead you to the discerning student.
So that's exactly what the Bavli does. The Bavli say, this is not [HEBREW], this is [HEBREW], because it's come from [HEBREW]. right? And it has to be reformulated in order to kind of uncover its biblical roots. So that's what the Bavli does, at the very beginning, kind of uncovering the Mishnaic trick, to present itself as a law without an origin-- without a source.
And then, when we continue reading, there is another thing I think that is very strongly felt, and it has to do with another characteristic of performance, which is [? speech act. ?] Right? The power of words to create reality, to construct reality. And the place that this is felt in the strongest way in the Bavli is in the realm of the Temple. Right?
That's why we have order [HEBREW] in the Bavli. Right? And not in the [HEBREW], because of the ethos of kind of textual temple-- Temple [HEBREW] in the textual performance. Right? That's how the Temple is performed in the [HEBREW] Midrash.
And that's exactly what our sugya does. Because the Mishnah already talk about [HEBREW]. Right? [SPEAKING HEBREW]. But it seems that the Mishnah does not refer to the Temple but rather to contemporary [HEBREW] that kept [INAUDIBLE].
But then the Bavli cites other sources, other [HEBREW], that clearly refer to the Temple. For example, here. [SPEAKING HEBREW]. So we're talking about [HEBREW], right? We're talking about atonement-- ritual atonement, right? And sacrifice.
But what the Bavli actually does is bring all these different sources about [HEBREW]-- you can see, [SPEAKING HEBREW]-- bringing all these different sources, literally throwing them into the arena-- right? [HEBREW]-- throwing all these sources and putting them on the same plane. And some of these sources are totally mundane, in the way-- right? [SPEAKING HEBREW]. Right? "The poor man enters to eat his poor meal."
And some of them are referring, again, explicitly to the Temple, to the kohanim-- [SPEAKING HEBREW] Right? [SPEAKING HEBREW]. And what the Bavli does, really in an unprecedented way, is to create this shared plane where all these sources exist synchronically. And therefore the Temple is simply one of the discursive options. Right?
And I don't think this happened in [INAUDIBLE] literature. I've claimed that the [HEBREW] on the Temple in the Mishnah work in a totally different way. The way they utilize the temple is different. But that's what we have here, exactly this kind of performance that recreate the Temple in the house of study and recreate it as a discursive option rather than as a historical reality.
The third thing I want to emphasize is how myth is embodied in the Bavli. And we all know that, in order for myth to function, it has to be embodied. Right? That's what holy days are about. That's what rituals are about.
But what's what the Bavli does-- and again, I think, in an unprecedented way-- is to create all these, I would say, unbelievably daring mythology around [HEBREW]. God says [HEBREW]. God pray [HEBREW]. Right? Phylacteries enter into the synagogue in the set times of [HEBREW]. God Himself cry for his own Temple. And the Bavli creates this analogy.
But then the other move that the Bavli does is to embody all this myth in the most concrete way. Right? So the set times and the body gestures and the meals. Right? [HEBREW] is part of the daily-- and if we had time-- we do not-- I think we could show how this is kind of intertwined, deliberately, the myth and the ritual. The myth and the embodiment kind of work almost in alternate way. Right?
So before and after a myth, you'll have not just a passage-- usually a very kind of mundane passage-- about embodiment, but you will also have-- it's kind of the translation of this myth, to actual [HEBREW]. So--
SPEAKER 1: [INAUDIBLE], I'm sorry, I've got to interrupt.
ISHAY ROSEN-ZVI: Yeah.
SPEAKER 1: It's like that scene in Little Big Man, where there's the big reunion and Chief Dan George says "My son, my heart soars in my breast like an eagle to see you." You want to eat?
ISHAY ROSEN-ZVI: Yes. So, I mean, read along, and you'll see, I mean, how these myth and embodiment kind of work in alter [INAUDIBLE] way. And it also has to do with the strong monistic ethos of the Bavli. And I would here again claim more than a Palestinian source's very strong embodiment, very strong kind of resistance to-- resistant to kind of speculative theology. You could see this in sugya [HEBREW], right? The sugya on suffering, and how the [? Bavli ?] resist all the previous solutions to [HEBREW].
And the last thing, and maybe the central one, is artificiality. Performance celebrates its own artificiality. Right? And Chris gave one kind of definition in [HEBREW], of [HEBREW]. And I want to cite another definition of [HEBREW] that I find really witty.
"Twice-behaved behaviors." Right? So it's a behavior that kind of point to its own artificiality but, by that, uncovers the artificiality of any behavior. And that's, as I said, the reflective, the critical, the political role of performance.
And that's exactly what the Bavli does here. It's after this extreme makeover of the Ba-- when we're done with this sugya, there is no even one item that remains natural. Right? Everything is not just constructed but is shown to be constructed. Right?
And that's exactly what the [HEBREW] do. We use to say that [HEBREW] is the way to harmonize the different sources. But, of course, it's first and foremost as a way to show that these different sources are different. Right? And that it is we that harmonize them, in exactly the same way that the previous papers show.
So, when the Bavli [? said ?] [SPEAKING HEBREW], the [HEBREW] about the poor and the [HEBREW] about the [? kohen ?] are actually the same. Right? Or [SPEAKING HEBREW]. And then the Bavli said, well, it can't be. Either this does not work or that. It's exactly uncover this artificiality of these equations. Right? All these equations are equations.
And here it works even, I think, more beautifully because we're dealing with [HEBREW], meaning we're dealing with nature. Right? We're dealing with set times that allegedly are decided by nature. Right? [SPEAKING HEBREW] has to do with the sun. It has to do with nature.
But of course nature is also constructed in the Bavli. And, if we don't get it when we read along, when we get to the end of the sugya and-- it doesn't matter. One of the sages evokes [HEBREW]. Right? Twilight. And then they say, well, it can't be [HEBREW], because [HEBREW] is much earlier.
Then he tell them, do you think that I use [SPEAKING HEBREW]? Your [HEBREW]? No! No way! I'm using [SPEAKING HEBREW]. And [SPEAKING HEBREW] is [HEBREW], like a blink of the eye. Right? [HEBREW]? [SPEAKING HEBREW]. right?
So [SPEAKING HEBREW] becomes a [HEBREW] construct, and again, in a very performative way. And nothing is left. So basically we all were trying to narrate the same phenomenon, right? Of this artificialiality, of this celebration of artificiality, in whatever name we call it. Right? Reflexivity or nominalism or whatever.
And I won't say-- it's not trivial. I mean, we tend to think that it's kind of self-evident. It's not trivial.
If you look, for example, in Moscovitz's From Casuistics to Conceptualization, the move is exactly the opposite. Right? The Bavli is the builder of this great construct. And he does not do this next move of [INAUDIBLE]. Right? That, while doing this great construction, the Bavli also shows all these construction works, all this construction material. Right?
So this is an important move, and it's not trivial, but it's also we can also stop here. Because we have to ask the question that we did not ask, I think, enough today. And this is what's at stake again.
I mean, what is it about? Is it simply this never-ending game, show-off? Is it didactica? Is it about teaching the students how to do it? Is it [HEBREW]? Is it about teaching us how to get to the right conclusion? Is it some kind of scholarly drive, just like we do, trying to uncover--
I'm not sure that this is so far-fetched. I mean, for me, for example, the [HEBREW], bringing these [? parlous ?] sources, I think, has exactly this kind of scholarly drive of showing where did it come from and recovering the context of the Mishnah. So why not? I mean--
SPEAKER 1: [INAUDIBLE].
ISHAY ROSEN-ZVI: Ah, right. [LAUGH] So-- OK. So I'll stop here. So, yes. We should play along, and we should keep reflecting about our games. And we should try do it as systematically as possible.
SPEAKER 1: I think we can take another 15 or 20 minutes for any other general thoughts. But I'm also going to say, at this point, everybody who's here is seriously into this. And, if you're free tonight, whether or not you were with us for dinner last night, you're very welcome to join us for dinner tonight at 7:30 at our place, 313A East Court Street. There's plenty of food, and the conversation will certainly continue there.
SPEAKER 2: Is there more?
SPEAKER 1: Yeah, but it's not as good as last night.
SPEAKER 1: Sorry? Yeah, yeah, yeah, there-- yeah. [INAUDIBLE].
SPEAKER 3: So I'm, to some extent, an outsider. And I am not as familiar with the text as you are. But I'm very sympathetic to the performative aspect of this. But-- and there I'm not an outsider. And I'll tell you three little stories and then make a comment on-- the three--
First, I write plays, so I'm in a position of writing these things and creating these things. Even worse, I've written recently an autobiographical play which poses really severe problems. Because you know what you need to do to make it a better play, but it does violence to the facts. And that is a problem.
The second thing is I wrote a book [? which ?] [? Ira ?] [INAUDIBLE] about issues of science in Jewish religious tradition. And, without thinking about it, just to create a structure for ourselves, [? you know, ?] we were informed about the Talmud [? and the Talmud is-- ?] and I relearned Talmud [HEBREW]. But every chapter is in dialogic form-- an email exchange, a play, a courtroom proceeding, because it created a structure for us to express opposing opinions. And yet we had to come together in some way. We did it ourselves. We didn't have an independent observer.
And the third thing is I'm writing a paper now. And it's much too long. A scientific paper, because that's what I do. And it happens there are three groups coming together-- two former coworkers who are independent--
Anyway, we examine a problem-- these three groups-- together. And we come to a certain conclusion about the specific problem. But then it comes to a final conclusion, and we can't agree.
My colleagues in Barcelona don't agree with the ones in Florence and in Ithaca. OK? And so we've tried something which has gotten us into trouble. We've tried to voice the disagreement.
And the paper got rejected, because of that, from one source. So we're trying another. But the point is that we're somehow improvising consensus or no consensus. Sometimes, we have a [INAUDIBLE] voice, sometimes we don't, as in the case [? with ?] [INAUDIBLE].
The general feeling that I get about scientists-- which scientists don't like, not realizing that they should not be put up themselves as priests of the truth, because they have further to fall-- is that what we are are scramblers, unlike the metaphor of scrabblers. So I have an image of climbing a [INAUDIBLE], a volcano, as I did, with all these-- through these stones coming down, and you disturb the stone--
And you're just scrambling-- you're scrabbling up, almost like an insect, up a slope. And, you know, that's the image I get of the Talmud here. So I don't want us to lose--
It is a game, but they are scrabbling under understanding. And then the discuss-- that scramble, that scrabble, after something important. There is something that motivates them. They are united by something. And that is the Jewish tradition.
They're scrabbling. They get a piece of it. And someone, at some point, [? freezes ?] that scrabble, that thing, and then we're left with explicating it. And that's a picture I get, both of how scientists really work-- that's not what scientists will buy from you. They want something else. But it's actually a picture that I get from the Talmud.
SPEAKER 4: I think, you know, when you ask what's at stake and why they continue to do this-- and I think the intuition I have, and it's something that I hope to actually be able to demonstrate, so this is what the next book will be about, in a couple of years. But ultimately, the passage from John [? Fowl, ?] I think, is the one that I think actually captures this exactly. That the reason for the infinite game, for the understanding of knowledge as something that is, by definition, always revisable, always tested, always dynamic. Knowledge is not knowledge of static doctrine. Knowledge is something-- it's-- knowledge is a dynamic process and therefore something that is infinitely revisable.
To me, that's what's being enacted over and over again. And the reason for that is to keep you reminded that, in fact, your sleeves are folded back and you are just a magician. Lest you think that you are a god. [LAUGH] The priests of the tradition [INAUDIBLE] you have discovered the truth that there is a constant reminder here that anything short of this would simply be idolatry.
And that is the one [? sort of ?] cardinal sin, is idolatry. The minute you place anything in the position of the absolute-- anything in the position of the absolute that cannot be revised, you've committed idolatry. And to me that's really the fundamental, underlying sort of ethic.
I don't know if "metaphysic" is the right word. Maybe "ethic" is the right word for why this practice is something that has to continue the way it does. I think it's a deeply ethical and religious perspective.
SPEAKER 2: [INAUDIBLE] third century realization? I mean, meaning because there was, with Midrash and Mishnah, an attempt to [INAUDIBLE] truth. [? Right? ?]
SPEAKER 4: No. I don't think Mishnah's-- but I don't think that's what Mishnah is.
SPEAKER 2: Ah, OK.
SPEAKER 4: Look, the form of Mishnah itself-- [? good ?] grief, try to [INAUDIBLE] on the basis of that text. It's a collection of [INAUDIBLE] disputes.
ISHAY ROSEN-ZVI: But it's--
SPEAKER 4: The fact that other people later treat it in a certain way is the issue--
ISHAY ROSEN-ZVI: Right, but--
SPEAKER 4: --dialectic--
ISHAY ROSEN-ZVI: But then why did the same rabbis that kept playing so nicely conceptualize the Mishnah as a code?
SPEAKER 4: So they keep doing that, but [INAUDIBLE] it's like saying the target keeps moving. There's always something that wants to keep the infinite open. [INAUDIBLE] they shift where it is, right?
That's why I was sort of describing it that way before. They never seem to be able to put that to rest. It keeps coming back in some other way.
ISHAY ROSEN-ZVI: So you could codify part of the game but not all of it
SPEAKER 4: You can never do all of it.
ISHAY ROSEN-ZVI: Otherwise, everybody goes home.
SPEAKER 4: Right. There's no reason to get out of bed in the morning.
SPEAKER 5: On that note, I wanted to say something, just trying to channel [INAUDIBLE], which is related to the topic of her talk, you know, so-- and it's also related to a talk I recently saw by Jonathan Lear, which was a very rich talk about what it is to be a professor from a Freudian perspective. From a Freudian perspective, Lear's point is that Freud originally thought that repression was an element which was opposed, in some sense, to play, in the subconscious, and that therapy was a process of free association or a restoration of play whereby repression was overcome and the self was then reintegrated.
And one of Freud's huge discoveries was that repression is operating on both sides of the therapeutic process. And that, as you go through the therapeutic process, through free association, you see the repression, but it doesn't actually help you to overcome it. And, I mean, I cannot do justice to this talk, which was also about Hegel and was just one of the most amazing talks I've ever seen.
But one of the points that Lear kept coming back to [INAUDIBLE] was that to be a professor is, in some sense, to encounter a different dimension of this repression-- the dimension of the public. And this is something that, I take it, [INAUDIBLE] was very interested in, as well. And I'm wondering if, by bringing that term into the conversation, we could maybe try to articulate something of the other that we continually invoke, as opposed to the Talmud as play. Right?
Sometimes people have been calling it "law" or "authority," but perhaps it's more the drive or the need for public recognition which confers the status of professor, which, in Lear's account, is the other side of repression. It's the force that-- we call it "super-ego"-- which the playing individual still somehow needs in order to be allowed to continue his or her game. Because the work of the professor is that of, in a sense, what Lear called "infantile dreams of omnipotence"-- that through intellectual play one can create a whole castle in the sand. Right?
But then is this drive for-- [? and it's ?] [? a ?] requirement of public recognition and institutional recognition at various stages which continually reintroduces that element of repression so that the two are in tension. And I'm wondering if some of the dynamics that we've been observing in the sugyot, as well, speak to this, that moments of closure are not simply historical strata or textual codification but, in fact, moments where the players need to pull back and acknowledge that, in some sense, they are at least psychologically subservient to some public, such that they can continue [? to ?] [? play. ?] So I wonder if [INAUDIBLE] might have said something like that.
SPEAKER 4: But it's interesting, because what are they professing? On the one hand, they're-- look, we can build these castles in the sand, but the element that we keep [? pointing ?] to over and over again is that they also make that second step of saying, you know, it's only a castle in the sand, and I built it. That's the part that the professor in the academy doesn't do, and that's what's so peculiar about these particular texts, is the showing of the doing, you know, which is that reflexivity, if you want to call it that. The different words we've had for it.
So that's where the Freudian thing sort of breaks down a bit. And that's where my-- I guess my feeling that what we have here is a very self-conscious game that's trumpeting its own lack of finitude for important reasons that transcend their self-serving nature of building the castle in the sand. Sure, there's a self-serving aspect to this. It is how they enact their authority, of course-- it's how they perform their authority.
And yet they still are enacting a particular kind of authority that's flawed, from the beginning. But they're signaling, very strongly-- but nobody else is any different or any better. We're all magicians with our sleeves rolled back.
SPEAKER 6: So what kind of real authority do they have--
SPEAKER 4: --in their own minds, and in their own heads.
SPEAKER 5: So that too is part of the-- part of the magician, right? I mean, before the Talmud has any institutional clout, I don't know what authority you're talking about.
SPEAKER 4: Exactly. I would agree with you. I would agree with you.
SPEAKER 4: Because I think it's making a stronger ethical statement.
SPEAKER 2: The authority doesn't have to be bigger than the picture. So, if we look [? at ?] picture, the book in the middle of the table has allowed them to come and do their thing. Right? So there's a book in the middle of the table. That allows them to stand around and yell at each other and point. If take the book away from the table, then there's no reason to bring them into the room.
SPEAKER 5: Right.
SPEAKER 4: [CHUCKLE]
SPEAKER 5: Right.
SPEAKER 2: So the question is, what happens outside of that room? I don't know, but these guys seem to be-- these guys seem to be very--
SPEAKER 2: It's a picture of a book on the table-- in the picture.
SPEAKER 4: But that's what makes the magic circle, right? It's a magic circle. And that's what it's formed around.
SPEAKER 2: And, if you notice, the best part about the picture is the person who resists the authority is still in the room. So, in the corner, we have a picture of [INAUDIBLE]. [? Ishay, ?] describe what do you see in the corner.
ISHAY ROSEN-ZVI: On the left.
SPEAKER 2: On the left.
ISHAY ROSEN-ZVI: [INAUDIBLE]?
SPEAKER 2: That's right. That person goes in the room and ignores the book.
SPEAKER 4: Who, this one? Oh! Oh, I see. That's off in another room. [INAUDIBLE].
SPEAKER 2: That's the center of the picture.
SPEAKER 4: I see.
ISHAY ROSEN-ZVI: And there is--
ISHAY ROSEN-ZVI: --books there.
SPEAKER 4: [LAUGH]
SPEAKER 2: Oh, are there?
SPEAKER 4: [LAUGH]
SPEAKER 7: One of the things that picture dramatizes is the aggressivity that goes into this whole process. This is play, but this is play as each individual conceives it as high stakes. And part of the high stakes is the self. And that's what this thing is. That's where Jewish jokes come from.
SPEAKER 4: See, that's [INAUDIBLE] humor.
SPEAKER 3: I think we should not make out of the participants in the Talmudic discussions [? meta ?] critics. Reflexivity is fine for us. It gives us a deeper reading. But--
SPEAKER 8: I agree with you.
SPEAKER 3: --I think they do show the machinery. And that's part of the attractiveness to the students-- to the readers of the-- students of the Talmud. But I think it's OK for us to get the enriched readings, but let's not-- just to use another Freudian term-- project our--
ISHAY ROSEN-ZVI: But do you think--
SPEAKER 3: --our ideas on the Talmud.
ISHAY ROSEN-ZVI: --reflexivity?
SPEAKER 3: No, but--
ISHAY ROSEN-ZVI: You think that Plato was less reflective than us?
SPEAKER 9: I think so.
ISHAY ROSEN-ZVI: Yeah?
SPEAKER 9: He was not reflexive at all.
SPEAKER 4: --other people who are making fun of them is an element of reflexively. The fact that they can talk about the heretic and the spoilsport and the person who ruined the game. The fact that they can imagine people who have that posture tells us that they're reflexive.
You can translate [HEBREW] differently. You can say, what are we doing here?
SPEAKER 6: That's great.
SPEAKER 10: It's tempting to close on that note.
SPEAKER 4: Thank you.
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Ishay Rosen-Zvi of Tel-Aviv University spoke at "Talmud: Process and Performance," May 18, 2016. The conference was co-sponsored by the Cornell Jewish Studies Program, Department of Near Eastern Studies, Mediterranean Studies Initiative, Department of Anthropology, Department of Classics, Society for the Humanities, and the Second Avenue Kosher Delicatessen.