Title: Impossible Reading: Idolatry and Diversity in LiteratureAuthor: Robert OventileImprint: The Davies Group, Publisherssoft cover268 pp.$26.00 US ISBN 978-1-934542-03-3February 2009Impossible Reading compares polemics against idols in both the Hebrew Bible and the Apostle Paul to argue that to welcome diversity requires shunning idolatry. Oventile explores how these polemics inform the approach to diversity in works by Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, Herman Melville, and Alfredo Véa. Drawing on the work of Jacques Derrida and Paul de Man, Impossible Reading begins with chapters exploring the Hebrew Bible's and the Apostle Paul's divergent understandings of idolatry. Exodus's polemic against idols emerges as friendly to diversity and as resonant with the event of spacing that Plato names khōra.However, Paul's denunciations of idolatry presage the diversity ideology contemporary institutions embrace to gain legitimacy and to dissipate struggles for justice.Additional chapters examine how the Hebrew Bible's and Paul's divergent notions of idolatry impact the treatment of diversity in Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz's play El Divino Narciso and in two novels: Herman Melville's Moby-Dick and Alfredo Vea's gods go begging, and a final chapter details the workings of diversity ideology in the debate over removing the Christian cross from Los Angeles County's official seal.Suggesting that the Decalogue's prohibition of idolatry may actually help believers and non-believers alike to lessen the violence undertaken in the names of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, Impossible Reading seeks to contest diversity ideology and to open new paths for the study of diversity in literature. ContentsAcknowledgmentsIntroductionChapter One Impossible Reading: The Second Commandment and Moses’s DelayChapter Two An Etiolating Light: Plato’s One, Paul’s OneChapter Three Idolatry’s Allegorical Overcoming: Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz’s El Divino NarcisoChapter Four Idolatry and Sovereignty in Herman Melville’s Moby-DickChapter Five An Impossible Milagro: Alfredo Véa’s gods go beggingChapter Six Cross Out: The Los Angeles County Seal DebateNotesIndexReviews"This wonderful book is strikingly original, learned, and perceptive. Appropriating insights from Derrida and de Man about figurative language and about the otherness of the other, Professor Oventile brilliantly argues that present-day diversity pedagogy, in its homogenizing of the ethnic “other,” is an ideological form of idolatry. For Oventile, following Derrida, every individual other person is “wholly other,” including other to other individuals in his or her own “ethnic group.” Reading the other is therefore “impossible,” but at the same time urgently necessary. Beginning with readings of the golden calf episode in Exodus, and of notions of idolatry contrary to the […] ones in Plato and Paul, Oventile then goes on to present admirably original readings of works by Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, Herman Melville, and Alfredo Véa, as they grapple with the opposition between the understanding of idolatry in the Hebrew Bible and those in St. Paul’s writings. Impossible Reading ends with a striking application of the book’s insights about idolatry and diversity to a recent conflict over revisions of the Los Angeles County Seal. A major theoretical and critical achievement."—J. Hillis Miller, UCI Distinguished Research Professor of Comparative Literature and EnglishUniversity of California, Irvine"Oventile’s book is a remarkable contribution to the question of how reading, itself, remains a battleground in the cognitive politics in the 21st century. Invoking the preoriginary logics of what Derrida calls khora—that is, a non-site where inscriptions and memory programs are set—Impossible Reading explores how such programs influence the circular spells and hermeneutic plagues of the contemporary scene. Its unique innovation is to target what he calls the motif of “idolatry” and one unexpected contemporary avatar, “diversity ideology,” and to link these to the spell of inefficacy that today engulfs high criticism and post-9/11 humanities. In another sense, by departing from the Mosaic Decalog, and tracing its path from Plato to contemporary institutional politics, Oventile probes the “impossible” possibility of altering the archival flux and primary inscriptions out of which the world is constructed, and this by way of surgical reading." —Tom Cohen, University at AlbanyAuthorRobert Savino Oventile is Assistant Professor of English at Pasadena City College. He completed his Ph.D. in English literature at the University of California's Irvine campus. His publications include reviews and essays written for the journals Crossings, American@, Culture Machine, Postmodern Culture, Comitatus, The Review of Communication, inside english, and Stirrings Still.
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