A ``distant'' (as opposed to ``close'') reading of the Hebrew Bible via a largely unfocused use of gender and other modern and postmodern analytical categories. Eilberg-Schwartz (The Savage in Judaism, not reviewed) speculates on the sociopsychological, theological, and literary implications for male monotheists of the Bible's apparently male God. Despite its provocative title, God's Phallus really is about the absence—which the author sometimes refers to as the ``veiling''—of male genitalia and other physiological characteristics in the biblical imagery of God. Eilberg-Schwartz nevertheless repeatedly overinterprets biblical and postbiblical texts so as to read into them a ``homoeroticism that was always latent in Israelite theology.'' He does so using a bouillabaisse of Freudian, Lacanian, feminist, gay, and other critical perspectives. He postulates a homosexual tension between God and men, but what the meaning is of this tension being ``latent'' (in the Freudian sense) the author never makes clear, often allowing his considerable gift for interpretive pyrotechnics to overwhelm a more considered approach to how the first monotheists actually thought about God and their religious texts. In addition, he focuses almost exclusively on the psychosexual aspects of the divine-human male relationship, too rarely acknowledging the larger emotional and religious context that includes feelings of awe, fear, dependence, and estrangement. Eilberg-Schwartz can be dismayingly literalist, seeing the ancient rabbis' and others' allegories on, and often fanciful interpretations of, biblical texts as having practical implications for male Jews when in fact they were often speculative explorations. Despite a few fine passages, e.g., a comparison of how genital injuries may have affected the lives of Jacob and Moses, Eilberg-Schwartz has produced an exasperating work. This is an object lesson in what can happen when a versatile scholar draws on the tools of critical theory too much and reflects on the actual texts—and their authors' premodern contexts—too little.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-8070-1224-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Beacon Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1994

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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This a book of earlier, philosophical essays concerned with the essential "absurdity" of life and the concept that- to overcome the strong tendency to suicide in every thoughtful man-one must accept life on its own terms with its values of revolt, liberty and passion. A dreary thesis- derived from and distorting the beliefs of the founders of existentialism, Jaspers, Heldegger and Kierkegaard, etc., the point of view seems peculiarly outmoded. It is based on the experience of war and the resistance, liberally laced with Andre Gide's excessive intellectualism. The younger existentialists such as Sartre and Camus, with their gift for the terse novel or intense drama, seem to have omitted from their philosophy all the deep religiosity which permeates the work of the great existentialist thinkers. This contributes to a basic lack of vitality in themselves, in these essays, and ten years after the war Camus seems unaware that the life force has healed old wounds... Largely for avant garde aesthetes and his special coterie.

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 1955

ISBN: 0679733736

Page Count: 228

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1955

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