MUSICAL VARIATIONS ON JEWISH THOUGHT by Olivier Revault d'Allonnes

MUSICAL VARIATIONS ON JEWISH THOUGHT

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A dense, highly debatable (for good and ill) meditation on the essence of Judaism. Revault d'Allonnes is a professor of aesthetics at the Sorbonne, with a rhapsodic, elliptic style and a taste for grand generalizations. In his typically learned but often murky introduction, Harold Bloom observes that the book 'is an evocative reverie, more reliant upon nuance than upon argument."" Indeed. The key to Jewish thought, says Revault d'Allonnes, is ""sensitivity to time not space."" Hence the fierce nostalgia for nomadic life in the Bible; hence the exaltation of the written word (an almost purely temporal form) over the spatial arts (there are no great Jewish architects); hence the critical, negative, anti-idolatrous element in Jewish culture (which begins with Abraham's revolt from the sedentary existence of Ur); hence its vital awareness of the relativity of all things human (which makes Judaism superior to ""non-Jewish consciousness""). Revault d'Allonnes' biggest problem may be his atheism (he calls the Bible ""nothing but the grandiose verbalization of the dreams of a multitude""), which leads him to take all sorts of outrageous liberties. He downplays the central significance of the land of Israel, and forgets that true nomads love the territory they wander through. He claims that Yahweh is a dull, evil ""god of space,"" as opposed to Elohim, a god of time and ""the true Jewish god"": what of Second Isaiah's sublime, transcendent, ""international"" Yahweh, not to mention other Yahwist texts? Revault d Allonnes, in short, fails as an exegete and anthropologist; but as a bizarre cultural historian he has his charms. He's provocative and worth listening to, even after he's sailed off the deep end.

Pub Date: April 10th, 1984
Publisher: Braziller