The rhetoric of the ineffable : awakening in Judaism, Christianity and Zen




Avital, Sharon

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This dissertation rhetorically analyzes the ways in which ineffable moments of awakening are constructed in the context of three religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Zen. Close textual analysis revealed that awakening is constructed differently in all three religions and that ineffability itself assumed different meanings in all cases. The conventional understanding of language as arbitrary and as based on human convention does not apply to Hebrew which takes itself to be a sacred language. Words are understood in this tradition as creative elements that convey more than trivial information and the term ineffability does not occupy much thought in Judaism. Christianity is grounded in a representative model of language and equates words with mortality and temporality. Awakening is constructed ontologically as moments in which textuality and corporality are transcended and one merges with the infinite divine. Zen is cautious about the ways in which language constructs the illusion of distinct identities, but ineffability is not constructed as an ontological concept in this tradition. Awakening is understood as beyond all words. The tropes recognized in the Jewish construction of awakening are metonymy, dialogue, differences, juxtapositions, particularities, haunting, and intertextuality. In Christianity, the dominant tropes are allegory, typology, metaphors, substitution, replacement and abstraction. Awakening is modeled after the resurrection of Jesus and is understood as a dramatic and ineffable event. The dominant rhetorical moves in Zen are suchness, nonsense, and paradoxes. Differences are also found between the construction of subjectivity, the perception of time, aesthetics, the linguistic model and ineffability. Judaism views itself as an architecture of time, but this time is not linear and is instead understood by the qualitative moments of the events. Awakening maintains the reverberations of past events into the present, but present moments are given significant attention. In Christianity, man is understood as grounded in space and progressing on a linear axis of time from birth towards his telos. Ineffability is constructed spatially and the event of awakening divides life into before and after. Zen attempts to deconstruct time and views it as sunyata, or “emptiness”.



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