César Aira says the most important thing there is to say about Genesis: “If all conditions can be reduced to a single condition, it is this: Adam and Eve were real.” One of the unstated reasons for my translating Genesis as verse is that it’s true – and simply true, without qualification or testy theories of metaphor or symbolism (which is not to say that there are no metaphors). It is startling to read Genesis 16:12, for example.
Someone said the Israeli statesman Menachem Begin had a Biblical view of history. I don’t know or care if that’s true, as I’m not in the political business, but I think often about this idea of history and what it might mean.
When I think about a ‘Biblical view of history’, I recall a funeral address in honor of the classicist Seth Benardete. Sometimes small and forgotten bits of writing like this one are the most illuminating:
He was not simply learned. The gods and heroes and men, the texts and the arguments about which he kept thinking and writing, were his companions. He and they inhabited one world. He did not so much think and write about them, as he allowed us to listen in on his thinking and talking with them… He sought to see what human things might look like from the perspective of the demiurge or of the gods; from the perspective which Job ultimately adopts… He aimed high, and he reached high. Sometimes he judged people from on high, as if from a very great distance. He was perhaps less driven than any of the rest of us by moral concerns.
I wrote to Helen yesterday about the Bialik poem you showed me in which a walk in the suburbs becomes Abraham’s journey to sacrifice Isaac. To be poets, the stories of Genesis must be as true – i.e. alive – for us, as they were for Bialik. The possibilities and dangers in Genesis, like those in Aeschylus and Sophocles, are always present, even if we’d prefer them not to be, and we have to learn to feel that presence in the marrow of our bones.