Monday, March 01, 2010

Quarreling Genres

Carol Newsom, drawing off of Bahktin's polyphonic textual analysis, suggests that the differing genres in Job, particularly the prose bookends versus the dialogues in the center, are as much part of the story as the story itself.

Not only is there an argument between the friends and Job, or between Job and God, but there's even a "quarrel" resident in the genres. The "monologic" introduction presents a unified, ordered view of God, Job, and the universe, an ordered but deeply flawed view. Chapter 3 bursts out as a stark contrast to that vision, as Job unleashes his curses.

Newsom notes that this contrast is deeply embedded in the genre. A straight-forward prose cannot adequately account for differing perspectives and convictions, it leans in the favor one perspective, one truth. But a dialogue has the ability to give utterance to what might otherwise be "unspeakable." Job literally cannot curse in the prose and remains silent, but in the dialogue, he bursts out, voicing his pain and frustration.

Newsome describes this literary technique as not only a kind of character development, but there is even in some sense a textual maturation going on. The author interrupts his own "closed narration" with a very different genre in the wisdom dialogues.

In addition to the "dialogues" themselves, there is a dialogue between the genres. The prose introduction speaks, then the dialogues respond. This is followed by slightly different genres in the soliloquies of Job, Elihu, and finally Yahweh. And then the prose gets the final word in the debate.

These dueling genres are as much part of the point of the story as the characters and events themselves. Which vision of suffering will win out? Which view of the universe? How does genre reveal the God Job is looking for and finally finds? Which genre wins the argument? Newsom promises to offer suggestions to these questions.

The Book of Job: A Context of Moral Imaginations by Carol A. Newsom

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