Copenhagen, May 11th

Very grumpy. Got up at 4.30, not 2.30 for a change, and feeling reluctant to do so. Have somehow lost both invisalign braces and a pair of glasses.  Managed to pack inefficiently and my rather grey carpeted hotel room looks tidy and soulless. It has been very nice to be here, to feel affirmed in the usual manner.

Yesterday was the last morning of the conference, and one in which the papers were uniformly good and interesting.  Frederik (Poulsen) showed me the outline of his nearly completed book on exile in Isaiah.  The outline = chapter headings.  It is a really good book, and he is most of the way towards finishing it. About 400 pages. It may say everything I want to say and push it further – which won’t stop me from trying to continue to finish my book.  Martien is writing a commentary on the Song of Songs, with a rigid format, in which a diachronic section is followed by a synchronic one, and then a synthesis of the two. To me it seems absurd, as it did to Elie (Assis) – how on earth can one have a meaningful diachronic analysis of the Song of Songs? Might as well do a “diachronic” analysis of Hamlet – but she promised to show me what she is doing.  But I can see (she can see) that it might be a problem. Altogether these predetermined formats, as with the FOTL (Forms of Old Testament Literature) series, are a curse, and result in endless repetition. This happened with Marvin Sweeney’s recent FOTL commentary on Isaiah 40-66, which I reviewed and liked, but the different (predetermined) sections do end up by saying the same thing.  All this discussion arose while Martien and I were walking in the rain to the Museum of Art and Design.

The first paper yesterday was by Paul Kim, whom I have known for some time, and who likes to trace patterns of imagery in Deutero-Isaiah. He has had a Fulbright Fellowship to study the effects of the Japanese occupation in Korea in comparison with the exilic experience in Deutero-Isaiah.  It seems a bit like “let us compare this and that” but in fact one could see what he was doing and why it might be helpful. For instance, on the role of music and memory in the camps. He was also good at exploring intricacy and the role of metaphor, memory and estrangement.

And Laura Feldt next.  I really love Laura Feldt, ever since I reviewed her book on the Fantastic in biblical literature. She lives in a forest south of Copenhagen with her husband and children.  She had had flu but was feeling better. She is writing a book on the wilderness and its ambivalences, and has been concentrating largely on Mesopotamian literature, including a new fragment of Gilgamesh on Humbaba, about which she was telling me excitedly at the raw-celeriac dinner the previous night.  So her presentation was equally raw; it was clear that her work is preliminary.  She was looking at opposite visions of the wilderness in chapters 34-35, at the end of the first part of Isaiah, in which a terrifying oracle about the destruction of Edom and the entire world and its repopulation by demonic creatures, such as Lilith, is set against the glorious flowering of the desert while the exiles return. She was really good in bringing in a Religious Studies perspective – Jonathan Z. Smith on rectification – and her openness and freshness. She likes ambiguity and personification, and this is really what her paper was about – how the wilderness comes alive, how all the creatures dance, how it is feminized.

Ulrich Berges was next on.  Ulrich nearly missed the entire conference because he turned up on Sunday to catch his flight only to be told he was booked to fly on Saturday. But he seemed to be in good spirits nonetheless; what a miserable experience. Ulrich wrote a huge book on Isaiah, and then a shortened version of it, and is writing long commentaries on the second part (of which one has been published).  He has a real sense of what the book is about, and strongly advocates its inclusiveness of non-Israelites in the vision at the end. I think he’s right. He couldn’t stop talking once he got into it, going over time in his excitement. He likes my work and Rémi Lack’s, and that’s nice and makes a change, certainly from the stereotyped German scholar – but then he might be like Erich Zenger. He was talking on Trito-Isaiah, and drew on Rémi Lack’s phrase, about the “Exode sur place”, that Exodus and return there are to an ethical relationship to the world and to God. He used especially Isaiah 55 and 58.  It was a really good, imaginative analysis.  Really good he was there.

And Frederik Poulsen concluded things with a lovely reading of the idea of gathering Israel from the nations in chapters 11 and 27, especially chapter 27.  He did it really well – especially since it was a chapter that puzzled me.

I talked to Dalit about possibly coming to Tel Aviv as a visiting fellow in their Institute for the Humanities.  I would really like that.

In the late afternoon Martien and I walked to the Art and Design Museum – quite a long and pleasant walk – she had an umbrella, I had my Irish raincoat – the Museum is famous and spectacular after a dull first room. Perhaps it needs another entry. There was a gorgeous section on Japanese arts, pottery in relation to Danish design. I even found it a little difficult to breathe. Perhaps it needs a whole section to itself.

And dinner with Dalit (Rom-Shiloni) and her husband Amnon.  Amnon is an ex-radio producer and manager – he ran Israel’s most popular music station.  They live in the Old City – he has been there since 1976.  He has tea with an Arab friend every day (?) or week (?). It shows you there can be a life.

Time for breakfast.

Museum of Art and Design

The Museum of Art and Design initially seemed very disappointing. Kitchen ware and furniture such as you might have in a good department store and then it got stranger and stranger.  Beautiful ergonomic chairs, a hot water bottle in the shape of red hands (my airdrop doesn’t seem to be working ), a dress in the shape of a ghoulish head, beautiful sparkling clothes, a whole room of wooden objects with cubes designed to be touched and turned over, a tactile room – a chessboard that turns over to reveal a backgammon board, with separate drawers for each, a mysterious cube that plays the game of life, beautiful carp paintings from Japan, and all in an enchanting muddle so that one wanders from room to room, not knowing what strange thing will subvert your senses.

Our trip to Israel

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