FEMINIST REVISION AND THE BIBLE. Alicia Suskin Ostriker, Blackwell. 1993, $14.95.
In her latest book. Rutgers professor and Lilith Poetry Editor Ostriker examines Western literature from the Bible to such nineteenth and twentieth century women writers as Emily Dickinson, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and H.D,, who create their own poetic readings of Biblical narrative. Ostriker moves deftly between the worlds of literary, feminist, and psychoanalytic theories, Biblical scholarship, and poetics, with what she terms a “hermeneutic of desire,” using women’s writings and her own analyses. She positions herself at the intersection of religion, literature, and politics, with an acute interest in reshaping all three to be more inclusive of women’s visions and experiences.
The book is divided into three sections. In the first, a series of lectures, Ostriker debunks the male myths and assumptions which have historically ruled Biblical discourse. and exposes the ways in which the authors of the Bible have suppressed “the female.” Ostriker believes that there is a textual unconscious which exhibits symbolic, subliminal traces of women within the larger structure of the text. When we think about the Passover story, we rarely think of the role of Miriam in the Exodus, who plays a major part in the beginning of the narrative, but fades into the background by the end. Ostriker reinforces our feminist suspicions that in the end, “Miriam embodies the humiliation and defeat of female influence.” By looking closely at the Akedah story we can see, for example, that this classic story of the binding of Isaac has only a loud silence where Sarah’s voice should be. What happened with Sarah is a question rarely asked. Ostriker does ask and finds that the scene truly “inscribes the ‘binding’ of the sons to the theocentric world of the fathers.”
The author finds in Biblical gaps and inconsistencies an invitation for feminists to find a role within our textual heritage. Simultaneously, Ostriker opposes previous feminist criticisms, which she feels do more harm than good by creating an antagonistic and adversarial relationship between text and author. Ostriker places herself at a crossroads between looking back and creating anew. She draws her readers into a gai’den of inquiry rather than into a desert of bitter exile.
Thus, in the second section Ostriker rewrites Biblical discourse in “Lilith Poems.” The poems clearly demonstrate that Ostriker is as grounded in her Jewish heritage as she is comfortable with her formal training in literary theory. “As critic and poet, as Jew, woman and human being, I am involved in a collective enterprise which has as its ultimate goal the radical transformation of what used to be called the Judeo-Christian tradition.”
The third section of the book is an interview in which Ostriker candidly discusses all of her writings, past and present. While she critiques the androcentric ideology of the Bible. Ostriker says she wants to “wrest a blessing from it nonetheless.”