"Who's Afraid of Canaan's Curse? Genesis 9:18-29 and the Challenge of Reparative Reading"

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Abstract

The story of Noah’s curse of his grandson Canaan (Gen. 9:18–29) is especially well suited to an interpretive style Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick has labeled “paranoid reading.” Oft exploited by those invested in xenophobia and racism, this passage appears to present an intrinsically identitarian plot that cannot be shaken off, either by historicizing or by other kinds of critical engagement. Indeed, historical critical analysis has tended to confirm rather than undermine the story’s determination to justify disinheritance on the basis of some vague form of sexual perversion. In her later work, however, Sedgwick began to call such paranoid readings into question, advocating a more open, descriptive, and anti-foundational approach to texts and histories. These “reparative reading” practices cede paranoia’s determination to be “in the know” to descriptive multiplicity and more limited acts of noticing. Inspired by Sedgwick’s insights, this essay considers the advantages of paranoid reading strategies, especially when it comes to this story, even as it acknowledges the serious limits of such readings, which have yet to succeed if the goal is to undermine the stickiness of sexualized and racialized blaming rooted in this difficult biblical text.

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Knust

Jennifer Wright Knust

Professor of Religious Studies

Jennifer Knust is a scholar of religion who specializes in early Christian history and the religions of the ancient Mediterranean. Author of To Cast the First Stone: The Transmission of a Gospel Story(with Tommy Wasserman, Princeton 2018), Unprotected Texts: The Bible’s Surprising Contradictions about Sex and Desire (HarperONE 2011), and Abandoned to Lust: Sexual Slander and Ancient Christianity (Columbia 2005), she studies early Christian texts, their contexts, and their receptions from multiple angles, with a particular focus on rhetoric and gendered discourse. Her numerous articles, book chapters, and edited books address the materiality of texts, the intersection of Christian practices with other ancient religions, and the ethics of interpretation in ancient as well as contemporary contexts. 


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