Michael Andre Bernstein
Foregone Conclusions

At its extreme, foreshadowing implies a closed universe in which all choices have already been made, in which human free will can exist only in the paradoxical sense of choosing to accept or willfully—and vainly—rebelling against what is inevitable. This is the case whether the foreshadowing takes place at ihc theological, historical, or psychological level. Christian apologetics, Marxist teleology, and psychological determinism are striking instances of how powerful our impulse toward foreshadowing can be, and make clear how it is bound to seem arbitrarily colonizing of, and condescending to, any moments that threaten to exceed its interpretive grasp. Thus, the Christian Church Fathers' reduction of the Hebrew Bible to a cycle of prefigurations of and preparations for the Gospel story is, for all its intellectual dexterity and inventiveness (especially the elaboration of figural allegory), rightly viewed by Jews as a brutal impoverishment of the original texts. 'Supersessionist' theology necessarily reduces the predecessor text to an 'Old Testament,' whose independent significance is fundamentally annulled once it is construed as only 'new' and more complete truth. Think for a moment of the Pauline Epistle in which the wandering of the Jews in the desert is read as a figura of the challenges facing the first Christian communities, or the ways in which the Christian exegetical tradition interpreted the story of Jonah as a prefiguralion of the Savior's Passion, with the three days in the belly of the whale foreshadowing the three days when Christ harrowed Hell between the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. In its encounters with the Hebrew Bible, Christian hermeneutics read the central events of Jewish tradition as 'witnessing,' in the sense of foreshadowing, the authority of its own stories. Hence, for example, the pressure in the Christian tradition to rename a narrative like the Hebrew Bible's Akedah, or 'Binding,' of Isaac as the 'Sacrifice' of Isaac, a self-conscious refiguring designed to make the Jewish story interpretable as an anticipation of Christ's sacrifice on the cross. Indeed, there is a strong sense in which the very idea of history as a linear unfolding from darkness toward light, and from ignorance toward truth, is rooted neither in Jewish nor in Classical thinking but, as Jonathan Boyarin has argued, entirely in 'the early church fathers' idea of the progression from Judaism to Christianity.'And much as the Jewish and pagan world found the claims of the first Christian missionaries incomprehensible, to someone not already persuaded of the truth of their secular revelations, the conventional Marxist explanations of why the working classes stayed so loyal to their national governments at the outbreak of the First World War, or of why large sections of the German proletariat adhered to Nazism, often against their own economic interest, can seem astonishingly dismissive of the peculiarities of each specific circumstance.

Sideshadowing's attention to the unfulfilled or unrealized possibilities of the past is a way of disrupting the affirmations of a triumphalist, unidirectional view of history in which whatever has perished is condemned because it has been found wanting by some irresistible historico-logical dynamic. Against foreshadowing, sideshadowing champions the incommensurability of the concrete moment and refuses the tyranny of all synthetic master-schemes; it rejects the conviction that a particular code, law, or pattern exists, waiting to be uncovered beneath the heterogeneity of human existence. Instead of the global regularities that so many intellectual and spiritual movements claim to reveal, sideshadowing stresses the significance of random, haphazard, and unassimilable contingencies, and instead of the power of a system to uncover an otherwise unfathomable truth, it expresses the ever-changing nature of that truth and the absence of subtly ironic formulation, what we need to recognize is the reality of underdetermination, the fact that events do not occur because of any logical or historical necessity. As Ulrich, Musil's Man Without Qualities, explains with his 'Principle of the Insufficient Cause,' even the laws of probability are regularly transgressed by the course of events, and the unlikely outcome can take place as often as the more plausible one: 'You know of course what the principle of the sufficient cause is. Only, people make an exception where they themselves are concerned. In real life, by which I mean our personal and also our public-historical life, what happens is always what has no good cause.'

  The World was all before them, where to choose
Their place of rest, and Providence their guide:
They, hand in hand, with wand'ring steps and slow,

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Through Eden took their solitary way.