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Fire Backstage

Philip Rieff and the Monastery of Culture


Christopher Cain Elliott

At present, the name and writings of Philip Rieff (1922-2006) hang under a sign of neglect. This book is an attempt to identify precisely what has been lost through this lack of critical attention, arguing that Rieff’s lifework marks a singular contribution to the fields of reactionary apocalyptics and social and cultural studies. Providing a working definition for the horizon of contemporary Jewish philosophy, this book also suggests how Rieff uniquely contributes to this field of speculative inquiry with an insufficiently appreciated, but essential, theory of psycho-theology


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Chapter Three Images of Man


[C] He [Honi] sat down to eat his bread. Sleep came upon him. While he slept, a grotto surrounded him and concealed him from sight. [D] He slept for seventy years. When he awoke he saw a man gathering carobs form that carob tree and eating them. He said to him, “Do you know who planted that carob tree?” He said to him, “My father’s father.” He said, “Then seventy years were like a dream!” [E] He went to his home. He said to them, “Does the son of Honi the Circle-Drawer yet live?” They said to him, “He is no more, but his grandson lives.” He said to them, “I am he.” They did not believe him. [F] He went to the study-house. He heard the sages saying, “Our traditions are as clear today as in the years of Honi the Circle-Drawer. For when he entered the study-house, he solved every difficulty that the sages had. He said to them, “I am he.” They did not believe him, and they did not treat him with the honor that he de- served. He prayed for mercy and his soul departed. [G] Rava said, “Thus people say, ‘Either fellowship or death.’” – Talmud Bavli, Taanis 23a, translated by Jeffrey Rubenstein 3.1 How to Be Forgotten, Without Really Trying Harold Bloom and Philip Rieff make for an odd couple, with nearly opposite ca- reer trajectories, dispositions, and politics. But these departures are counter- signed, as is often the case in life and scholarship,...

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