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Dreams of Being Eaten Alive: The Literary Core of the Kabbalah

Dreams of Being Eaten Alive: The Literary Core of the Kabbalah

by David Rosenberg

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Discover the erotic and literary core of the Kabbalah.

Dreams of Being Eaten Alive plunges the reader deeply into an explosive realm of knowledge that has remained unfamiliar for too long. David Rosenberg, long considered the leading poet-translator of the Bible, now unveils the literary basis of the Kabbalah as the major countertradition in Western


Discover the erotic and literary core of the Kabbalah.

Dreams of Being Eaten Alive plunges the reader deeply into an explosive realm of knowledge that has remained unfamiliar for too long. David Rosenberg, long considered the leading poet-translator of the Bible, now unveils the literary basis of the Kabbalah as the major countertradition in Western history.

The Kabbalah becomes new once again, as Rosenberg peels back its philosophical grandeur to a bedrock of eroticism. The pleasures of the flesh and the soul become one, and our desire to be devoured by a form of knowledge greater than art itself lies exposed.

Dreams of Being Eaten Alive carries the same authority that gave life to Rosenberg’s work in the New York Times bestseller The Book of J, in that this is the first time the Kabbalah has been translated into a Western language in a way that reveals its undeniable importance.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Poet, author and editor Rosenberg is perhaps best known for The Book of J (1991), a controversial bestseller in which he translated part of the Torah and, together with his co-writer, Harold Bloom, claimed that the sacred text's true author was a woman. In this new book, he tackles the Kabbalah, adding to its secret abstruseness the assertions that it is erotic and kin to what he calls "frontier ecology." Rosenberg opens with a hard-to-read section on "How to Read the Kabbalah," followed by his translations of selections from the Zohar, the Kabbalah's canonical book. The third section, "How to Receive the Kabbalah," contains explanations of the Zohar translations. Unlike Judaism's concern with belief and behavior expressed in a social philosophy and a theological framework, the Kabbalah deals with mysticism, myths, emanations, spirituality and dreams, including the cannibal dream that gives Rosenberg's book its title. Primarily, Rosenberg interprets the Kabbalah as a book "obsessed with failed sex." Rosenberg's ruminations range so widely that they are sometimes difficult to follow; alongside allusions to Kafka and Dante, he refers to the television series Touched by an Angel and devotes nearly an entire chapter to the spirituality exhibited on Oprah. Rosenberg struggles valiantly to elucidate what he means by "frontier Kabbalah," "creative Kabbalah" and "practical Kabbalah," but the end result is a muddle. (Apr.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Library Journal
Rosenberg (The Book of David, The Poet's Bible) suggests that the worldview of the Kabbalah is better than that of traditional messianic religion. Drawing on parallels with evolutionary ecology, he argues that Jewish mysticism (with "mysticism" being carefully redefined) shows artistic expression to be the proper way of ending one's spiritual exile from the human body and one's cultural exile from the natural world. In particular, sexual intercourse should be seen as an ideal model for such expression. Rosenberg's conviction is that in order to understand the Kabbalah fully, heartbreak and personal loss are essential, and no amount of intellectual study can compensate for a lack of such experience. He continues to defend questionable and idiosyncratic theories of biblical authorship, even preferring Freudian jargon over and against mainstream scholarly theories. But this book will definitely appeal to avid readers of the Kabbalah, and the notes and further commentary at the end are helpful. Recommended for large religion collections, or where strong interest in the Kabbalah warrants purchase.--Loren Rosson III, Nashua P.L., NH Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
[A] stunning English version of excerpts from cabala . . Rosenberg has done a remarkable job in bringing to English some of the most unnerving and powerful passages in the early cabala.This is an exciting, discomposing book...
The New York Times Book Review

Product Details

Crown Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.29(w) x 8.01(h) x 0.51(d)

Read an Excerpt

A question I carried around but never quite asked as an adult: If the Kabbalah is so great, why does it sound so dull when explained or in translation?

A question I carried around but didn't know how to ask in childhood: If sex is so great, why do my parents and most of the adults I know keep it secret? (This might not apply as aptly to children today, who find easy access in the popular culture. Still, the lack of meaningful interpretation continues to beg the question: Why is it so great?)

In my adolescence I became infatuated with poetry, which I hoped would help me win the love of the most intellectual as well as sexy young woman I had ever encountered (we'll leave my mother out of this). She was so much better read than I was that I intended to forestall the revelation of my inferiority by forcing her to read my own cryptic sonnets in place of discussing Shakespeare's. I had at least understood that a paradoxical text would invite more interest or discussion than a clumsy imitation.

So I became a sonneteer of the obscure. I also became a grand failure, which probably ensured that I would continue on the poet's path until I could properly respect my own intelligence. I could not get the girl to speak of my poems at all, and when I finally cornered her, she explained that she would have told me this sooner except she had worried that it would discourage me from writing: she had begun dating the high school's star fullback and beefcake. Once again, lack of a proper understanding of sex had stymied me.

But I was determined to learn it from the primary source available to me in the tenth grade of that puritanical day, namely, my own sexualdreams. My method was to wake up secretly after midnight and attempt to capture those dreams on paper. I found that the dreams were scarier than I thought they would be, and although there was plenty of sex, I could not tell what was happening, as in my sonnets. At this point, I began to read Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, the novel by James Joyce, in my tenth-grade English class, and the revelations began. First, Joyce made all of reality sound like a dream, too. Second, the vision of hell that young Stephen Daedalus encountered sounded similar to my own dream writings.

I began to try to verify my intuition that all of great literature was written as if a dream. I read Artur Rimbaud's A Season in Hell, and then the newest books of poetry — Allen Ginsberg's Howl and Robert Lowell's Life Studies — all of them sounding like fever dreams in which the soul crossed over from the real world into a mirroring world of hell. The same seemed true of the great painter of the day, Jackson Pollock, whose feverish trails of dripping paint seemed to testify to the soul's precarious separation from the body. By this time I was aware of a danger in dreaming — and I was able to connect it to a childhood sense of the danger in words themselves. The word camp, for instance.

As a child, I learned that my aunts, uncles, and cousins smiling in the family photo album had "died in the camps," and worse: they were made into soap. Yet I was sent to a camp every summer. My body went to Camp Fresh Air, but my soul could be in danger of going to another camp. My guide through this time proved to be useful again as an adult: the famous Psalm 23, recited at camp and in countless graveside scenes in westerns and war movies. The Lord is my shepherd and I am a sheep. I can follow him anywhere and fear no evil, because my soul will keep walking after death. As if in a dream, my soul will find a table waiting with a full cup, a table set for a person instead of a sheep. Even though this seemed to be a bright ending, the key to the poem for me was that it set the model that dreams were about dying and the fear of being lost or eaten (either fate associated with sheep). But where was the sex? "He maketh me to lie down in green pastures . . . thy rod and thy staff they comfort me . . . thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over." Sex was in the body, male or female, which fears and is released from fear by ejaculation.

Does that sound wild, or even blasphemous? We are approaching the method of the Kabbalah. It can only be done if we own up to our dreams, because that is where we learn that the soul has a life of its own, but that it cannot be separated from sex. Nothing less than a major intellectual (and literary) landmark of this century, Freud's The Interpretation of Dreams, bears this out. In place of the soul, Freud posits our interior life or "unconscious," and, like the soul itself, the unconscious is prey to fears of dying and of unconsummated sex. Why should the soul fear death? Separation anxiety is the scientific term, but in the Kabbalah it is represented as an uncertain journey, out of the body, that the soul takes every night while we dream. On its ascent, our soul is in danger of being distracted by the "other side," a world of evil that reproduces itself by devouring the human semen that is spilled in the wrong frame of mind (and impregnating the female with this "other" seed, if she is desirous in the wrong frame of mind as well). For both sex and dying, the soul must depend on our having achieved the right frame of mind — and that is what the great intellectual work and literary art of the Kabbalah depends on. Is that not what all great literature is built upon — expressing a satisfying attitude toward those forces beyond our control, namely death and desire? And a fascination with our failure to reach such satisfaction — in other words, a description of hell.

Meet the Author

David Rosenberg is the author of more than twenty books of poetry, translation, and essays. Two of his volumes in the past decade have been named New York Times "Notable Books of the Year," while a third, A Poet's Bible, was given the prestigious PEN/Book-of-the-Month Club Prize in 1992, the first major literary award for a biblical translation. His rendering of The Book of J, with commentary by Harold Bloom, was a national best-seller. After many years of study in Israel, Mr. Rosenberg was appointed editor-in-chief of the Jewish Publication Society. He now lives near the Everglades with his wife, the writer Rhonda Rosenberg.

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