Mimesis Explains Why We Struggle with Isaac’s Binding

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As a reminder, I am reading several books on mimesis for my upcoming thesis work. This is not a review or a reflection, but an internal dialogue to which you are a party too. Further, it helps for me to summarize my work for later use. Feel free to drop suggestions, but remember that this is not the final book that I’m going to read on the subject and that my thoughts on all things are left to better facts if there are any.


I’m not doing this for a ‘real-life’ discussion which I was having yesterday, but because of the real-life discussion which I had yesterday, and the reading which took place after that discussion in a book I have been reading through, I will now post a post completely unintentionally related to a real-life discussion I had yesterday day.


In reading the section on Realism yesterday, Potolsky mentions ]] who has done work with mimesis in Western Literature (representation of reality). He has also considered Christianity in this examination, to which he has brought some keen insights. First, we have to understand the difference between Plato and Aristotle’s vision of this concept. Second, Auerbach compares Homer’s Odyssey to the story of Abraham in Genesis. Auerbach contends that the former is related to Plato (ironic? because Plato was writing in part against the use of Homer as almost Scripture) due to the fact that noting is left to the imagination. Everything which the main character is thinking, all of his deliberations, is there on display. Everything is clearly seen, so that the audience knows why the person made his or her choice. Compared to this, the sparsity of Abraham’s plight is a psychological web, becoming akin to the Aristotelian Mimesis.  Nothing else is really given except God’s command, not having spoken to Abraham for a long time. Abraham dutiful obeys. Potolsky draws attention to the lack of detail in all of this, and of course, we still struggle with it. Auerbach through Potolsky contends that the “Biblical characters ‘have a greater depths of time, fate and consciousness’ than do the characters of Homer.” This lack of the knowns create an emotional attachment to the characters because the audience supplies their own feelings to the event, creating a psychological attachment, an emotional appeal. This leads Auerbach to develop two kinds of realism: Homer with his outward details leaving nothing for the audience to supply and the “interior, psychological realism of the Bible” which forces the reader of the Text to place themselves into the story in an unusually frightening way.

Potolsky goes on to offer a statement which I find as equally interesting, “For the Christian tradition, by contrast, every life is wracked by profound conflicts of faith.” I would amend it to include the Jewish life as well, considering the genesis of our tradition. However, the issue is that in the Tradition(s) which engage the Binding of Isaac meet those who struggle with the story with a harsh reality because we cannot understand how Abraham could so blindly follow God’s request. We have come up with good answers to placate us, more so on why God would ask rather than Abraham’s answer. We are angered at both God and Abraham, and perhaps ourselves, because of the request, the faith, and our questions. We do not know what went on in Abraham’s mind as he deliberated with himself over this choice. But, I think that in struggling with it, we are supplying to the story the much needed element, in that we are Abraham and suddenly Isaac is our son. We struggle against our own weaknesses and become attached to the situation much more so then if we could follow Abraham’s logic, listening to him as he deliberated on whether or not to kill his son for God.

And, I believe, that is what we are meant to do.

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