We’re sorry we missed this fascinating piece during our downtime: The New Republic's David Nirenberg reviews The Music Libel Against the Jews, a new book by distinguished, Jerusalem-born musicologist Ruth HaCohen.
Geoffrey Chaucer’s Prioress tells a tale of a young boy who learned by heart the Marian antiphon Alma redemptoris mater (“Mother of the Redeeming Spirit”) and sang it every day as he walked through the Jewish quarter, until one day an anti-antiphonal Jew, irritated by the music, slits his throat and throws his body in a privy. Then the Virgin makes the corpse sing so loudly from the pit that the Christians come running. Miraculously resuscitated, the boy tells his story, and all the Jews of the town are killed. It is this story that inspires the book’s powerful title.
Just remember to put those thinking caps on…
“The search, in this case, is conducted through modes of experience that have survived—however transfigured—in essentially different historical phases.” The goal is to recover these modes of experience (or “Dasein planes,” to use HaCohen’s Heideggerian term), and to string from them a narrative held together not by historical causality, but by a theory—in this case, Freud’s theory of trauma and traumatic memory.