Rules, Rituals, and Laws of Emotion in the Hebrew Bible
From Season 3 of The Cosmic Library Podcast
The Cosmic Library explores massive books in order to explore everything else. Here, books that can seem overwhelming—books of dreams, infinity, mysteries—turn out to be intensely accessible, offering so many different ways to read them and think with them. Season one considered Finnegans Wake; in season two, it was 1,001 Nights. Season three, titled Mosaic Mosaic journeys through and beyond the Hebrew Bible.
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“We regulate each other’s nervous systems,” says the neuroscientist Lisa Feldman Barrett in this chapter of Mosaic Mosaic. “We are the caretakers of each other’s nervous systems.” So feeling—and thinking—and the regulations of law join together; the idea that laws exist apart from our nervous systems, our feelings, doesn’t quite work, in this sense.
The poet Peter Cole here describes an emotional state associated with the language of rules and ritual in the Hebrew Bible, and in Leviticus particularly. He says, “I was just totally spellbound by the choreography of sacrifice.” And the novelist Joshua Cohen speaks of living law, a kind of vital legal system that emanates beyond the Torah, through commentary and debates ever after.
Laws, rules, rituals: these, you’ll hear, are all alive with feeling. “Regulation doesn’t mean damping down,” Lisa Feldman Barrett says. “It just means coordinating and making something happen.” Poet and critic Elisa Gabbert describes poetry as “a vibration,” which in a way might match the nervous-system correspondence described by Lisa Feldman Barrett. In literature as in legal regulation, we learn in this chapter, language coordinates responses and participates in the merging of thought with emotion.
Peter Cole is a poet and MacArthur genius whose new book, Draw Me After, will be out this fall.
Elisa Gabbert is a poet and poetry columnist with the New York Times. Her latest book, Normal Distance, will be out this fall.
Lisa Feldman Barrett is a psychologist, neuroscientist, and author of books including How Emotions Are Made.
Tom DeRose is a curator at the Freud Museum in London.
Joshua Cohen is a novelist whose books include Book of Numbers.