"Who's Afraid of Canaan's Curse? Genesis 9:18-29 and the Challenge of Reparative Reading"
The story of Noah’s curse of his grandson Canaan (Gen. 9:18–29) is especially well suited to an interpretive style Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick has labeled “paranoid reading.” Oft exploited by those invested in xenophobia and racism, this passage appears to present an intrinsically identitarian plot that cannot be shaken off, either by historicizing or by other kinds of critical engagement. Indeed, historical critical analysis has tended to confirm rather than undermine the story’s determination to justify disinheritance on the basis of some vague form of sexual perversion. In her later work, however, Sedgwick began to call such paranoid readings into question, advocating a more open, descriptive, and anti-foundational approach to texts and histories. These “reparative reading” practices cede paranoia’s determination to be “in the know” to descriptive multiplicity and more limited acts of noticing. Inspired by Sedgwick’s insights, this essay considers the advantages of paranoid reading strategies, especially when it comes to this story, even as it acknowledges the serious limits of such readings, which have yet to succeed if the goal is to undermine the stickiness of sexualized and racialized blaming rooted in this difficult biblical text.
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