The Archetype of the Other Reading Genesis 2 by tyndale


									                            The Archetype of the Other: Reading Genesis 2

           In this paper I will read Genesis 2, the second creation story in the Bible, as a
treatment of the theoretical issue of the Same and the Other. In my reading of the biblical text
several insights of the modern theories of the Same and the Other will aid me.1 However, my
purpose is not just to read Genesis 2 on the basis of some modern theories. I will attempt to do
more: I will suggest that Gen. 2 yields a pattern that can be looked at as an archetypal
treatment of the relation between the Same and the Other. I will suggest, in other words, that
Gen. 2 can serve as a “key myth” in an attempt to synthesize what can be said about the Same
and the Other. My aim with this synthesis is of course not to close off the discourse on this
issue, or to reach a final totality with regard to it. On the contrary, I would like to draw
attention to some yet unexplored aspects of the theory, which can perhaps help us to realize
more of the potential in this theoretical issue.
           To treat a biblical text in this theoretical way is rather dangerous because my reading
will inevitably touch theological issues. In the argument that follows, however, I would like to
avoid treating this aspect. Not because I think that my slightly unorthodox reading is
theologically unsound, but because the theological implications would lead us very far from
my original purpose (which is to produce something that is significant theoretically). Another
difficulty with Gen. 2 is that it treats the issue of the male/female distinction, which is
traditionally treated in contexts that I would also like to avoid dealing with here. The
male/female contrast is of course central in my reading, too, but I would like to bracket any
feminist or anti-feminist considerations.

           Gen. 2 is a creation story but as such it is only the second in the Bible. In the first
creation story, the hexaemeron (the six-day account of the creation), we can already read a
version of the creation of man – which is clearly the central issue in Gen. 2, as well. It is
therefore in the context of this first version that the second account of the creation must be
read. The hexaemeron contains a paradox concerning the creation of man. The text says „So
God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he
created them‟ (Gen. 1: 27), which is paradoxical as it describes man as both one and two.
One, because man is the image of the one God, and two, because man is male and female.
One function of the second creation story is, I think, precisely to resolve this paradox while

    A reference to any particular source would be impossible to justify within the bounds of this paper.

maintaining what the first account seems to imply, that is, that man is the image of God only
inasmuch as man is male and female.
       Genesis 2 resolves this paradox with the help of a temporal pattern. It projects the
simultaneous oneness and duality present in the hexaemeron as two phases in a temporal
process. It posits a (clearly hypothetical) past in which God creates one single human being
out of the dust of the earth: the man (adam). This primordial being, according to the story, is
the single origin of mankind as a whole and the duality of the sexes is just a later development
and is secondary to the man that God originally created.
       Although the duality is thus described as something secondary, the story must still
present it as something positive, as a necessary and desirable development to stay in line with
the first creation story where the duality itself is described as God‟s own image. The text,
therefore, proceeds:

     The Lord God said, „It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable
     for him.‟

This implies that God‟s original creature cannot fully realize its divine potential without a
helper. So God attempts to create a helper for the man.

     Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the
     birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and
     whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names
     to all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field.
     But for the man no suitable helper was found. (Gen. 2: 18-20)

Curiously enough, it seems in this passage that although God tries to create a helper, He is
still unsuccessful, which is not a little paradoxical considering the fact that one of the most
important messages of both creation stories in the Bible is God‟s unconditional omnipotence.
This paradox draws our attention, therefore, to the function of this relatively long passage in
Genesis 2. One of its functions is, of course, to account for the existence of animals and birds
with special emphasis on man‟s superiority over all natural creatures. The birds and animals
are created „out of the ground‟, that is, out of nothing, and as such they are secondary to the
man who, being the first creature of God (the man is created „out of the dust of the earth‟) is
more original than any of the animals, and has thus the power to name them and to take them
into his possession.
     The second function of the passage quoted above is, I think, precisely to emphasize this
difference in point of originality between the animals and „the helper‟. It is the subordinated,

secondary nature of the animals that results in the fact that the man cannot find a suitable
helper among them. God cannot create this helper „out of the ground‟, that is to say, from
nothing, as he created the man in the first place and subsequently the animals; the companion
can only be a being that is equal to the man in point of originality. It can only be a being that
is created at the same time, in the same act of creation and is, therefore, equally original. The
helper must, therefore, be identical with the man; the other can only be formed or realized (as
opposed to created) from a potential that already exists within the man. To resolve the
paradox that exists between God‟s omnipotence and his apparent incapability to create a
helper we can say, therefore, that the only reason why God cannot create a suitable helper for
the man is that he has already created it: it is present in his original creature, the man, from the
moment of its creation as some inherent potential.
      As a next step in the process towards the formation of the duality of mankind, God sets
out, therefore, to realize this potential. The way this realization is described is again very
significant for us.

        So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping,
      he took one of the man‟s ribs and closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God
      made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.
      The man said, „This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called
      „woman‟, for she was taken out of man.‟ (Gen. 2:21-23)

What is remarkable in this event of the formation of the woman is that it happens while the
man is in a deep sleep, in an unconscious state. This breech in the man‟s consciousness marks
the boundary between the state of oneness and the state of duality. Before it the man was one,
after it mankind is irreversibly two. This passage from oneness to duality involves two
significant changes. The more conspicuous of these is that God forms a woman out of the rib
or part (these are referred to by the same Hebrew word) of the man. There is, however, a less
obvious but no less important change which also takes place here: a part is removed from the
original creature, the man. This seems at first sight to be an insignificant change – what is
removed is just a rib. However, if we consider that this rib or part represents the potential of
the other in the same, then the change turns out to be by no means insignificant: the man is no
longer the same after this part has been removed from it; it ceases to be God‟s own image and
becomes just a man. Man and woman, therefore, come into being at the same time and both
are presented as derived, as secondary to God‟s original creature the man, which is neither
male nor female but is the origin and ground of the duality of the sexes.

       What is more, the text suggests with this account of the creation of the woman that
beyond the duality of the sexes mankind still remains the same: both man and woman are the
same flesh and same bone, essentially they are the same being, God‟s own image. Their
duality resides not so much in their essence as in their consciousness of what they are. To be
even more precise, their gender difference resides in their mutual misunderstanding of their
real essential being.
      When Adam wakes from his deep sleep, he is not aware of the significance of the
change that he has gone through. He still believes himself to be the same. He carries with him
the consciousness of being God‟s privileged creature, the crown of the creation, the man.
Male consciousness is thus determined by the false belief that man (in his male identity) is
self-sufficient and perfect in himself, that he is still God‟s own image. This misconception is I
think very well presented in the way the first encounter between man and woman is described
in the biblical text. When God brings the woman to the man

      The man said, „This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called
      „woman‟, for she was taken out of man.‟

The man in this encounter immediately recognizes the essential significance of the other, but
completely misunderstands their relation. He names the woman, takes her into his possession
as if she was just one of the animals that God has previously brought to him, and he assumes
when he says „she was taken out of man‟ that the change that has led to the formation of the
woman has left him intact.
       Similarly, the woman also misunderstands their relation and her own position when
she unconditionally accepts the role that is imposed on her by the man. She acquiesces in her
secondary position knowing and acknowledging her secondariness. This, however, is also a
misunderstanding, for although it is true that woman is described in this story as secondary,
she is still no more secondary than man. They are both secondary in their gender identity to
the man, God‟s original creature, in which they were one, but neither of them is secondary to
the other. The woman, however, misunderstands this situation when she accepts the man‟s
interpretation of their relation and it is precisely in this mistake that female identity resides (in
this pattern – not in absolute terms).

       This description of male and female identity as consisting in misconceptions of an
essential oneness offers rich possibilities of describing the traditional sex-roles. It is, however,
not the purpose of the present paper to explore these possibilities. In what follows I will,

therefore, try to explain how the pattern that I have outlined above can be proposed as an
archetypal description of the theoretical/philosophical issue of the relation between the Same
and the Other. In this theoretical application of the pattern the Same will of course correspond
to what I have described above as „male identity‟, whereas the Other can be associated with
„female identity‟. When I talk about the abstract notions of Same and the Other, however, I do
not mean to refer to any gender difference. Any selfhood, whether it belongs to male or
female human beings, represents the Same. What I will use, therefore, is just the shape, the
pattern, that I have derived from Genesis 2.
       On the most basic level it is, I think, not difficult to see that the pattern that I have
outlined above is capable of representing the fundamental conceptual paradox that is to be
found in the terms „Same‟ and „self-identity‟, the paradox upon which all theories of the Same
and the Other are necessarily based. What this paradox consist in is that there is no point in
calling something the same unless a change from an original situation has taken place; there is
no point in calling something self-identical unless we do so with the purpose of differentiating
that thing from something outside it. To call something the same necessarily involves
comparison and comparison necessarily involves difference.
       It is this conceptual paradox that the biblical story dramatizes in the image of
removing the other from the same, emphasizing that these two concepts are necessarily
coeval, they originate from the same stem and can only exist as each other‟s correlates.
Removing the other from this common origin is the birth of the same; the realization of
something other is the precondition for the existence of something self-identical. On this most
basic level, therefore, the pattern outlined by the biblical story clearly represents the basic
shape of all theories of the Same and the Other.
       Somewhat more interestingly, the biblical pattern can also account for another typical
feature of theories of the same and the other: the special status of the Other. Most theories of
this kind emphasize that the Other is not just any other, that there is a difference between
alterity and mere difference. This is beautifully expressed in the biblical text in the contrast
that is developed between the woman as the Other and all the other creatures that are created
besides. When God creates „all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air‟ for the man,
the man names these, takes them into his possession but finds no suitable helper among them.
It is only when the Other is removed from the man and is formed into a woman that the man
can find a really suitable helper and can become its real Self. Similarly, in theories of the
Other it is generally emphasized that, although it is the inherent tendency of the Same to

extend control over the objects of the outside world,2 this control gives no ultimate
satisfaction to the Same. It is only an extension of its self: an act in which it subsumes
everything under itself and thus erases their difference; an act, therefore, that by extending the
Same ultimately prevents it from being its Self. The Other, by contrast, resists any such
attempts of the Same to assimilate it. It retains its alterity and it can do so precisely because it
is not different. Its special status, its irreducible exteriority, is guaranteed by the fact that it is
essentially a part of the Same which it can thus alone of all things make its real Self.
           On a more abstract level, this biblical pattern can also account for the special view of
the self that, I believe, is typical of all theories that are based on the issue of the Same and the
Other. The self in this view is the result of a mistaken self-consciousness. Just like male
identity in Genesis 2, it takes its origin from the false consciousness of its being the Same.
This consciousness is false because it is essentially the suppression of the Other, which can in
fact alone make the self the Same. This is beautifully expressed in the biblical story where
male identity arises (in this reading at least) from the suppression of the woman. It is the
gesture of naming the woman that defines male identity here. With this gesture the man takes
her into his possession, extends his conscious control over the woman. This gesture, however,
inevitably erases the radical alterity of woman who is precisely what is by definition
uncontrollable for the man as she comes from beyond his consciousness. Male identity arises,
therefore, from the suppression of what could alone make man what he is: God‟s own image.
Similarly, in theories of the Other the self takes its origin from the gesture of suppressing the
Other. The self is thus the suppression of its real Self: it is fundamentally and essentially an
error. Consciousness, which is the ground of the self, can therefore have no control over the
real Self. If the real Self is ever to be experienced it must come from beyond consciousness, it
can only be realized with the coming of the Other.
           What is special about this view of the self is not that the self is based on an error, on a
split within consciousness. Nor is the contrast between the self and the real Self unique to this
account of selfhood. In fact these features seem necessarily to pertain to all theories that
attempt to give a serious account of the self.3 What is special in the way theories of the Other
approach the problem of the self is that here the error on which the self is grounded is not
interpreted as a sin. The dominant view of the self from Augustine to Heidegger and beyond
has been to interpret the self as the correlate of original sin, as arising from man‟s being
guilty. In theories of the Same and the Other, by contrast, the self is not determined as the

    This is what Lévinas refers to as the „imperialism of the Same‟.
    See Paul de Man‟s account of this problem in „The Rhetoric of Temporality‟.

result of a sinful act, or of the fact of being guilty. The alterity and exteriority of the Other is
described rather as a chance of seeing more deeply, of coming to a fuller understanding. This
view is confirmed and clearly illustrated by Genesis 2. Here God does not form the woman
out of the man to punish man for some trespassing; he forms the Other to make human life
more complete. The formation of the Other is in fact a means of more fully realizing man‟s
divine likeness. The error that grounds the same is, therefore, not in itself a loss, it is rather a
gain as it is precisely this misunderstanding that makes a fuller and more intense experience
of the real Self possible.
           What follows from this view of the self is an account of the ‘human condition’
which, I think, is again unique to theories of the Other. In the theories which derive selfhood
from a sinful act or from the fact of being guilty the fundamental human experience is death,
and the realization of the potential of the self can only be achieved in an „anticipation‟ of the
inevitable future, of the end of human consciousness: death. In theories of the Other, by
contrast, the basic human experience is the present possibility of accessing the real Self
through the coming of the Other.
           This experience has been beautifully described in previous theories of the Other. 4 In
what follows I will, therefore, just briefly sketch the basic shape of the experience, revising
some of the most central points made in previous treatments of the issue with special
reference to Genesis 2. The Other comes from the outside, unexpectedly and of its own
accord. One crucial element in the experience of the coming of the Other is, therefore, the
absolute freedom of the Other, its complete independence of the will of the Same. At the same
time, however, the Other also seems to come from within. In spite of its being entirely
independent of the Same, it cannot be more the Same than the Same to which it comes, it is
„bone of its bones and flesh of its flesh‟. The coming of the Other thus makes the Same into
its primordial Self by completing it, but not because the Same has any need coming from a
lack or absence within, which would have to be filled. It is precisely the complete self-
sufficiency of the Same that makes the experience of the Other as Other possible. In the
ecstatic moment of their union the Same and the Other become one, they become what they in
fact essentially are, God‟s own image, but their union is not the annihilation of their separate
existence, not an ex-stasis, but rather the experience of their radical difference. It is the
experience of the happiness in their alterity, of the happiness that the other is Other, that the

    I especially have Lévinas in mind and Derrida in Memoires: for Paul de Man.

rib has been removed and made into the Other, that the helper has been given and the man no
longer has to be alone.
         This, then, is basically how theories of the Other describe the central human
experience and this, as I have pointed out, has been eloquently described in existing theories
of the Other. There is, however, one further element in this experience which, in my
judgment, has received less attention so far than it would deserve, and which can perhaps be
more fully appreciated through a reference to Genesis 2. This element is that the experience of
the coming of the Other is also fundamentally and essentially an experience of creativity.5
         In Genesis 2 the experience of the unity of man and woman is described as the
experience of a direct and immediate physical union, the experience of the „one flesh‟. This
physical union is also the ultimate realization of the primordial Self which is essentially
„God‟s own image‟. It is through this union that mankind can fulfil its mission, which is
apparently to become what it originally is: God‟s own image. And it seems that to be God‟s
own image indeed involves taking part in the divine essence: it involves participating in
God‟s work of the creation. The physical union of man and woman results in the generation of
offspring, and, by analogy, the ecstatic experience of encountering the Other results in
creativity. When man and woman unite in the experience of their one flesh, a child is
conceived, and, similarly, when the Other comes, the Same becomes capable of creation, it
oversteps its own limitations to give birth to something that can in fact only be the work of
divine creation.
         The offspring thus conceived – whether we think of it as a real child or as a mental
child, a poem, a theory or any work of human ingenuity –, this offspring is a real wonder. We
know exactly how it came into being but at the same time its sheer existence is a miracle,
something that can only be conceived of as the result of divine agency. As such the offspring
is a testimony that man is still and always divine, that we are God‟s own image. It attests to
the fact that the union with the Other has taken place and that this is a central and constant
possibility of human existence. However, the offspring also disrupts the pure union of the
Same and the Other. It stems from it but it cannot itself preserve the union: the child coming
from the union of man and woman is not itself the union of the two but is either male or
female again, it cannot overcome and erase the duality. When the Same and the Other unite to
produce offspring, this offspring will just be a selfhood, another Same in search for its Other.
In the moment of the most intensive union an offspring is conceived which can only be the

 Lévinas‟s concept of „fertility‟ is one obvious example that this potential is really central to theories of the
Same and the Other.

product of this most intensive union but which within the same moment smuggles in a
difference and thereby disrupts the union. It is a living testimony that the impossible union
has taken place but at the same time it is a perpetuation of the duality.
           I think that this account of human creativity is a central potential of theories of the
Other in general, which has not yet fully been realized. It highlights the basic difference
between theories that account for the self as the result of a loss, a sin, a fall and theories of the
Other that consider the split in human consciousness as a possibility rather than as a loss. To
the view of the human being as miserable, guilty and death-bound it juxtaposes an alternative
view of man as an essentially creative and fulfilled being.
           Apart from highlighting how theories of the Other differ from other (existentialist)
theories in their interpretation of the „human condition‟, this approach to the phenomenon of
human creativity also has vast potentials in reinterpreting several other elements of human
experience. It can, for instance, give an alternative to previous accounts of time and of the
truth6 and it can suggest a possible reinterpretation of the function of logic and even of
science. Here, however, I can only mention these potential directions in further developing the
theory of the Other.

    These two of course have partly been achieved by Lévinas.


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