Outcome and Experience
November 09, 2011
When it was suggested, on an uncommonly busy day, that I could be absolved of my regular visit to the market, because a friend was on her way there and could pick up what I needed, I would have been mad to decline the help. But I did decline it, and I was not mad. The outcome would have been the same: the food would have made it to my table. But I am interested in more than outcomes. I am wary of finding myself in the middle of an existence too busy, too arrogantly busy, for elementary things.
October 26, 2011
Nothing demystifies a dictator like death. The videos of Qaddafi dragged from a drainpipe, addled and bloodied, and then dead on the floor of a large freezer, harshly illustrated the absurdity of tyranny. An entire country held for forty-two years in the grip of this flabby, destructible man? It makes no sense; or rather this particular view of dictatorship makes no sense—the cinematically simple notion of the dictator as shrewdly, almost magically in control of a whole people, a solitary villain at the top whose removal is all that is required for his society to be free.
Justice for Jebusites
October 12, 2011
What a poor student of Edward Said Sari Nusseibeh is!
September 29, 2011
Political argument is never pure. I do not mean that it is always influenced by interests. I do not believe that. Even as the black arts of influence flourish as never before, I quixotically insist upon the possibility of objectivity, because without it this democracy is doomed. Logic and evidence (which must be funded!) will sooner or later thwart the attempts of the powerful—numerically, financially—to define the true. The integrity of argument is one of the requirements of a political order that determines its course by the expression, and the evaluation, of opinion.
September 14, 2011
The politics of anti-politics is a great American comedy. Contempt for Washington has become one of the primary qualifications for elevation to Washington. Those who despise government are desperate to join it; those who despise politics are politicians. And those who cherish government and cherish politics are ominously instructed by their consultants to be silent. Inside the system they pretend that they are outside the system, and denounce the institutions as if they are not talking about themselves.
What We Affirm
September 10, 2011
Though we encounter it as suffering, grief is in fact an affirmation. The indifferent do not grieve, the uncommitted do not grieve, the loveless do not grieve. We mourn only the loss of what we have loved and what we have valued, and in this way mourning darkly refreshes our knowledge of the causes of our loves and the reasons for our values. Our sorrow restores us to the splendors of our connectedness to people and to principles. It is the yes of a broken heart. In our bereavement we discover how much was ruptured by death, and also how much was not ruptured.
Safety and Blindness
August 24, 2011
“September 11,” the voice on the tape said, startling me with an unexpected association. “Evidence of impending invasion has been accumulating all day. More ships moving west down the Channel.” I was visiting Churchill’s war rooms, the basement in Whitehall that served as his command center. The voice on the tape was reading from the diaries of General Alan Brooke, later chief of the Imperial General Staff but in the terrifying days of 1940 commander of the Home Forces, tasked with preparing England, lonely and excruciatingly vulnerable, against a German landing.
July 28, 2011
Joel is one of the so-called minor prophets in the Bible. He appears to have been active in the late sixth- or early fifth-century BCE, in the aftermath of the destruction of the kingdom of Judah. A careful reading of his short and furious oration shows that it may have been also an interpretation of a second catastrophe. A plague seems to have decimated the land—locusts, cankerworms, caterpillars. “The field is wasted.” First the Babylonians, then the bugs: Joel is a morose man, an angry peddler of apocalypse.
The Night Birds
July 13, 2011
A few weeks ago I noticed that the dead of night is no longer dead. It is alive with the songs of birds. The nocturnal concert comes from somewhere in the thickets of my garden, a small bucolic refuge in an unpastoral corner of the city. The performance is lyrical and cacophonous, a patterned program of warbles and screeches and trills and whistles, with an occasional phrase that pierces the heart—very Brooklyn Academy of Music. Robbed of sleep by the din, I thought of transliterating it, but old memories of Hopkins at his most ludicrous (“Teevo cheevo cheevio chee”) made me think again.
The Fear of Reason
June 23, 2011
“I just want to point out,” declared the student at the far end of the seminar table, “that when Maimonides offers a proof of God’s existence, he is not saying that he has really proved it. What he’s saying is: This works for me, and if it works for you, great.” I was teaching a graduate seminar on The Guide of the Perplexed at a fine American university, and I was pleased to see my students warming to my insistence that the old masterpiece is still alive, and one of the most formidable obstacles ever erected against a thoughtless existence.