Saturday, October 27, 2012

Transiency and the Culture of Plastic

Transiency and the Culture of Plastic

Our post-modern era is characterized by increasing dislocation and fragmentation. The sense of permanence and constancy of old, is exchanged for temporality and fluidity, i.e., a condition of transiency. Not only do cars, trains and planes carry us across continents faster than most people once could imagine – perhaps with the exception of Jules Verne and a few others, but we travel cyberspace in zero-time. Speed in the era of transiency, makes the soulful road of the wanderer seem hopelessly obsolete.

Likewise, we are over-exposed to stimuli, information and images: once upon a time we would sit down and quietly look through the pictures of the past, the reminders of our childhood, enjoy a memory, recall days long gone by, share thoughts and feelings from a time that could be brought alive by the one photo from that day. Today, we are flooded by digital photos, numbered almost into infinity. Rarely do we remain more than seconds to glance at each photo, and even more rarely do we return to them – often unaware that what warrants no return, loses its soul.

It is by reflecting on the events in which we partake that we induce them with depth and meaning, but speed and superficiality seem to supersede depth and reflection.

We are flooded with images, but the onslaught of external images disrupts the flow of internal imagery. Excessive exteriority impinges upon the imagery of interiority. Read more here, or at the Fisher King Press Newsletter.

If you are interested in reading other book chapters, encyclopedia entries, and published papers of mine, you will find a compilation at OPEN ENDS.

Certain entries require login. Username and password can be purchased by using PayPal, or at Hebrew Psychology ($15, 46.75 NIS).

Among the articles, book chapters and encyclopedia entries you can access by login are:

-- Erel Shalit, Silence is the Center of Feeling
-- Jerusalem as Metaphor
-- Worship of Transiency
-- Dreams in the Bible
-- Sacrifice of Isaac
-- Jerusalem encyclopedia entry
-- Story of requiem
-- Self, Meaning & the Transient Personality
-- Recollection and recollectivization
-- lakes of memory - review of adagio & lamentations
-- Jerusalem - Psyche & the City

-- with James Hall, The complex object

Eid Mubarak

'Above all praise', by Benjamin Shiff. Read more about the artist,
and see
 more of his wonderful paintings.

I wish my Muslim friends, and all Muslims, a Blessed Eid, Eid Mubarak, a Blessed Feast of Sacrifice (Eid al-Adha).

The feast commemorates Abraham’s (Ibrahim) willingness to sacrifice his first-born son, Ishmael, who was sent away together with his mother Hagar.
For many Muslims, not Isaac but Ishmael is the son at the center of the drama of the Akedah, the near-sacrifice:

“Behind the Wall of Tears, the timeline descends from the mosque to the Temple of Jupiter to the pigeon-sellers, to the Temple and yet the one before, right down to the altar of worship and sacrifice. It is here, at the point of the needle, where history and legend merge at the very hub of indistinguishable uncertainty, that the awe-inspiring drama of the sacrifice of Isaac supposedly took place. What terrifying, formidable lesson did God want to teach Abraham, when he told him to go forth to the land of Moriah and offer his son Isaac for a burnt offering?

“Abraham does not question his God, with whom he has sealed a covenant. He binds his son Isaac and lays him upon the wood of the altar he has built. The son submits to the father, Isaac to Abraham, and Abraham to God – a weakness of character? Hardly, since Abraham has already proven his capacity to leave his father’s house, and no less, when he argues and negotiates with God to spare the sinners with the righteous in Sodom.

“Perhaps Abraham did not ask any questions because this was simply his adherence to the ancient practice of surrendering the first-born to the gods? The Scriptures tell us Abraham offered up his “only son Isaac.” Consequently, some Muslim scholars claim that not the little laughing one was to be sacrificed, but Ishmael the first-born, who was the only one who could be the only one of Abraham’s sons. Did not the God of compassion hear the lad who cries of thirst, expelled from his father’s house into the desert?

“Eli Shimeoni wondered, if Abraham argued with Terah when he left his father’s house and went forth to the land unto which God would lead him? What doubts pounded in his heart when he put the burnt offering upon his son, for him to carry the wood, some say cross, of his own sacrifice? Was this the wood of the sacred grove that so meticulously had to be cut down, as when Yahweh commands, “build an altar to your God upon the top of this rock, and offer a burnt sacrifice with the wood of the Asherah which you shall cut down?” Without being asked, was little Isaac to carry the Lord of Hosts’ mighty struggle against Asherah, the goddess of the grove, on his shoulders? Was he to be sacrificed, bound to the mother of the morning star and the king of the evening, the mother of the twin brothers Shahar and Shalem – yes, Shalem, the Canaanite king-god and mythological founder of Ir-Shalem?

“The Biblical account is the skeleton of a drama, for the reader to flesh out with feelings, and to be dressed in the garb of interpretations. There is not a word of dialogue between father and son as they ascend the mountain of worship – is it the awe of fate, the brevity of speech when walking straight into inescapable tragedy, or is it the focused silence when you walk the line, stretched to its limits across the cosmic abyss? Or maybe it is the chilling coldness of mechanically executing daily movements, when you submit to invincible catastrophe, as when rather than waiting for the five o’clock bus, you are lining up at Umschlagplatz?

“Is this the story of the Jews’ submission to the father, in which the instincts of the sons bend to the fathers’ discipline, with the rabbis as a Halakhic fortress cementing the power of God, the Father? Or is it the callous need of fathers to castrate their sons, who on the one hand embody their future and bring the prospect to “multiply exceedingly,” but who on the other hand, by their very prime and youth, seem to hold the sword that separates the future from the past, determining who by water and who by fire, who will rest and who shall wander, as the poem recounts our disastrous fate on atonement day?

“In some legends, he recalled, Satan tries to prevent Abraham from carrying out the sacrifice. In his role as adversary, instigating toward consciousness, Satan introduces some healthy doubt into what otherwise seems to be passive submission. But in Biblical reality, it is only when the angel calls upon Abraham not to slay his son, that he lowers his hand, and puts away the knife with which he was ready to sacrifice his beloved son. He has passed God’s test of devotion, and the ram is offered in place of Isaac.

“But has he passed the human test of devotion? (From Requiem, p. 43ff)
Are we perhaps obliged to ask ourselves, once a year, or every day, “Do i pass the human test of devotion?”

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Kafka’s unpublished manuscripts – soon to be revealed!

After five long years, in what seemed frightfully similar to the eternity of a Kafkaesque Trial, Judge Talia Pardo Kupelman (K.) wrote,

"This case, complicated by passions, has been argued in court for quite a long time across seas, lands, and times. Not every day… does the opportunity befall a judge to delve into the depth of history as it unfolds before him in piecemeal fashion," opening, she said, "a window into the lives, desires, frustrations and the souls of two of the greatest thinkers of the 20th century."

The judge ruled that the library of Max Brod, Kafka’s close friend, be transferred to the National Library, in accordance with his wish and intention.

After his death in 1968, Brod’s secretary Eva Hoppe kept, and sold off, some of the important manuscripts. The remaining ones include, as Ofer Aderet writes in Haaretz, Brod's unpublished diary, notebooks with Kafka's writings, and correspondence of Kafka and Brod, among others with Stefan Zweig and Shin Shalom.

Remebering the death of Max Brod, 1968

An excerpt from Requiem - A Tale of Exile and Return:

Without forewarning, Eli Shimeoni found himself transposed more than forty years back in time, walking down Tel Aviv’s King George Street, sometime late winter or very early spring, if his memory did not escape him. He headed for Pollack’s antiquarian bookstore, which even as a young teenager he frequented as often as he could. He felt the thick and heavy air of old books was rich and wise, a comfort and a relief, a refuge from breathing the thick and heavy air of home, which he needed to escape. Those days, after the war of the days of creation, arrogance was in the air. Everyone seemed to fill their lungs with victory and invincibility. But young Eli kept breathing the air of threat and fear, doubt and concern, the compressed air that lay squeezed like the dust in the corners of his room and under his parents bed sofa.

The old bookshop granted an escape into a world of history books and timeworn atlases in which he could sail across the sea of time and continents, where fear and excitement and heroism were free and asked no price. It was a world of books that he could browse but never buy, an odyssey that could only be traveled, but never owned.

Sometimes his mind would play out heroic fantasies. However, unlike his school mates, he was neither the warrior who saves his country, nor the soccer player who leads his team into the world cup final, triumphantly circling the field wrapped in the national flag while an ecstatic crowd sings the anthem. No, his libido was lit by a raging fire, threatening the shop and its treasures from Heine to Freud as if this was Bebelplatz, May 1933. In sharp contrast to his usually slow, pale and shy ways, he would courageously run into the fire and save the most valuable of all the books and atlases and manuscripts.

But that grayish winter day, as he stood outside the window to see if everything was in place, his eyes caught sight of a letter, which must have been put there only days ago. He could not make out the German writing, only that it was addressed to Dr. Brod. His mouth got dry, searching for saliva, his heart pounded and his legs trembled as he entered the store to inquire with the old salesman who might have been much younger than he seemed to be behind those round glasses that always slipped down his nose, who told him that Brod had passed away only a few weeks earlier. Those were years that young Eli would swallow every scrap of paper or piece of knowledge or story by Brod or Kafka. He had even read Brod’s novel Tycho Brahe’s Path to God; though he had found the language difficult, or perhaps simply was too young to grasp, he had been intrigued by the conflict between the old and the new, past thoughts and new ideas. But he felt particularly grateful to old man Brod for being wise enough not to follow stupid Kafka’s request to burn his books – how could he want his books to be burned!!! Of course he could not know that books would be burned less than a decade later, but for sure he knew about Hananiah ben Teradion, the second century religious teacher, who broke the Roman law against teaching the Scriptures. When burned alive with his beloved, the forbidden Torah Scroll, he said to his pupils, “I see the scroll burning, but the letters of the Torah soar upward.”

Young Eli admired the courage of Dr. Brod, but could not really forgive Kafka for wanting to burn his books – only, perhaps, that he had asked in such a way that Brod would understand he did not really mean it. Eli had even seen old uncle Brod once or twice in the street, and tried to follow him without giving himself away, but was too scared that Brod would notice him and scold him and embarrass him and bring him shamefully home to his parents, so he had always made it the other way on Hayarden Street corner Idelson.

He often wondered about the friendship between Franz and Max, and so much wished that Franz would not have starved to death at such a young age – just imagine if he would have lived with Dora across the street of Uncle Max! Write one more book, please, just one!

Read Requiem (English; Hebrew).

As mentioned in Requiem, one of Kafka’s manuscripts that may be found among the thousands of pages in the boxes in the neglected apartment with abandoned cats in Tel Aviv’s Spinoza Street may well be the story - according to leaks, likely by a foreign expert on the Kafka material - about a rat, one among many in Prague’s sewage system. But “this rat had a complex, golden mechanical device, a precise micro-cosmos built into its mind.”

The rest is a story yet to be told, though some of it, as far as we have been able to gather, appears in Requiem (p. 57ff).