Sunday, February 9, 2014

Turning meaningful contemplation of evil into the banality of meaningless repetition

Someone by the name of Phil Chernofsky has written a book called And Every Single One Was Someone. At the price of $80 (ok, you get a discount on Amazon) you can purchase this 1250 pages book. The book, "written" by a math and Jewish studies teacher, is his attempt, as the book description claims, to relate in a meaningful way to the Holocaust. It repeats the word Jew six million times.

If this were merely an artistic monument and commemoration to the one and every one of the murdered Jews, it might have had some value. However, artistic memorials of the victims of the Shoah and horrors of the Nazi era of greater depth and significance have been created, such as Micha Ullman’s breathtaking monument at Bebelplatz.

Micha Ullman's memorial at Bebelplatz,
where the Nazi book burnings began

If the author would have taken the longer road, and written down the name of each Jew murdered by the Nazis on a scroll, leaving empty spaces for each one of the nameless, he would, likewise, have contributed something valuable, helping the Someone in every single one to stand out.

With all his good intentions (as I assume he has, and not merely using the simplistic gimmick for self-serving purposes), the author has let the machine repeat, ‘copy and paste’, the word 'Jew' to the point where meaningful contemplation of the coldest of evil turns into the banality of meaningless repetition, taking away from the singularity of the crime.
 As one reviewer so rightly says, "To have a name was to assign a human quality." That is exactly why this book would have been a major accomplishment, if it would, as I suggest, have the every name of the Nazi victims written down, with the no less horrific empty spaces in between for those countless victims whose names are not known, often becauase the entire extended family was assasinated in the most horrendous of human crimes.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Erel Shalit - On Self and Meaning in the Cycle of Life

Cover Painting by Benjamin Shiff
An excerpt from The Cycle of Life (pp. 177-8)

In old age, hearing becomes impaired and vision more blurred. For some, this provides an opportunity to open the senses to the pulsation of the soul, to hear the echoes of the sounds that arise from the depths, and perceive the reflection of the patterns that take shape under the sea.

This may be the transparency and the invisibility of not being seen by others, and the fear of being run over by the phenomena, the appearances of this world. However, as has been mentioned, it entails exchanging the reality-oriented ego-vision for the inward gaze—like Oedipus upon tearing out his eyes, and the seer Tiresias, or Samson. When blinded to this world of appearance, the inner world of transparent, invisible psychic substance may open up, to be sighted. This change in the ego-Self relationship marks a release of the ego from the persona of social roles. It is the invisibility of allowing oneself to be a beggar, a wanderer, or an old fool—not in the social, but in the psychological sense.

In order to attain a sense of integrity in old life, rather than suffer severe despair, Erikson emphasizes the importance of reflection. The reflective instinct is specifically human, and determines “[t]he richness of the human psyche and its essential character,” says Jung. Reflexio, which means ‘bending back,’ “is a turning inwards, with the result that, instead of an instinctive action, there ensues ... reflection or deliberation.”

“What youth found and must find outside,” says Jung, “the man of life’s afternoon must find within himself.” Jung calls reflection “the cultural instinct par excellence.” Reflection on one’s life is instrumental at every developmental stage, unless it takes precedence over living one’s life. In old age, the proportions alter, so that reflection on one’s life becomes at least as important as merely living it.

When cut off from one’s inner depths, the personality shrinks as the ego dries up and becomes limited. A reflective state of mind, however, enables the depths to be reflected in the mirror of one’s Self and soul. Henry Miller tells us in Colossus of Maroussi that he did not know the meaning of peace until he visited the principal sanctuary of Asclepius at Epidaurus, where dream incubation began around 600 BCE. In the intense stillness and the great peace at Epidaurus “I heard the heart of the world beat. I know what the cure is: it is to give up, to relinquish, to surrender, so that our little hearts may beat in unison with the great heart of the world.” Henry Miller makes it clear that Epidaurus, principally, is an internal space, “the real place is in the heart, in every man’s heart, if he will but stop and search it.” 

Reflection and imagination constitute the intangible substance of soul, which Hillman suggests refers “to that unknown component which makes meaning possible,” and which he imagines “like a reflection in a flowing mirror.” (p. 177-8)

Erel Shalit (2011) The Cycle of Life: Themes and Tales of the Journey, Fisher King Press.

Dr. Shalit's most recent work is The Dream and its Amplification, Erel Shalit and Nancy Swift Furlotti, eds. (2013, Fisher King Press).

Dr. Shalit's books can be purchased directly from Fisher King Press, at Amazon, and Barnes and Noble

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Hitchcock’s horrendous Holocaust film

In Claude Lanzmann’s “The last of the unjust” we receive a rare glimpse into the perspective of Benjamin Murmelstein, the last head of the Jewish Council in Theresienstadt, whom many saw as a collaborator. Murmelstein comes across in all his complexity; a rabbi and intellectual, a learned scholar, knowledgeable but not fully reliable, telling his story, with conviction, exemplifying that all victims were martyrs, but not all martyrs were saints.

Theresienstadt. Women and children in prison uniforms.
Yad Vashem 

The cast of the children's opera Brundibar by Hans Krasa.
The opera was performed 55 times in Theresienstadt. 

Memory of the Camps” is the unbearable horror ‘movie’, narrated by Trevor Howard, that Hitchcock could not bear himself to watch. It truly IS unbearable.

It forces disgrace on the coldest of evil, and shame on Holocaust denial.

From 'Memory of the Camps' 

After you watch it, I suggest you listen to Patrick Gordon Walker reporting from the liberation of Bergen-Belsen. From the horrors of human evil and of human suffering, from the ashes of the mass-graves, spring the grains of Hope.

The Nazi evil of the Holocaust forced human beings to encounter the unimaginable, turning many of those who did survive the Shoah, that grand projection of shadow, of dehumanization, into mere silhouettes.

And yet, there were those that rose from the ashes, who fleshed out the silhouettes, who stepped out of the machinery of evil, forever wounded and scarred, yet embracing life.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Book Review: Requiem: A Tale of Exile and Return

Requiem: A Tale of Exile and Return by Erel Shalit

A review by Marcella London, author and poet

Erel Shalit’s Requiem: A Tale of Exile and Return touched me deeply, deep into the waters of my soul. From that ocean, I will choose to mention a few of the many emerging waves.

The book traces historical events, in which the longing for home can be felt: a real home, a collective home, and the personal and internal home that the author aims at, by means of the narrator of the book, Eliezer Shimeoni.

This is his private odyssey, but in distinction from Ulysses, he chooses not to relate to the siren’s song as merely a danger, but rather as a call to make the journey towards the soul’s home.

Erel Shalit’s narrative has a unique, fascinating and powerful style, which touches you strongly. Particularly, he has a way of leading the reader to grasp complicated historical processes with unusual ease.

Interwoven in a narrative of fiction and seeming non-fiction, we meet familiar figures from philosophy and literature, such as Kafka, who asked his friend Max Brod to burn his books after his death, a wish which, to the great fortune of humankind, the latter did not fulfill. In Requiem the author brings us both to Heine and the burning of books, and back to the fate of Hananiah ben Terdion in the second century.

The story of the second-hand bookshop reminded me of Borges’s famous library; Shimeoni also found refuge in the many old books: “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.”

I was carried away by the ruminations of the protagonist who wonders if he was “a mere actor in the play? What he believed to be his own, free and individual will, his personal determination, his choice and his decisions, his own peculiar thoughts, were they nothing but the manifestation of his allocated role, the text he had been given, none of his own creation?” And, “Without soul, there is no water and no liquid, no stream, no steam, and perhaps also no dream, he told himself, almost speaking out loudly. Soul does not have material substance,” says Shimeoni in the book, in his Zen-like reflections. And he is reminded of the film Smoke, based on a script by Paul Auster. The film tells the story of Sir Walter Raleigh who asked Queen Elizabeth in the 16th century, “How do you weigh smoke?” Clever as she was, she supposedly answered him, “How can you weigh smoke? It’s like weighing air or someone’s soul,” we are told. But the narrator contemplates and eventually provides us with the surprising answer.

In Requiem we are presented with two distinct styles of writing, so that we are almost led to believe that two different authors wrote the book. We find not only the narrator of a story, but also the spiritual and lyrical face of the author.

I highly recommend this fascinating and important book, which presents the reader with the simultaneously intellectual and emotional landscapes of Erel Shalit.

Marcela London, poet, author of The Beginning Was Longing (Hebrew, 2013)

TITLE: Requiem: A Tale of Exile and Return
AUTHOR: Erel Shalit
PUBLISHER: Fisher King Press
ISBN: 978-1926715032
Available in English and Hebrew Editions, at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and directly from Fisher King Press.