While I agree with most of what Ron Rosenbaum says here, I really wish he’d drop the request for a manifesto, even if it is half tongue-in-cheek. If agnostics deserve anything in this life, it’s a lack of manifestos and mission statements.
Also: Branding anything as “New” just indicates that it’s going to be stupid. Less, please.
I didn’t “get” this till I wrote it down:
I was with J in a — bus? like an abandoned school bus or van? Was he sitting in what had been the driver’s seat? It was dark in the front of the bus, or dark/light in big chiaroscuro stripes and squares. J wanted me to make it turn. I’m not sure why — I was afraid the alternating light and dark could cause him seizures — but I complied, reaching out with one hand and pulling in such a way that the place where we sat slowly, heavily revolved and spun. (Referent: The Time Machine‘s revolving nights and days.)
Fascinating: J sitting in “what had been the driver’s seat” and asking me to make his world go round with main physical force, to make the days and nights spin by. The bus is no longer going anywhere. i feel the pull in my arm and shoulder, as I do so many of my tasks for him.
Hitch on Fear, Sex,Mystery, Acting, Rigor Mortis… and more!
That’s news. I can’t tell you what was the last one I read, or when. The last one I vividly remember reading was this one — a strangely gripping and grieving tale of species extinction (discussed in the second half of this column). (Icepick, you’d love/hate this book — it’s by a Florida native and is about the destruction of Florida, summed up in the extinction of one bird.) That was in . . . omigod. November 2008. I’ve read a book since then. Haven’t I? [silence]
Anyway, I’ve been feeling the need to dive into a lake of words, if not the ocean, after splashing in Twitter’s backyard inflatable pool too long. Also, unpacking my books, and seeing all the ones I’ve never read but want to, has reawakened book-greed.
The book I read was Acedia & Me, by Kathleen Norris. (Thumbnail review: it’s disorganized and has a few dry, preachy stretches, but there are many startling insights in it.) It was a book I needed to read just now because acedia (a combination of sloth, indifference, and cynicism once regarded as the deadliest of sins) was a self-inflicted malady I was succumbing to. Maybe that’s the secret to reading a whole book: you have to need it.
But I think I also just needed to read a book. Maybe a lot more than just one. Maybe my attention was caught by this statement in Roger Ebert’s blog post about Twitter:
I’ve made a change recently. After writing my blog, “The quest for frisson” and reading two recent articles about internet addiction, I have looked hard at my own behavior. For some days now I have physically left the room with the computer in it, and settled down somewhere to read. All the old joy came back, and I realized the internet was stealing the reading of books away from me. Reading is calming, absorbing, and refreshing for the mind after hectic surfing. [...] I like the internet, but I don’t want to become its love slave.
The Internet was coming to feel like a shallow puddle in which I was fretfully seeking what can only be found in the depths. Next I’m going to dive into two books I had meant to read and discuss with @chickelit months ago: memoirs of the German resistance to Hitler by Helmuth von Moltke and his wife Freya.
Of course, an added factor besides frenzied Internet fragmentation — frequent interruption by the requirements of caregiving — makes it difficult for me to read a book (and easy to hop in and out of the tweetstream or blogiverse). Since childhood I have been notorious for getting lost in a book to the neglect and active exclusion of everything else. I’d bring my book to the dinner table and would have to be physically pried apart from it. The absorption a good book invites can be a torment when you keep getting torn away. But even the tenacity of longing for and preoccupation with a book may help to “knit up the ravell’d sleave” of a mind shredded by distractions.
A must, must, must read: Shelby Steele on why “world opinion” is smugly scapegoating Israel while Obama’s America largely stands by:
This is something new in the world, this almost complete segregation of Israel in the community of nations. And if Helen Thomas’s remarks were pathetic and ugly, didn’t they also point to the end game of this isolation effort: the nullification of Israel’s legitimacy as a nation? [...]
“World opinion” labors mightily to make Israel look like South Africa looked in its apartheid era—a nation beyond the moral pale. And it projects onto Israel the same sin that made apartheid South Africa so untouchable: white supremacy. Somehow “world opinion” has moved away from the old 20th century view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a complicated territorial dispute between two long-suffering peoples. Today the world puts its thumb on the scale for the Palestinians by demonizing the stronger and whiter Israel as essentially a colonial power committed to the “occupation” of a beleaguered Third World people. [...]
This [...] has become propriety itself, a form of good manners, a political correctness. [...]
One reason for this is that the entire Western world has suffered from a deficit of moral authority for decades now. Today we in the West are reluctant to use our full military might in war lest we seem imperialistic; we hesitate to enforce our borders lest we seem racist; we are reluctant to ask for assimilation from new immigrants lest we seem xenophobic; and we are pained to give Western Civilization primacy in our educational curricula lest we seem supremacist. Today the West lives on the defensive, the very legitimacy of our modern societies requiring constant dissociation from the sins of the Western past—racism, economic exploitation, imperialism and so on.
And on what really drives hatred of the West in the Muslim world:
[T]he Palestinians—and for that matter much of the Middle East—are driven to militancy and war not by legitimate complaints against Israel or the West but by an internalized sense of inferiority. [...] For better or for worse, modernity is now the measure of man.
And the quickest cover for inferiority is hatred. The problem is not me; it is them. And in my victimization I enjoy a moral and human grandiosity—no matter how smart and modern my enemy is, I have the innocence that defines victims. I may be poor but my hands are clean. Even my backwardness and poverty only reflect a moral superiority, while my enemy’s wealth proves his inhumanity.
In other words, my hatred is my self-esteem. This must have much to do with why Yasser Arafat rejected Ehud Barak’s famous Camp David offer of 2000 in which Israel offered more than 90% of what the Palestinians had demanded. To have accepted that offer would have been to forgo hatred as consolation and meaning. [...]
[T]his attraction to the consolations of hatred, is one of the world’s great problems today [...] The fervor for hatred as deliverance may not define the Muslim world, but it has become a drug that consoles elements of that world in the larger competition with the West.
Go read it, quick. Stop me before I quote more.
ADDED: I’ve observed before that people who can claim suffering, directly or by association, often love to have that absolve them of moral complexity: the wronged can do no wrong (we know this is wrong: look at the generational handing-down of child sexual abuse, for just one example). (No, I’m not immune to this temptation either — at least in its insidious, venial “gateway drug” form: the tendency to seize on excuses for being less than responsible.) And many who do not claim suffering themselves love to take up the cause of “the victimized innocents” — be it fetuses, animals, or oppressed peoples — at least in part because it justifies their expression of moral superiority and rage. I consider this opportunistic sanctification of victimhood one of the nastiest psychological dodges of this, or any, time.
. . . my Dad!
He and Mom are now in Chicago for the summer, where, she advises me, August would be the best time to visit because . . .
our class will be over by then. This young guy instructor (a Ph.D candidate at Notre Dame) has given us a mouthful of challenging readings, starting off with Supreme Court decisions on homosexual marriage and sodomy and including Bentham , Mill, Milton Friedman (!), and others. It’s called Problems of Justice in a Democratic Society. There are 7 of us in the class, mostly lively and articulate, and the instructor is bright, analytical and interesting.
He’s 92, she’s 86. I’m enjoying them so much in the present, and so inspired by them for the future. Especially if I can find such good company as they are to each other.
He’s a happy man. It seems almost like gilding the lily to wish him a Happy Father’s Day. But I do. I do.
It’s a lousy picture, but you get the picture. It’s rare to get all three agreeing to share one sleeping place, and one photo frame.
Buzzy, completely recovered, is king of the hill, still growing out his IV poodle cut that makes him look like Puss in Boots.