What is an American? What is a Jew?

One of my favorite parts of every semester in my American Literature survey is when we address the question, "What is an American?" I don't push much of a hard line on any of the competing definitions, but privately, I sometimes can admit to myself that we're losing (if "we" have not lost already: my troubled use of the collective pronoun "we" as exhibit A) what was exceptional about America. When faction flourishes, collective identity becomes impossible. In America, this question and its consequences have long been part of the national discourse.

Now it looks like Judaism is undergoing a similar struggle for identity. What does it mean to be Jewish? And just as important: who gets to say? The article in the New York Times today was, predictably, very much against the current effort underway from within Israel to stabilize and authorize Jewish identity. But then, there aren't very many observant Orthodox Jews writing for the Times, I suspect.

I guess I just love the honesty that this discussion forces. We have handled it poorly in America, especially within academia, I think. Rather than admit that "diversity" leads to dissolution of identity, we have hawked the line about diversity as if it were a panacea, ignoring the problems that result. However the issue turns out within Judaism, I give credit to the rabbinate for raising the stakes so high, and so publicly. They very well may alienate 85% of the now-Jewish world, but at least they'll know what it means to be Jewish. But then, I'm not altogether sure that such a result is really worthwhile--?

Is it "racist" to say that your mother has to be Jewish for you to qualify? What if America passed legislation to the same effect? And finally, does it matter whether we have clear identities, or not?

What Democracy Produces

If you aren't paying close and careful attention to the senate race in South Carolina between Jim DeMint and underdog-wonder Alvin Greene, you're missing one of the great comedies of our generation. Let me emphasize: this is really happening. Greene has been cleared of any charges--Democrats in particular were miffed by Greene's win in the primary, because he did not have the approval of party leaders. He raised the $10,000+ by himself, and there is no evidence of tampering.

Please take the time to listen to the latest interview featuring Greene, which aired on Charlotte's WBT News-Talk radio (1110 AM) this morning. Click this link and then search for "Alvin Greene." Or, if you click today, you'll probably just see the interviews and be able to listen from Keith Larson's main page. It's a genius interview, if you ask me; and although I give Larson points for making fun of Greene without Greene knowing it (or does he?), I want to emphasize again: this is really happening. Make sure to listen to the 7.12.10 interview.



I like the direction these guys are thinking--I'm not sure about Rudolph Steiner, but I love the idea of "sacred education"--but I'm much more interested, for now, in the technology. Does anyone know how to have a three-way video chat, and how to record it? [NOTE: if you click on this video and open it at YouTube, you'll see the third guy, missing from my frame for some reason as an "embed" on this blog.]

Interestingly enough, this is one of the few posts on this blog that is totally devoid of spiritual or sacred aims. Weird.


I think it's ironic, or at least unfortunate, that the head of the NAACP's name is "Ben Jealous."


Any Questions?

How we doing? Is anyone confused, or unclear, about anything?

If there are no questions, then, we'll proceed. Here's a story by an anti-Levinasian if there ever was one, Daniil Kharms. He was a Russian writer during the Stalinist period. He died of starvation in state custody after being arrested on suspicion of anti-Soviet activities. Here's what he says:
When I see a man, I want to smack him in the face. It's so much pleasure to pound on a man's face.

I sit in my room doing nothing.

Then--someone's come over to see me; he's knocking on my door. I say, "Come in!" He comes in and says, "Greetings! It's great that I've caught you at home." And that's when I knock in his face, and then I let my boot fly into his crotch, too. My guest falls over from the terrible pain. And I give him a heel to the eyes! Like, don't be whoring around when you're not invited!

Or else, there's also another way: I offer my guest to take a cup of tea with me. The guest accepts, sits down at the table, drinks his tea and starts telling me a story. I make it seems like I'm listening to him with fascination--I nod my head, sigh, make my eyes wide with surprise, and laugh. The guest, flattered by my attentions, gets more and more animated.

I calmly pour myself a whole cup of boiling water and throw the boiling water in the guest's face. My guest springs to his feet grasping his face. Then I tell him, "There is no more benevolence in my soul. Get out!" And I push my guest out the door.


Pascal's Bowling Alley Conversion

For Pascal, it happened between 10:30 pm and 12:30 am on the night of November 23, 1654. Thereafter, he kept a memoir of his experience, sewed into the inside of whatever coat was his main standby. What I love is that what Pascal wrote about his experience that night is not very considerable, and he never mentioned it to anyone; all we have is the text of what a servant discovered on the inside of his coat when he died -- commentary about the experience, but certainly not the experience itself:

The year of grace 1654
Monday, 23 November, feast of Saint Clement, Pope and Martyr, and of others in the Martyrology.
Eve of Saint Chrysogonus, Martyr and others.
From about half past ten in the evening until half past midnight.

'God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob,' not of philosophers and scholars.
Certainty, certainty, heartfelt, joy, peace.
God of Jesus Christ.
God of Jesus Christ.
My God and your God.
'Thy God shall be my God.'
The world forgotten, and everything except God.
He can only be found by the ways taught in the Gospels.
Greatness of the human soul.
'O righteous Father, the world had not known thee, but I have known thee.'
Joy, joy, joy, tears of joy.
I have cut myself off from him.
They have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters.
'My God wilt thou forsake me?'
Let me not be cut off from him for ever!
And this is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.'
Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ.
I have cut myself off from him, shunned him, denied him, crucified him.
Let me never be cut off from him!
He can only be kept by the ways taught in the Gospel.
Sweet and total renunciation.
Total submission to Jesus Christ and my director.
Everlasting joy in return for one day's effort on earth.
I will not forget thy word. Amen.