Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Levinas and Poe's Raven

I'm sitting in on an Emmanuel Levinas class this semester, simply for personal edification. And in reading his Existence and Existents (written while he was a prisoner of war) for the first time, I'm amazed at how largely the concept of the "there is" figures into Levinas's early, pre-Totality and Infinity work. There is not, however, any trace of what will become the fundamentally Levinasian notion of the face-to-face. But it's filled with literary references and illusions -- Rimbaud, Shakespeare, Racine, Baudelaire, Homer, Blanchot -- that, for me, ground an otherwise dense work. One subtle reference to Edgar Allen Poe is particularly intriguing, and must have been personally resonant for Levinas, as he sat as a prisoner of war:

"If death is nothingness, it is not nothingness pure and simple; it still has the reality of a chance that was lost. The 'nevermore' hovers about like a raven in the dismal night, like a reality in nothingness. The incompleteness of this evanescence is manifest in the regret which accompanies it. . . " (77).

Even death, it seems, for Levinas, is too nuanced to be simply "nothingness."

Monday, August 21, 2006

Dining With Hitler

I just read a short article about a new restaurant that opened in India called Hitler's Cross, named after Adolf Hitler and promoted with posters showing the German leader and Nazi swastikas. India's small Jewish community, of course, is outraged.

“This place is not about wars or crimes, but where people come to relax and enjoy a meal,” said restaurant manager Fatima Kabani, adding that they were planning to turn the eatery’s name into a brand with more branches in Mumbai.

“We wanted to be different. This is one name that will stay in people’s minds,” owner Punit Shablok told Reuters. “We are not promoting Hitler. But we want to tell people we are different in the way he was different.” Different? Not the word I would use to describe Hitler, or this restaurant.

Now, seriously. I can't even comment on this creepy brand of anti-Semitism.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

The Corruptibility of Günter Grass

Today's New York Times has two op-ed pieces on the unfortunate revelation of Günter Grass's sordid Nazi background: Daniel Kehlmann's "A Prisoner of the Nobel" and Peter Gay's "The Fictions of Günter Grass." As if being any kind of Nazi isn't bad enough, Grass was apparently part of the Waffen SS, who played a particularly ugly role in the Holocaust. Kehlmann's piece raises an interesting point:

"His participation in Hitler’s elite corps could have been seen as youthful foolishness, but his silence over so many years is another matter. And naturally, there are consequences for Germany’s image in the world. When even the most outspoken German moralist wore the uniform of murderers, one might ask whether there is a single guiltless German in this generation."

In the world of Levinasian ethics one might say that Grass is doubly responsible for his role in the Holocaust: first for the direct action, and second for his concealment of that action -- the concealment of the action continues and extends it, perpetuates its legacy. Both articles point out that had Grass come forward about his past in 1959 after the publication of The Tin Drum, perhaps he could now retain some of his well-deserved literary respect. But clearly we will never view Grass, newly Nobel prize-less, in the same way.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Learning About the Holocaust in Iran

Today the Holocaust cartoon exhibit opened in Tehran, Iran. I still haven't figured out how this is an acceptable response to the Danish cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad nearly a year ago. Apparently 50 people attended the exhibit today, and one 23-year-old woman remarked: "I came to learn more about the roots of the Holocaust and the basis of Israel's emergence."

I nearly choked on a piece of candy I was eating when I read that. Since when can one learn anything truthful about Israel, Jews, or the Holocaust in an Islamic country, particularly one whose president has essentially called the Holocaust a fiction? It would be like going to the Duke Lacrosse team for lesson on diversity and how to treat women.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Busy Times

I'm sorry that there has been no action around here lately. I'm still in the process of moving, and planning my syllabus, and studying Italian, and . . . but I'll be back soon.