Monday, May 28, 2007

After Me

Apres Moi . . .

Be afraid of the lame, they'll inherit your legs
Be afraid of the old, they'll inherit your souls
Be afraid of the cold, they'll inherit your blood
Apres moi le deluge, after me comes the flood

I must go on standing
You can't break that which isn't yours
I must go on standing
I'm not my own, It's not my choice

Fevrale dostat chernil i plakat
Pisat O Fevrale navsnryd
Poka grohochushaya slyakot
Vesnoyu charnoyu gorit.

Regina Spektor rocks. Gotta love a bronx girl by way of Moscow. And I detect a Magen David around her neck . . .

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Pursuit of a Soul

Tonight, I am captivated by something Simone Weil once wrote, and which I was reminded of when I was browsing Casey's blog (it's his "favorite quote"):

God wears himself out through the infinite thickness of time and space in order to reach the soul and to capitvate it. If it allows a pure and utter consent (though brief as a lightning flash) to be torn from it, then God conquers that soul. And when it has become entirely his he abandons it. He leaves it completely alone and it has in its turn, but gropingly, to cross the infinite thickness of time and space in search of him whom it loves. It is thus that the soul, starting from the opposite end, makes the same journey that God made towards it. And that is the cross.
I've always loved Simone Weil, not because I agree with everything she said or did (the girl was a bit nuts, and I'm not just talking about her eating disorders), but because of how passionate and mystical she is, and because I love sensing those kinds of things in a person's language.

And Weil is particularly interesting to me because she embarked, in some sense, on a journey opposite mine. I move from Christianity to Judaism, and she converted to Christianity (she was born into an agnostic Jewish family). Sometimes I do wonder, however, whether we move not in opposite directions at all . . .

Words are . . . everything. And not always because of what they represent, or what they brazenly claim to evoke, but because of how they taste . . . feel . . . sound. I like words that get under my skin and make my heart race. I like combinations of words that leave me feeling chilled. I live for moments within language that cause me, as I sit alone late at night, to close my eyes, smile to myself, draw the palms of my hands up to my cheeks, and press inward with them.

Of course I'd read this quote before, though I can't at the moment recall in which of Weil's works I initially discovered it. But it earned my special reaction tonight as I considered it. It makes me think of Levinas's comments about atheism, and how the path to G-d often takes one through atheism before a true experience of the divine can be embraced. I want to read Weil's moment at which the soul is alone, groping its way back to G-d, as atheism. Perhaps only for this moment.

And for tonight, I think what I love about this is the vision of a god who would wear himself out in pursuit of one soul. And yet, of course, I know that this says much more about me, and the divine entity whom I would like to envision in the heavens, than it does about anything, or anyone, else.

Friday, May 18, 2007

A Buberian Dilemma

So, I was completely startled today when I went to and saw Martin Buber and Elle Woods (Legally Blonde), together, and staring straight at me. The occasion for such a bizarre (gotta love Photoshop) picture was an article by Elisa Albert, in which she makes a case for Elle Woods as the ultimate example of Buberian ethics -- a comparison she makes only partially tongue-in-cheek.

Yeah, it sounds totally cheesy, but it was a pretty good article. Then again, anyone who knows me also knows my obsession with German-Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, and my secret, shameful enjoyment of the Legally Blonde movies -- something about a hot blonde with brains, a cute dog, and an ability to strategize appeals to me for some odd reason. And, okay, I love pink, though I would never admit it.

But back to Buber. After reading the article, I went back to look at some essays on Buber's whole I-Thou concept. According to Buber (in this is a super condensed interpretation), the way we relate to the world can be broken down into either I-Thou or I-It relationships. The former, of course, is what we ought to strive for. Being in an I-Thou relationship with someone or something means that we are experiencing them in a way similar to Levinas's face-to-face encounter.

It is possible, notes Buber, to place ourselves completely into a relationship, to truly understand and "be there" with another person, without masks, pretenses, even without words. Such a moment of relating is called "I-Thou." Each person comes to such a relationship without preconditions. The bond thus created enlarges each person, and each person responds by trying to enhance the other person. The result is true dialogue, true sharing.
I love I-Thou relationships. True -- one rarely experiences them, and they are never sustained indefinitely, but they are moments to live for.

Finally, Buber offers us a Jewish insight into the I-Thou relationship. After our redemption from Egypt, we as a people encountered God. We were available and open, and the Sinai moment was an I-Thou relationship for an entire people and for each individual. The Torah, the prophets, and our rabbinic texts were all written by humans expressing the I-Thou relationship with the Eternal Thou. By reading those texts and being available to the relationship inherent in them, it is also possible for us to make ourselves available for the I-Thou experience with the Eternal Thou. We must come without precondition, without expectation because that would already attempt to limit our relationship partner, God, and thus create an I-It moment. If we try to analyze the text, we again create an I-It relationship because analysis places ourselves outside of the dialogue, as an observer and not a total participant.

Okay, so as I'm reading this, particularly the last line, it occurs to me that, given the nature of my work and the significance of language to all that I do, I fear that I have made a profession of cultivating I-It relationships. Great, just what I want to do with my life. I wonder if there is a way out of this Buberian dilemma . . .

Thursday, May 10, 2007


I just did something lovely. I finished a novel that I was reading for pleasure, one that had nothing to do with any projects I'm working on. I finished J.M. Coetzee's Disgrace and now I am a huge Coetzee fan -- definitely in my top ten favorite writers of all time. And, I should say, it's tough to make it onto my top ten list if you're not a Jewish writer, but Coetzee joins two other lucky non-Jews on my list: Jose Saramago and Toni Morrison. I really did not try to include Nobel prize-winners, but I guess they won for a reason . . .

I mentioned this to my dissertation advisor yesterday when we were having lunch, and he told me that Coetzee was once his teacher at Buffalo, but that he had left the university "in disgrace." If you aren't familiar with the novel Disgrace it's about that very subject. Such strange little connections I'm always discovering . . . all over the place . . . in the likeliest, and unlikeliest, of places.

On my list to read this week:

Allegra Goodman's Intuition
Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go

Monday, May 07, 2007

How Many Jews Does it Take to Change a Lightbulb?

As usual, I've cross-posted over at

My roommate is my newest blogging muse. She delights in feeding me information that I can turn into blog posts. And I, in turn, take great joy in accepting her great ideas and passing them off as my own.

So, a few nights ago she came downstairs with her Smithsonian magazine in hand to show me an article on Thomas Edison and the evolution of the lightbulb. Apparently, incandescent bulbs are for bad people who don't care about the earth. But compact flourescent light (CFL) bulbs (they're the ones that look like squigly, corkskrew things) are, at least for now, the bulb-of-choice for those who are "environmentally conscious."

For those of you who are concerned: No, my roommate and I do not often commune to discuss the technological advancement of light sources, though we have been known to argue about the syntactical nuances of a two-syllable word for an ungodly amount of time. On a good night, though, we realize how nerdy we are and quickly shift to a discussion of whether skinny jeans are really a good look for anyone.

She thought I would find the article amusing, though, because it highlighted a nationwide campaign launched by the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life called "How Many Jews Does it Take to Change a Lightbulb?" The campaign is geared toward getting Jewish communities to be more environmentally aware. It's an attempt at proselytization, so to speak -- urging incandescent-bulb-using Jews (and others) to convert to the CFL bulb belief system. It's a cool idea, and very tikkun olam, which I am ALL about.

All good stuff. The problem? I am not "environmentally conscious," it seems. You either are, or you aren't. Yes, I should be. But I'm not.

My roommate, however, is the recycler extraordinairre, queen of the environmentally aware. I, on the other hand, drink a bottle of water every day, and when I am done I throw it in the trash. I am environmentally challenged. I gripe when my roommate's gigantic box of "stuff to be recycled" takes up too much space in our office. I snarl when she goes through the house trading out my incandescent bulbs for her CFL bulbs. I recoil at countless empty catfood tins in the sink, awaiting their journey into her recycling bag.

And yet, I feel guilty . . .

But she drives an SUV, and I do not. It's a trade-off. And I do charity work when I can, so it must even out, right?

And here's my loophole: apparently (according to the Smithsonian piece), these CFL bulbs have mercury issues, which means you don't want them anywhere near the kitchen where food is being prepared -- if the light were to somehow get bumped, you would end up with a dusting of mercury all over your kitchen counter. That's great -- save the ozone, kill the individual, slowly, over time. Death by mercury poisoning.

But then I read this:

Our message is as easy as changing a light bulb: If you could conserve energy and help stop global warming in one simple step, wouldn't you? CFLs use up to 75% less energy than incandescent light bulbs, while lasting approximately eight times longer. This means less production of greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution, and toxic waste. The average CFL will save its owner at least $55 in energy costs over the lifetime of the bulb! Your CFL will pay for itself in energy savings within two to three months (based on a 5-hour/day use and average electricity costs.) If every U.S. household replaced one bulb with a CFL, it would have the same impact as removing 1.3 million cars from the road.

So the ethical dilemma is not a new one: Do I do what will benefit me and my family, or do I take the high road and change out my bulbs in order to remove 1.3 million cars from the road?

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

The Root of All Evil: Don't Bite Too Hard

You can find my most recent blog entry on candy with razor blades, religion, and the root of all evil here.