Friday, December 19, 2008

Chanukah Sameach!

Chanukah begins this weekend, but instead of lighting candles, I will be driving from Texas to California, helping someone move to Los Angeles. These are happy times, and they are only getting happier...despite the prospect of spending 22 hours on the road. I had hoped to post my virtual menorah again, but I couldn't get it to work this year for some reason. Then again, I suppose it's not really a menorah, but rather a chanukiah.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Crocodiles and Alligators

I just got back from spending a few days in Texas, and on the flight home I read Aryeh Lev Stollman's collection of stories The Dialogues of Time and Entropy (2003). I have loved Stollman's work ever since I read his novel The Far Euphrates, which I plan to teach in my Ethics and the Holocaust seminar next quarter. His voice is unique, and his narratives are deeply philosophical, scientific, and religious--a strange but alluring combination. Lately, in particular, I am drawn to writers who tell stories that are heavy with loss, but are simultaneously aware of their incapacities to evoke the veryloss they attempt to capture in their work. Stollman does loss in a way that no other writer, to my recollection, does it. Often when I finish one of his stories, I feel a thickness in my chest, an aching of sorts. And I don't know why.

But as much as I love Stollman's work, I don't tend to underline as much as I usually do in works that move me intellectually or spiritually. But there is the occasional one-liner that gets to me in regard to Stollman. In "New Memories," for example, a father tries to show his son the difference between a crocodile and an alligator: "Alexander," he says, "most people can't tell the difference between things. People only see what they know."

When I first read this, I thought to myself, yes, that is true. Certain people in my family, for instance, seem to see only what they have grown up with in regard to the nature of G-d, religion, spirituality, and, of course, politics. But the terrifying moment comes when I realize that I, too, must necessarily have such blindspots.

And yet the so-called quest of the so-called scholar is the pursuit of knowledge and knowing--it's about learning to distinguish the subtle nuances that ripple through every segment of life and living. It's about learning to see the difference between crocodiles and alligators. And I do, in fact, see all those nuances. But what I have come to learn is that often these nuances, and the knowledge they impart to me, are as blinding as the inadequacies that render others inable to see anything other than what they know.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

We Are Second Generation

Last night, I watched an Israeli film called Jellyfish that was quite good. It's a film by Etgar Keret, a noteworthy voice in Israeli fiction and cinema, and his wife Shira Geffen. One might expect an Israeli film to be heavy with explicit or implicit references to Israeli politics, Jewish culture, or Judaism. But these elements were completely absent in a film about three women who only happen to live in Israel, and who only happen to speak Hebrew. That's about it--there's certainly a universal kind of flair to it.

I'm interested in this idea of universality as it pertains to literature and film, and the reason for this stems from a discussion I had with my Jewish American Fiction class last week about Nathan Englander's short story "The Twenty-Seventh Man," which concerns 27 Jewish writers rounded up and executed by Stalin. Englander claims that:

"The most important thing for me in this collection is universality and people being able to connect with the characters. I don't think a work of fiction, just because it's about a very specific group, shouldn't have universal themes. I have no interest in a fiction that isn't universal; if it's not universal, then it's not functioning. I'm not making any claims of success, but I can promise you if they're functioning, the stories are more about the setting facilitating the subtext than vice versa."

I was shocked at how invested the students seemed to be in whether a work of fiction should be universal, first of all, and, second, whether a story that contains predominately Jewish characters and uses a smattering of Yiddish and Hebrew terms can even be called universal. The film Jellyfish, however, takes this to another level, by sidestepping any particularist kinds of approaches and successfully stripping the plot and characters of any tell-tale signs of Jewishness.

Except in one very brief but fraught instance. Near the end of the film, one woman tells another woman that her parents were Holocaust survivors. The second woman responds: "You're second-generation?" The first woman shrugs, and says, "We're all second generation of something."

And for some reason, this did not rub me the wrong way. Usually I bristle at the suggestion that the Holocaust is just one of many tragedies, and that it is not in any way unique. But this realization--We're all second generation of something--seems to speak more to the sense of entitlement that we often give ourselves based on our own particular experiences, or more accurately, the experiences of those close to us. The statement has less to do with the Holocaust, and more to do with the ways in which people often appropriate the histories of their parents as a way of formulating their own identity.
This not to say that people whose parents are Holocaust survivors, Vietnam Veterans, or anything else do not have a unique sense of what it means to grow up with parents who have sustained traumas and injuries. But there is something to be said about moving past the narcissism of one's own experiences--imagined or otherwise--and becoming accountable for the place one occupies in the here and now.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Conflict and the Bearing of Bodies

A couple of weeks ago I was able to hear author Ehud Havazelet talk about his newest novel, Bearing the Body. Much like his novel, the author had an air of sadness and loss that hung about him. The combination of sorrow, creativity, and critical thinking is one I'm typically drawn to, even if I don't always know what to do with it. But regardless, there was something very honest about Havazelet, and something that felt emotionally raw in everything he said.

I was impressed with both of his talks for many reasons, but what I found most compelling is the sense I got of his own conflict with religion (Judaism) and the religious traditions he grew up with. Havazelet left the ways of Jewish Orthodoxy, but they have left their imprint on him and they color his writing in a way that makes one wonder whether he does not love them after all. Perhaps he is only disappointed with the false promises they imply. It's true: the rules and rituals meant to bind us together as a community can quickly become instruments of exclusion. They create shame where only encouragement should be. They teach us to look outside of our community and see people who are enemies; they teach us to look inside of our community to determine who is best at following the rules, rather than who is best at loving.

"Autobiography must be in part fiction," Havazelet said in his noon seminar. And, "Art must have some opposition in it." I am full of opposition; I wonder if that makes me a work of art. For a story to be good, I've heard it said, there must be conflict and resolution. But in reality, we know little of resolutions; all we know is conflict, unless we are blind enough to close our eyes to it.
Even the body itself is constantly in conflict, both dying and alive in any and every moment. And when we are overcome with sadness or fear or anxiety, the body betrays us with fatigue, headache, upset stomach, or a number of other physical afflictions. I wonder, then, how do we bear the body? And what is it that bears the body?

Monday, November 10, 2008

New Jewish Comics

I've added a new link to my blogroll: EV Comics, which showcases the comics work of Eli Valley, and often deals with Jewish themes. Check it...

Sunday, November 09, 2008

For the Love of God

My Shofar review of Alicia Suskin Ostriker's new book, For the Love of God: The Bible as an Open Book, is now online. Ostriker continues to be one of my favorite writers/thinkers of all time...

Friday, November 07, 2008

Perverse Egalitarianism on The First Professorial-American President

My peeps over at Perverse Egalitarianism have now made me laugh twice with their witty little explanation of what they call the "first professorial-American president."

At the end of it, they write:

Now Professorial-Americans look to the future with hope again - if you could only see them yesterday some waving energetically from the balconies of their ivory towers, some excitedly drafting a paper on the significance of the commas in Presidential speeches, some plotting attempts at funny blogging the day after. Indeed, a great day for “the prof” - as they like to be called - a great day for the country that finally comes to terms with its dark anti-professorial past and is eager to move on…

Read it all (and don't forget the comments...equally funny).

Monday, November 03, 2008

The Predatory Dream

I'm reading Ehud Havazelet's Bearing the Body right now, both for pleasure and in preparation to teach it to my Jewish American Fiction class this week. I had originally intended to teach his second collection of short stories, Like Never Before, but found it was out of print. I don't understand why this is so--I liked it so much that I cannot imagine it not going into reprint after reprint. But this is the way it is. Bearing the Body, however, Havazelet's first novel, is even better, and I'm excited because Havazelet will actually be speaking at my university this week as well.

The plot and characters are extremely well-developed, but I think it's the undertones of loss, sorrow, and memory that are the most compelling. And it feels very, very honest. There's something emotionally raw about it that is appealing not on the basis of pathos, but because it gives one the sense that, yes, that's exactly how things are. About a third of the way through I read the following:

The dream had the placidity of memory--not to say memory wasn't painful, Sol would be the last, ever, to claim that. But it was contained, bounded by event, and, most of the time, recollection was a matter of choice. Not like dreams, which knew where to find you, how to get in. (70).

I'm struck by two things in particular. First, is the idea that memory is the product of a decision one makes--in other words, that I can choose either to entertain a memory or to suppress it. I tend not to be very good at silencing memories when they surface; I have a tendency to let them run their course and finish in whatever way they will, whether that is joy or tears. So the idea that choice is connected to memories is an interesting one.

Second, and more fascinating for me, is the idea of the dream as a kind of night-time predator--something that comes looking for you when you are most vulnerable. No doubt some dreams are merely the product of the memories we willfully suppress in waking moments. But often we don't know what they are and where they come from; they are the ultimate predator.

I can relate to this, of course, given the fact that the initial impetus for this blog was my fascination with dreams and visions that begin to take shape in the darkness but continue to bloom in daylight. I have mentioned before that I often experience night terrors--moments when I awake during the night and see a figure who has come to kill me. My predatory dreams are often themselves full of predators, whether it is a dark figure with murder on his mind, or (like last night) a giant raccoon perched on my dresser, staring at me with his teeth and claws bared.

I once knew someone who said that he didn't dream, that he had never in his life dreamed a dream in the darkness of night-time sleep. I wonder why dreams prey on some and not others.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Real Jews Vote for McCain: On Liberal Trash and Trendy Jews

I've been virtually paralyzed for the past few days because of a text message exchange I had with someone I have known my entire life (let's call him G). It's disturbing on multiple levels, including but not limited to: the use of religious terms to sanction a hateful viewpoint; the suggestion that one is not a real Jew if he/she defends Obama; the regurgitation of anti-Obama rhetoric that has already been debunked; and the use of personal insults.

I've pasted the exchange below, just because it's so incredible. I was careful to preserve all of the grammatical and spelling errors for greater authenticity.

G: Hi. Are u keeping up with all the news about barrack obama having a lot of pro Palestine friends.

Me: It’s mostly bullsh-t coming from hate groups from what I understand.

G: It seems like he has to many friends that hate Israel.

Me: Who?

G: Rashid khalidi. Who has known obama for 12 years. And also obama and ayers donated money to khalidis organization. Also obama had to give money bk to 39 doners from palistine.

G: Rashid is a PLO advisor, which is a extreme group that spreads anti Semitism. He is now a college professor , Lol. How cme these wierdos like William ayers are allowed to teach in a college and spread their hate agenda. These people take advantage of young , naïve college students who look up to them,

Me: My understanding is that in some cases they have a past that is not their present. They wouldn’t be allowed to teach that stuff. Like when UCLA fired angela davis. And DePaul letting Finkelstein go.

G: Obama was at a going away party for khalidi in 2004. At that same party a young Palestine girl read a poem that rejoiced in the death of jews. That isn’t the past. That is the present and obama went to a muslim school frm the ages of 6 to 10 in Indonesia. He is what he is. Only liberal trash will try to debate and defend obama.

G: I also have a past but I have repented and said what I have done was wrong. Obama has never once said that he was wrong, and ayers to this day believes w (missing)

Me: A lot of these politicians are in bed with the same people—they all want their money.

G: Obama and Ayers shared an office. Lol. That’s like [personal name removed] trying to say that he is not friends with [name removed]. I guess it would be okay to let a child molester babysit a 8 year old girl, as long as he hadn’t done any molesting since 2002.

Me: People are just getting angry and hateful on both sides. That’s even scarier than Obama’s alleged terrorist ties.

G: Unfortunately, for some people being a jew is just a trend.

I love the last line. He tried to appeal to me on the basis of my "Jewishness", and when that didn't work, accused me of being a Jew only because it's trendy. A real Jew, he seems to be saying, would not vote for Obama. I wonder if G knows that 75% of Jews are voting for Obama? I also derive great pleasure from the insinuation that anybody who does not hold the same opinion as G is "liberal trash."
I thought my minimal responses would diffuse what threatened to be a barrage of nasty missives sent my way, but I should have known better than to play with fire. After all, this is the same person who once said to me, in anger, that Hitler should have finished the Jews. This is also the person who has never set foot in a college classroom and consequently despises those who do. But saddest of all, this is also a person who speaks very freely about his Christianity and even uses his faith as the basis for his political hate talk. Somehow, I don't think Jesus would be cool with this.

Then again, I've also known this person to be kind, sensitive, and compassionate. I wonder if it is politics--or the fear that often motivates the hateful rhetoric we call politics--that turn good people into monsters, or whether it simply reveals what was there all along.

The kicker (or the irony, depending on how you look at it): I had been leaning more toward McCain (sans Palin) until this exchange. Hey, G, you're doing damage to the cause, man.

Friday, October 17, 2008

You Betcha?

I haven't yet decided how I'm going to vote, and it's rare for me to get political on this blog. But I do know one thing: Sarah Palin bothers me on a number of fundamental levels.

Here's what some Jewish women have had to say about her:

“In the same way I resent her co-opting a feminist message in order to achieve a retrograde goal, I resent her pandering to the insecurities of American Jews,” said Ayelet Waldman, a Berkeley, Calif.-based writer who has been volunteering full time with the Obama campaign.

“She’s the anti-wonk, the anti-intellectual, someone who doesn’t want to brook differences of opinion,” said Susan Weidman Schneider, the editor of Lilith, another Jewish feminist journal. “She is certainly not someone with whom I or other Jewish women I know would identify. There’s a real sense of alienation.”

The down-home charm that Palin projects in lieu of a focus on nuance or detail is particularly off-putting for many Jewish women, who are likely to be highly educated, urban, and upper-middle class. “Most Jewish feminists are not part of the class base that she’s meant to appeal to,” said Alisa Solomon, a professor of journalism at Columbia University. “So when she’s deliberately dropping her ‘g’s and throwing out her ‘you betchas,’ that doesn’t appeal to us. We’re not the audience for it.”

But, perhaps hewing again to class lines, Lynne Bermont, a professor at New York University who lives on Manhattan’s Upper West Side and describes herself as a fairly observant Conservative Jew, told the Forward that, “as a Jewish woman, I am most proud to be part of a tradition that valorizes ethical integrity and intellectual activity… Sarah Palin is antithetical to all of these values.”

To be fair, the article also points out that there is a small percentage of Jewish women who are happy with Sarah Palin, but these women tend to come from Orthodox communities.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Palin and the Feminists

Nicholas D. Kristof for the New York Times:

"There is something about reproductive health — maybe the sex part — that makes some Americans froth and go crazy. We see it in the opposition to condoms to curb AIDS in Africa and in the insistence on abstinence-only sex education in American classrooms (one reason American teenage pregnancy rates are more than double those in Canada). And we see it in the decision of some towns — like Wasilla, Alaska, when Sarah Palin was mayor there — to bill rape victims for the kits used to gather evidence of sex crimes. In most places, police departments pay for rape kits, which cost hundreds of dollars, but while Ms. Palin was mayor of Wasilla, the town decided to save money by billing rape victims."

Somebody--an intelligent male who also happens to be a more conservative thinker--recently said to me, "Where are all the feminists when it comes to Sarah Palin? Shouldn't the feminists be supporting her?" Well, anyone who makes rape victims pay for their own rape kits is no feminist, and this is just one of many reasons why not all women see Palin as someone who is on their side.

My Two Cents Regarding the Torah

I talked Torah with Luke Ford and Joey Kurtzman (formerly of last week. In reading some of the transcripts, it sounds more like a sitcom than a Torah discussion.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Meditation Without Tashlich

Tonight is the eve of Rosh Hashanah. For the past four years, I have said Tashlich with Jews from a West Lafayette, Indiana shul, standing atop the bridge over the Wabash River. But I am new to this area, and haven't taken the time to discover a place and people with whom I can seek G-d's forgiveness and forgetfulness.

I have nowhere to go to throw my sins away tomorrow—no water to toss bread into, no current to sweep away my soggy symbolic sins. Maybe I will wander down to the ocean, walk myself through rituals and prayers that are not completely mine, but which possess me entirely. I am both captive to and captivated by your promises, frail though they might feel.

And perhaps this is why we sometimes terrorize those whom we mean only to love. From whence do jealous rages and ridiculous insecurities come? Petty and pathetic, weak and fearful, we sometimes lie prostrate before our own shortcomings, begging them to wrap themselves around us, when really we should be showing them what it means to love toughly.

Who is like You, God, who removes iniquity and overlooks transgression of the remainder of His inheritance. He doesn't remain angry forever because He desires kindness. He will return and He will be merciful to us, and He will conquer our iniquities, and He will cast them into the depths of the seas.

Give truth to Jacob, kindness to Abraham like that you swore to our ancestors from long ago.
From the straits I called upon God, God answered me with expansiveness. God is with me, I will not be afraid, what can man do to me? God is with me to help me, and I will see my foes (annihilated). It is better to take refuge in God than to trust in man. It is better to take refuge in God, that to rely on nobles.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Jewishness: The Inside and the Outside

My transition from living in West Lafayette, Indiana to living in Santa Monica, California has not been easy. But now that I'm finally settled into my new place, I've been able to finish a few novels that I started over the past month or so. Last night, I finished Adam Mansbach's The End of the Jews. I have mixed feelings about it. In some respects it is brilliant--for example, the way in which the three central characters (an old Jewish novelist, his hip-hop loving graffitti artist grandson, and Nina--a young Jewish woman/photographer from former Czechoslavakia) question what it actually means to be Jewish these days. I'm also interested in the way he juxtaposes Jewish and black identity in America.

But I wonder if he is saying something about identity in general, and the ways in which it bends and sometimes even breaks down in what one character calls America, "the culture of the cheeseburger." Nina, for instance, right before the collapse of Communism in Czechoslavakia, meets a jazz trio comprised of three African American men as they are traveling through Eastern Europe. She takes their photographs, and they end up getting her out of Czechoslavakia. She fits well with the group, and the men jokingly suggest that she is "Creole, three generations back."

Later, when she applies for admission to Hunter College, she checks the box next to "Black" on her application, and is awarded a scholarship for young black photographers. We see this duplicity--despite her ignorance (coming from Czechoslavakia) regarding what it meant to be black in America--of course, as horrendous. "If you got a soulful type of vibe," she tells the grandson at one point, as he deals with the fallout of being a Jew who writes about hip-hop, "you can understand the greatness and the sophistacation of any tradition. . . . Art is universal...We gotta deal with that" (187).

On some level it seems rather silly. Thinking one is black or even being accepted into a black community does not make one black. But is it the same, I wonder, with Jewishness? I can convert to Judiasm, for example, but there is no conversion process that will render me an African American. There are different ways of being Jewish--one can be a convert to Judaism and claim Jewishness; or one can be born into an ethnically Jewish family.

But can one identify him or herself as being Jewish if both of these categories are absent? I want to say that it is possible, but not unless the identification is accompanied by a certain respect for what can never be known, in the absence of an ethnic component. I guess such a person is like the Mobius strip, in that s/he is both inside and outside of Jewishness?

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Levinas in Seattle

I'm in Seattle for a few days for the North American Levinas Society conference. Because the conference is on campus, rather than in a hotel, all of the participants are staying in residence halls. Basically, I'm in a college dorm room. It sounds bad, but it's really a good thing.

I've realized something. I think better thoughts and get more work done when I am not surrounded by excessive things and gigantic spaces. I did something I told myself I wouldn't do: I came to the conference without having finished my presentation. And, somehow, enclosed in this small, bare space with none of my "things" to distract me, everything has come into focus, and I am excited about Levinas's work and my presentation on his ideas regarding ritual.

I would probably get more writing done if I sold most of my possessions and moved into an empty dorm room.

More on Levinas, later . . .

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Unruly Jews

This weekend I had friends in town, and so we did lots of touristy LA things, including Venice Beach. Considering all of the blaring music, dogs, obscenely visible body parts, crack pipe vendors, homeless street performers, and funnel cake, it was sensory overload, to say the least. Anything goes in Venice Beach, literally. So it was surprising to see a little Orthodox shul right there on the boardwalk, next to a dicey clothing store named Unruly.

But then I recalled reading this a few weeks ago:

Worshipers say workers in the shop blast music on Saturday mornings, overwhelming the religious service held with the door open to the boardwalk. When the worshipers ask for the music to be lowered for an hour, they are met with hostility, they say, some of it smacking of anti-Semitism. Once in a while, the police are called. Further, there have been occasions when mannequins dressed in G-strings and other clothes that are decidedly not part of the customary wardrobe of Orthodox Jews have been placed on the synagogue's property line - as a matter of provocation, some members suggest.

Yes, this is terrible. But there's also something terribly funny and ridiculous about the whole thing. It makes me want to experience it for myself...

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Back of God

I'm working on a review of Alicia Ostriker's For the Love of God: The Bible as an Open Book, and am reminded of a certain passage in Exodus:
See, there is a place near me. Station yourself on the rock and as my Presence passes by, I will place you in a cleft of the rock and shield you with my hand until I have passed. Then I will take my hand away and you will see my back; but my face cannot be seen. (Exodus 33:18-23)

Ostriker writes:

"The imagery is suggestively both sexual and mystical. I believe that the 'back' of God, whose beauty and terror would destroy us at close quarters, may be apprehended through the hints, indirections, and subtleties of poetry and storytelling" (7).

Given my own never-ending fascination with Emmanuel Levinas's idea of the face-to-face encounter, and the importance of learning what it means to "see" the face of the Other, the juxtaposition here of G-d's face and back is troublesome. Are we being shielded from the literal face of G-d because it would distract us from seeing and sensing his presence? Are we not yet ready to see his face?

But maybe this is one more prophetic moment for which the Hebrew bible has become notorious. Is it possible that G-d's face, here, cannot be seen because the G-d that we have created and placed in the heavens is always already a reflection of our own failings? I wonder if the prophetic moment, here, rests not in the suggestion that G-d is hiding his face, but in the possibility that we cannot see it. And if we cannot see it, are we not responsible? Responsible for everything?

Or, perhaps there is no face--who, then, is this G-d without a face? I can almost buy into this possibility. Ostriker's reading of this passage reveals all of its human elements: sexuality, beauty, terror, ambiguity, storytelling. One wonders whether this passage is not, on some level, also an indictment of those who have lost sight of the face of the human Other, and, further, whether the pathway to repair lies solely in the art of storytelling.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

All the Textures of Sadness

I'm halfway through Janette Turner Hospital's Due Preparations for the Plague, and I'm forever indebted to the person who recommended it to me. Its pieces are all of loss and trauma, terror and obsession, memory and forgetting, absence and presence, gaps and silences. The language of midrash is all over it.

But every time I say that about a book--that is, every time I read midrash into all its cracks and crevices--there is something deeply sorrowful in the narrative. Think of David Grossman's See Under: Love or Aryeh Lev Stollman's The Far Euphrates--two of my favorite midrashic finds. There is sadness all over them.

Somehow, it is always the silences and sadnesses that summon the midrashic impulse from the ruins of atrocity or the apathy of contemporary living.

All day I have turned a passage from this novel over and over in my mind, unable to shake a particular phrase: "all the textures of sadness." The entire passage goes like this:

He remembers all the textures of sadness, his father's sadness, his mother's, and his own, and he remembers the absences, the loneliness, the sound of his mother crying at night. Lowell remembers, remembers...too much, and the silences between his revelations grow long. (97)

All the textures of sadness.

Sadness must be as gray and nuanced as anything else--of this I am certain. How many textures have we forgotten, failed to feel with our hands?

Every once in a while, I feel forgotten textures, misplaced among bright smiles, painful hopes, and feigned optimism. It's been a while, but lately I've felt them again, watched in agony as they materialize in so many new forms. Each texture has the capacity to rock us in a different way. Some are razor sharp, cutting so deeply and precisely that we know we cannot go on. But we do, given the surprising ease with which such clean cuts heal.

Then there are those whose edges are not define-able; they cannot be traversed, their boundaries are both impassable and imperceptable. And it's Emmanuel Levinas's concept of the il y a again. The "there is"--the silences that become rumblings, the emptinesses that are suddenly full of something we cannot touch, yet cannot help but feel.

Turn it and turn it, say the rabbis of Torah, for all is contained within it. What if we might say the same of sadness, that every time we turn it--every time we are turned by it--we find it contains the whole world?

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Stones, Messiahs, and Revelations

There's something I love about this world, and it's that every time people think they've figured something out and that they have all the answers, a new piece of information somehow manages to materialize and calls everything into question. Depending on how you look at it, this can be either frustrating or liberating. I tend to think it is, most often, the latter.

A three-foot-tall tablet with 87 lines of Hebrew that scholars believe dates from the decades just before the birth of Jesus is causing a quiet stir in biblical and archaeological circles, especially because it may speak of a messiah who will rise from the dead after three days.

If such a messianic description really is there, it will contribute to a developing re-evaluation of both popular and scholarly views of Jesus, since it suggests that the story of his death and resurrection was not unique but part of a recognized Jewish tradition at the time.

The tablet, probably found near the Dead Sea in Jordan according to some scholars who have studied it, is a rare example of a stone with ink writings from that era — in essence, a Dead Sea Scroll on stone.

It is written, not engraved, across two neat columns, similar to columns in a Torah. But the stone is broken, and some of the text is faded, meaning that much of what it says is open to debate. [...]

Daniel Boyarin, a professor of Talmudic culture at the University of California at Berkeley, said that the stone was part of a growing body of evidence suggesting that Jesus could be best understood through a close reading of the Jewish history of his day. “Some Christians will find it shocking — a challenge to the uniqueness of their theology — while others will be comforted by the idea of it being a traditional part of Judaism,” Mr. Boyarin said. [...]

“His mission is that he has to be put to death by the Romans to suffer so his blood will be the sign for redemption to come,” Mr. Knohl said. “This is the sign of the son of Joseph. This is the conscious view of Jesus himself. This gives the Last Supper an absolutely different meaning. To shed blood is not for the sins of people but to bring redemption to Israel.”

They're calling it "Gabriel's Revelation," but my favorite thing about this is the fact that the stone is broken, and that some of the text is faded. Even revelations often fail to reveal all. I'll be interested to read about what comes of us over the next few months.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Return of the Jewish Nose: Reading Yasmina Khadra's The Attack

Cross-posted at

Unless you are a fan of Tex-Mex, trucks with balls, scorching heat, and museums commemorating George W. Bush, there are very few reasons to spend the summer in southeast Texas. But I happen to be here visiting someone, and so I’ve taken the opportunity to sit in on his Texas A&M University class on contemporary world literature, where the focus is literature and terrorism.

For today, we read Yasmina Khadra’s The Attack (2007). Khadra (his real name is Mohammed Moulessehoul) is a former Algerian army officer turned novelist, and this novel, despite its unsophisticated writing style, does a pretty good job of getting college students to think and talk about terrorism in an unfiltered way. The only problem is that the book is so severely biased against Israelis and Jews that one wonders how unfiltered the discussion can truly be.

The storyline goes something like this: Arab-Israeli surgeon is called to the hospital where he learns his wife has been killed in a restaurant bombing. He later finds out that his wife was in fact the suicide bomber. The rest of the book, with all of its undeveloped plot threads, is about his attempts to uncover her secret life and come to grips with what he sees as her betrayal of him. The important thing to note is that it’s not that he needs to come to grips with what his wife has done to innocent men, women, and children in a crowded restaurant, but with what he sees as her personal betrayal of him.

A bit self-absorbed, no?

It’s not that the novel doesn’t tell a good story or address timely issues. It definitely kept me reading, but perhaps that was also because of the all but latent anti-Semitism that kept jumping out at me. Like many people, I tend to like to stare at things that repulse me. Although I run the risk of sounding like an anti-Semitic ambulance chaser, it is difficult not to read between the lines when nearly every time Khadra’s narrator introduces a new Jewish character, he refers to his “unattractive nostrils” or depicts him looking down his “nose” at the narrator. Or, in the absence of the description of a character’s unflattering nose, he depicts them as fat, selfish, and always gobbling things up.

Those nasty Jews—always gobbling things up and looking down their unattractive noses at everyone else. I’m not quite sure how the reviewers who suggested this book depicts both sides of the Arab/Israeli conflict missed this aspect of the book. But I’m sure it’s not the author’s main point.

The main point, actually, seems to be one long, whining “what about me?” Once you sift through the rambling prose, the narrator seems to say little more than: “Why didn’t my wife think about the trouble her suicide bombing would cause me? Why do Israeli Jews stop me at checkpoints because of the way I look? Why do the Jews keep talking about their problems when it’s really the Arabs who’ve suffered?”

The narrator visits an old Israeli Jew who goes on and on and on about surviving the Holocaust, only to say, finally, “I talk too much . . . I’ll never understand why the survivors of a tragedy feel compelled to make people believe they’re more to be pitied than the ones who didn’t make it.”

Take that, you blabbering large-nosed Jewish survivor. It’s MY turn to suffer, the narrator seems to say. Everybody wants to talk about their suffering.

The point the author makes seems to be the question of why Jews are still talking about the Holocaust when Palestinians are being subjected to the same kind of evils in Israel. But the problem isn’t that the author draws attention (justifiably) to Palestinian pain. The problem is in the comparison.

Suffering is suffering. It does no good to compare one group of people’s suffering to another, or to minimize one in favor of another. I cannot blame the Palestinian boy who sees his family home bulldozed by Israeli soldiers and vows to take revenge any less than I blame the Holocaust survivor for finding it impossible to stop talking about his experience.

They have both earned the right to hate. And we are all responsible for acknowledging both perspectives. But even the right to such hate does not justify a lashing out that takes innocent lives, though this novel seems to suggest otherwise in its villainization of Israeli Jews.

The narrator says, “All too aware of the stereotypes that mark me out in the public square, I strive to overcome them, one by one, by doing the best I can do and putting up with the incivilities of my Jewish comrades.” Words of wisdom from the narrator who can’t stop himself from seeing Jews only through negative stereotypes. (Then again, note above my own heinous Texas stereotyping.)

But the person teaching the literature class tells me that while the narrator is indeed despicable when it comes to Jewish stereotyping, we are also supposed to see in him a critique of male Arab culture. The narrator’s preoccupation with his male ego and his anger over his wife’s betrayal of him on a personal level may reveal (from the author’s point of view) some of the problems of Arab male-female relationships. Indeed, at one point he goes nuts thinking that his wife may have cheated on him with another man, and suggests that such an act is worse than the suicide bombing.

The narrator, my friend suggests, cannot escape from the stereotypical Arab masculinity that forces him to see Jews with big noses and gluttonous appetites, and to see women as his private property. But sometimes he has a breakthrough: “Every Jew in Palestine is a bit of an Arab, and no Arab in Israel can deny that he’s a little Jewish.”

It’s unclear what we’re supposed to think in regard to this character. I find him to be pathetic, self-absorbed, and downright despicable. But students in the class tended to be more sympathetic toward him. And I guess that is the danger of this novel—if the author meant to critique Arab culture’s own biases, it’s not altogether clear. My fear is that this novel does more to reinforce negative stereotypes than critique them.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Summer Reading

Years ago, I used to love reading Amy Tan. Last year, she came to Purdue for a reading, and she was really great in person--full of life and energy and lots of clever little insights. So I bought her newest book after the reading--Saving Fish From Drowning. It's been sitting on my desk for over a year, and I finally decided to start reading it. I'm only a couple of chapters in, and it's not really doing anything for me, but I'm going to give it a chance. I am starting to think that my reading tastes must have changed profoundly since beginning graduate school many years ago. I'm not sure I'll get through this one...

I also just finished reading Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go. I hated it for the first few pages, with all of its cryptic talk about "carers" and "donors." But then I got really sucked in, and I can't say quite why without giving away the plot. It was another one that had been sitting on my desk for a couple of years...

So now I have Nathan Englander's The Ministry of Special Cases, which just came out in paperback, and I'm really excited about this one...

And then I have The Cyclist, which I'm trying to read this weekend...

I'm also re-reading Alicia Ostriker's For the Love of God so that I can write a review for Shofar, as well as Ezra Cappell's American Talmud for Modern Fiction Studies.

I feel like I need one more really great novel...

Wednesday, May 14, 2008


This has been a big week. I successfully defended my dissertation, participated in the graduation ceremony (and snuck out early), and introduced my family to Chicago and Indiana. My family, of course, was proud of me, but they were a bit disappointed that my new "doctor" status does not enable me to dispense prescriptions. Now, I'm going to enjoy my last week in Indiana, before I travel down to Texas for the summer, and before we move on out to Los Angeles. Lots of changes ahead...

Sunday, May 04, 2008

"In Support of Corporate Farms"

I've just discovered that another of my friends, the notorious Cody Lumpkin, has a poem appearing on Verse Daily. Cody, Leslie St. John (see my previous post), and I once shared a hotel room at a literature conference in Louisville. I wonder if this means that I, too, will soon have a poem that appears on Verse Daily. Probably not, since I don't tend to write much poetry. Unfortunately, I don't have a picture of Cody doing yoga, or I would post that as well.

"In Support of Corporate Farms "

Stalin scythed wheat in Russian Georgia, Mao waddled knee-
deep in a rice paddy field, and Saddam Hussein tended his uncle's
melon patch on the banks of the Euphrates. Mussolini

would be the type of dictator to keep a tomato garden.
I think this might say something about human existence:
what the land makes us do. The disenfranchised Cain giving

the boulder to Abel. Closeness to a speck of ground
only makes us want more. To kill whoever needs to be killed
to get it and to hang them by their fat calloused toes
under the drying sun. Marx had it wrong. The revolution

[Keep reading...]

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Things That Bend

My lovely friend Leslie St. John has published this equally lovely poem, and it appears on VerseDaily today. (Oh, and the picture above, is of Leslie.)

"Things That Bend "
After Dorianne Laux's "What's Broken"

The inch worm in the window sill, curling
In a bank of light. Snow-soaked porch steps,

Old pinewood floors. The neck, the back—
My body bends into another body. Firelight

Bends around his shoulders, a half-moon
Around stars, around the tops of trees.

Keep reading...

Friday, April 18, 2008

Michael Chabon

I had the honor of introducing Michael Chabon the other night, when he came to Purdue as our annual Literary Awards speaker. I've had the fortune (or, misfortune, sometimes) of meeting and getting to know a number of writers in my field, but I was particularly impressed with Chabon. He's a nice guy, a real person--not pretentious or egotistical, like one or two other writers in my field with whom I've had interactions. And he was a very entertaining reader, which was refreshing, since often readings by some of the greatest writers can be the dullest experiences on earth. Yay for Michael Chabon!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Oh, Happy Day

Today was one of the happiest days I've had in a long time.

It started off with teaching Bible as Literature. Today we talked about the rebellion of Korah against Moses, in Numbers 16. It's one of my favorite parts of the text. It's the one where Korah pisses Moses off, and so the ground opens up and swallows Korah and all of his followers--except that it's not meant to be read literally. It's a metaphor for how deep and great is the chasm between two parties who fail to communicate with each other.

And then I came home, made coffee, and laid on my couch, watching the rain through my window, and thinking about all of the work I have to do on my dissertation before tomorrow.

Then I got a lovely email, from someone I love very much. How much happier my day suddenly became. It's amazing how powerful words can be--an amazing reminder that we should always use them carefully and lovingly.

Then I thought for a while about moving to LA in a few months, and of all of the new directions my life is taking, and I was happy. I am excited to be in warm weather, to do the work I love, and to be with the people I love.

Once I finally got situated and began working on my dissertation, trying to finish a chapter on Krzysztof Kieslowski's films, I was happy again, because I remembered how much I love my project.

Of course, it would've been a happier day had I actually finished the dissertation chapter, but it was still a day worth having. Tomorrow will be stressful, but today was happy.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Religion, Faith, and Alchemy

I am constantly on the lookout for new ways to explain my own ambivalence about religion. I despise it, and yet it has made who I am, and it forms the basis for nearly all of my endeavors: academic, spiritual, psychological. I am drawn to religion, but only in the sense that it must necessarily be an ongoing process, rather than a product of one group of people's musings on the nature of God. Religion, for me, is beautiful only when it is allowed to be fluid, constantly evolving and in flux, and when it teaches people to love other people. Why? Because I think that is how God must be.

When I was 19 or 20, my then-boyfriend, a year younger than me, gave me The Alchemist, by Paul Coelho--he said the book had meant a lot to him. I loved the book, though I didn't really get it all at the time, since I was so immersed in a community that privileged rules and rituals over real spiritual inquiry.

Today I was reminded of this when I saw that over at there is an interview with novelist Paulo Coelho that gets at some of my evolved ideas of God and religion in a very insightful way.

Paul Coelho:
"I think that traditional religions face this backlash because they overlook the necessity of personal faith. To follow rituals is extremely important for the cult, but religious leaders should understand our individual faith, our need for actions that truly stir the souls of the men and women. Because these institutions have been ineffective in doing this, we have been seeing a gradual disinterest in all segments of society.

I always say that religion and faith have to be thought of separately—mainly because faith is sometimes at odds with the cult. You can find this difference in other realms, including politics. We all know that laws are different from rights. We all know that certain laws may be unjust and that we have the right to oppose them if we think they are unfounded. The same goes for religion: individuals don’t accept rules that are no longer tied to their personal lives and questionings. People need meaning and only life and faith can supply this, not merely rules."

Joey Kurtzman, the interviewer, asks:

"Along the same lines, as we try to remake our faith so that it can serve some purpose for us, how careful should we be about violating the 'authenticity' of the tradition?"

Paulo Coelho:
"First you need to be clear about the 'authenticity' of tradition. In my eyes, personal faith is the beating heart of this authenticity. This is the living fabric of all religions."

It's true--when tradition stops meaning something to people, and when it loses its ability to move people, perhaps it has stopped mattering. And perhaps, when that happens, people must create new traditions.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Why Do the Wicked Prosper?

I've been working on my dissertation all evening. I'm tired of writing about theoretical things, so this post is going to be something different.

I was driving home from the library late this afternoon, and I heard myself say, out loud, "God has blessed me with so many things I do not deserve." I don't really know where it came from, other than that it is an idea that is built into the tenets of the religion in which I was raised. Somehow there are still so many remnants of that religion, both good and bad, in my consciousness. I tend to be a person who is always surrounded by some trauma, disaster, or catastrophe of some kind. Somehow, though, I never feel sorry for myself, because I always have a crazy story to tell.

The latest catastrophe was me falling on the ice and crushing my dog's foot--not one broken bone, but countless broken bones. It's so my style to go extreme, all the way. But there have been a few really great things that have happened for me over the past couple of weeks as well. And so tonight, without realizing it, I was reflecting on them in a rare moment of positive thinking; I say "rare," since I tend to be a "my glass is two thirds empty" kind of person.

But as soon as the word "blessed" came out my mouth, it was crushed with the resounding biblical lament of King David: "Why do the wicked prosper?" And I thought to myself, how would one know if she was blessed? Then it occurred to me, that perhaps I am not blessed. Perhaps I am downright wicked, and that is why I prosper--a chilling thought.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

From Boilermaker to Bruin: The Journey Begins

It's official: as of July 1, I will be a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Jewish American Literature at UCLA. The teaching load is extremely light, and I will have ample time and resources for research.

But, more importantly, I will have warm weather. I've had my fill of Midwestern winters. A couple of weeks ago, as a matter of fact, I slipped on the ice while carrying my little dog. When we fell, I crushed pretty much every bone in his little foot. Now, post-surgery, I will be taking care of him for the next six weeks. He's my little invalid.

We both look forward to the impending move back to Southern California. I don't want to live in a place where ice forms on the ground--very dangerous. This week is spring break, here at Purdue, and the weather was typical for this time a year: snow showers and highs of 35 degrees.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Tagging: Bringing Michael Chabon and Giorgio Agamben Together

Oh, what fun! Not to mention a great reason to take a break from dissertation-writing. It seems I've been tagged, and apparently the rules are as follows:

1. Pick up the nearest book (of at least 123 pages).
2. Open the book to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag five people.

As you can see from the above picture of one corner of my desk, which I took just minutes after realizing I'd been tagged, there are two books that seem to be equally closest to me: Michael Chabon's The Yiddish Policemen's Union; and Giorgio Agamben's Remnants of Auschwitz. And if you think they are an unlikely pair, note the strangely close proximity, in my stack of books above, of Amy Tan and Linda Hutcheon.

Anyway, I'm going to cheat and give you both. First, here's Chabon:

Zimbalist struggled for the next hour to understand that move, and for the strength to resist confiding to a ten-year-old whose universe was bounded by the study house, the shul, and the door to his mother's kitchen, the sorrow and dark rapture of Zimbalist's love for the dying widow, how some secret thirst of his own was quenched every time he dribbled cool water through her peeling lips. They played through the remainder of their hour without further conversation. But when it was time for the boy to go, he turned in the doorway of the shop on Ringelblum Avenue and took hold of Zimbalist's sleeve.

And now, Agamben:

For the one who knows, it is felt as an impossibility of speaking; for the one who speaks it is experienced as an equally bitter impossibility to know. [new paragraph] In 1928, Ludwig Binswanger published a study bearing the significant title The Vital Function and Internal History of Life. Introducing into psychiatric terminology a phenomenological vocabulary that is still imprecise, Binswanger deelops the idea of a fundamental heterogeneity between the plane of the physical and psychical vital functions that take place in an organism and in personal consciousness, in which the lived experiences of an individual are organized into an inner unitary history.

I couldn't resist rendering the first sentence in bold. This is why I love Agamben, and this is also why I actually have a good idea for my dissertation.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Kosher Boy

Oh, my. I can't decide whether this is hilarious or dangerous. I'm leaning toward the former.

Which Would Jesus Choose?

So I've blogged about something naughty over at But, hey, I found the subject matter on NPR, so it's kosher, right?

Saturday, February 16, 2008

At the Heart of the Jewish Ethical Conscience: Woody Allen

In a piece on Woody Allen's late films, Jay Michaelson writes:

Judaism is a religion of Job, not just Sunday School, and Allen's extended meditations on the presence or absence of moral order are the essence of the Jewish ethical conscience.

Though Allen has seemingly rejected Judaism as a religion, Michaelson argues that Allen's later films, which aren't typically seen as falling into the same autobiographical vein as most of his earlier ones, are precisely and even traditionally Jewish. Rather than accept theodicy or assert that God knows all, the films depict an internal conflict about what, exactly, constitutes good and evil in this world. They are, in Michaelson's view (and I think I agree to a certain extent), more or less meditations, like the book of Job, on justice and what it means to be ethical.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Throwing God Overboard

I just finished reading Dara Horn's In the Image. It's one of those novels I've been meaning to read for quite some time since it's in my area (Jewish American literature). I think Horn is a spectacular writer, and I like this particular novel because it integrates all sorts of ideas about God, religion, memory, ethics, philosophy, culture, and love. And, it's a great story that's easy to read and easy to get sucked into--not overly experimental or "academic."

Like most academics, I'm an obsessive highlighter and note-taker. Here, however, I found myself highlighting not the things that I would go back and try to integrate into an academic essay, but those things that somehow resonated with me on a personal level. One of the most intriguing things about this text is the idea of hundreds of tefillin being cast over the sides of ships by people who were fleeing the pogroms and their former lives in Russia and Eastern Europe. It's not the main point of the story, but it surfaces and re-surfaces on a few occasions.

I'm not quite sure what to make of it. There's something useful in thinking about the tefillin, instruments used to bind quite literally "the law" (biblically speaking) to the human body, being cast away into a sea of forgetfulness. I am interested in what Commandment looks like today, in a post-Holocaust world, and I like to think that the casting away of tefillin symbolizes an effort to reject literalist readings of the bible and of the notion of Commandment.

At one point in the story, Leora, the main character, is in an old store full of used clothing, furniture, and other odds and ends. She finds an old set of tefillin that is so damaged (having resided at the bottom of the ocean for many years) that the parchment inside is exposed:

Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. And these words which I command you this day shall be on your heart. . . You shall bind them as a sign upon your hand, and they shall be frontlets between your eyes. And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
What, I wonder, does it mean today, in our world--a world that has been disappointed by the silence and inaction of any divine being--to love God? Is it not possible that a dogmatic and unwavering commitment to the law, and literalist interpretations of it, disallows the possibility to love God?

It is in this spirit that I like the idea of the discareded tefillin. On the other hand, not to be cliche or anything, but is this also an instance of throwing the baby out with the bathwater (okay, so I am cliche)? Must religion and ritual and everything we have perceived of as sacred be cast away in order for us to truly know and "love" God? Sometimes, in some instances, yes, I think so. But sometimes, casting everything "sacred" into the sea of forgetfulness might be the worst mistake we have ever made.

Forgetting, itself, is what might be the most transgressive element of this impulse. I have never believed even in the saying "forgive and forget." And, what is forgiveness, anyway? I know that when I talk about it in class with my students no one can agree on its meaning.

As Leora keeps reading the parchment, she sees:

And if you listen to my commandments...then I will give the land rain in its proper season, early rain and late rain, and you will harvest your grain and wine and oil. I will give grass in the fields for your cattle, and you will eat and be satisfied. Take care, lest your heart be deceived and you turn away and serve other gods and worship them. For then the anger of the Lord will be kindled against you, and he will stop up the heavens and there will be no rain; the earth will not yield its produce, and you will soon disappear from the good land which the Lord gives you (110).
The commandments (and blessings), she realizes with a jolt, are conditional. And it all seems suddenly false to her.

"Surely," she thinks "there were people who listened to the commandments and still found themselves going hungry--not to mention others who ignored the commandments and watched all their dreams come true. . . . If people really had thrown their tefillin overboard on their way to America, people who had been starving to death in Europe and probably still starved in New York, perhaps it wasn't just because tefillin were archaic. Maybe it was because tefillin were wrong" (111).

And yet, it still, sometimes, seems that it would be so much easier to believe in a God who hands out rewards and punishments like an overbearing parent does to his naive and ungrateful child. It would be so much easier to believe in God as the benevolent provider, rather than the God who has shown himself to be so forgetful, apathetic, and downright unloveable at times.
Sometimes I just want to say, "Be who I always believed you were, who I used to imagine you were. Be that. Fix this mess." But I know that the responsibility was never his, that it was always mine.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Levinas, Bak, and Interpretation

I'm currently co-guest-editing an issue of Modern Fiction Studies. The topic is Levinas and Narrative, and we have finally chosen an image for the cover of the issue (above). It's a piece called "Interpretation" (2003) by Samuel Bak, who is one of my favorite artists of all time. Isn't it lovely?

You can see more of Bak's work here.

Friday, January 18, 2008

This is Feminism?

According to an article over at the Forward, Ms Magazine has
refused to run the above advertisement, which features images of Israel’s top female political leaders, and the American Jewish Congress is not too happy about this.

The ad was submitted by the American Jewish Congress to Ms. Magazine, and spotlighted photographs of Dorit Beinisch, president of Israel’s Supreme Court; Tzipi Livni, Israel’s foreign minister, and Dalia Itzik, speaker of the Knesset, over the text, “This is Israel.”

According to the AJCongress, Ms. initially approved the ad but then reversed course, saying that the ad would “set off a firestorm.”

Says AJCongress President Richard Gordon: “Since there is nothing about the ad itself that is offensive, it is obviously the nationality of the women pictured that the management of Ms. fears their readership would find objectionable. For a publication that holds itself out to be in the forefront of the women’s movement, this is nothing short of disgusting and despicable.”

But according to Ms. Magazine’s executive editor, Kathy Spillar, it's not "the women’s nationality but their party affiliation that was the problem. Two of the featured officials, Itzik and Livni, are both members of the Kadima political party," and thus, Spillar said, "the ad would leave Ms. Magazine open to the charge of political favoritism."

The AJCongress created the ad to highlight the fact that women now occupy leading positions in Israel’s executive, legislative and political branches. In response, a Ms. representative said that “we would love to have an ad from you on women’s empowerment, or reproductive freedom, but not on this,” according to the AJCongress.

But, for me, this is the kicker:

“Not only could the ad be seen as favoring certain political parties within Israel over other parties, but also with its slogan, ‘This is Israel,’ the ad implied that women in Israel hold equal positions of power with men,” she said. “Israel, like every other country, has far to go to reach equality for women.”

Now, I don't think anyone is going to argue that the equality gap between men and women has completely closed in any nation. But it's hard to deny that there are some countries that have done a much better job of narrowing this gap than others. In particular, I can think of many countries in the same region as Israel (i.e. Saudi Arabia, where women can't even drive cars) that have done virtually nothing to rectify this situation. In my opinion, the position of women in Israel is one of the best in the world, and the fact that women can hold positions of political influence in Israel should be celebrated by a feminist magazine, especially when considered in contrast to other countries in the Middle and Near East.

I don't know that I agree with the political ideologies of all three of these Israeli women, but I do appreciate the fact that they have been given the opportunity, as women, to hold these positions of power, and I think that is something worth celebrating (or, at least, acknowledging). But the only thing worth acknowledging here is the ease with which Ms. Magazine is able to flaunt its own political and ideological biases at the expense of their own cause.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Who Knew the Nazis Were So Fashionable?

I just discovered this link over at It's a piece about five brands the Nazis gave us.

The list includes:

1. Volkswagen -- At this point, is there anyone who does not know that Volkswagens were little Nazi-mobiles designed by none other than Ferdinand Porsche?

Porsche's partner in masterminding the Beetle was also the mastermind of World War II: that crazy, affable buffoon Hitler. Hitler specifically wanted a cheap, sturdy vehicle everyone in Germany would be able to drive. Being the opportunistic businessman that he was, Porsche quickly whipped up the Volkswagen Beetle and lobbied heavily for the Fuhrer's approval. Soon, Porsche had his slave labor factories churning them out by the thousands, and eventually, flying out of dealerships.
2. IBM -- Yeah, I didn't know about this one, but it's kind of creepy.

According to a book a guy wrote about it, as soon as the Nazis invaded a country, they would overhaul the census system using IBM punch cards. Then they'd track down every Jew, Gypsy and any other non-Aryan until they were all rounded up onto cattle carts. And, next stop wasn't Space Mountain.
3. Bayer -- Once proud partial owner of the company that churned out Zyklon B, which means that Bayer was invested not only in getting rid of headaches and other physical ailments, but also in snuffing out Jewish vermin.

On one hand, the company that actually manufactured the gas was just partially owned by IG Farben, and Bayer was just one part of IG Farben. It's like the way we don't think of General Electric as a military contractor, because they make so many other things.

Bayer, though, has continued some of its old douchebaggery into the modern era. First off, Aspirin was invented by a Jewish man, Arthur Eichengrun, whose name Bayer still refuses to acknowledge. To this day, the "official" history of the company denies Eichengrun's involvement in the invention of aspirin, and states that an Aryan invented the drug, because as we all know, Aryans are better at everything.

One such Bayer-employed Aryan was a nice, thoughtful fellow by the name of Josef Mengele, who Bayer sponsored to seek out medical discoveries in the important field of torturing people to death.
4. Siemens -- Oh, yeah, I'd forgotten about this one. These guys think it's cool to trademark the name "Zyklon" for a range of home products. No, that's not offensive at all.

Though they weren't the only company at the time supplying the German war effort, they were certainly the most prolific. Siemens was in charge of Germany's rail infrastructure, communications, power generation ... the list goes on. If the Reichstag was the brain behind the war, Siemens was definitely the right hand that stroked Hitler to ecstatic glory.
5. HUGO BOSS -- Now, this came as a shocker. I had never heard this, but apparently SS soldiers and even Hitler Youth were stylin' in Hugo Boss uniforms. I just bought a Hugo Boss shirt for someone this past holiday season. It's nice to know that I spent $155 on Nazi wear.

Members of the Hitler Youth were also decked out in Boss wear, teaching children an early lesson in looking good whilst beating up minorities.