Monthly Archives: September 2012

The Cinch Review

Out of office

I haven’t been posting a whole lot in the past week, due to distractions and whatnot, but this is just to say I’ll be posting even less in the next seven days or so, due to traveling beyond the reaches of reliable Wi-Fi. (That’s right: it’s a scuba-diving trip in the Mariana Trench.)

If I can, I’ll probably throw some comments out on the first great Romney/Obama debate, which is occurring this coming Wednesday, October 3rd, but we’ll see. There won’t be any shortage of commentary; at least that’s my firm wager and I’ll cover all takers. Continue reading Out of office

Abraham Joshua Heschel Who Is Man?

Abraham Joshua Heschel: “Who Is Man?”

Abraham Joshua Heschel Who Is ManI’ve become a big aficionado in recent years of the writing of Abraham Joshua Heschel, a great philosopher and a Jewish theologian (1907 – 1972). Most recently I got a copy of his book Who Is Man? Considering its focus, it probably would have made ideal reading in advance of reading Heschel’s great (though earlier) works Man Is Not Alone and God in Search of Man, but no matter.

Like Heschel’s work generally, it’s very rich, at times quasi-poetic, and rewards enormous reflection on each page. Following is a short section on what Heschel characterizes as man’s inherent “nonfinality.” (In using the word “man,” of-course, Heschel is referring to humankind, both on the general level and the individual, and is not trying to disrespect the ladies.)

Nonfinality (pg 40)

Where is man? At what stage of his life and in what situation of his existence do we meet him as he really is? He is variable, fickle, appearing in different roles. Is he the same as father or mother as he is as salesman or soldier? Does he remain the same from the cradle to the grave, from the cave to the rocket?

All the definitions cited above have a ring of finality and presume to be definitive. However, there is no such entity as man in his permanent and final form. Man is rarely to be found in a definitive edition. A salient characteristic of being human is inconstancy both in behavior and in self-understanding, inability to remain what he is once and for all. Finality and humanity seem to be mutually exclusive. Man is caught in the polarity of being both tentative, undecided, unsettled as well as final, fixed, determined.

Anything is possible. The ambiguity of his traits and the ambivalence of his actions are such that his consistency involves inner contradiction. Man has many faces. Which is canonical and which is apocryphal?

To understand his being it is not enough to see him as he acts here and now, for example, as conditioned by our industrial society. Man is a being in flux. Yielding to a particular pattern of living he remains both compliant and restive, conforming and rebellious, captive and insurgent.

[…]

To claim to be what I am not is a pretension. To insist that I must be only what I am now is a restriction which human nature must abhor. The being of a person is never completed, final. The status of a person is a status nascendi. The choice is made moment by moment. There is no standing still.

I think that’s all true, and yet these are things we rarely stop to examine in our own selves, and probably even less so with regard to others.

It also struck me as something worthy of filing in my “Dylanosophy” section. If you’re a Dylan fan you may already know why. It’s because all of this reflection on the ever-changing nature of man sounds a lot like some scholarly (or at least rock-criticly) writing I’ve read about Bob Dylan in the past. In fact, you could substitute “Bob Dylan” for “man” in the text above and come out with something that would seem to fit the portrait so many have painted of Dylan in their effort to get their heads around his work.

Don’t believe me? Let’s try it:

However, there is no such entity as [Bob Dylan] in his permanent and final form. [Bob Dylan] is rarely to be found in a definitive edition. A salient characteristic of being [Bob Dylan] is inconstancy both in behavior and in self-understanding, inability to remain what he is once and for all. Finality and [being Bob Dylan] seem to be mutually exclusive. [Bob Dylan] is caught in the polarity of being both tentative, undecided, unsettled as well as final, fixed, determined.

Anything is possible. The ambiguity of his traits and the ambivalence of his actions are such that his consistency involves inner contradiction. [Bob Dylan] has many faces. Which is canonical and which is apocryphal?

Ha! Write it up, print it out, send it in, and you may just win yourself a Pulitzer. A new, great interpreter of Bob Dylan is born! Continue reading Abraham Joshua Heschel: “Who Is Man?”

The Cinch Review

Newsflash: It’s illegal to spray paint stuff in the New York City subway system

You would think that even a tourist from Bangladesh would understand that it’s against the law to whip out a can of spray-paint and start coloring things in the NYC subway (despite some people’s nostalgia for how things were in the 70s and 80s) but a journalist living in New York named Mona Eltahawy was arrested for doing so, and persecuted the poor arresting officers with strident demands to know what she was being arrested for. Well, “duh,” as they say. Watch below, if you have the gumption. Her attempt to deface an advertisement with which she did not agree was vigorously opposed by a blogger named Pamela Hall.

There’s so much to say on this subject that it’s hard to know where to begin and where to end.

If the goal of the ads was to cause controversy and provoke debate, they have succeeded to the nth degree.

The ads state:

IN ANY WAR
BETWEEN THE CIVILIZED MAN
AND THE SAVAGE
SUPPORT THE
CIVILIZED MAN

SUPPORT ISRAEL
DEFEAT JIHAD

These ads were designed by Pamela Geller, in response to anti-Israel ads that ran in September of 2011 in the MTA system. Due to legal challenges, Geller’s ads did not run until now (as it happens in the wake of the recent anti-YouTube riots throughout the “Muslim world”).

I strongly support the sentiment behind the ads, but I wouldn’t have written them this way. I think that when the word “savage” is invoked, versus the “civilized man,” the first thought by the average liberal New Yorker would be of Native Americans victimized by white Europeans. Their education, from high school, college and popular culture (right up to James Cameron’s “Avatar”), kicks in very strongly at the concept of “savages.” If there are any savages, they must be noble ones. It is the so-called “civilized man” who is to be suspected, if not loathed outright.

So, if you label anyone as a savage, you have awarded them with an advantage, in terms of public relations.

I simply would have worded the ads this way:

IN ANY WAR
BETWEEN FREEDOM
AND OPPRESSION
SUPPORT FREEDOM

SUPPORT ISRAEL
DEFEAT JIHAD

In the end, that’s what this is about. Still, Pamela Geller has provoked debate about all of these issues, and perhaps some of those who are asleep will be woken up by the ruckus. That would be a very good thing.

The Cinch Review

The Tempest Rose High

There are many lovely versions of the great old song, “Drifting Too Far from the Shore,” written by one Charles E. Moody. There’s Hank Williams, Bill Monroe, and Emmylou Harris, for starters. In the documentary “No Direction Home,” Bob Dylan credits his first hearing of this song, as a child, with igniting a kind of mystical experience for him. When he heard it (it was a record left sitting on a record player in the house his family had moved into) he says he felt like he “was somebody else.” (You might even say he was kind of transfigured.)

Anyhow, the version embedded below via YouTube is by Jerry Garcia, David Grisman and Tony Rice. And it too is lovely. (From an album titled The Pizza Tapes)
Continue reading The Tempest Rose High