Thursday, March 25, 2010

Yet another Jew

Israelis would always react differently and even indifferently both to the issue of Iceland and to the issue of Judaism, so that they themselves would burst into hysterical laughter at the most innocent anti-Semitic jokes; in Israel it is not uncommon to joke between ourselves about how cheap and dirty Jews are. Then there´s also the Jew, that in the modern industrialized world (at least this is the thesis of Adorno and Sartre) hardly refers to the actual religious Jew with his typical Orthodox attire, freckles and black hats, but rather to a more abstract institution that stripped off Christian anti-Judaism (at least apparently) seems to have a narrative of its own about the evil Jew, and hell, I would be the first to agree with my fellow anti-Semites that Jews aren´t that important, are they? Nor is there any reason for them to dominate the world scene at large. This common place should have already become a cliché, weren’t for the likes for Madoff and Emmanuel that seem to have the Jewish cause at the very bottom of their priorities. Even Elie Wiesel was fraudulently deceived by Herr Madoff, so that not even a Nobel Price is life insurance for crooks and perhaps the likes of Sarah Kofman and Primo Levi knew better after the fashion of Celan: Suicide is the only effective weapon against the evils of life. Not without irony this would ridicule publicly the allegedly bare heart of Albert Camus’ so-called philosophy of life that most likely withered into some cheap novels available for sale at the nearest kiosk: Two packs of cigarettes and get for free one book on the philosophy of life.

However, I am nothing but a counterfeit Israeli –free from the blood ties and historical responsibilities of “peoples” and more than spiritually promiscuous, a silent witness to Jewish life so much more than an active advocate of the rights of men, oh, sorry, I meant of Jews. Once when I called myself a Zionist (perhaps at the tender of 16 and 17 when I was too busy studying Classical Greek to pay attention to theological considerations) I was absolutely persuaded by my own good intentions that it was something that had to do actually with belonging, let’s say, belonging to the people of Israel but the idea of a community in modern times couldn’t be any more flawed; Susan Sontag wrote about it beautifully referring to both the gays and the Jews in New York: There’s too much of a scene and nothing of a community. The comparison might seem trivial, lest one attends a synagogue service in Manhattan or Edgeware. It is an orgy of jacquard ties and silk, jewels and watches. But then if they’re into trivial fashion and gossipy details it actually might mean that Jews are human after all, and no better or worse than anyone else for that matter. I met once this Argentinean psychologist who born in Poland herself to Holocaust survivor parents wrote a book about her own survival (not to be confused with victimhood) and remember her writing this dismissal letter to the good God, by means of which she actually refused to be part of that chosen-hood of her people. I mean, chosen for what? For the camps? I would rather belong to the society of the unremarkable, to which most humankind as a kind belongs. A terminology that is necessarily biological and not social thus immediately akin to species.

Yet, with or without denouncing or advocating the “Conditio Judaica” I think I’m not sure exactly what a Jew is, besides being one. I guess I would be apt for telling what a Jew is not or what is actually not Jewish and Judaism as a system of values and beliefs, such as it’s been the case of Christianity in modern times, can definitely be severed from any ties that do not reflect the universal character that everyday men and women nowadays have attached to religious traditions. The most amateur of anthropologists and sociologists would be able to tell us that in principle all creation stories and basic commandments are but universal in nature. This is what postmodern philosophy calls “the unreflected generality of the myth”. To be sure, I’ve spent more time of my youth not being a Jew, or trying not to be one rather than wandering happily in the meadows and waters of Torah. Not only being Jewish seemed a lot difficult, but inconvenient for anyone who’s ever lived in European soil, it is also quite traumatic for a philosopher and definitely outlawed for a homosexual. It only took long enough as to land in Jerusalem for me to know that actually I had some ironic doubts whether that is actually what I wanted to be. Jerusalem seemed to dwell too much on the issue of being someone, and much less on the particulars of how that is going to be achieved. Emancipation was impossible from within the confines of Jewish society, thus it is not difficult to understand what took place in Germany during the 19thcentury –People could only emancipate themselves as individuals and none of these enlightened Jews wanted to emancipate as a people or as Jews even, but only as individual. I wonder whether the Gnostic-Christian message of the Romantics wasn’t hovering somewhere around at this spiritual momentum, because the salvation could only come to individual persons and not to peoples. However, certainly the greatest German philosophers of the time, such as Fichte, Schelling and Hegel, did believe beyond rational doubt that salvation could come through the virtues and qualities of the German people (although this could also have meant what we know today as Germanic or European in general and then not wholly un-Christian).

It was really nice for me to feel at some point that I could actually step out of this shared conditions that felt more like an STD than like a premium gift. I used to wander alone in the streets of the Arab neighborhoods searching for some of the colonial leftovers of Europe to take shelter beneath and linguistically deprive myself of anything too Oriental. Christianity seemed the master key only because it was so overloaded with what once was called metaphysics and transcendental gnoseology, with the possibility of completely leaving this world yet while in this life and the blessing of not concerning yourself with any politics or practical economies whatsoever. The Christian ambitions at truth are less than tangible and therefore perfectly compatible with the ideals of a fully escapist ideology. The daily tours of the churches and the delight of small patisseries where one would encounter the companion of ever strange lovers and refreshing glasses of grapefruit juice and campari adorned with startling limes. This was so different from the awful bodily smells of prayers and pilgrims at the Western Wall and odor of smoke on the skin of our teachers of the Law. And how sorry should one be when he would find himself at home in a place as such and even worse, that he would still harvest the desire to flee from home after actually journeying half the world through in order to find it. The philosophy was always very helpful in a two-fold direction: First it laid the strongest foundations of what could be an army of reality and truth, a map of how to find oneself in such a turbulent world and then just shortly afterwards the vertigo before the abyss and a step back into the cave of the philosopher, into the Platonic darkness.

As a translator of Icelandic Literature, it is awkward that one no longer knows how to explain that he’s himself a Jew to Icelanders and for two different reasons: Because the Icelandic average Joe is surprisingly alien to the experience (either good or bad) of Jewish life and also because the striking similarities between the peoples in so far as humor and disgusting rotten fish and venomous alcoholic drinks is concerned. And then one thinks everything is going just fine, after all how many Jews can there be in Iceland, you’re free from the evil impulse to find the fellow inmates met inside the whale after you were all thrown from the boat because of your sins, and yet this is not as easy as you might think it is. Because after all they didn’t finish off all of the vermin, as it is metaphorically called in a short story by Kafka. Going to Iceland immediately raises the question of how to actually find the Jews there and how you can help them out, what do they need, where do they live, do they really feel safe, and likeminded questions cross your mind over and over. Icelandic as a language of choice is also a decision not made willy-nilly, because it could mean as well that you wish to take a step back from all the academic orgies and from the publication houses and have chosen for yourself the most exotic of all qualifications for potential unemployment. You can move to Akureyri even, and there allow the Jewish ghost to chase after you, after all no one is inquiring about your religion in Iceland. Then it would be too untrue to say you’re Colombian, because when a birthplace no longer holds a meaning as a language or a personal history then it loses most of its importance and then calling yourself Israeli can mean something so bad to the other person as it does for you. Answering that one is a Jew would be the right answer, but not quite knowing what it is, renders it invalid once again. So you can just play around with Christian theological mistrust and claim that you’re but a tourist in this beautiful world, beautiful weren’t world history so miserable. But still you hold passports that open or close boundaries, you hold passports from good or bad nations and the politics of sex point out to the fact that some phenotypes are more desirable for some peoples than others; then this might be not as touristic as it is bureaucratic. Being a Jew is also a bureaucracy after all: You need to get a document from a rabbinical court stating your affiliation and if you’re a wanna-be Jew, the newspapers could inform you that it is possible to obtain it as well without all the mandatory studies, you only need the right amount of money or to give a blow job to the right rabbi in charge.

This paper, so much after the fashion of residence permits, asylum documents and travel cards, defines so much of your life as a Jew, it defines whether you’re a legitimate son or a bastard, whether you can remarry or actually be a citizen of Israel and receive proper health care and education or in the case that you don’t have it, you might as well rot like shark from Greenland and let both Jewish and non-Jewish vultures devour you. Paper is more patient than man, so wrote once Anne Frank. I guess that perhaps one should leave this entirely on the spiritual plane, but it isn’t possible, you have to take a stand somewhere and somehow. There’s no difference between cueing at an embassy for an exit visa and the newfound Jewish bureaucracy modeled after the Soviet politburo, and do know, that there’s actually a lot of people all over the world cueing in order to become Jewish, which is something that I of course can’t understand. Perhaps being in Iceland doesn’t change anything within, but you’re perhaps safer and at the risk of everyone berating you for your words, for it is a country even smaller than the imaginary world of Jewry. Most of us remain on the plane of the abstract Jew, we don’t know exactly what is making us Jewish other than some cultural clichés that most intelligent people wisely avoid. It’s really difficult to define others on the basis of something we can’t define ourselves; the paradox of the Jewish mind is albeit beautiful very dangerous because it takes for the granted some truths but others not, and it seems to judge the world according to those partial truths that it does accept and that is just so false even from the perspective of religion alone. Perhaps we shouldn’t aim so much at being saved in anyway whatsoever but should put more effort in participating in a world that by default, we weren’t taught to like that much.

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