Thursday, September 30, 2010

It's not paranoia if they're really out to get you

Like most Jewish kids of the latter part of the 20th century, I do not see eye-to-eye with those of my parents' generation on the topic of anti-Semitism.  Don't get me wrong:  it's not like I think that this most ancient of hatreds has vanished from the Earth.  But I don't find anti-Semitism to be an animating force in most American discourse.

Combination Skin
Which is why, when I do run across it, I react with a little bit of surprise, combined with a sneaking suspicion that perhaps the alte kackers are right.  I feel a sudden need to scratch a few nearby non-Jews to see if I find an anti-Semite lurking underneath, like the aliens in V who are actually lizards in human skin.

I had such a moment today.  First, though, some background.  I have an addiction.  I can't get enough of lectures on CD from The Teaching Company.  I've listened to lectures on the American Revolution, the Dead Sea Scrolls, World War II, and I'm about to embark on another series on the medieval world.

Recently I was enticed to acquire a series called Between Cross and Crescent: Jewish Civilization from Mohammed to Spinoza.  The lectures cover one of the richest periods of Jewish history, one with which I am insufficiently familiar, so I'm really excited to get it.

I do, however, like to read the reviews posted by other customers before buying.  And so I came across a review from a "Top 100 Contributor" (nope, no idea what that means).  Interestingly, the reviewer, "JoeR" from Toronto, gave the course 4/5 stars.  But he went on to identify a "bias of the instructor", to wit:
The root causes for the Jewish persecutions from the West were always investigated by looking at Christian failings, presuming that the Jewish nation were for the most part innocent victims. The fact that multiple nations treated the Jews unfairly stretching over a vast time period and across many cultures should have given more serious pause to the way that the Jews lived amongst their host nations in order to consider if their interaction consistently agitated the relationship
Well, sure:  Jews were raped, slaughtered, and left homeless throughout medieval Europe.  Should they not therefore have taken a moment to examine their own behavior?

"JoeR"'s comments represent the type of classic anti-Semitism that has its roots in early Christianity.  Indeed, he entitles his review "Humbling of a Nation," implying, of course, that the stiff-necked, haughty Jews were not simply the victims of the overwhelming force of the Roman Empire, but rather, were "humbled", brought down from their position as the Chosen People by a God who blames them for the death of His Son.  It was in fact this narrative that dominated medieval Christianity, though to my knowledge there is no parallel lesson drawn from the fall of Rome so soon after Constantine's conversion to that religion.

Unfortunately, the "blame the victim" philosophy, which had taken a well-deserved holiday following the Holocaust, seems to be on its way back.  No doubt we will soon be asked to consider European Jewry's culpability in its own destruction by the Nazis.  But we see the same idea in other places, as well, most notably in the garment-rending of some Americans in the wake of the terrorist murders of September 11, 2001.  "Why do they hate us?" we asked.  Is it our policy on the Middle East?  Our permissive media culture?  The popularity of ham at Easter?
Q. Why do they hate us?
A. Who cares?

And here is my response, my response to the "nobody would hate us if we were only better people" morons, my response to "JoeR" and his ilk, my response to fundamentalist Jews who believe we were scattered throughout the world for our sins and my response to fundamentalist Christians who believe... well, more or less the same thing as the fundamentalist Jews.

My response is:  go fuck yourself.   As long as I am strong, you will not hurt me again, so I will remain strong.  As soon as I become weak, no matter the moral beauty of my existence nor the peaceful transcendence for which I strive, you will attack me.  Morality guides my actions, but survival dictates my choices:  there is no morality in my death.  If you kill me and survive, then my insistence on morality has failed not only me, but the entirety of the world, because all that will remain is your evil.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Beginning

As noted by my friend and critic Melanie, the Southern California Writer's Conference was in town this past weekend.  I spent an entire weekend having my plot examined, evaluated, and ultimately eviscerated.

And I loved every minute of it.

Well, OK, to be honest, I loved every minute that was about me.  My interest flagged slightly when we were talking about somebody else's plot.  Hey, I'm only human.

Plot is my nemesis, my white whale.  I imagined that novel writing works sort of like short story writing:  you think of a story.  It has a beginning, middle, and tragic, triumphant, or hilarious ending.  Then you write it down.  I've written many a short piece in more or less this way, and no doubt there are those who produce novels in just such a manner.

But no, not me.  I know the theme of my novel, the major symbols, the motivations and feelings of the main characters, and what happens when the shit hits the fan.  I know the voice, the tense, the point of view.  I know where to use humor and where to lay on the pathos.  What I don't know is how it ends.

So I went to the conference, having signed up for the unattractively entitled NovelCram.  NovelCram was led by author Drusilla Campbell, a petite woman with a brilliant smile and the unrelenting energy of a plutonium reactor.  Dru led the class from one end of the weekend to the other, barely taking a breath, much less a break, outlasting even her much younger students who crept out seriatim for a coffee or a pee before returning a few minutes later to be swept up again into the Drunado.

I, too, was sucked into the vortex, eventually finding myself deposited at the end of a winding path of saffron-colored brick.  Squinting, I could make out a curve here, a sharp turn there;  a surprise around one corner, a complication around the next.  And, in the distance, the vaguest outline of an emerald city.  I can't quite see beyond the walls of the city, but I'm pretty sure that if I can just get a little closer, I may discover...

The End.