Wednesday, February 28, 2007

the choice

Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.
-George W. Bush, "Address to a Joint Session of Congress and the American People" (2001)

Arnold Böcklin, "War" (1896)

what do we choose?
in the war, along the fronts that divide us, where do we walk?
in the monumental battle between good and evil
where every other is the latter to the former,
where the forces of war call out to one another
along a front designed to maintain their animosity,
offering –
is it possibly true? –
an irrefuteable either/or
within which we must take a side,
should we not seek to walk within that fracture that divides,
the fracture that consumes declarations of war?
this is path on which the heathen rage,
along which traitors walk:
the nowhere
possessed by no one
that is the last hope of humanity.


Saturday, February 24, 2007

night prayer (after reading christina rossetti)

Sholem Krishtalka, "Hagar in the Wilderness" (2005)

That Sin would not hold me,
that Grace would drive my actions,
that Truth would would be my model,
Love my life and
You would call me Beloved,
I humbly ask,


Friday, February 23, 2007

the struggle, part 9 (guilt)

society is an ambiguous beast of which we find ourselves a member and which is, at the same time, something completely other. its failure to engulf me is what allows me to remain me in the face of its overwhelming enormity. i remain, beyond the vastness of a society which i cannot escape and which indeed makes my relations with others possible and meaningful. at the same time, i am never me alone; i am never the autonomous and free self i might wish to be. i am always a being-with-others. this being-with-others is the source of all conscience: con-science: thinking-with-others.

neither piety, nor love of neighbor can do justice to the complexity of these social relations. in love we attempt to seclude ourselves in the privacy of intimate relations so as to avoid the scope of our responsibility. it is true that love is blind: love is blind to those who are beyond the intimacy of the one with whom we have decided to identify and to whom we hold ourselves responsible. nor can we turn directly to god to absolve ourselves of the complexity of the social. the turn toward god, in the attempt to satisfy conscience, is to turn away from one's responsibilities, an attempt to shut out the voice of the many and reduce it to the voice of One that one claims will forgive all. but god is not blind.

we cannot live in such closed relations. and we know this well, unfortunately, no matter how we might try to hide from it. the guilt of conscience has to do with the fact that the meaning of who i am and what i do is not contained nor solely determined by my own intentions. my intentions lead me beyond what i intended into a relationship with the whole of society. in each of our intentions, our actions go out from us, always returning to us another way. they become detached from us and subject to the judgement of others. we become communal. we thus await the judgement of others: others we have never met, who appear as the face of strangers surrounding us in condemnation. beyond love, and all our claims to piety, there is the Whole which comes to us in many faces and whose voice is not one.


Thursday, February 22, 2007

back in the desert again

hello to anyone still reading!

it has been a good month and a half since i posted and many things have happened including my annual bout of winter depression and anxiety: fun, fun. why am i so arrogant every year as to think, this year it will be different? if i can be permitted self-indulgent moping for a few moments -- and since i am probably the only one reading at this point, why not -- i reach that point where answering the phone becomes a serious challenge and is exhausting.

anyway, i came back from the holidays and completely crashed. this, combined with a move into a new home, and the beginning of a new semester of teaching, has made for no writing. hopefully this has now passed.

i have missed reading and interacting with so many of you. i hope you are well. i owe a special thanks to koonj and roohi hussain. koonj because she promoted this blog last year, and roohi, who read that promotion and put me in contact with people she knew. i am now in the process of writing an article on the art of iman maleki and alaleh alamir for the pakistani journal NUKTA. thank you very much. that opportunity has made me very happy.

best wishes to everyone, and i will be talking more here soon,

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

the future of the left

The crisis began, perhaps, with Stalin. So many of the intellectuals of the Left found it necessary to take a side as Europe divided itself between east and west. Lukacs gambled on what he knew was an wretched regime if for no other reason than that it was the only regime with the possibility of resisting the hegemony of capitalism and its accompanying political liberalism. Horkheimer and Adorno set up shop to the west where they were free to critize both Stalin and liberalism, but for that reason lacked any sort of institutional support. The pogrom and the show trials only intesified the crisis for Left intellectuals and the optimism of Marxist political parties in western Europe dwindled. In the late 60s the giants of the Frankfurt School began to die off, Habermas defected over to the side of the liberals, while postmodernism, which turned out to be an apologetic movement for liberalism and capitalism, began to emerge as the direction of choice for "radical" thinkers. The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 was only the collapse of a rotting structure, the final gasp of a movement that had withered on the vine. We have reached a new situation in which, as Adorno had noted, the world has failed to achieve anything like a state of reconciliation, but also, contra Adorno, it seems the very rationality by which it might achieved has been lost, it seems obsolete.

This situation has created a vacuum which political liberalism would love to rush in and fill, but for which it will never be fully adequate even while it remains the one truly progressive force in existence at the moment. Humanity will never be content to ignore the question of the human good, which liberalism attempts to relegate to the private sphere under the guise of free speech, freedom of religion and the tradition of human and civil rights. With the collapse of the Soviet Union only the religions remained in a position to raise those questions to the political level, to the level where humanity finds itself bound together in a common project. Sadly, the horrible history of the 20th century has made progressives hesitant to propose such a universal project for humanity out of fear that this project will become corrupted and violent and deadly. Thus as human beings seek a sense of common direction, a sense of community that transcends the social and economic realm of private relations, the only place they had left to turn was to religious conservatives. The effects have been ugly and brutal: from the emergence of the Evangelical Right in the United States to Extremism in the name of Islam throughout the Muslim world to militant Hinduism in India.

Meanwhile liberalism itself seems to teeter on the brink of self-destruction. Having won the Cold War, survived the great Crisis of the Depression Era, and avoided the totalitarian pitfalls of fascism and Marxism, it stumbles about directionless: forgetful of its own dream of universal human dignity which is its great progressive legacy. European nations such as France and the Netherlands and even Britain, under the banner of liberalism, seem to be seeking a new form of fascism in the name of social "integration": how far, really, is Franofication and Dutch assimilationism from the legacy of Germanism and its rigid insistence on its own self-identification? In a different form, a similiar transformation seems to plague the States. The emphasis on freedom and "Democracy", on behalf of which the United States is willing to launch a violent Crusade for the salvation of humanity, has become mob rule. The rights tradition, the liberalism which once undergirded representative government, has become increasingly suspended, unimportant. The forgetfulness of the importance of that liberal tradition to a truly progressive government explains the seeming puzzlement of the Bush administration when democratic elections in the Middle East brought success for political parties of which the United States could never approve.

The cowardice of the Left, its inability to describe the historical moment in such a way that humanity could genuinely ask questions regarding the Future, is one of tradgedies of contemporary existence. While capitalism-liberalism lives in an eternal present without History, since its fundamental truths are timeless and ahistorical, buried and waiting to be discovered beneath the corruptions of tradition and (non-European) culture; and the religous zealots of the Right live in a dead past, clinging to an understanding of revelation that is over and done with and can only be repeated again and again; only those who are able to ask the question concerning the Future can genuinely offer humanity any hope. Only those who understand human existence as a communal pilgrimage for Truth which is not yet fully known can possibly move forward towards it, those who see History as the history of revelation and as a quest for salvation. Only if there is a Future can the New emerge.