Just wanted to acknowledge the dearth of activity: been travellin’, been job-interviewin’, been grad-school investigatin’, been post-some-schmuck-hit-and-ran-on-my-car-while-I-was-eatin’-estimatin’, been on 4-day weeks because of yontif and all that lulav/etrog shakin’ it entails.  Et cetera.  But as I’m finally caught up on Mad Men and am progressing enough in Proust that I’ve started calling the first signals of literary motifs “overtures,” sooner or later I’ll come back to you, long-neglected pixellated web log and you who read it.

–JLW

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What I’m Doing Here

August 25, 2010

So here I am – again, for anyone who has cared to stumble back onto this page; and, even for those who are themselves here for the first time, it’s obvious this is not my first time here.

I first began this blog way long ago (October 2008; just check the right-hand column of this page) because I wanted to jump into the conversation.  Those were the heady early Autumn days of Culture11 and Obamaconism, when I still thought I would grow up to be a professional Classicist.  And, through some internet journeys that swept me here, there, and to Upturned Earth in its several locations, that was my reason for staying in the game.

I left for a variety of reasons—among them that I finally managed to tack on enough academic obligations to overwhelm myself.  But more than anything, even before those obligations came due, was that I didn’t know who I was talking to anymore, or what about.

But I’ve had a year to read, to write, to get confused and lose bearings more than once.  I admit, I haven’t read too much of the internet since I left it – I had to go cold turkey for a while, and it was marvelous.  Which leads to the important question: after that much time, what the hell am I doing here of all places.

Well, frankly, it’s because I miss the conversation.  I still harbor my doubts about blogging as the type of writing best suited for me; my concern that it may, in fact, undermine my focus on the kind of writing that, as a form, as a vocation, I truly care about – but as a tool of conversation, I can’t help but think that it’s magnificent.

My concern for politics has continued to atrophy; but my concern for society, for culture, for literature, for knowledge, faith, and art has not.  So we’ll talk.  About those things; about whatever.  So the words will probably just fade noiselessly into the abyss – but don’t they all?  Isn’t the point of it to transform words into – wait for it – something closer to a set of phaidimoi logoi?

So here I am, one more in a long line of Nice Jewish Boys who haven’t realized the trouble they’re getting themselves into with that phrase.

What I believe is the unabridged collection of posts written in the estimable company of John Schwenkler and his blog.  In the interests of being as accurate as possible, posts before May 14, 2009 (I think) appeared originally at the WordPress version of the blog; from that date on, at its home at The American Conservative.  Not sure how they read a year later, but anyway, beginning with the earliest:

Introductories (4/7/09)

That Problem of Sex and Marriage (4/7/09)

The Kids Can See Alright (4/8/09)

Dayeinu (4/11/09)

Freedom’s Underside (4/13/09)

Cavafy’s Time Machine (4/15/09)

Freedom’s Underside, Pt. III (4/16/09)

Classical Athenian Wisdom of the Day (4/16/09)

Classical Athenian Wisdom of the Day (4/17/09)

Who I’m Versus (4/19/09)

Remarkable Evil Does Not Require a Remarkable Man (4/22/09)

Above the Government’s Pay Grade (4/27/09)

Arts Czars, Ctd. (4/28/09)

Plantitarian Thoughts (4/30/09)

Fairness Claims vs. Justice Claims vs. Immigration Policy (5/3/09)

Leonard Cohen’s Song of Songs (5/7/09)

The Body World and The Machine (5/8/09)

The Google-Brain and the Future of Memory (5/11/09)

What’s a Nice Jewish Boy Like Me Doing Wading into an Issue as Messy as This? (5/14/09)

Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss? (5/20/09)

Doubt and Faith Revisted (5/22/09)

Still Here (6/3/09)

So I Know This Isn’t the Best Example, But… (6/12/09)

New York Times Baits Julie Gunlock (6/14/09)

The Criminalization of Hate and Erosion of the Deed (6/14/09)

Why I’m Blaming Sammy Sosa for My Stomach Flu (6/18/09)

Why Did We Ever Stop Making Prayerbooks Beautiful in the First Place? (6/22/09)

Let’s Just Retire the Word “Zionist” for a Little While, OK? (6/22/09)

Hellonphiles, Rejoice! (6/23/09)

Artist and Community (6/24/09)

Artist and Community, Ctd. (6/26/09)

When Truth and Beauty Clash (6/27/09)

The Natural Habitat of E. coli is the Lower Intestine (6/29/09)

Of Fireworks, Yogurt, and Hiati (7/7/09)

Michael Jackson, the Public Spectacle, and Approximations of Grief (7/8/09)

Houses and Homes: Some Thoughts on “Up” (7/9/09)

A Follow-Up on Grief (7/14/09)

Well, I Guess We Flunked That One (7/16/09)

Dept. of Pet Peeves, Sports Journalist Edition (7/22/09)

I Am Insane (7/23/09)

Akhilles Wouldn’t Have Been Akhilles If All He Did Was Win the Super Bowl (7/24/09)

Alternative Reality Pillowcases (7/26/09)

Organic’s Expensive?  Well, That Doesn’t Mean You Can’t Eat Healthy Food Anyway (7/31/09)

The Israeli Settlement Policy Is Demographic Suicide.  Now Get Over It.  (8/3/09)

Thoughts on Localism (or, The Need for Pulling My Head out of the Clouds) (8/11/09)

The Mysterious Declining Birthrates of Industrialized Nations Explained? (8/13/09)

Whole Foods CEO Quotes Margaret Thatcher, Whole Foods Customers Horrified (8/14/09)

Saul Bellow on the Problem of Modernity (8/17/09)

Another Reason I Don’t Understand the Logic Behind Boycotting Whole Foods (8/18/09)

Epidemiologists: Pre-emptive Wars Necessary, Justified, Only Hope in Case of Zombie Invasion (8/18/09)

News!

April 6, 2009

As some of you have no doubt already seen mentioned by John, I’ll be joining him over at Upturned Earth for most of my blogging.  I’m keeping this site around, and may use it for the occasional post.  I haven’t yet introduced myself over there — I spent this afternoon locked in mortal combat with my computer and opening pitch of the Cubs’ season is in thirty minutes — so keep an eye out for that.  It should be happening shortly.  I’m excited about this move; it’s really just the culmination of the Kentucky basketball-Notre Dame football analogy.

From tomorrow through Sunday, I’ll be in Minneapolis at the annual meeting of the Classical Association of the Middle West and South, where I’ll be presenting a paper — on the use of the word phaidimos in the Odyssey, so it relates, actually, to the name of this place.  So that’s why I won’t be around until then.

Israel & Gaza

March 21, 2009

Commenting on this Ha’aretz report on the IDF, Michael Weiss makes an astute comment and nails my immediate reaction to them:

“[T]he responsible first response to them is one of demoralization.”

I’ll have more to say on it later — it’s been on my mind as of late — but I’m still not quite feeling up to full strength (made a deal with the devil about delaying geting sick until after I finished with final papers) and have a flight to catch soon.  Speaking of which: next time you feel like being irresponsible with your health, insist on finishing Saul Bellow’s Ravelstein rather than go to bed while your fever spikes to 103.  That way, you get to have your fever-dreams merge with scenes from Ravelstein’s illness and the narrator’s fever-dreams.  Hannah Arendt kept showing up, also — still trying to figure that one out.  I think my mind had married her to both Leo Strauss and Bellow… anyway…

3… 2… 1…

March 19, 2009

And … I’m back!  Farewell, winter quarter; hello sunshine and (ever briefly) the warmth of the South!  It may take another 24 hours for my mind to clear up after yesterday’s Oh-Shit-I-Forgot-To-Ask-For-That-Extension-Term-Paper-In-A-Single-Day-Session.  (Not as much of a disaster as I thought it might be, though the last 1500 words went very slowly.)

Not that you care.  However, this article on American Jews and the Holocaust might pique your curiosity.  In short, the philosophical relationship to the event is awkward.

And, to give you an idea of how out of it I was lately, apparently Andrew Sullivan linked here (and misspelled my name!) and I didn’t notice it.  And then this place went dimmer than John’s.  Ah, such is life.

The End Is Nigh!

March 8, 2009

Of the quarter, that is.  So if I’m more sporadic than usual, rest assured that it has nothing to do with the state of UK basketball and everything to do with the number of papers I’ve set myself up for in the immediate future.

“or are forbidden to sing or play songs that explicitly refer to Christ”

And then Ivan Kenneally gives me an off-topic (or is it?) flashback: Eighth grade, I think, outside during gym class. OK, that’s what it was – we were doing our end of year “Olympics”: the various jumps, relay races, etc. (I was not particularly good at these.) So there was a lot of still time, and I turned around and saw/heard one of the guys in my grade (who I really couldn’t stand) swaying and singing, “Jesus Loves Me,” while two girls were talking next to him. No big problem, except he and I are both Jewish, they’re Christian and more religious than either of us at the time, and he’s singing it in a sort of asshole-like tone.

I don’t remember what transpired in detail, but the short of it is: I wanted him to stop, because it was pretty clear that he was mocking them; one of the girls – exceptionally sincere and one of my favorite people from then – said that she didn’t mind because it was true. At the time, I was mostly frustrated by the fact that her letting him go on like that would probably make him more insufferably obnoxious elsewhere.

I didn’t really understand any of what she meant until four or five years later — and part of it is something I am capable of understanding as distinct from Jesus though she (if I were talking to her right now) might tell me that she understands it as indistinct from him, but also understands what I mean.  I think it has something to do with this: that even if they’re not any more effective, smiles are at least more beautiful than hellfire.

So I suppose I techincally can’t join in the fray quite the same way as some others can, but half (roughtly) of my family tree is Baptist, more or less, so anyway, in response to this post on carols, I’m going to go out and say that my favorite Christmas carol is “Carol of the Bells.”  In fact, it’s probably my favorite Channukah song also.  Don’t ask me to give you all (or very many at all) of the words, though; they come too fast for me to remember.

My father didn’t like it, or “Little Drummer Boy,” because he felt they were too sad for Christmas; as for me, I find the creepy-factor likeable in “Carol of the Bells.”  (We never listened to “Little Drummer Boy” in my house, it was never sung at my great-grandparents’ house, and the radio station changed if it came on.)   And while it’s not the only song with this ability, if I hear it unexpectedly, it takes me back to the moment I first consciously listened to it — middle school, holiday assembly, as the choir sang it.   For me, at least, “winter” music is sadder, bleaker, and more prone to minor key than warm-weather music.  As in: Emmylou and Cash are for Autumn, all other Sinatra is Spring and Summer, but Leonard Cohen and Sinatra-getting-over-Ava are what come to mind if you ask me for “winter” music.

I think it’s because shortly after the first snowfall I tend to catch myself thinking, “Oh yeah — that schmuck Hades stole Persephone.”  And the first line of a poem by the lovably insane Kentuckian-turned-Alabamian-poet/professor T. Crunk: “The cold reveals everything.”  And up here, cold means cold, as I was reminded when I got back after Thanksgiving.  There’s something to that biting cold with the wind whipping down to your bones as it comes in off the lake that makes it hard not to be a little too honest with yourself.

But then again, there’s nothing quite like that wind in your face when you wake up early and wander around in the morning quiet after a snowfall.

I’ve lost track of what any of this has to do with Christmas carols; for that I apologize.  It’s the end of the quarter.  I’m running on, among other things, George Jones playing far too loudly from the speakers and not much more.