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God as an Idea (Part Two)

Date: 01/29/2015
Blogger:
Ilan Stavans and Justin David

A Teacher and a Rabbi in Conversation

(Link to Part One)

Ilan Stavans: I’ve often been asked if I believe in God. You know, Justin, I confess to keep changing my mind, not because I don’t believe in God—do I, really?—but because I like counting the various options my mind is able to come up with.

Rabbi Justin David: I don’t like the English construction “believing in God”; I find it either infantile or contradictory. If you say “I don’t believe in God,” you’re already acknowledging God as an idea worth thinking about. In Judaism, that constitutes the first step, so even professed “non-believers” believe. But the real reason I dislike the phrase is that it turns the spiritual life into a game of make believe, as if “believing in God” is akin to the tooth fairy. Also, the English construction is completely...

The Freedom to Dissent

Date: 01/28/2015
Blogger:
Erri De Luca

Editor’s Note: Three weeks after the recent events in Paris, as an article in yesterday’s Guardian points out, it’s hard not to make comparisons. Tana de Zulueta, a former member of parliament in Italy and a board member of Articolo 21, an Italian NGO supporting press freedoms, comments, “After the massacre at Charlie Hebdo and the march in Paris which was supposed to display international solidarity over the right of free expression, a court in Turin is about to test the limits of free speech in Italy.”

In Turin this morning a trial began, with one of Italy’s best-known writers, Erri De Luca, in the...

God as an Idea (Part One)

Date: 01/27/2015
Blogger:
Ilan Stavans and Justin David

A Teacher and a Rabbi in Conversation

Rabbi Justin David: In Paradise Lost (1667), John Milton says that “the mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, and a hell from heaven.” I want to talk to you about a number of perhaps disparate themes: God’s place in the human mind, about living a dignified life, about how religion is perceived in the secular world, about finding meaning in what we do. Perhaps Milton’s quote is a fitting place to start, a kind of home.

In college, Paradise Lost was the first text I really sweated over, waking up early to read it, reading it over multiple times in the process of studying it, and figuring out how to write about it. It was my introduction to what may be called a midrashic way of thinking. The quote is itself a window onto the enterprise of divining meaning through the retelling of stories.

For better or worse, Milton is right: as moderns, we know well...

from The Crime of a Soldier

Date: 01/26/2015
Blogger:
Erri De Luca

Editor's note: Tuesday, January 27, 2015 marks seventy years since the liberation of Auschwitz. In a recent novel, the Italian writer Erri De Luca reflects on his visit to the camp during the '90s.
 

My Yiddish came from obstinacy. I first wanted to learn it after returning from the ceremonies marking the fiftieth anniversary of the Warsaw uprising: April 1943, April 1993. At age forty-three I took some vacation time from my job at a construction site and went to Warsaw.

Reading I’d done as a boy had left some sort of map imprinted under my skin. I knew the layout of the ghetto, where the Germans piled together more than four hundred thousand lives. Wohnung bezirk, or “housing district”—that’s what they called the stockyard for bodies awaiting the shredder. The dispatch of armored trains to extermination camps they called an Aussiedlung, a “transfer.” Passing off fake vocabulary for cover. It’s...

Tous Charlie? Pas Tout à Fait

Date: 01/15/2015
Blogger:
Jim Hicks

Yesterday morning Charlie Hebdo hit the newstands in France and sold out within minutes. The cover of this “survival issue”—the newspaper’s first since two armed gunmen slaughtered eight of its journalists, killing four others as well at its Paris offices—appeared with the title, “All is pardoned,” and featured a caricature of Muhammed wearing an “I am Charlie” sign. The image, drawn by Renald Luzier (“Luz”), a staff cartoonist who simply happened to be late to work on Thursday, was true to form in its decision to violate Islamic strictures against representing the prophet.

   (Luz at the march in Paris, 10 January 2015)

Their editorial...

Not Their Hands

Date: 01/08/2015
Blogger:
Erri De Luca

To die with a pencil in your hand, a box of colors, as you sketch a pratfall for some tyrant or other, using the unrivaled instrument of the smile. From the page before them they must have raised their eyes toward the hooded assassins—the ones who didn’t dare show their faces. They raised their eyes, not their hands. Today once again we learn with fierce precision that irony is the greatest enemy of fanaticism. I come from the land of raspberries, so I hold back wrath and tears, put tongue and lips together, and trumpet forth a sound fit for anyone who believes irony can be killed.

Slaughter doesn’t limit itself to threatening the freedom of critics. Its aim is to injure freedom itself, taken as immoral by the assassins. Europe was born against fascisms, out of tyrannies and their wars of conquest. For the Parisian assassins, the citizens of Europe will be the toughest nut to crack. 

Erri De Luca is an Italian novelist,...

Haiti: Five Years After

Date: 01/04/2015
Blogger:
Myriam J. A. Chancy

Cincinnati, Ohio
J
anuary 2, 2015

Yesterday, January 1, 2015, marked the two hundred and eleventh anniversary of Haiti’s independence. In ten more days, January 12, 2015, Haiti, Haitians, and Haiti allies will commemorate the fifth anniversary of the 7.0 Richter scale earthquake that left 316,000 people dead, thousands more injured, and an approximate 1.7 million without shelter. Beyond the bonds of slavery, from which Haitian revolutionaries forcibly removed their chains, and beyond its cost to the newly emancipated nation (perceived as threatening to the plantation systems of neighboring Latin American countries and of the US antebellum South, swiftly leading to its economic crippling as the nation was cut-off from global trade, courtesy of Napoleon’s vanquished France), the earthquake has perhaps been the most singularly...

Asphyxiation, or, Sickness Unto Death

Date: 12/05/2014
Blogger:
Jim Hicks

You know the call, so here I’ll simply turn it to task:

“Can we get a jury?” “Hell no!” “Can we get a jury?” “Hell no!”

After these long years of hate, and after this, our nation’s latest failed Reconstruction, what else could we expect? Justice? Democracy? Some measure of public institutions we can believe in? The long arc indeed. . .

Perhaps because the nightmare of history I spend my time thinking about is as much outside our borders as in, a comment heard at a lecture by Samantha Power years ago has lately been rattling through my head. As the headlines keep piling on: Ferguson, Cleveland, Staten Island; no end, apparently, to these so-called exceptional situations. And yet what, after all, is the common or garden level of state violence directed at . . . well, all of you who ain’t no old white guy like me?

...

More or Less (Part Seven)

Date: 12/02/2014
Blogger:
Woody Brown

MORE OR LESS

A Seminar on the Massive Open Online Course

 

(in Seven Easy Lessons)

(Link to Lesson One)

Lesson Seven: Wanting It

“One has but to look to see that, wherever one does not come by such knowledge by pounding it into one’s head by tough experience, it falls flat. It can neither be imported nor exported. There is no information that stands up unless it is shaped for use.”

--Jacques Lacan, Seminar XX

What does it mean to educate? Education is not the communication of facts from one mind to many. Education is something very different. There is no evidence that Mark Twain ever really said the following line, but the...

More or Less (Part Six)

Date: 11/23/2014
Blogger:
Woody Brown

 

A Seminar on the Massive Open Online Course

(in Seven Easy Lessons)

(Link to Lesson One)
(Link to Lesson Seven)

Lesson Six: I Must Be Mistaken

Amazingly, the MOOC I took graded students based solely on peer reviews. In fact, this is the case in every course Coursera offers that requires students to complete assignments that “do not lend themselves easily to automated grading by a computer,” that is, “courses in the Humanities.” This would seem to offend basic logic (i.e. “How can one student, who is by definition someone who is just as unfamiliar with the...