Wednesday, April 28, 2004

I Feel Jewish, Oh So Jewish


Hey, buddy. Wassup? Jus chillin? It's all good, Brian.
Welcome to Or perhaps, in view of my enigmatically stoic and eternally didactic manner I should call it Or even more, perhaps, in view of my protean nature--the cast of characters I embody--I should say: "Welcome to! Yes, Freedman is an Org, a complex multiplicity of ego states and affective nuances.
I'm feeling very Jewish. What, you may ask, does it mean to feel Jewish? Well, I suppose that what it means to feel Jewish differs from person to person. For Elie Wiesel, it means Remembrance. A remembrance of the past, of past experience, of loss, of the loss of family, community, of the entirety of European Jewish civilization. It's as if Wiesel's assigned role in life is to preserve for future generations the memory of the past in word and metaphor.
For Ariel Sharon, a secular Jew for the most part, I suppose being Jewish means being the political leader of a polity of Jews, the Jewish state, the embodiment of the hope of the Jewish people, both past and present. I was deeply moved by, and will never forget ("and will never forget," that's so Jewish), something that the Prime Minister said at the height of Israel's foray into the West Bank--and the siege of Ramallah where Yassir Arafat was hold out--last year, in 2003. The Prime Minister was asked about the legitimate claims of the Palestinians to the West Bank and to the desire of Palestinians worldwide to return to Israel proper. In measured tones of proud severity, Ariel Sharon proclaimed the unalterable and undeniable ties of the Jewish people to the land of Israel: "The land of Israel," he said, "has been the home of the Jewish people for three thousand years." It was as if for Sharon nothing more need be said. Whatever the claims of the Palestinians--whether those claims be legitimate or illegitimate--the Prime Minister proclaimed (as Earl Segal might): "We, the Jews, hold title to this land in fee simple."
That one statement changed my view of Sharon as a mere conquering militarist to the view of him as man who sees himself as carrying a moral responsibility for the protection of the claims of the Jews to their historical homeland, the land of their fathers and the home of future generations of Jews. "The hope of the Jewish people" as Harvard comparative literature professor Stephen Greenblatt said at the time.
Golda Meir, another secular Prime Minister, when asked whether she believed in God said: "I believe in the Jewish People, who believe in God."
So what does it mean when I say "I am feeling very Jewish?" For me it is a feeling of the power of reason and of The Word. It is a feeling, or capacity, to suffer or experience an injustice, all the while confident that the means to right that injustice rests with the Power of the Word. Words that function as more than words. "Beyond Words," as the motto of the D.C. Public Library has it. Beyond Words: a phrase that connotes the power of words as Words, but paradoxically not "fighting words," as Justice Holmes would call them. Words as the vehicle for emotion, from the most sublime to the most disturbingly vengeful. But only words, not action--not action, not illegality.
Being Jewish for me means suffering a wrong and seeking to right that wrong by sitting down with paper, pen and ink. Or word processor. Or computer. For me the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States is the most "religious," the most "Jewish" of the rights of Americans. Ironically I refer not to the Establishment Clause. For me religion is not literally "religion," that is the world of sacrifice and slaughtered rams. For me religion -- the Jewish religion--is the freedom to speak and write, to express one's self in words. A veritable Sea of Words. The freedom to navigate through the Sea of Words, which are the rational manifestation of the wild currents of variegated emotional states -- from the most exultant to the most despairing.
Words, words, words, words. Words as a vehicle of expression, of the embodiment of experience, of morality, of identity. Words as a connection between my world of personal experience, on the one hand, and to the world at large, on the other. Words as a vessel of communication, words as the conduit of the desire to "Let the World see what I have seen."
Do I recognize that a direct threat of physical harm through words is a forbidden act in our society? Yes! Do I respect the distinction between a proscribed "threat of harm" and, alternatively, the permissible act of freedom of expression? Yes! But I also recognize, as any thinking person must, that the subjective perception of threat by the recipient of a communication is not necessarily a measure of the forbidden nature of the ideas of the communicator. The fact that the recipient of a communication feels subjectively threatened is not a measure or indicator that the communicator has engaged in an unlawful act.
So what does it mean when I say I'm feeling very Jewish? For me "feeling very Jewish," as the secular Jew (or half-Jew) that I am, means being true to the best in the Jewish tradition. For me the best in Jewish tradition takes the form of recognizing that the conscious acceptable enemy, be it personal, social or societal is to be battled in a war waged largely in words within the controllable arena of social conscience within a writing: whether that writing be a letter, a play, a speech, a work of art or any collection of words--or "Words."
Well, so much for my Jewish feelings.
And how are you feeling, my friend? You who claim to be so threatened by my words!
How can one explain why someone would subjectively feel threatened by an expression that any reasonable person would not perceive as threatening?
How can one explain your bizarre act of summoning the police and having me banned from the library for a six-month period simply because I wrote a letter that communicated nothing more than the fact that I was depressed, that I wanted to avenge (through lawful means) the wrongs done to me, and that I was not following my physician's medical prescription that I take medication that did not help me in any way?
Perhaps, the reason is that you have positive feelings for me--perhaps you like me a little "too much," shall we say. Perhaps your reaction was a "paranoid one," in the technical sense of the word.
Is it possible the I am an important person to you emotionally, and that you assigned me an unacceptable quantum of malign power precisely because of your irrational investment in me?
Yes, I like you, Brian. Yes, perhaps I like you a little too much. But isn't it possible that behind your face of rationality lurks the ghost of Schreber?
You will recall from my previous letters that Daniel Gottlob Schreber was the psychotically-paranoid judge (is there any other kind!) whose bizarre memoirs, "The Memoirs of a Neuropath," intrigued Freud. Freud wrote an analysis of Schreber's memoirs, an analysis that was a tour de force of insights into the paranoid mental state. Freud's insights, which center on the homosexual import of paranoid fantasies, have informed all subsequent psychoanalytical writings on the subject of paranoia.
Freud's biographer writes: "For decades Freud had been persuaded that the craziest ideas of the most regressed psychotic are so many messages, rational in their own twisted way. In accord with this conviction, Freud chose to translate Schreber's confidences rather than to dismiss them. He read his world system as a coherent set of transfigurations designed to make the unbearable bearable: Schreber had invested his enemies, whether [his treating physician] Dr. Flechsig or God, with such malign power because they had been so important to him. In short, Schreber had come to hate them so deeply because he had earlier loved them so much; paranoia was, for Freud, the mental ailment parading with unsurpassed vividness the psychological defenses of reversal and, even more, of projection. The 'core conflict in the paranoia of a man' is, as Freud put it in his case history, a 'homosexual wish-fantasy of loving a man.' The paranoiac turns the declaration "I love him" into its opposite, "I hate him"; this is the reversal. He then goes on to say, "I hate him because he persecutes me"; that is the projection." Peter Gay, Freud: A Life For Our Time at 281 (New York: W.W. Norton, 1988).
For Freud, to call a man "paranoid" was to call him a homosexual -- or at least a sublimated one.
You see, Brian, the difference between you and me is that I have insight into my feelings. I know what my feelings about you mean, and I accept that meaning. Call me grandiose, but I'm a superior person at least in my ability to have insight into my variegated "dot org" mental states. For those with poorer insight and/or a poorer understanding of their intrapsychic motivations, the real world can arouse disturbing feelings whose rationality seems ultraclear, but which are no less irrational.
Brian, in conclusion, maybe the reason you felt threatened by my letter to you, the letter of April 16, 2004, is that you like me, you really, really like me--as The Flying Nun would say.
Check you out later, buddy.
P.S. If you're ever at a party at somebody's house, Brian, never yell "library" in a crowded foyer -- it could cause a fatal stampede to the stacks.

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