A Misremembered Woman

Carl Jung, Sabrina Spielrein, and Sigmund Freud
c. 1909-1921

A Misremembered Woman 

I found a book to read for the flight from Philadelphia to Ontario, California, this past week. It was about a woman named Sabina Spielrein. I’d never heard of her, but she’s an important figure in the recent history of our culture — a woman whose significance, influence and voice have been stifled by her colleagues, her detractors and even by her defenders.

Her innovations were offered to the then-young field of psychoanalysis. To Freud, she contributed the concept of the death-instinct and to Jung the concept of “mythic motifs” in the human unconscious, particularly feminine ones. She also brought attention to female sexuality as a force in its own right, not to be defined by what it … uh … lacks (!) and to the psychological understanding of children. She was one of the first women to be admitted to Freud’s Vienna Psychoanalytic Society. She practiced psychoanalysis in Geneva, Switzerland, for almost ten years, before returning to Russia, the country of her birth, in the 1920’s. She became a leading figure in the Moscow Institute of Psychoanalysis till Soviet persecution caused its closure and the execution of most of the leadership. She continued to do the work to which she felt called, as long as she could, in conditions more and more hidden, less and less favorable. Then came the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union. Her husband, whom she had tenderly cared for in his last illness, had been fortunate enough to die of natural causes. Along with her two daughters, Sabina Spielrein perished in the Holocaust in 1942.

There is nothing in all this to be ashamed of and much to be admired. Why then is this pathbreaking and heroic woman misremembered?

As a girl of nineteen, she suffered some kind of a breakdown, which was labeled “schizophrenia.” In those days, a lot of disturbances got called “schizophrenia.” These horror-show categories were flung about with robust and boyish zest. In the Freud/Jung correspondence, as the two pioneers in the science of the soul began to quarrel, Freud diagnosed Jung as suffering from “paranoia” and Jung returned the serve, seeing his professional adversary as having succumbed to “dementia praecox.” Go to it, fellas!

Actually, whatever the proximate causes that led to her confinement in the Burgholzli Clinic in Zurich, Switzerland, I myself tend to see them as an occupational hazard of the times for women who had intellectual goals and aptitude. When I was a graduate student in philosophy at Penn State, some of my professors were creative thinkers – which was why I was there – but their views about women were identical to those Sabina was to meet in the first decades of the twentieth century in Vienna and Zurich.

In my graduate days, as in hers, the mind and the life of the mind were deemed male preserves. A woman who presumed to enter that stronghold would be told that she was man-like, hence unnatural. Of the women who were grad students with me at Penn State, one converted to Catholicism and (when last I saw her) was preparing to became a nun, another, who was Eastern Orthodox, entered a convent where they practiced flagellation (whipping, to purify the soul), another dropped out to marry an Ethiopian and move to that far country, and the last, who had the temerity to be a wife and mother, was forced out. What happened to me is the story told in Confessions of A Young Philosopher.

Anyway, back to Sabina. As a patient, she was placed under the care of the youthful Dr. Carl Jung. He abused the enormous power he had over this young woman by becoming her lover. I gather that this sort of perversion of influence was countenanced in some quarters as “The Love Cure”! Talk about brazen hypocrisy! It was neither love nor a cure, but she was intelligent and strong-minded enough to recover anyway. She went on to get her degrees and contribute to her profession in many ways, some of which I’ve described.

That is, she did so until her struggles to live and to work were cut short by the wave of demonic spite that is called Shoah. Holocaust. She and her daughters were taken to one of those fresh-dug trenches designed for the disposal of Jewish lives. They were stripped, gunned to death and the raw earth was shoveled over them.

This is the story of a quiet woman hero of our time. But here is how the psychoanalytic chroniclers have generally chosen to remember her: as a “schizophrenic”; as the designing “mistress” of the great Dr. Jung; as a person somehow compliant with her own murderers because of the theoretical work on the death instinct that she had done as a young woman, decades earlier!

The story of these mislabelings and of her reclassification by later feminists is the subject of Angela Sells’ book, Sabina Spielrein: The Woman and the Myth. That’s the book I was reading on the flight to California.

Good that the book was written. Good that feminists are at last trying to set the record straight. But I’m almost as distressed by the feminist rehabilitations as I am by the retrospective belittling she still gets from her psychoanalytic colleagues. The feminists quoted in the Sells book seem to argue that creative contributions should be viewed as neither male nor female, perhaps because — were they seen as female or as feminine — the boys-from-psychoanalysis could still stomp them into the dust. So the feminists appear to apologize for Sabina’s sometimes “straying” into the view that mythic feminine figures found in the human unconscious may have something in common with the way women are, actually, in real life. As if repeating a magic mantra that, said often enough, will deliver the liberation of women, they stress that gender is socially constructed. For these feminists, the presence of femininity is no more likely to take up residence in the soul of a woman than it is in the psyche of a man.

How did this happen to feminism? Writers like Simone de Beauvoir noticed that “femininity” had been stylized beyond its biological basis. There is nothing exceptional about this. All cultures stylize the biological facts so that they will conform to the culture’s aims and beliefs. A culture may even be defined as a stylization of desire. De Beauvoir further saw that some of these stylizations offered pretexts for male abuse of male power. The remedy she proposed was extreme, as initial remedies often are. It was to treat womanhood itself — not merely the abusive hyper-stylizations of it – as artificial and conventional.

Applied to Sabina Spielrein, the resulting portrait is still unfair. Her concepts had a feminine tenderness that is being missed by her defenders. Thus, her “death instinct” lacked the morbid features of Freud’s. Hers had to do with the death-and-resurrection that belong to erotic union, and to the process of shedding outworn concepts under the special summons of creativity. Her mythic motif was inspired by Goethe’s vision of The Mothers in his Faust.

These are recognizably feminine ideals, drawn from the romance of women’s lives.   Others may borrow them or use them with creative empathy, the way a woman novelist may persuasively portray a man, getting into his skin and his way of being.

But to most women I know, concepts like Sabina’s are not playthings or optional fancies.

They run deep.

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How Can I Tell If It’s God?

Charlton Heston in “The Ten Commandments”

How Can I Tell If It’s God?

I have Christian friends who tell me that a moment came in their experience when “everything changed.” They “met the living God.”

Another friend, Jewish, who’s pretty well versed in Yoga, recently reported briefly entering a different state or dimension, higher than high, which sounded like a pretty lofty rung on the ladder of Yoga, as analyzed and catalogued in Patajali’s Yoga Sutras. In India, they’ve been doing this for a long long time and they know how.

Has anything on that order happened to me? I don’t think so. At one time, I did yoga meditation regularly and attained the level called Kumbhaka, suspension of breath. So far as I could tell, I wasn’t breathing! It’s supposed to be the state preparatory to entering bliss. Well, I waited and waited, bliss never happened, so I started breathing again. What the heck.

I used to love old-time Bible movies. You could always tell when divinity made its entrance. If Jesus was the main event, he’d be back lit, with auburn long hair and organ music wherever he walked.

If Moses was filmed standing in front of the Burning Bush, the Voice of God spoke in the King James Version, amplified by an Echo Chamber effect.

Jerry, who (as far as he could tell) had never believed in God, nor sought Him, heard a Real Voice. It did not come with Echo Chamber attached and it used no Elizabethan thee’s and thou’s. Yet, from inside the experience, he found himself unable to doubt that this was God talking. Jerry is a professional philosopher, trained in epistemology – the theory of knowledge – which often comes down to a theory of doubt. By temperament, he’s disinclined to get carried away. He’s more like a natural skeptic. So if Jerry reports an experience that he can’t sincerely doubt, I take his report very seriously.

Anyway, thinking about these questions of belief and doubt, I finally asked myself, Why do I believe in God?

I was raised in a home with so many rich, layered Jewish associations that the question of belief or disbelief was not one that presented itself in that form in my childhood and youth. Since my father, for reasons that belong to another story, had taken us all out of organized Jewish life, I never learned the practices of Jewish observance but also missed those disillusioning experiences that lead many to kick the dust of childhood religiosity from their heels. Nothing had occurred to put me off the subject and I entered my twenties with a vague sense that God would take proper care of me if I just counted on Him and did my best.

That did not prove out. In fact, disappointments followed so thick and fast that finally I decided that – if I couldn’t “cure” God – I could cure disappointment by ceasing to place any more hopes in Him. (I’d say Him or Her, but I didn’t think that way.)

What I hadn’t foreseen was that — with a negation sign where “God” had been — I didn’t travel lighter or cope with my life any better. The full story is told in Confessions of a Young Philosopher and I won’t rehearse it here.

Here I’m trying to locate the moment or the experience that turned me Godward again. Normally, when the teaching week was done, I would find a café and review it in my journal. What had happened? Did the week turn up defining concerns or themes? (Often it did.) Had these experiences challenged any belief I held or method I was using? If so, could I explain it away? If not, what should I change?

René Descartes, the so-called founder of Modern Philosophy had a method, which we call the Method of Doubt. If I had a method, it was the Method of Total Immersion in My Beliefs. I didn’t hold them at arm’s length. If I said “I think so and so,” I acted as if I really did think it.

Live like you mean it.

The story told in Confessions was a saga of my twenties. It fell into three parts. Publishers would tell me that they didn’t hang together.

So I tried a succession of strings on which to hang the beads of my experience: Freudian, Hegelian, Spinozistic, and the string still didn’t run smooth. Finally (all out of ideas) I tried Jewish. Hey! That worked! Could it be … could I be … Jewish? What could that possibly mean for a person who didn’t observe the practices of that identity and didn’t know how?

By that time, there were many layers in my life. Things had happened to me that I took to be miracles, Providential interventions. They weren’t backlit with organ music. They were what I call “Jewish miracles,” grounded in space and time, occurring in the midst of ordinary life. “Coincidences” customized to take note of, to make sense of, and finally to overcome some of the hidden impasses of my life.

Were these decisive? No. I knew the miracles could be regarded as chance happenings. Onlookers would take them that way.  Academics don’t talk about miracles. But the string of personal history didn’t pull taut till I took them as God-sent.

It wasn’t one single, blinding explosion replacing the day-to-day effort of trying to make sense of experience. But eventually it made so much sense of my life that I stopped calling it “belief.” It became who I was.

Really.

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I Believed Juanita Back When

I Believed Juanita Back When

When I watched Lisa Meyers’ NBC interview with Juanita Broaddrick, back when President Bill Clinton had just survived an impeachment vote in the Senate, I called myself a “Clinton Democrat.” Why then would I bother to watch a TV program where, as I’d heard, damaging accusations would be made against the very President I’d been fervently supporting for many months?

Two reasons. First, I always keep back a portion of trust regarding The Official Story. I don’t have an alternative story. Probably it’s true enough. Everyone I know says so. But who knows? Maybe it’s not true.

Second, to me “feminism” is an ”ism” that stands for sympathy for other women. What did this grown woman have to tell?

That the President of the United States, when he was the Attorney General of Arkansas, raped her.   What she described was a criminal rape. Not date rape. Not a situation where two people in a drunken haze “go too far.” No, not anything like that.

She was a business woman.  As Attorney General, he had authority to license her business. Some concern related to her work made it appropriate to consult him. She and her husband were Democratic Party contributors. Clinton said it would be more efficient to have their meeting in her hotel room where the interruptions of the press could be avoided.

I have met with colleagues in hotel rooms, mine and theirs. Some were peers. Some were Department chairs, hence potential employers. For working people, male or female, it is not a racy or suggestive thing to do. It does not lead to sex.

Once they were in her hotel room, he walked over to her, began to kiss her and – when she objected – sank his teeth into her upper lip.  What would you do? Get your face torn? Or submit?

Her roommate and her son confirmed that her upper lip was swollen and blackened after the encounter. Her assailant was “the law” in Little Rock and the rest of the state.

This experience, which she hadn’t chosen to reveal publicly, came to light in the course of the impeachment investigations. As her son said later, she didn’t “come out.” She was outed.

Watching her revisit this story during the interview, I did not find it possible to doubt her. Lisa Meyers is a hardened news reporter. She doesn’t believe everybody. But she said to Dorothy Rabinowitz, the print reporter for the Wall Street Journal who first broke the story (thus forcing a reluctant NBC to run the Meyers interview) – “I believe Juanita.”

Dorothy Rabinowitz asked me how old I was because, she said, I must belong to a generation of Americans who still thought you could do something about public evils. Her Inbox was flooded with mail from younger women who, like me, believed Juanita but felt that they could do nothing — not separately and not together.

My Texas-born mother-in-law, who might have known more about types like Bill and Hillary than I did, said she was glad I got nowhere with the public feminists I tried to rally. Had I been more successful, I might have got hurt.

I am far from denying that innocent young college men have been targeted by false accusations and deprived of due process when they contested those charges. My former colleague at Brooklyn College, K C Johnson, has written about this, and K C is a scrupulous historian who has himself suffered for his truthfulness. Nor do I doubt that women can also take sexual advantage of vulnerable men and boys.

These grotesque trespasses do not respect sexual orientations, party lines, previous affiliations or demarcations of class and status.

Here I only address what I’ve directly seen and heard: Juanita Broaddrick’s credible accusation, the flight of the public feminists of those days, my own forty-minute, long-distance telephone conversation with Juanita. An intelligent woman. A woman with an earned place and position in her own world. A violated woman. And not violated by a street thug. Raped by a man who became the highest elected official in our land.

Is this not significant? What then does it signify?

It was impossible then.

It is still impossible.

It seemed to me a turning point, when it was pretended that the intolerable was tolerable. To me a civilization is a romantic matrix, a site where honor – the quest for and service to highest things – includes the intimacies of personal life, the life of desire. Eros and the highest good — personal desire and public engagement with the civilization one serves – ought to converge.

I could not love thee, Dear, so much,

Loved I not Honour more

should underwrite every commitment. A culture, a civilization, is a romantic setting; it is the stage on which our personal dramas are played.

That doesn’t mean we aren’t creatures of mixed motives and compromised circumstances. I am not talking about unearthly purity or some state of imaginary innocence at the beginning or end of history. Our enshadowed conditions belong to the givens of our lives. We’re not perfect. Nobody said we were. But lives of honor can still be raised on the platform of human reality.

What happened to Juanita Broaddrick is

an affront to the honor of this nation.

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Betrayal

Betrayal

Jerry and I have been attending the American Academy of Religion (AAR) meetings in Boston this weekend. That’s the venue at which Jerry continues his guiding activities in the subfield of “Theology Without Walls,” which he introduced at the AAR.

Flying is not fun any more so we decided to drive to Boston from Bucks County, PA where we live. We were on the outskirts of Boston when Jerry said to me,

“I have bad news.”

What? Has there been a nuclear disaster? Are the tires flat? What, short of that, could be bad? Jerry doesn’t usually say things like that.

“I forgot to pack the suitcase.”

Oh. You mean the bulging suitcase, stuffed with the right things to wear, articles de toilette, nightgown, underthings, socks and – not least – the packets describing Confessions of A Young Philosopher that I was planning to show to editors at the Books Exhibits? That suitcase?

Well, worse things have happened in this world of woe. It’s not a big tragedy, or even a little one. It’s not a tragedy at all. It’s just … a little thwarting?

I wasn’t really geared up to talk to editors about my new book, being now engaged in correcting proofs for the expanded reissue of A Good Look at Evil.  Maybe that’s why I didn’t look to see if the suitcase was loaded, as normally we both would. A change of clothes, into something more dress-for-success, wasn’t mandatory …

In fact, it added heaps to the stress of the trip. The long walks across downtown Boston intersections to purchase the necessaries, exhausting for a person with neuropathy, the unrelated and peculiar pile-ups of inconveniences at the hotel (one restaurant closed on account of a kitchen fire, the other restaurant closed – we were told at the door — “two minutes ago”), the in-room phone that couldn’t reach the concierge or anybody else with any button you pushed … . Meanwhile, the absence of basic personal stuff put a floor-layer of distress under everything.

Jerry was chairing a number of panels on TWW. Some were almost alive with interest – like organisms (composed of the speakers and the people attending) that had sprung to life. We joined some philosopher-theologians for lunch or dinner, with interactions – personal and conceptual both – that were substantive and real. Theologians seem to me nicer than philosophers. Maybe they didn’t use to be, in centuries past. But they are now. You can watch them having breath-catchingly earnest private conversations in the hotel lobby or the café. There seems more the sense of a common quest and less the sense of a war-by-other-means that you get in philosophy.

The TWW project is to go beyond the boundaries of particular “confessions,” or religious identities, so as to draw on the wide fields of spiritual experience that belong to humanity as such. The purpose is to find out all we can know – from whatever sources seem veridical — about what God is like and how to orient ourselves toward the divine dimension in our lives.  In a way, nothing could be more interesting, or more natural, than this exploration. What then is the concern, listening to my own reactions?

Really, cultures bestow the matrix of our personal choices. The drama of our lives therefore takes shape within cultures. And cultures, finally, are defined by what they take to be Absolute or Ultimate. Yet globally, we are at a fork in the road of human experience, where we can see that our cultural absolutes cannot contain us entirely. We all feel that there is more, outside the walls.

My private concern is betrayal. I want to be myself, the one who – very precisely – I am. That identity, that authenticity, turns out to have a Jewish thread running through it. At the same time, it’s God I care about, it’s truth I care for, most of all. Need these conflict? I see my own concern played out in theological discussions a slightly different vocabulary.

It’s the vocabulary of “cultural appropriation.” This seems to be the fear that the spiritual seeker from one tradition can reach for the treasures of insight and experience of another culture and these insights – taken out of context – will be misunderstood, used without paying the price they exact, or used in such a way that the culture where they originated is weakened. If we belong to that culture, have we betrayed the treasure we were supposed to guard when we allowed that borrowing to take place? Or, if we are the borrowers, have we tempted another to betray a trust? Or, have we allowed ourselves to be influenced in such a way that we ourselves have been disloyal to our own origins?

Those who want to read all this in the language of power relations don’t pose the questions in a way that interests me. Power relations are ubiquitous and the remedies are not theological.

I’m interested in these questions as they impinge on personal integrity. The prophets speak of “whoring after strange gods.” How do you keep from whoring, from selling out? How do you draw the line? Where’s the line, anyway? What’s it made of?

Does it come from a Tradition? But those who made our tradition were themselves new and untried, once. Where did they draw the line? How did they recognize it?

It’s not that there’s no line, no judgments to make. Like all of life, this part of it – expanding boundaries without betraying origins — is risky too. There’s a bit of trial and error, much at stake, much to lose and much to win.

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Anger

“Study of a Woman’s Head”
Leonardo da Vinci c.1483

Anger

At one of the numberless administrative hearings held during my seven-year job fight, the opposing counsel asked me, with an insinuating sidewise smile,

“Are you very angry at the people who fired you?”

I glanced down the long table where a bunch of former colleagues were seated, not looking friendly.

“No,” I answered truthfully. “I am not much given to anger.”

When I was eventually reinstated with tenure, collegial friends expressed anxiety about the buzzing, hissing nest of revenge-seekers I’d be reentering.

It did not fall out that way. I did not feel resentful of those who had put me through seven years of professional hell. I rather felt sorry for them. In my view, they’d picked the wrong parts to play in the movie we’d shared. Like the bad guys in Westerns, they’d had to have the unshaven chins, wear the black hats and ride the swayback horses.

My Gandhian affect must have been felt, for on the whole they relaxed and our relations became amicable.

Actually, I didn’t get my peaceable attitude from Gandhi, much as I revered the Mahatma. It came from reading Benedict de Spinoza, the great seventeenth-century philosopher. Here is his recipe for not holding a grudge:

  • Find out what made you angry, which will be something external that (in your belief) has taken your power away.
  • Do what you can to exercise the very power you think you lost, or the nearest capability to it that’s accessible to you.
  • If you can’t get back that power, or its simalcrum, understand the conditions that moved your adversary to protect his vulnerability by attacking yours. Your exercise of understanding is itself a power and your use of it a remedy against your sense of other powers lost.

This is how, for many years, I have sidestepped anger.

Till yesterday. Something happened that made me so angry that my heart pounded all afternoon. And the Spinozistic remedy, though I knew how to use it, didn’t seem to fit the case. Rather, my anger was what seemed to honor the person who I felt had broken a written agreement and now gave not the slightest indication that he knew what he’d done. It seemed better to remain angry. Not more fun. Not a healthier vent for my inner steam. Just better.

No need to wallow in it. But let your anger see the light of day.

Give it its hour.

What had changed in me to bring about this new approach to my anger?

Spinoza’s God is not personal. It’s also called Substance. It’s Ultimate Action, Ultimate Causality, Unqualified Power. It has infinitely many infinite dimensions. Only, it doesn’t love you back and you can’t pray to it. The divine attributes and modes of attributes are brilliantly deployed in Spinoza’s system. He’s a very great philosopher and an exemplary man. But I no longer think that way.

To me at the present hour, God is more personal than that. In the aspect of the divine that I relate to, God is a Person whose witness and care support my attempts to make sense of the person I am. Part of making sense of who I am involves a struggle to make the right prevail over the wrong — so far as I can tell which is which. The double combat is what makes our lives dramatic, risky and real.

What does that mean, so far as anger goes? It means those who deliberately injure others have the freedom not to. If we say that really, deep down, they couldn’t help it, they become objects, subject to laws of nature or history. But we are not objects.

The perpetrator could have done otherwise

and merits anger therefore

– even if the victim is me.

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Jesus

“Christuskop”
Rembrandt, c.1648

Jesus 

This morning we had one of those leisurely breakfasts that goes on for some hours. The pleasure of being two philosophers who love each other comes into its own at such times. There are philosopher couples who indulge in the swordplay of argument with their spouses. Jerry and I don’t argue. At least not in the sense of wanting to score points off each other.

What we do with each other is think aloud.

Today the talk turned to Jesus. In the politics of religion, that’s a sensitive subject. With us, it’s not. We’re interested in the question of how to relate to God. That’s very different from the question of whose religion is “best” or (what comes to the same thing) which one has the strongest battalions.

We both take as obvious the Socratic principle:

better to lose the argument and win the truth 

than win the argument and lose the truth.

So now, Jesus. What’s the truth and what was the argument about? Jerry records a few arresting one-on-one conversations with Jesus in his book, God: An Autobiography, as told to a philosopher. Among other things, Jesus says that he was the messiah, the promised deliverer whom the Jews awaited. While of course they never got together as single collective will to “kill” Jesus (some were followers, some opponents and most Jews were likely out of earshot) – the failure of the Jewish community to recognize Jesus as the messiah does count as a “mistake.”

What kind of a mistake? They were expecting a messiah like Bar Kochba who rose up in 135 C.E. to restore the kingdom and throw off the Roman yoke. That wasn’t what Jesus advised. He seems to have said to his co-religionists:

  • Pay your taxes to the occupying power and don’t get into tragic misadventures.
  • You don’t have forces capable of bringing down Roman legions.

That was sure true. Had Jewish patriots not fought their way to disastrous defeat, the Second Temple would not have been destroyed in 70 C.E. and, after Bar Kochba’s last stand, the people never exiled nor the land rechristened “Palestine,” in pointed reference to the sea coast people who show up in the Bible as Goliath or Delilah or in David’s military campaigns.

On the other hand, even if more Jews had followed Jesus’ advice, and seen his uniqueness more accurately, it’s not clear to me that the ignominy of the centuries could have been avoided. The followers of Jesus, who offered full convert status even to those who did not observe all the commandments, were peeling off the Gentile “Friends of God” from the synagogues. In the politics of religion, the more success they had in winning non-Jewish converts, the more likely they would have been to become the breakaway sect that eventually they were. That would have given momentum to those in the movement who wanted to banish Jewish practices altogether and make conversion to observant Judaism the capital crime it finally became in Christendom.

And even if Jewish authorities of the day had deemed Jesus the messiah, some hotheads would have pursued rebellion anyway and met with Roman iron. That’s how people are. And, looking ahead five or six centuries, the followers of Muhammed would be imposing their hegemony on the region no matter what the Jews decided about Jesus.

The traditional Christian view of Jesus – as the savior of humanity from Original Sin that, were it not for his crucifixion, would have sent the whole human race to hell — was never an option for Jews since they don’t hold those doctrines. Did Jesus hold them? I don’t see where. They enter the doctrinal field from Paul, so far as I can see.

Back to Jesus. If accepting him as the promised Deliverer wouldn’t have delivered his people from the Romans, the future Christians, or the Muslims – from what would this man have delivered them if they had “accepted” Jesus?

From Jerry’s report of his Divine/human conversations, I get the picture of Jesus as a man who loved himself as God loved him, so well that the barriers of self-contempt, which remove the rest of us from God, did not work like that for him. Most of us, young and old, blame ourselves for what we did, good or bad, and also for what we didn’t do. Jesus merged with God precisely because he did not do this.

He became filled with God as a result. Their wills merged. What he did, God did, and vice versa. When he said, “the Kingdom of God is within you,” that’s what he meant. And it enabled him to be a conduit to God from then on.

What houses of worship does Jesus frequent today? From Jerry’s conversations, it appears that he hangs out in synagogues. Like my Temple Judea. That’s where he liked to be when he was on earth. That’s where he still likes to be.

Jerry once stepped into a synagogue where the child of a cousin of mine was to have a bar mitzvah. As soon as he was inside the sanctuary, he felt almost knocked over by the Shekinah, the Divine Presence.   And he was equally struck by the seeming fact that the Jewish congregants inside didn’t seem to notice. They just went about greeting each other, nodding and chattering as if everything was going on as usual.

As it was.

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A Good Look at Evil

Proposed Cover Design

A Good Look at Evil

Last Friday the galley proofs arrived for the new edition of my book, A Good Look at Evil. When the first edition came out, decades back, Temple University Press nominated it for a Pulitzer prize. Back then, since it didn’t get the award, I never realized that it counts as an honor to be nominated. But it’s probably why, once I forwarded the nomination letter to the current publisher, Wipf and Stock, they accepted the book for reprinting without further discussion. The second edition will include two new essays. One of them is the essay that – to my great surprise — created quite a stir when I read a shortened version this summer at the San Francisco Voegelin Society conference. The other new essay is quite different but also “outside the box.”

Both of the new chapters take the book’s thesis — that a good person’s life can be deciphered as a long, corrigible, nonfiction story, which an evil-doer will try cunningly and deliberately to mess up – and they show how that thesis applies to particular real-life cases.

Jerry (who is not given to flattery, not even to flattery of his spouse) thinks my new preface so persuasive that it should be sent to opinion-shapers for reactions.

I’m not against doing that, if he thinks it’s a good idea, but I can’t think who the opinion-shapers are, these days. I guess they’d be public intellectuals, people like the late Lionel Trilling or Susan Sontag, whose names everyone knew at one time. There were famous feminists, like Gloria Steinem or Betty Friedan, or the earlier Simone de Beauvoir who launched the feminist movement of the twentieth century. Where have all those stars-in-the-firmament-of-opinion gone?

Are there any opinion-shaping public intellectuals these days? Certainly it’s not as familiar a type as it once was. I can think of people whose opinions I value because their intellects are disciplined, their minds fine and their characters upright. But I can’t think of anyone whose intelligence and character have made themselves audible and visible in today’s static-saturated world!

It’s like spitting into the wind. We are exhausted in advance by the labor of keeping our own communicative life up-to-date. The questions having to do with its importance have trouble getting to the forefront of our consciousness.

Anyway, the galley proofs have arrived. In line with current practice, they’ve been sent as an attachment, for me to go through, looking for whatever needed corrections I can find. When it’s all good to go, and I have whatever endorsements can come in now, it goes to print. The cover designer gets to work.

I have to say that I’ve been reading through these galley proofs with mounting excitement. First, they look gorgeous. The content of the first edition has been fitted together handsomely with the new material of the second edition.

Second, I’ve now reread A Good Look at Evil, the first edition. It was my first book. It talks about “narrative” before anyone else that I know of did, if the term is applied to an individual’s life experience. By now, “narrative” is much talked of, but in the sense of something made up, not in the sense of something true.

The book also talks about evil in a way nobody has yet. It figures out how a Nazi thinks, in a way that anticipated the since-discovered transcripts of conversations that Adolf Eichmann, the man who implemented the Holocaust, had with his SS comrades in Argentina. When he could talk freely, not being on trial for his life, Eichmann did not pretend to be a nondescript bureaucrat who followed orders unthinkingly. Rather, he described himself as an impresario of mass murder and he was extremely proud to claim that feat.

In sum, A Good Look at Evil was ahead of its time when it first came out. And, so far as I can tell, it’s still ahead of its time. However, the thing that blows me away goes beyond the ahead-of-its-time factor. It also goes beyond the estimable quantity of research that went into some of the chapters — the ones on genocide, for example.

What blows me away is that I’m reading a book (mine, as it happens) by a very good philosopher! It’s original. It’s truly thoughtful. It’s philosophically literate. And it’s helpful, shedding light on the hard subject of good and evil as they are found in our actual lives!

How’d that happen? And how’d it escape my notice? I drew on it for all the work I did subsequently, but only noticed it in a glancing way. That I never paused to take it in, full on, is not exactly an accident. Nor is it entirely the effect of feminine self-erasure. What then explains it?

To know that one is x, one has to work on the project of being x. I would’ve had to stake out my opinions on the map of current opinions, doing it publicly and often. This involves reading the current stuff already occupying the territory. I would have had to show up in person to explain why other respected colleagues are not as right as I am. I would’ve had to read all their articles and books as fast as they came out in order to make known my partial agreements and partial disagreements with what the late writer Norman Mailer used to call “the talent in the room.”

Would I have been able to do that? Oh, I think so. If I was capable of writing A Good Look at Evil, I must surely have been able to do what had to be done to get known for the book – known by others and known by me.

So why didn’t I? The short answer is,

I didn’t want to.

I had real unknowns to confront, new territory to cross, tasks that belonged to my evolvement in my time.

I had my own life story to pursue.

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