Battered, Bruised … but Unbowed?

“Elijah is taken to heaven in a chariot of fire, to his disciple Elisha”
Marc Chagall, 1956

Battered, Bruised … but Unbowed?

Last week, reflecting on my deep reluctance to do anything that would promote my newly-released book, A Good Look at Evil, second edition, I determined that the real barrier isn’t that I believe I have nothing to give that might help people.  It’s rather that I feel I’ve awakened the sleeping dogs … of evil.  And I fear evil.

Lest you dismiss this as puffery in disguise, I’ll give one reason (in addition to those set forth in the book) why I think I’ve got evil’s number.  Some years ago, when the first edition came out, a friend of mine was reading it when an unexpected guest rang the downstairs bell.  The guest was a man who had embezzled a fair proportion of my friend’s life savings and, unbeknownst to himself (but with the cooperation of his victim), was about to get arrested for embezzling and sent up the river.  Anyway, after dropping in, the embezzler noticed my book lying on a side table and opened it out of curiosity.  Soon, forgetting his manners as a guest, he was deep in A Good Look at Evil, apparently enjoying it hugely!

“Why,” I asked my friend “was he enjoying it?”

“Because,” my friend said, “it was about him!”

So few books are.  Although the second edition has some distinguished endorsers quoted on the back cover, I’m pretty sure that a recommendation from this guy, preferably accompanied by his mug shot, would have put the first edition over the top.

The message of A Good Look at Evil is that our lives are stories.  Not made-up stories.  Not fantasies or projections.  True stories.  We can bungle the story.  We can disguise it.  Or we can recognize it, respect it and live it straight.

If I’m right about this, where does evil come into it?  Evil has a pretty good sense of what story it is that we’re trying to live.  Evil comes to spoil our stories.  To confuse them.  To muddy them.  To get us to feel awkward or embarrassed or scared of living the true narratives of our lives.  We need to know this.  Many of the great novelists of the nineteenth-century knew it and helped us to see it.  But the cynicisms and pseudo-landscapes of modernity have obscured the fact of the matter.

That said, what’s been going awry in my life lately?  Since it’s appearance for sale on Amazon, I’ve been in a prolonged struggle to get it appropriately presented there.  At first, Amazon foregrounded the first edition, making it hard to find the revised and expanded 2018 second edition.  At the same time, the “Look Inside” (electronic preview) feature first showed the 1987 edition and later, no inside pages at all.  But this week capped all. When I ordered the book, the edition that arrived was bound in the 2018 cover but contained all and only the 1987 contents!  So the endorsers, whose blurbs concentrated on the new materials, were given the lie by the content inside the covers!  This disfigured package was simply an affront to its author.

It seemed to me terrifying.  Nor did my Guidance blow away the thick fog that settled around me.  Nothing I got back in prayer or meditation suggested that this wasn’t any big deal, or wouldn’t be a big deal hundred years from now.  Nothing suggested that I should try to “get above it” or “get distance on it.”  Nothing I received inwardly advised me to hang back from the fight that loomed.  Hang back because I’m a woman and we get nailed as nags, as nervous nellies, as neurotic.  On the contrary.  What I received was NOT to internalize a problem that existed in reality, not just in my mind.

Why do we blame ourselves?  And then — thanks to feminism telling us to “man up” — blame ourselves for blaming ourselves?  My mind goes now to the women who were so brutally mistreated by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and yet went back to share his company and his bed, where he, of course, hit them again. This woman-beater told them, “I am the Law in New York.”  It’s the same message that Bill Clinton, then The Law in Arkansas, managed to convey to the woman he, on her credible account, raped when he was Attorney General of that state.  Ladies, don’t get alone in a room with an attorney general!

What’s with us women?  You want my opinion?

IT’S NOT A FLAW.

It’s the Yin that complements the Yang on nature’s balance scales.  We are, I’ve long suspected, hard-wired for a kind of pliancy and receptivity.  Why wouldn’t we be?  How much spare yardage does nature have?  La Femme, wrote Simone de Beauvoire, the founder of modern feminism, est en proie a l’espece.  Hey, woman is at the mercy of the species.  No kidding.  Sans blague!  Why didn’t I think of that?  What does it mean, practically?  It means, born vulnerable!  I hope I didn’t say the wrong thing.  Where protection is called for, a decent man is instinctively protective of women.  So sue me.

Feminism is on message when it goads us to be more assertive, to say what we mean, to stand up.  But, for rhetorical purposes, it has denied this deep trait, pretending it’s just a social construct.  Like hell it is.  Schneiderman’s victims included hard-shelled New York women, professional women, at least one big city lawyer.  What the predator sees is the vulnerability underneath the armor!

Back to Abigail and her thwarted story.  To recap recent misadventures: Just around the time of publication date, I took a wrong step in the blizzard and fractured my knee.  That was the leg with the neuropathy for which I’d finally found an effective treatment.  Now the treatment would have to be postponed, or rolled backwards, since I could not travel to California for the next scheduled round, nor continue the exercises at home that I’d been given to do between treatments.

Being forbidden to drive, I could not get to the Franco-Tunisian café where I ordinarily go to review and make sense of my days.

Nor could I get to the weekly Torah Study (Bible study of the Pentateuch).  Even if I got a lift, it seemed too demanding and risky to totter across the lobby and into a chair at the common table.  Since we lack a full-time rabbi at present, there is no one tasked with the duty of cheering the disabled.  So, at a time of crisis for me, there was only silence from that quarter.

At the same time, someone I would have thought trustworthy volunteered to convey a prayer-based healing by telephone.  He turned out to be trading on female vulnerability to try to get away with stuff over the phone.  Get thee behind me, Satan!

Since I had to concentrate on my main job, which was not to fall again, the painful fracture also led me to postpone much of the effort one normally puts in to bring a new book to the attention of the reading public.

Now add the crowning setback just mentioned: the cover of the 2018 revised, expanded Good Look at Evil, arrives, wrapped round – all and only — the 1987 book!

By now, I was getting scared.  If I had evil’s number, did it have mine?  I’m not such a fool as to think I can handle life all by myself.  I did “look up” for Guidance.  The Guidance was insistent.

This IS just what it feels like: the destruction of a significant work.  You MUST oppose it.  Don’t hold back.  Send emails.  Make phone calls.  This is not the time to be harmonious, though that’s what you prefer to be.  You must be cognizant of what your editors and Amazon can do to fix this, and ASK ONLY THAT.  You must remain factual, not emotional.  But you must not damp down your legitimate determination to set to rights the selling of the updated edition of the book you wrote.  If your editors cannot fix it, or won’t, you must go higher in the organization.  Or get lawyered up, if need be.

The editors did fix it.  Why?  How?  It looked to me as if the bad guys (the nameless adversary who seemed to know where I live) had won.  Why should all that downhill slide stop, turn round, and reverse itself?  Was it just because I kept at it?  Kept trying?

There’s a passage in scripture where Elisha the prophet finds himself surrounded by a dangerous “host” from the king of Syria.  His servant says,

“Alas, my master!  How shall we do?”

“Fear not [Elisha answers]: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them.” II Kings 6: 15-17.

Elisha then manages — as if to pull back the curtain hiding the sky — to show his servant that “the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha.”

Well, I sure can’t do that.  What can I tell you?  Life is not predictable.  Bad things happen.  Things can happen that are worse than bad, that seem custom-tailored to embody our worst fears.  Not everybody survives every danger every time.  Often enough, it seems the bad guys win.  But still, where you know what the situation calls for, it’s crucial to persist.  The bad guys count on us not to persist.

Therefore, it’s important to remember, against all appearances, against the odds, that

they that be with us are more than they that be with them.

 

 

About Abigail

Abigail Rosenthal is Professor Emerita of Philosophy, Brooklyn College of CUNY. She is the author of A Good Look at Evil, a Pulitzer Prize nominee, now available in an expanded, revised second edition. Its thesis is that good people try to live out their stories while evil people aim to mess up good people’s stories. Her next book, Confessions of a Young Philosopher, forthcoming, provides multiple illustrations from her own life. She writes a weekly column for her blog, “Dear Abbie: The Non-Advice Column” (www.dearabbie-nonadvice.com) where she explains why women's lives are highly interesting. She’s the editor of the posthumously published Consolations of Philosophy: Hobbes’s Secret; Spinoza’s Way by her father, Henry M. Rosenthal. Her next book project will be Conversations with My Father, the "Genius" Among the Giants. Some of her articles can be accessed at https://brooklyn-cuny.academia.edu/AbigailMartin . She is married to Jerry L. Martin, also a philosopher. They live in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
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2 Responses to Battered, Bruised … but Unbowed?

  1. :O Wow, now I really want your book… when it’s the right one, that is. Does that make me evil? 😉

    Like

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