Category Archives: Metaphysics

Specters of the Pedantic

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Not good enough

“Where is the life we have lost in living? Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?” T.S. Eliot, Choruses from the Rock

“Mystical explanations are considered profound; the truth is they aren’t even superficial.” Nietzsche, Google, cherry-picked just now

Life is short, and Jason Reza Jorjani’s Prometheus and Atlas is long. However, I did have the recent good fortune of hearing a one-hour podcast interview of Jorjani with Henrik Palmgren of Red Ice Radio, and the discussion was substantive enough to respond to.

There are three prongs to Jorjani’s thesis: a prediction about the future, a conjecture about the past, and an inference from ancient lore that kind of ties the first two together. He also makes extensive use of the term spectral to mean three things: the impending supersession of the Cartesian paradigm (and a blurring of the binary distinctions implied in it) by a more “spectral” episteme; the specter, or psychic dread, of the kind of protean trans-humanism this paradigm shift will give way to; and the daemonic forces or “specters” at the root of it all.

According to Jorjani, humanity stands on the precipice of a spectral revolution centered around ongoing scientific discoveries of clairvoyance and telekinesis. He gives an overview of the research in this area since the 19th century (by William James, the CIA, the Pentagon, Princeton’s Global Consciousness Project, and the Stanford Research Institute, among others), and poses the question of why it hasn’t already resulted in a spectral revolution.

Of course, there’s more than one possible reason, chief among them that the implications of this research aren’t all that Jorjani cracks them up to be. But the only possibility he concedes is the old Foucaultian Kool Aid, i.e., “the inextricability of systems of knowledge from structures of power.” We’re supposed to believe these spooky avenues of inquiry pursued for decades at a stretch and largely in secret by some of the most august personages and lavishly funded institutions in the country represent a threat to the powers that be. Well, so did the atom bomb, and we know who got first dibs.

Granted, the revolution Jorjani anticipates would reorder the exercise of political power as we know it, for as he explains, clairvoyance would threaten to obliterate privacy and secrecy, and the ability to foresee events would alter their manifestation. But Jorjani believes the spectral revolution will alter the order of power as well. How these capabilities will slip the grasp of present elites, who are obviously best positioned to cultivate them, he doesn’t make clear, but his estimation of their research is pretty credulous.

That isn’t to say there are no extrasensory phenomena (though the production of ectoplasm Jorjani cites is real a knee-slapper, especially if you’re a South Park fan) nor to deny that they may manifest from clairvoyant or telekinetic faculties that are latent in us, and around us. It just isn’t clear how these forces might be cultivated to the point of reliable application, benefit and malleability, without some equal and opposite pitfall arising. But if they can be, clearly the human type this will most empower is the one that is least restrained by conscience, just as psychological tactics are most effectively employed today by the least scrupulous sorts.

Jorjani is unperturbed by this, seeing his spectral revolution as the Nietzschean becoming of who we are. He describes the world our primeval forbears experienced as one of intrinsically meaningful things in places, rather than deconstructible objects in a grid of space-time, but this is not the sharp distinction he takes it for, nor is it less true today, at least not for the minimally astute and spirited (fewer and fewer of those nowadays, I’ll admit—perhaps the category doesn’t include intellectuals.) Besides, binary distinctions get made viscerally all the time, quite in spite of the wall of abstraction—so how would we experience meaning without them?

Indeed, Jorjani references the apparent extrasensory faculties of animals and primitive man and conflates them with the psychical abilities he foresees being refined in us, describing them as technologies. This is where his term spectral may be particularly apt. Whereas technology is commonly thought to proceed from scientific theory, Jorjani sees the latter as a way of describing and rationalizing the order we already impose on the world with our technological endeavors, and he characterizes man (whose tendency is to impose this order on the natural world, augmenting his organic abilities by developing tools and techniques) as an inherently technological creature. Thus, according to Jorjani, technology itself, as something “more fundamental than science,” isn’t the real culprit in the attenuation of our primeval awareness, but the means by which this attenuation will be overcome and our latent powers of clairvoyance and telekinesis more fully actualized.

He then asserts flatly that there is no theoretical model that can accommodate the data on these phenomena, and that what this tells us is that scientific theory itself is a mere cognitive frame. Can this be so in all cases? Are there no degrees? If not, what would that make the “spectral revolution” itself but theatrical, postmodern luft?

But while this line of reasoning may be high-flown, in a way it doesn’t go far enough. In other words, if scientific theory invariably represents a mere cognitive frame, what species of knowledge, perception, and interaction with nature does not? Because there’s an obvious party (famously arraigned by Nietzsche) to the attenuation of our extrasensory instincts that’s missing from his consideration, namely language—the scarcely perceptible secondary categorization of the things we perceive. The most Jorjani says in this connection is that it’s possible some black swan such as a neurologic mutation took place in the fog of prehistory to attenuate our extrasensory faculties, but this would seem to call for less, not greater certitude about who we really are. It also suggests a sharp technical/pre-technical binary, and in any case it can’t be linguistic because even primitive tribes who still possess extrasensory faculties have language. (Jorjani relates a fascinating anecdote from British explorers about the clairvoyant abilities of South Seas aboriginals that’s too long to recapitulate here; my point is, these aborigines could also talk.)

Yet the characterization of man as a technological creature would serve to qualify language as a technology the way Jorjani uses the word—the refined outgrowth of some innate faculty, which we use to reorder nature and alter perception. Again, this complicates the picture of how we arrive at the kind of advancement Jorjani is predicting, given the fact that in many ways, instinct appears to be sharpest among the least intellectually developed communities of modern people. That’s why the bourgeoisie avoids the hood, right? And the aboriginals.

Jorjani’s thesis itself is spectral as well in another way he neglects to mention. That is its congruence with the symbology of secret societies and the prognostications of tech oligarchs like Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg and (especially) Ray Kurzweil. Of course, there will be a who and a whom: the political power that eminent technological breakthroughs are liable to impart—whatever they turn out to be—will not be wielded fairly, nor equally by all; not even close. At least Jorjani dispenses with this pretense, for while there’s a great deal of variance to these kinds of projections, Jorjani himself claims to stand at odds with the usual ideological commitments (i.e., liberal-democratic) professed by those who tend to make them (he has actually called himself a national socialist.) So on the surface, his thesis is less depressing than theirs, devoid of paternalistic public policy pablum, appealing instead to inner, organic sources of power as opposed to strictly outward, mechanistic ones. But on reflection, the world that Jorjani anticipates is as stripped of mystery and as dreadful in its utopian hubris as The Singularity, for what they both have in common is amorality.

This brings us to Jorjani’s take on comparative religions, daemons and his “specters of the titanic.” In short, he’s both a Zoroastrian and a Luciferian, claiming that Ahura Mazda, the titan Prometheus and the snake in the Garden of Eden all represent the light of knowledge and our consequent empowerment as a species that the Olympians, the jealous Old Testament God and sticklers for the Cartesian paradigm all wish to deny us. How Zoroastrianism of all things proposes to propel us beyond binaries is beyond my meager familiarity with the subject, but the notion of ever-expanding progress and improvement sounds awfully fatiguing and looks an awful lot like self-help charlatanry, or like tikkun olam, which is to say, carte blanche. At any rate, Jorjani’s is an incredibly superficial reading of the Old Testament.

Ironically, monotheism itself is spectral in that it obliterates sharp distinctions between spiritual forces. Sites, symbols, saints—nothing is truly sacred but the one. This conviction is at the root of Atenism, of Jewish aloofness from the classical world, of Islamic and Protestant aniconism, as well as the message that Christian missionaries imported throughout Europe in the early middle ages. To be sure, these are all legacies of intellectual repression, but also certain important advances, and the authors of the Hebrew Bible (who cherry-picked a lot from the pagan cultures around them) may not have subscribed so strictly to such a leveling ethos. Indeed, if we read a bit of tongue-in-cheek into Genesis—and recall in true pagan fashion that an act of creation is also an act of destructionGod seems to be flawed in quite the same way that man is. This is what the snake represents in the creation story. If man is punished by God for defiance, that’s because it takes one to know one. We’re created in His image, after all, and if the snake is analogous to Prometheus, it would otherwise be curious that in the Greek version we’d have been created in the latter’s image. But God’s Will is compromised in much the same way that ours is; it’s an act of negotiation with us. That’s why Abraham walks before God, and why Prometheus is able to challenge Zeus at all. This is in fact far less restrictive than Jorjani’s take gives it credit for. These stories aren’t vindictive admonishments, they’re take-it-or-leave-it illustrations of the ironclad human condition.

So the message of Genesis is not that exertion of the will or the pursuit of knowledge are wicked, but that they’re tempered by nature, because the ineluctable pull that novelty exerts on the human psyche lends itself to hubris and destruction. If Eden is not suited to our inclinations, neither is Babel hospitable to our constitution. One can even argue that the Bible is in favor of the cultivation of human intellectual capabilities, to which its God gives His blessing. Again, if we avoid reading Genesis too literally, we can see that Jacob, as Prometheus was to the Greeks, is the archetype of foresight, which Genesis portrays as key to human striving (as Jacob strives with an Angel and extracts a blessing) and a fundamental element that distinguishes reflective man from reflexive brute as represented by the archetype of Esau (and from sheer control-freak avarice as represented by Laban in the same several chapters of Genesis.)

Jorjani, on the other hand, holds up Drs. Faustus and Frankenstein as representative of the Promethean struggle for enlightenment. Once this struggle is won, then what? Wasn’t it Goethe himself who said that happiness consists in facing and overcoming difficulties? In any case, this would be an odd kind of enlightenment to extol, because Faust loses his mind and then begs for God’s forgiveness, and Dr. Frankenstein’s creation is repulsively deformed. It will be interesting to find out whether Jorjani addresses these inconsistencies in his book, but in the podcast they seem to elude his awareness.

Those who cast doubt on the possibility of knowledge due to its alleged inextricability from power dynamics seem to always view those dynamics as fixed, the antagonists perennial. For the postmodern left, this means the forces of goyische Ward Cleaver and Cecil Rhodes arrayed against hapless Emmett Till and Lenny Bruce (or something.) Jorjani inverts this dominant paradigm—pointing to the fact that Prometheus was chained by Zeus to a Caucasus mountain—to make his case that Prometheus is the god of the Caucasians, i.e., the Nordic races most in need (due to environmental exigencies) of fire, who’ve made the greatest intellectual and technological leaps lo these past several millennia. Of course, Greece, Italy and Persia aren’t the snowiest lands, and while the suggestion that the disproportionately Semitic forces of ressentiment and priestliness represent the perennial adversary of enlightenment is certainly truer to Nietzsche than the postmodern left, it’s equally oversimplified, and woefully….. binary. So it doesn’t seem to me that Jorjani is denying the possibility of knowledge; rather, he’s claiming that knowledge as we know it is abstract, and that the genuine article is being denied to us. This is a terribly low estimation of man and his present abilities.

Ironically (for someone so power hungry), Jorjani himself looks as though he’s never been punched, but sounds like he needs to be, his lithe, Dennis the Menace countenance emitting a nasally voice with a smarmy, pedantic inflection. I don’t say this to be mean spirited, but in the spirit of Tyler Durden. That a wheezy, narrow-chested academic with a balled-up sphincter would be an incubator of the Nietzschean actually makes perfect sense. Brilliant though he was, when reading Nietzsche it gives crucial context to recall that the man was a sexually maladjusted autist. Someone strong and self-assured could never call man “a laughingstock and a painful embarrassment,” but neither do school shooter types revel in themselves, they only anticipate doing so. So I’m not interested in becoming who I am, I’m interested in being who I am. If as a species we’re well on our way to anything like Jorjani’s spectral revolution, it’s because the vindictive fantasies of software developer nebbishes and pencil-necked money shufflers are precisely the architecture of our post-meta-narrative, post-binary, peeping Tom corporatocracy. At least the Nazis put real skin in the game.

One God, no Masters

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Don’t ever stop throwing punches

But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me. (Luke 19:27)

But the rest of the world they confront with a contempt reserved for enemies.                                   (Tacitus, Histories 5:2-5)

‘Tis the season of Mars retrograde reactionary chic. I have only one horse in this manger and he most assuredly is not the messiah.

The Jewish sojourn lo these past couple millennia is ironic in that it mirrors the Gospel themes of stripes, stigmata, and resurrection. But while many an archetype has been cast in legend or approximated by a given personage in history, and while every nation has its spirits, gods and peculiarities, it’s rare for a literary archetype to be embodied in an entire people.

The alleged inimicality of Judaism or the Semitic spirit, on the one hand, and the Aryan or aristocratic spirit on the other, is a long-established cliché. Nietzsche called it master versus slave morality; Spengler described the Western as opposed to the Magian cultures. Conservative Catholic apologists still ascribe the insurrectionary personality of Barabbas to the Jewish people as a whole—instead prescribing Christ-like meekness (or torture, as necessary—and they’re right. I myself would indubitably have preferred Barabbas). Evola juxtaposed the emphasis on penitence and mortification inherent in primitive Semitic and Babylonian traditions with the crucible of knighthood he identified as embodying their Indo-Aryan counterpart.

But just how far are Judaism and yiddishkeit removed from the “world of Tradition” as Evola conceived it? Are the Jews merely the bearers of a fossilized culture, as Arnold Toynbee suggested? Or are we vectors of dissolutive modernity, its materialism and revolutionary ferment? If it’s the latter, this would be a sort of revenge of the nerds: the intelligentsia are the villains in any good critique of modernity. In The Cherry Tree, Chekhov even gave his ruined old nobles a sendoff by a “Jewish orchestra.”

Well, no one will deny that the Jews are a clever bunch, given to smarting disdainfully under every kind of regime—behavior that can’t be all that incidental to the biblical narrative of slave revolt. And I’ll buy the theory that yiddishkeit has a lot to do with contrarianism (“a stiff-necked people”). But envy, rebellion and cyclical decay of the social order are deeply human universals, so how specifically do the Jews factor into the erosion of the “world of tradition” and the onset of vapid, discombobulated modernity?

According to Nietzsche,

the Jews achieved that miracle of inversion of values thanks to which life on earth has for a couple millennia acquired a new and dangerous fascination—their prophets fused ‘rich’, ‘godless’, ‘evil’, ‘violent’, ‘sensual’ into one and were the first to coin the word ‘world’ as a term of infamy. It is this inversion of values (with which is involved the employment of the word for ‘poor’ as a synonym for ‘holy’ and ‘friend’) that the significance of the Jewish people resides: with them there begins the slave revolt in morals.

But which Jews are these? The Essenes, or the zealots? Of course we know which of these the Romans co-opted, and which they repressed.

When reading Nietzsche it provides crucial context to recall that he contracted his syphilis from a boy hireling. So did the Jews despise hellenistic bacchanalia because they hated life, or because they wanted to live? Did turn-of-the-millennium Jews despise wealth for it’s own sake? Of course not: they were being taxed to starvation by quislings—the Parable of the Ten Minas is not a nod to the poor, the humble or the meek, either it’s a public service reminder to pay your taxes and keep your fucking mouth shut, or it’s incomprehensible garbage.

So there was quite a bit of ressentiment of Judea on the part of Rome, was there not? “It belongs to human nature to hate those whom we have injured,” to quote the noble Roman. Somehow, slave driving just isn’t the portrait of well-being Nietzsche takes it for, and something in his cosmology smacks of reverse victimology. You got taken by slaves? I wouldn’t complain too loud about that if I was you.

As Voltaire said, a sucker plays himself:

We hold the Jews in horror, and we insist that all which has been written by them, and collected by us, bears the stamp of Divinity. There never was so palpable a contradiction.

Indeed. But how is that Harold Abraham’s problem? That I wrote the tune you imbibe to makes me neither an alcoholic nor a barkeep. If your religion of kindness is based around critiquing the moral turpitude of a far-off people fighting yesteryear for its life against debauched aristocrats, then I don’t know what to tell you. Next time, get your own damn fables.

In any case, the Jews inflicted more damage on the Roman military than the efforts of any subjugant people, and they managed this well after the bulk of the defeats that Nietzsche credits with providing the impetus for their supposed inversion of values. When the Jews decided “to be at any cost”, they made one helluva downpayment. How many times does your empire have to be shaken by Judean resistance before you realize the problem is you? So what Nietzsche remains insufficient to explain is how so heady a brew of values-inversion as the Hebrew scriptures could have been adopted by such bloodthirsty fishers of men.

No: this great scaffolding of ressentiment is a red herring. Our choices are always plain, the only overcoming that’s needed is to pluck them back from out the hands of those who would requisition them. If there’s never a shortage of self-proclaimed intermediaries, it’s because no one wants things to be that simple. Thus the wishful but not unfounded reading of Nietzsche that so animated the Nazis was to suppose that a kind of savior is being thwarted.

The Jewish sojourn lo these past couple millennia is indeed ironic, in that it mirrors the Gospel themes of stripes, stigmata, and resurrection. More ironic still is that at the first laxening of Christian resolve we became christian ourselves in all but name, and the death of god brought out our priesthood like hack satirists. Genocide and intermarriage got nothin’ on sanctimony.

Acute Jew

sic semper tyrannis

sic semper tyrannis

I.

May I recommend the Israeli author Etgar Keret? His work has been widely translated from the Hebrew and he writes occasional columns in the New Yorker and the Guardian. He stands accused by certain reviewers of solipsism and misogyny, but the first is outweighed by likability and the second is guilt-ridden enough to temper its vulgarity. With punk succinctness (the bulk of his oeuvre is novellas) he lays down an incredulous exasperation, twinkling through lurking shades of methodical mental illness and characteristically verbal-abusive Jewish impudence. We see these same psychic fistulae in other artists whose work cannot be fully understood without reference to yiddishkeit—Babel, Kafka, Seinfeld. The Jews have the same relationship with senility as the Catholics have with epilepsy. Half Jews like Vladimir Visotsky and JD Salinger belong in a slightly different category—the mold is broken, the hybrid vigor overwhelming. “Justice, justice you shall pursue”….. St. Paul was driven by this madness, as were Freud and Trotsky and Lenny Bruce—mold-breakers, if not half-breeds. Not counting plagiarism (which those last four were richly guilty of), their scruples precluded the kind of emotional opportunism one encounters all over Keret’s Israel. Either way, it’s easy to see why these people are difficult to live with; we can barely live with ourselves. Borderline Personality Disorder might just as accurately be labelled Acute Jew.

What is interesting to observe about Keret, though, isn’t this characteristic Jewishness, but that it seems to subsist without much reference to Gentile influence. To understand Kafka, you have to understand pre-war mitteleuropa; to understand Babel, you need some sense of the Russian arch. You cannot appreciate Seinfeld without first appreciating America. But Keret presents entirely as a product of Jewish civilization—Yitzhak Ben-Tzvi would be proud, if uncomprehending. He plays entirely on effects that went indissoluble in exile, reemerging in the Levant one fine day to resume their invidious solipsism as if the intervening centuries were nothing but an aberration.

This is an awkward thing to behold. You meet bourgeois, well-travelled Israelis, and oftentimes the most they can tell you about modern Europe is its orientation toward Jews and Israel, or the skiing, or the prices (especially the prices). The most they can tell you about Americans is that we tend to overpay unreflectively, that we haven’t any good, fresh bread, that we act friendly but we’re just pretending. The most they can tell you about Kafka or Einstein is that they were Yidden. They smart at any notion that breaches the nationalist programing they received in primary school. It isn’t that they disagree; they can’t fathom such things. They’re in step with the most liberal current ideas about sexuality, abreast of the very latest technology. They insist that their country is on the front line of the West and of modernity in a benighted corner of the globe with a rich, Western heritage that only they, through hard luck and gumption, are suited to defend. Yet with the exception of a handful of times and places in the Western experience where Jews were heavily involved, their upbringing has utterly de-emphasized nearly every benchmark that otherwise lends commonality to the identities and intellectual traditions of the West across dozens of other cultures and languages.

Of course, Keret is of above-average worldliness, which is why I referenced him. The hucksters and harpies who populate his pages make the mundane maddening to an extent no other Israeli writer has achieved. His fiction bears traces of Chekhov’s influence, and it entirely lacks the deadening mimicry of America that one so often finds along the bourgeois cutting edge of other highly modern, marginally Western societies. But the overwhelming sense one gets from his work is the reemergence of an ancient cast of misanthropes who’ve nothing but flagrant disregard for all the rich commotion that has been taking place, aboveground, without them.

And yet, what makes this separatism remarkable is not so much its longevity, but the packing of bags it entailed. The Nazis and the Fascists were just like any other penny-ante pack of bandits whose meagre vocabularies tended to over-employ the word respect. Vladimir Putin has this in common with your run-of-the-mill, twentysomething male Wal-Martian. The Zionists are little better, but at least they took their ball and went home. Where communism, progressivism and Christianity propose to alter the world for the benefit of various handicapped classes, where other romantic nationalisms proposed to redraw the lines around various peoples, Zionism proposed to redraw the Jew himself.

Anyone who has had their brush with Israeli culture knows this effort has been hit-or-miss. Of course, through Israel, Jews have demonstrated martial prowess, but perhaps all this proves is that the cobwebs needed brushing aside. Animals and men go mad in cages; a long enough litany of military setbacks will turn even a Yule Brenner into a Peter Lorre. Where various empires furnished the bars, the Sages made up the gilding. Modernity did away with both, but it couldn’t digest man’s tendency for tribalism. And while early 20th-century Zionism fixated on altering the Jew, under inescapable American tutelage Zionism today makes its most stringent and irrational demands of the Arab; not only does it invade his home, it demands his acceptance. This is pure insanity—the manic optimism and febrile entitlement of Democratic Man, held up by airport security off somewhere in literal East Jesus.

II.

Contrast this schizoid opportunism with Catholicism and Islam, religions that share a strong emphasis on man’s intrinsic capacity for reason, which each claims to satisfy perfectly and to the exclusion of all other ideas. Though I doubt these claims, I agree that a person’s full, healthy development depends on the opportunity to discern reason from faith, and weigh the two against one another.

A sweet, dim-witted old Adventist once told me something I liked. She told me, “You are the priest of your family.” In Judaism, the nearest approximation of this and other dissenter sects of Christianity is Karaism, whose practitioners are required to draw their own conclusions from scripture (within specified guidelines), rather than defer to experts.

Though an orthodox Rabbinic (i.e., not a Karaite) Jew, my grandfather conducted himself as though he was the priest of our family. He taught my brother, cousin and I (paternal half-breeds, all, and therefore not Jewish under Rabbinic law) basic Hebrew liturgy and scripture, as well as a smattering of Mishnah, and started officiating his own holy day services at home with a small circle of friends and family when he came into political conflict with the local rabbi. He was our last direct link in an unbroken chain of tradition.

Now I am married to an Orthodox Christian. To our marriage she brought along a sweet, gregarious and fair-minded little boy, the product of a previous marriage to a fellow Russian. Our son’s natural father was disdainful of religiosity and my wife, a non-practicing believer, opted not to have him baptized. But I understand it as my duty to furnish my children with faith against which to weigh reason—a method for counting the stars, so-to-speak.

Judaism is nothing if not the self-styling of a racial caste, and to transmit it to my unmistakeably Slavic older son would be to paint over a zebra’s stripes and mark him as a permanent outsider. So with his and my wife’s agreement I had him baptized by the nearest Russian Orthodox priest.

Though the humble little church and the manner of worship conducted within it was beautiful and uplifting, the process of getting our son baptized was somewhat uncomfortable—as a matter of course our family’s religious backgrounds were inquired about beforehand, and although I was welcomed in (which I wouldn’t have been in Russia), there was a palpable discomfort at my presence from the deacon and the arthritic old pater, who made it plain he didn’t want me around once he ascertained that I myself was not interested in converting. At one Sunday service we attended, the elderly deacon, Hungarian-born as it happens, informed me that as a child in the 1930s his parents worked in the Rome office of some German company or other, and that along with a handful of SS-officer embassy attachés, they used to host a Jewish business contact and his wife. He said this just goes to show that my background is a trifling thing because, as Christ teaches, people aren’t so different.

Well that just doesn’t make things very interesting, and of course I beg to differ. I recently bought two children’s bibles for my sons, one Christian (The Golden Book Children’s Bible) the other Jewish (The Book of Adam to Moses). The Christian one leaves out almost all the jealous, avaricious intrigues of the Old Testament. Its Queen of Sheeba is a chaste diplomat (and white!). It omits the Song of Songs (always a source of adolescent wood in the shul pews), and its Proverbs has nothing to say about the advisability of joining a gang, of committing a robbery, or of going whoring. Its illustrations are bright and cheery. In contrast, though it uses ambiguous language, its Jewish counterpart omits none of the original’s salacious and morally disturbing details. Its illustrations are black, white, a bit abstract and dissonant.

Dissonance, for most people, is exasperating, and Judaism is as exasperating as the Jews. The first in a trifecta of characteristically Western theodicies that sacralize mankind’s aspirations against nature’s starkness, it fails to follow through and build upon those ideals, neither with the kind of comfort food Christianity holds out, nor the unambiguous finality of Islam. It contains laws, and hidden meanings, but no ready logic, and no real bedtime stories.

The Coen brothers deal with this omission in their updated Book of Job, A Serious Man. In this film, a decent family-man is hamstrung by egregious, unearned misfortune. At the end of his rope, he consults with a series of feckless, indifferent rabbis, only to be told kitschy allegories and peppered with unactionable platitudes. A meticulously fair (read: neurotic) man who expects the world to at least be fair at bottom, he seeks solace from his faith as his misfortunes multiply unabated.

As it happens, there’s an astute review of this film at the pseudo-highbrow white supremacist web journal, Counter-Currents, whose editors are big into Savitra Devi and the Hidden Hitler (or something). Its design gives the feel of a Rothschild coven; one gets the sense they aren’t big fans of Orwell. Most of the pieces they publish are written in the style and at the level of a college admissions essay, but they’ve also got a good many editorial gems and some excellent crib notes on modern European heavyweights like Heidegger. Among the gems is this Serious Man review, by one Trevor Lynch. Check it out; it’s brisk reading, I promise.

Anyhow, the reviewer concludes from A Serious Man that the Coen Brothers are confirming his revulsion of Jews, by breaking their congenital mold to lambast Judaism’s hollow, compulsivity. It apparently never occurs to him that this is not apostasy so much as self-criticism, and though he pinpoints Judaism’s stultifying verbosity and solipsism, he cannot concede that so thorough and ineluctable a capacity for self-criticism is a virtue, nor that it’s indicative of how large a measure of the insights that Jews like the Coens bring to modern storytelling arises from their grappling with the conceits and deficiencies of character peculiar to our kind. But if Judaism, as the reviewer maintains the Coens are saying, offers “no meat and no marrow for the serious man”, perhaps protagonist Larry Gopnik’s mistake is that he takes Judaism, along with everything else, so goddamned seriously. The goy’s teeth (you’ll have to see the film) represent absurdity, which the rabbi and the dentist greet with apprehension but ultimately wave off with a characteristically Jewish shrug, while Larry Gopnik allows himself to nearly be driven insane by it. Not-so-subtleties like these are as lost on the hapless Professor Gopnik as they are on vindictive and equally serious ideologues like Trevor Lynch.

But far from exemplifying a strictly Jewish penchant for platitude, Job is just the Jewish take on a universal theme. The Coens aren’t recapitulating it, as our Aryan brother presumes. They’re augmenting it out of a peculiarly Jewish inventory. This is the yiddishkeit that’s so despised over at Counter Currents, and it will always elude their steely knives. But no religion, no philosophy, no manner of thought or line of inquiry is going to be more or less adequate than any other when it comes to the really big mysteries. Or, its relative adequacy is going to depend in turn upon the deductions of the source and each recipient’s own proclivities, rather than the peculiar merits of the milieu it emerges from. True, relative to other faiths Judaism tends to exacerbate the tensions the great mysteries provoke, rather than ameliorating them. But for Job and A Serious Man, the message (the reviewer’s “meat and marrow”) is real straightforward: suck it up, and lighten up, respectively. If the good Saxons at Counter Currents prefer Marcus Aurelius, that’s up to them, but don’t go barking up my boabab if the message doesn’t tickle your pickle. Like Rabbi Marshak, I’m thinking. That Judaism is replete with nonsense like any religion goes without saying, but Job isn’t it.

Christianity and Islam may not offer entirely satisfying answers either, but in attempting to, they stop the proverbial buck. In contrast, by positing a chosen caste, Judaism demands a measure of self-confidence that Christianity eschews, and Islam overdoes. And while the Hebrew God’s anthrocentricity innervates millennial Western theodicy, in His capriciousness He remains an Eastern God of Nature, the nature of the political animal in the anthropocine epoch. Western politics have their genesis as much along the colonnades of Athens as they do in the tent camps of recriminating Bedouins. In a democracy, we’re all elders of Chelm. Not even by putting words into God’s mouth have the Christians and the Muslims succeeded in stemming man’s internecine cat-scratching, not within families and not between nations. Not for wont of ventriloquy, the Jews have long been rending and gnashing at His silence. Neurotic? Hell yes. But don’t count it out. Buck-stopping imperial religions can run from this dissonance, but they can’t hide.