Sunday, January 18, 2009

David Solway and Franz Kafka: takes on Jewish faith

From whence comes the patience to recognize hard human realities and prepare to live with them, without having recourse to fantasies of a final victory? Clearly such patience is not found among those taking to the streets of Canada in hate-the-jew fests.

The ideal spirit for those defending Israel and Jews everywhere, it would seem to me, would be to be eternally vigilant but never despairing. Somehow, I don't think David Solway quite expresses the need for Israel to be open, for centuries and millennia to come, to the unexpected, responsible, responses to its ever necessary, evolving, deterrence. Solway:
Under existing conditions, the best the Middle East can hope for is a long cold peace and even this is probably an Arcadian notion. We must learn to live with the situation as best we can, just as people who are afflicted with serious illness must take the proper measures in order to survive, stick to their medications, expect relapses and seek treatment no matter how stopgap. There's no point wondering what might have been had they not contracted their infirmity by having acted differently in the past or expecting that somehow the disease will be pacified and magically disappear by some sort of “talking cure.” The Middle East is sick with an incurable disease; all it can strive for is occasional remission and approximate recovery after yet another malign episode. This is what Reality is telling us; pious hopes only make things worse, as the last sixty years should have made clear by this time.

In the real world there are some “problems” for which there are no satisfactory solutions.
Yes, this is true of every genuine problem, not just Israel's.
To believe otherwise, to assume that negotiation, dialogue and diplomacy can eventually resolve even the most intractable predicament or standoff, that it is only a matter of time until belligerents of whatever stamp or provenance can be made to see the light, and that all peoples desperately want nothing more than peace, prosperity and equitable arrangements between them, is a utopian delusion of the first magnitude. Its effect can be catastrophic and frequently is.
Perhaps, but then I think it wrong to suggest that our belief in negotiation always stems from the fantasy of some great peace just out of grasp. Perhaps we need to discover a faith in negotiation (starting with deterrence) as a process of eternal deferral of the problem, and not ever of its final resolution.
The Middle East has been ailing for 3000 years and will not be healed tomorrow, next year, or even next century, if we get that far.
Yes, but then what are the medications you speak of, as an alternative to this dream of complete healing?
One thinks of Irving Kristol’s insightful remark that “Whom the gods would destroy they first tempt to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict.” Some mistakes have to be abided—and controlled, if necessary, by aggressive countermeans, just as a chronic ailment requires constant supervision and appropriate remedies. As for Israel, it's only hope for survival is to bring about an armed truce from a position of deterrent power. Whether or not Israel is a “mistake,” as long as it continues to exist it will have to remain on a war footing.
Yes... but there must be more than one road to our only hope... what about those members of the Other who can learn from our "aggressive countermeans"? Can they help us keep the truce? Can they be rewarded? Can some even one day want to be us?
I, for one, do not believe that Israel is a mistake—its millennial hereditament alone renders it a legitimate nation. But even if Israel is regarded as a mistake by its critics and revilers, it would be no more of a mistake than some of its most intransigent enemies. As I replied to my correspondent, let us be honest for a change.
At times like this, a few Kafka aphorisms might be of interest:
There are two main human sins from which all the others derive: impatience and indolence. It was because of impatience that they were expelled from Paradise; it is because of indolence that they do not return. Yet perhaps there is only one major sin: impatience. Because of impatience they were expelled, because of impatience they do not return.

From a certain point onward there is no longer any turning back. That is the point that must be reached.

It is only our conception of time that makes us call the Last Judgment by this name. It is, in fact, a kind of martial law.

Believing in progress does not mean believing that any progress has yet been made. That is not the sort of belief that indicates real faith.

Expulsion from Paradise is in its main aspect eternal: that is to say, although expulsion from Paradise is final, and life in the world unavoidable, the eternity of the process (or, expressed in temporal terms, the eternal repetition of the process) nevertheless makes it possible not only that we might remain in Paradise permanently, but that we may in fact be there permanently, no matter whether we know it here or not.

Theoretically there is a perfect possibility of happiness: believing in the indestructible element in oneself and not striving towards it.

The whole visible world is perhaps nothing other than a motivation of man’s wish to rest for a moment — an attempt to falsify the fact of knowledge, to try to turn the knowledge into the goal.

Two possibilities: making oneself infinitely small or being so. The second is perfection, that is to say, inactivity, the first is beginning, that is to say, action.

There can be knowledge of the diabolical, but no belief in it, for more of the diabolical than there is does not exist.

Humility provides everyone, even him who despairs in solitude, with the strongest relationship to his fellow man, and this immediately, though, of course, only in the case of complete and permanent humility. It can do this because it is the true language of prayer, at once adoration and the firmest of unions. The relationship to one’s fellow man is the relationship of prayer, the relationship to oneself is the relationship of striving; it is from prayer that one draws the strength for one’s striving.

What have I in common with Jews? I have hardly anything in common with myself.

The Messiah will come only when he is no longer necessary; he will come only on the day after his arrival; he will come, not on the last day, but on the very last day

Don't despair, not even over the fact that you don't despair.

1 comment:

Eowyn said...

"There can be knowledge of the diabolical, but no belief in it, for more of the diabolical than there is does not exist."

The Buddha knew this, also.

Evil exists insofar as we give it life, in our own perceptions. True, perceptions can be manifested into ugly reality -- but once we reject ugliness, we arm ourselves against it. It exists in the shadows; and the weapons we devise against are commensurate, because our minds are far more powerful than shadows.

Jews, Buddhists, Taoists and others are all on the same page, once one parses things down to bare essentials.

And it is those bare essentials that will win.