Wednesday, January 21, 2009

I Have Seen Your Future, America, and it Doesn’t Work

Today, I am thankful to have seen this article by James Delingpole of the Spectator (UK):

I Have Seen Your Future, America, and it Doesn’t Work

Because, in it, he says everything I believe about what will happen during President Obama's term(s) of office.

At which point, it all made such perfect sense that the write-in-a-month part ceased to be a problem. ‘But of course!’ I realised. ‘It’s like May 1997 all over again. Same euphoria. Same sense — even among many Conservatives — that this time it’s different, that this guy’s The One who’s going to change everything. Same subtly bullying, post-Diana’s-death-style atmosphere where if you don’t subscribe to the popular consensus you’re a freak and a cynic and you’re wrong and you should probably be shot.’

Crikey, they were scary times for those few of us who, right from day one, refused to give any credence to the Blair project. It was like the second half of Invasion of the Bodysnatchers, where pretty much every human alive has been taken over by the evil, gelatinous pod-creatures, and you no longer know which, if any, of your friends you can trust. Remember the awful final scene in the classic 1978 remake where the sweet girl goes up to nice Donald Sutherland only to have him reveal with that blood-curdling scream that, yes, he too has been got by the bodysnatchers? Well that’s just how I felt when my hitherto sound friend Damian confided to me that he too now held out high hopes for the new regime.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Menachem Wecker interviews Orit Arfa

Menachem Wecker has posted a fabulous interview of the artist Orit Arfa, on his Iconia blog.

Orit Arfa seems, in many ways, to be a kindred spirit for me. It is partially her wonderful paintings (see below), but also how she thinks and talks about her paintings, and the fact that she explores so many other creative outlets in addition to painting.

Here I will not try to capture all of the greatness of the interview with Orit (for which, please click the link above), but just to give you a small taste, to tempt you to go over there and read it.

MW: In your painting of Rebecca, you show the matriarch with bare elbows. Aren’t you worried about being criticized for not portraying her more modestly?

OA: I’d be worried if I’m not criticized for not portraying her modestly. That is the point. I painted Rebecca at a time when I was seriously questions Jewish modesty norms, having worn only skirts for several years. In religious schools the foremothers are portrayed as virtuous, modest women, however powerful in their own way. The plain meaning of the texts, however, suggest Biblical heroines who were highly comfortable in their own skin and sexuality. Sarah was given to two kings by her husband, Abraham. Rebecca and Isaac are described as “making-out.” Batsheva bathes in plain sight of King David, clearly evoking in him great sexual desire. Orthodox rabbis or teachers may offer their apologetics to explain this seeming impropriety. But Orthodoxy didn’t exist in Biblical times. I wanted to create a new image of the Biblical woman to justify my own rebellion and to also offer an alternative for women who feel stifled or limited by Orthodox modes of dress. At the same time, I don’t want my art to be a form of polemics, but to realize a vision–a visual reminder, encapsulation of my values and the struggles that took me there.

MW: How would you respond to a charge that a nightclub queen Esther [above - HRA] is sacrilegious?

OA: I would respond by saying thank you for the compliment. The entire story of Esther is very racy, when you think about it from an Orthodox perspective. Beautiful-Jewish-virgin-passes-sex-contest-to- become-Queen-of-Persia. While she was required to enter the contest, she still had what it took to charm this gentile king. Ultimately her grace and feminine charm, coupled with her intelligence, were used to avert a great Jewish tragedy. Ahasuerus was a party-producer extraordinaire, so in some ways Esther IS a nightclub queen. The first chapter of the Scroll of Esther defines in great detail the lavish parties and the drinks served—right down the goblets used. She knew how to throw a good party herself, as we read towards the end.

Going back to my Rebecca painting, we see that sexual awareness and physical beauty could be just as much a virtue as modesty. When the two are mixed in a delicate, intelligent, and purposeful way, they create a fantastic eroticism and “girl-power” that can be used for good and for fighting evil.

MW: Do you think the Second Commandment restricts art-making in a Jewish context? Are there any subjects you would not paint for fear of idolatry?

OA: Of course to me it doesn’t restrict art-making, but that’s how it’s been interpreted throughout the ages. The plain meaning of the text seems to refer to physical idols, God’s competitors in Biblical times. Going back to my modern definition of idolatry, I read the Ten Commandments entirely differently. The commandment against not having other gods refers to a philosophical principle: there is only one truth—yours—and you must follow it (within the parameters of civil law described in the second half of the Ten Commandments). Do not sacrifice your body or mind to others. Do not live a life dictated by the will of others or live a life with absolutely no purpose, or worse, destructive, criminal principles. The restriction against making art, to me, can thus be a violation of the Second Commandment! Staying true to yourself and living an honest, purposeful, and happy life are, to me, the ways in which to serve “God” (what is God or if there is one is another discussion).

As for not painting “idolatry,” I probably wouldn’t paint photographs idealizing or fostering strict religion, dictatorship, criminality, a purposeless existence, or nihilism. Some “Jewish” art I consider (mild) idolatry as much as canvases with nothing but blobs of paint. Sometimes Jewish ritual objects become sources of worship, rather than the ethical principles and behaviors they’re meant to foster.

Monday, January 12, 2009

We Know Time! Or, Do We?

One of my favourite passages in literature is this bit from the end of Jack Kerouac's classic, The Dharma Bums:

"... Now comes the sadness of coming back to cities and I've grown two months older and there's all that humanity of bars and burlesque shows and gritty love, all upsidedown in the void God bless them, but Japhy you and me forever we know, O ever youthful, O ever weeping." Down on the lake rosy reflections of celestial vapor appeared, and I said "God, I love you" and looked up to the sky and really meant it. "I have fallen in love with you, God. Take care of us all, one way or the other."

My wife recently asked me to comment about my view of the city as Kerouac describes it here (
all that humanity of bars and burlesque shows and gritty love, all upsidedown in the void). I tend to be drawn to that sort of gritty humanity, with all of its particolored enthusiasms, its misspent energies, it "raging glory" (to borrow a phrase from Bob Dylan). So that is why she asked.

Her question reminded me of a time we took a Reformed Episcopal friend (who is now a presbyter in the REC) to Venice Beach, California. After soaking up those crazy vibes for a while, he asked me: In your dream of the realized Millennium (for I was a Postmillennialist then), how much different would Venice Beach be?

My reply then was the same as it would be today: Not much different. Most of this can be redeemed.

But, how did it get so gritty? Why is it all upsidedown in the void?

I submit to you that much of it has to do with our poor inability to master time. Because we do not "know time" properly, we get ahead of ourselves, and in trying to get ahead of God, we find ourselves falling behind Him. Much of what happens in a typical bar (even a gritty one) is probably pretty good: images of God interact with other images of God, while partaking of those liquids that "make glad the heart of man."

But often the drinking, for instance, is a grasping of things (pleasure, relief, peace, creative inspiration) ahead of the appointed time. That is, God wishes to give us many of the same things we would seek in drink, but not yet.1

Like King David, we underestimate what God is willing to give us, in His good time, through the righteous channels.
2 And so, like David, we grasp for what we want now.3

In Kerouac's most famous work, On The Road, the characters are frequently heard to repeat the mantra: We know time. But I think that it was all talk. Neither the author nor the characters knew time in the sense in which we must know it if we are to
pass through things temporal that we finally lose not the things eternal.

Though the demons denied it4, Jesus Christ knew (and knows) time5. Of course, He has the advantage of having created time. It seems trite to say it, but let us wait on the Lord, and we will not spend so much time upsidedown in the void.

The eyes of all wait upon thee; and thou givest them their meat in due season.

And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.

1 c.f. Luke 22:18, Matthew 27:34

2 2 Samuel 12:8

3 2 Samuel 11

4 Matthew 8:29

5 John 2:4, John 7:6

Saturday, January 10, 2009

You Can Break My Heart, But I Ain't Gonna Run!

Sometimes, the advice of John Lee Hooker's mama seems to apply: 'Cause it's in him, and it got to come out! When this happens to me, I descend upon some local coffee house Open Mic night. This Mudcrutch song, Scare Easy, is so well written and so naturally playable that even amateurs sound good playing it.

For comparison (and for your listening pleasure) here is how the Pros do it!

Friday, January 9, 2009

Neighborhood Bully - Dylan - Infidels (1983)

I kept waiting for Baby Blue to post this Dylan video, because of what is happening about Israel these days. If BB posted it, I missed it, so I guess it must be Up To Me ...

Not only does this 25-year-old gem rock incredibly hard (even for Mr. Dylan), but it has never been more timely. I myself am not rabidly pro-Israel, but I cried a little when I played this song tonight.