Trust Issues: Cynicism, Post-Nationalism, and Captain America

Politics and theater go hand-in-hand. One doesn’t have to be an intellectual to know that politicians use words and gestures to gain attention, garner support, or justify this or that agenda. It’s obvious to anyone that the media, film, and the internet can affect this or that political agenda. Within a few hours, a political […]

(Not) Beyond Good and Evil: Will Herberg on Utopianism, Cynicism, and the Jewish Ethic

Will Herberg is a Jewish-American Theologian who is most noted for his book, published in 1955,  Protestant, Catholic, Jew: An Essay in American Religious Sociology.   His characterizations of American religious pluralism may be a little dated, but it is still discussed by scholars today.  But his first book, Judaism and Modern Man: An Interpretation of […]

Meir Abehsera’s “Possible Man” – The Holy Fool, The Writer, and the Beggar – Part I

At the beginning of the summer, I had an interesting talk with the Kabbalah scholar Elliot Wolfson about Holy Fools.  The subject that I wanted to discuss with him, which pertains to the Holy Fool, is something he was familiar with in his studies of Habad (Lubavitch) Hasiduth and Mysticism; namely, something called Ruah Shtut […]

Giorgio Agamben on Infancy, Gestures, and Gags – Take 1

My grandparents really enjoyed watching live stand-up comedy.  Whether it was at the Lido Beach Club in Long Beach, the Catskills, or in Miami, they relished live-comedy.  But of all the comic moments, my grandmother (on my mother’s side) recently told me of one.  She pointed out how whenever my grandfather saw Milton Berle come […]

Conversations in the Mountains between Franz Kafka and Paul Celan – Part II

I ended the last blog entry by drawing a limit or threshold between Kafka’s conversation and Nietzsche’s singing.   To be sure, Kafka, at the end of his piece, wonders why his group of nobodies isn’t singing.  Their conversation in the mountains is “free” like the winds but it doesn’t break into song, while Nietzsche’s speech […]

Who of the Four Sons is the Schlemiel?

I.B. Singer and Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav both refer to the schlemiel as a “Tam,” which is Hebrew for a simpleton.  Tam also means a person who is “complete.” But this doesn’t make sense. How could a simpleton be complete?  Isn’t the simpleton lacking intelligence, wit, and independence?  How could these “lacks” constitute the simpleton’s […]

The S(c)h(l)ock of Walter Benjamin’s Discovery

There is nothing like the shock of discovery.  The moment of recognition is transformational.   In Greek, the word for recognition is anagoresis.  In Greek anagnōrisis comes from the word anagnōrizein to recognize.  The root of this word comes from ana- + gnōrizein to make known.  Webster’s dictionary goes on to point out that it is […]

The Schlemiel as Prophet (Take 2)

In yesterday’s blog, we learned from the Talmud Baba Batra that once the last prophet died, prophesy was given over to children, fools, and, as I explained, schlemiels. To understand what this meant, I cited Martin Buber’s reading of the prophet. The prophet addresses persons who hear him, who should hear him. He knows himself […]