Eucharist

Tarcísio Feitosa da Silva, director of the Roman Catholic Pastoral Land Commission in Altamira, Brazil, challenges forged land titles, denounces illegal logging, and is a peasant organizer pushing for nature reserves. He is considered a top enemy by loggers, ranchers and land speculators, which means his life is constantly in danger. About his faith, he is quoted as saying (NYT of Sat 12/30/06, page A4):

I never understood that phrase that comes just before communion, the one about ‘behold the mystery of faith.’

He then describes how he was once invited to go hunting by people in an Indian village. They got a deer and brought the meat back to the village:

I was super happy, thinking my group would get the best part. But then one old woman came and cut the haunches, then another old woman and another and another. In the end, after all the ribs were taken too, all that remained for us who had made such a big sacrifice was a little piece of meat.
My first reaction was how could a thing like this happen? I had gone the whole day without eating, walked I don’t know how many kilometers in the jungle and helped to carry that deer back on my shoulders. But then I realized that what is on the table is meant to be shared, and that is the mystery of faith. So I think that was the first true Eucharist that I ever experienced.

Palimpsest

Skeins of geese, branches and boughs score the violet sky,
beyond long flat roofs, gray tarred roads, vapor trails.
Distant honkings unhinge the roar of hooded engines
that come round in silver rivers to unending frozen bends.

Orlando Patterson writes about the US government’s misuse of the notion of freedom in today’s NYT‘s editorial, “God’s Gift?” One can agree with him that the war in Iraq was motivated “by the neo-conservatives’ belief that they could stabilize the Middle East by spreading freedom there,” though I tend to look at it suspiciously as a sort of icing on the oily cake. But can one agree with him when he considers it an error to continue to espouse liberal doctrine according to which “freedom is a natural part of the human condition?” Yes, if one understands by that “freedom” nothing more than the hypocritical, unrestricted right for powerful individuals and corporations to profit from nature and human labor, i.e. an enslavement of sorts. But that is not what O. Patterson is saying. The president and his advisers, in his view, failed “to distinguish Western beliefs about freedom from those critical features of it that non-Western peoples were likely to embrace.” He believes that if it is “written in our heart,” it is “neither instinctive nor universally desired, and that most of the world’s peoples have found so little need to express it that their indigenous languages did not even have a word for it before Western contact.” But surely it is not because a group has no word (recognizable by us) for some aspect of reality that it doesn’t exist for that group!? It would be strange to argue, for instance, that because a word narrowly translatable as freedom hardly appears in the Hebrew bible, the notion was not fundamental for ancient Hebrews and Judaeans. Perhaps freedom is not instinctive, though babies’s and children’s behavior would tend to illustrate both sides of this idea (that is, both freedom and attachment are instinctive). But it is not “a distinctive product of Western civilization, crafted through the centuries from its contingent social and political struggles and secular reflections, as well as its religious doctrines and conflicts.” Crafted through struggles, yes, but rather part of the values that produced something we call civilization, in that order, not the other way around, as if “Western civilization” existed sui generis, before time. The good news, as O. Patterson rightly says, is that “freedom has been steadily carrying the day.” The bad news, then, is that new forms of enslavement, some carried out under that very name of freedom, are spreading together with it, as the first page of today’s [i]NYT[/i] makes clear in its story on the terrible working conditions of millions of Chinese workers in Shenzhen.

US foreign policy

The Iraq Study Group and the White House don’t agree on what to do in Iraq and more generally in the Middle East, according to the news. Realpolitik vs fantasy? Both to my mind are fantasies, except that the one couched in careful terms by the bi-partisan commission led by Baker and Hamilton is designed to rescue the US from the terrible mess created by Cheney / Rumsfeld / Bush / neocons and give the US a fighting chance to continue to have an important role in the Middle East for a while longer. But the basic choices are the same, just less overtly missionary: maximise the financial and political position of the US, and therefore its military options, so as to neutralize possible competitors. After all, the members of this sedate Iraq Study Group were certainly in favor of whacking Iran in the eighties and making war to Iraq in 1991 to defend Koweit, to maintain an important “principle” of international law. This “principle” was little more than the continuation of imperial European and now American policies dating back in this case to the nineteen twenties.

What is most disconcerting in all of this is that little or no thought is given to the human catastrophe that is the Iraqis’ daily. One hears about our victims, but little about “theirs.” What is at stake is: control of the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean, “democratic” access to oil and other wealth through modern means (stock exchanges and property structures), and therefore influence over neighboring countries (all of them!). When will human beings be at the center of our foreign policy? When it is not foreign, that is: when out of the realization of our own weakness and fragility we are able to recognize ourselves in any weak and fragile victim at the side of the road (I’m thinking of the Good Samaritan story of Luke 10.25–37). That takes some deterritorialization, accepting to see ourselves as foreign not only to others but to ourselves.

Bruzunennoù barzhoniezh

Pozioù kentañ Mamm-gozh, gant Youenn Gwernig, aet d’an anaon evit bloaz (29et a v. eost 2006):
E-pad ar goañv e Breizh
Bez es eus tiez toennoù mein-glas
Evit lakaat ar vugale da glevout
Tabouliñ ar glav
Prenestroù sklaer evit tresañ traoù.

(Al Liamm 358, ere 2006, pp. 8–9)

In Brittany in the winter
there are houses with slate roofs
so that children may hear
the rain’s pitter patter,
with clear windows to draw things.

Ha da heul bremañ, troïdigezh varzhoneg hebreek vrudet Dan Pagis kavet en e levr Points of Departure, troïdigezh saozneg gant Stephen Mitchell (Ibid., p. 23), ha va hini e brezhoneg war-lerc’h:

כָּתוּב בְּעִפָּרוֹן בַּקָּרון הֶחָתוּם

כָּאן בַּמִּשְׁלוֹחַ הַזֶּה
אֲנִי חַוָּה
עִם הֶבֶל בְּנִי
אִם תִּרְאוּ אֶת בְּנִי הַגָּדוֹל
קַיִן בֶּן אָדָם
,תַּגִּידוּ לוֹ שֶׁאֲנִי

E saozneg:

Written in Pencil in the Sealed Railway-Car

here in this carload
i am eve
with abel my son
if you see my other son
cain son of man
tell him that i

Hag e brezhoneg:

Skrivet gant kreïon er vagon brennet

amañ er transport-se
me eva
gant abel va mab
ma welit va mab henañ
cain mab den
lavarit dezhañ emaon

Kurius disoloiñ pegent krouüs eo kenveriañ ar yezhoù, forzh pegent pell spered unan eus an eil, da vihanan diouzh kentañ sell a raer. ‘Kreïon’ ha ‘bagon’ a glot evel e hebreeg, hag a greiz oll e kemer an tamm kreïon liv drama ar bed. Pa brenen ur c’hreion be ur “borteplume” ti Geldron, n’hellen ket sonjal (eürusamant) e c’hellfent dont da vezañ ostilhoù ontologel. Ha da vont pelloc’h ganti: ‘emaon’ hag ‘amañ’ a liamm krogadenn ar werz hag he dibenn gwelloc’h eget en hebreeg. N’hellen ket treiñ בן אדם gant ‘mab Adam’ pe ‘mab gour’, met treiñ gant “mab den” a zeu neuze da damantiñ e c’hell bezañ, hag ez eo, ‘cain’ “mab den ebet”, filius nullius, evel ma grede d’an nazïed e oant un ouenn nevez.

What is poetry?

From Borges:

La raíz del lenguaje es irracional y de carácter mágico. El danés que articulaba el nombre de Thor or el sajón que articulaba el nombre de Thunor no sabía si esas palabras significaban el dios del trueno o el estrépito que sucede al relámpago. La poesía quiere volver a esa antigua magia. Sin prefijadas leyes, obra de un modo vacilante y osado, como si caminara en la oscuridad. (end of the prologue to El otro, el mismo

War and peace

Why did we go to war in Iraq? Many reasons were given by the US government, most or all of them false. But which did neo-cons and willing politicians believe in and did many in the public accept (still accept)? Did we go to war, in the end, believing in a teleology of peace and dismissing the sort of consequences that Rousseau saw, namely that its mirror image is the use of systematic violence? Does a variant of that supposed future peace, to be brought by democratization and its supposed accompanying good, absence of conflict, justify any means, including constant war? and war to the “end” (complete victory, as our government still says occasionally)? A future, perfect, lasting peace is being presented as having to come about, no matter the cost. This peace, defined as an absence of hostilities (or even further, hostile parties) would finally set right our messy, disorderly human affairs. This is a far cry from what common language tells us about making peace.

Humanities

The intrusion of money and management rationality—or what passes for rationality— at the heart of the university belongs to a wider movement: the transformation and measured flattening of all social bonds. A positive aspect of this is the freedom from hierarchical and religious bonds, including the “mandarinat” and certain types of selection. Accessibility becomes a permanent question. Negative aspects are obvious: the grabbing of the minds and especially public resources. The inexorable flattening of social bonds, however, is a new praeparatio evangelica, in the sense that modern individuals are progressively freed from the survivalist need to abide by the social network to which they belong and may become more open to the risks of living a more universal life in which generosity of spirit does not abide by the old “do ut des.” This is the spirit, one hopes, of modern taxation and social security systems (see Maimonides on this, and to the contrary, Bush et co). In the pursuit of knowledge, the grace spoken of by Plato in the Republic becomes accessible to all. Yet, here too, the “signs” or markers of knowledge have become liquid, not only because one can buy ever more discrete parts of it but also because the nature of what passes now for knowledge is a collection of ingenious transactions, a recomposition of notions and symbols, in a notation system (quotes, footnotes, CVs, departmental accounting, etc.) where the share of discovery becomes more and more mysterious. But here too I think of something similar to the praeparatio evangelica: beyond a transaction that has knowledge as its proclaimed goal (but in reality survival and power), more people than ever are free to seek further, knowing that the more specific the prize, the more suspect it is of manipulation or at least inadequacy. The pricing of knowledge leads to a reflection on the pricelessness of knowledge, on its gift aspects, much as in the economic domain the more specific and universal pricing is, the deeper the realization that the real value of certain objects is beyond price.

Wet

The deck planking is dark with slippery water, the orange tree’s branches stoop to the ground, heavy with winter fruit and drops left by a storm that has swept through and vanished. The earth, mountains and dark woods rise daringly and wearingly against the turquoise sky. Prophets’ words echo beyond blue and green comforts. Does the middle-aged man often posted at Safeway’s entrance have a tarp?

Shopping

I’m looking at the entrance to a clothing store on Pacific Avenue. It is strange to think that this action, to enter someone else’s property and rifle through “their” clothes (owned in what way?), not necessarily because one needs new ones, is taken to be normal, benign, necessary even.

SBL in Washington

Washington: a few thousand scholars are gathered within the Society of Biblical Literature and the American Academy of Religion to talk about Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, assorted methods to query the object (religion), and parenthetical enterprises like archaeology. So many books on the bible, exegesis, moral theology, etc.: would Jesus have been surprised? Lichtenberg was not.

On my way back along K street, I glance at the windows of a Catholic Association’s bookstore: a new book on the greatness of christianity and how it has enriched the world materially is out. On a stone sill in the second window next to last, I can only guess a human form under a large blanket, sleeping in the cold.

More on the monuments to the dead and the political center: when one walks the whole length of the Mall and back, one can’t help but think that the White House, the Capitol and other political organizations of the state are the pullies of an engine that partly comes to life, better, that draws much of its life from the glorified dead of previous wars (Arlington cemetery across the river, the Vietnam Memorial, now the Holocaust monument, etc.). Round and round it goes, gathering steam from its contact with the magic transformation of tears and nightmares into hopes. Is this any different from what the Kremlin did and does when it momified and keeps on re-presentation the body of Lenin? Any different from the late Roman re-inscribing of the body of Jesus, the cross, etc. into the landscape of what became the “holy land?” Any different from the cult of relics, the cult of the shroud of Turin since the fourteenth century?

That aspect of politics is a radical problem if confronted to some of the most important texts in the Hebrew bible and the Christian canon. The story of the near-sacrifice of Isaac in Genesis 22 questions precisely the compulsion to glory and the fascination for the magic, frightening, pity-producing, and violence-justifying machinery that ancient and modern societies invoke in their effort to ground politics as usual. Isaac was not sacrificed, pace some commentaries. Neither was Ishmael? And more on bodies: that of Moses, the Solon-like law giver, was buried but is not to be found “to this day,” says Deuteronomy 34.6, no matter the Nebi Musa tomb in the slopes above Jericho. That of Elijah is even more fleeting, in life (a resident! an interstitial body) and even more in death. And to crown it all: the story of Jesus’ end, the story of the resurrection, is first and foremost the precise account of an absent body. It has a corrosive effect on the ever-renewed attempts to practice a politics of relics, pace Bush et al. The body politic is elsewhere, beyond the touch of the naïve and beyond the hypocritical attempts by the greedy to profit from human sufferings.

Gildas Hamel

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