Mimesis and Violence

3rd person apt. hunt, p 2
May 31, 2007, 12:52 pm
Filed under: Prose, Race

He gets off at Sterling and Nostrand: the heart of Bed-Stuy as his Brooklyn-born friend John had called it. John said he’d be the only Jew for blocks and blocks. He’s sure he’s the only whiteboy too. He hates thinking of himself as white; that first standardized test confused the crap out of him because there was no “Jew” category. Identity is weird shit, yo.

Nostrand like that Ratatat song he’s addicted to. He wonders where the title comes from, but mostly so that he can ignore the two rundown convenience stores boasting check to cash conversion capacities in bold white lettering flanking, as if built for the very purpose of confirming his every stereotype, a fried chicken joint.

He is unsure which way to walk. He knows that he has to go towards the park, but has no idea which way the park is. He assumes it’s towards the nicer houses because the one he’s looking at is nice, so he makes a quick judgment and starts walking self-consciously, a very slight reggaefeel hesitation beat in his step following in the parlance of his locus. The affectation is silly and he knows it, but he can’t stop himself.

He thinks again of fried chicken and is reminded of how he once joked with a black friend that he’d be proud to have his people stereotyped as eating delicious food. He wasn’t even joking, really. He loves fried chicken and loves to say that he loves fried chicken: because it’s delicious and bad for him and also because his liking it makes him accepting and liberal in a way that allows him to one-up his parents’ hypocritical closedminded Orthodox Judaism.

He stereotypes his parents too, and he relishes it.

iPodless, he feels naked. He wants to be clothed in music, but he also wants to keep his iPod. Walking, supposedly towards the park (though he’s not sure), he sees some benzes, audis, BMWs, and wonders if they belong to people who can afford them. Downtheblock an icecreamtruck is parked playing the jingle that reminds him of his childhood on the upperwestside and is so out of context at night, not to mention here, parked next to a bunch of du-rag-clad young black men leaning on an old boxy benz, talking, the truck lights are on but the driver missing. Does the truck double as someother salesvehicle?

Icecreamtruck mercifully shields him from the view of those loitering young men. He has no reason in particular to fear them, but he also has no reason to want to be seen. Angst is central to his identity. He likes to control perception. He likes to know when and why people love or hate him. He never understood the Greek’s fascination with the fates and their thread.

He crosses the welllit Bedford Ave and is enveloped by darkness once again. He imagines the girl – not the girl from the train, but the girl he likes (alot) – walking down this street to meet him should he, in a mythical and contrapositive world, take this apartment that he already knows he cannot handle. In his mental image she holds her head high, neck arched up at the same angle as her high-heeled feet. She walks apparentlycalmly down Sterling St. though she is not actuallycalm. She is more uncomfortable than he, but she has to prove to her mommy that she’s a woman. This is why he sometimes thinks of her as a girl, but it is also why he often thinks of her as a woman; we are all children in the end and striving to be adult, to separate from our parents’ conception of us, is the best attempt we can really make at maturity. Or so he thinks sometimes when he examines his own maturity and finds it lacking.

She reads his thoughts. This is partly because he is particularly forthcoming with her, but also because he wears his thoughts, like his music, on his sleeve and in his expression. Though they open him up, they shield him too.

Is everything in the world is a dichotomy?


3rd person apt. hunt, p 1
May 30, 2007, 9:07 am
Filed under: Prose, Race, Rants

The Brooklyn-bound 2 train was not crowded at 9:20 pm; because he boarded the train thinking he would feel uncomfortable, he did. Constantly surveying the people getting on and off, sitting near him, talking, eating, iPodding, sleeping. “I’m not a racist,” his ego screamed, though all the while he counted black people surrounding him, examined their dress, wondered where they got their checks cashed and bought their shiny hats and sneakers: not afraid of any one in particular but of what they represented stastically, viscerally to him.

His feminine iPod was on shuffle. There were two men on the train he thought for sure were gay. They were white, but they were gay. In turn they both looked his way. It cost only 49$ refurbished: please don’t you judge his sexuality by his frugality.

Stevie Ray Vaughan contrasted strangely with increasingly hip-hop oriented car; it was hard to hear the song over the screeching din of metal on metal, the roaring sound of the train entering the Borough of Brooklyn. He took the iPod off 10 stops before his destination, not wishing to tempt fate with a shiny gadget in the heart Bed-Stuy.

At Clark St. a father and daughter got on. To complete the image you have to know that they were black, that they looked black in that stereotypical way that he was unused to and feared, if only a little, because of its unfamiliarity. Father wore a white t-shirt, jean shorts, a blingin’ rhinestone belt, and sneakers in a state of shinywhiteness he envied because they indicated a capacity for sneaker-care he could not possibly achieve. Daughter was dressed similarly and donned a graffitoed hat in a suchlike state of shinywhiteness. Through the blurry glass of the train door he saw them hug tightly and thought they were lovers, fuckbuddies, whatever the “black” word is. The doors parted and he realized that she was much too young for that. He was disgusted.

Father and daughter fought playfully on the train, talked about school, planned the weekend. Somehow he found himself talking to them, his first impromptu conversation on a subway ever. Like his little brother, who had begun planning his own college career the moment our protagonist had left the house for Princeton, this 14yearold had planned her education and career to a T. She was going to go to FIT. She was going to make a cartoon. She was going to follow her own dream. Why was it her own dream? Because dad had studied fashion too, at Philadelphia University. She was different. They were cute together, and not in that patronizing way that people foreign to you are cute because you don’t want to deal with their complete andtotal humanity. They were cute precisely because they were socompletely human, human in that fuzzy nicefeeling way that made him believe wholeheartedly in earnest in all the liberal maxims of human equality where once he had merely paid them devout lip-service.

Father and daughter got off at Bergen st. Dad shot him a warm glance, said “good night to ya.”

juxtaposition 2
May 12, 2007, 5:16 pm
Filed under: Art, Photography, Poetry


In the desert (Stephen Crane)

In the desert
I saw a creature, naked, bestial,
Who, squatting upon the ground,
Held his heart in his hands,
And ate of it.
I said, “Is it good, friend?”
“It is bitter–bitter,” he answered;
“But I like it
Because it is bitter,
And because it is my heart.”

juxtaposition 1
May 9, 2007, 8:41 am
Filed under: Art, Photography, Poetry


Song (Allen Ginsberg)

The weight of the world
is love.
Under the burden
of solitude,
under the burden
of dissatisfaction
the weight,
the weight we carry
is love.
Who can deny?
In dreams
it touches
the body,
in thought
a miracle,
in imagination
till born
in human–
looks out of the heart
burning with purity–
for the burden of life
is love,
but we carry the weight
and so must rest
in the arms of love
at last,
must rest in the arms
of love.
No rest
without love,
no sleep
without dreams
of love–
be mad or chill
obsessed with angels
or machines,
the final wish
is love
–cannot be bitter,
cannot deny,
cannot withhold
if denied:
the weight is too heavy
–must give
for no return
as thought
is given
in solitude
in all the excellence
of its excess.
The warm bodies
shine together
in the darkness,
the hand moves
to the center
of the flesh,
the skin trembles
in happiness
and the soul comes
joyful to the eye–
yes, yes,
that’s what
I wanted,
I always wanted,
I always wanted,
to return
to the body
where I was born.

May 7, 2007, 11:19 am
Filed under: Friends, Poetry, Prose

A really nice piece by my good friend and professor Brian W. Kernighan.

The Sons of Mary seldom bother, for they have inherited that good part;
But the Sons of Martha favour their Mother of the careful soul and the troubled heart
And because she lost her temper once, and because she was rude to the Lord her Guest,
Her Sons must wait upon Mary’s Sons, world without end, reprieve, or rest.
It is their care in all the ages to take the buffet and cushion the shock.
It is their care that the gear engages; it is their care that the switches lock. It is their care that the wheels run truly; it is their care to embark and entrain,
Tally, transport, and deliver duly the Sons of Mary by land and main.

“Kipling’s poem speaks mostly of heavy machines and those who operate mechanical systems (and of course he wrote before women engineers), but the spirit of the poem applies far beyond that. Translated into modern terms, most of us pay no attention to those who work long and hard behind the scenes with little recognition, let alone thanks. Think about them the next time that someone nearly invisible keeps the machinery working for you. Where would we be without today’s sons and daughters of Martha?”

May 4, 2007, 12:39 pm
Filed under: Humor, Princeton

A good cartoon from the ‘Prince. Who knew they were capable?

Engineer breakup.

unpublished piece
May 1, 2007, 8:04 am
Filed under: Judaism, Princeton, Rants, Religion

I wrote this article for the Daily Princetonian but it was too long for their opinion page. Figured I should do something with it.

For reference, here are some of the issues I am responding to:

In this article, am primarily responding to R.K. Urken’s “Chabad Affair” pieces in the Nassau Weekly.

Verbum Avi
I sit outside the New Media Center at 87 Prospect, the sun, slightly muted, is pouring through the tinted windows onto a copy of the Nassau Weekly that lies open on my lap. The paper is slightly transparent in the harsh light.

It occurs to me what a crock of shit sits before me, what a Vesuvian torrent of falseness R.K. Urken’s pen emits.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for pretentious writing, polemical rhetoric, and speaking as if someone has shoved a thesaurus and Dostoevsky’s collected works so far up your ass that they’ve crossed the blood-brain barrier. I’m not at all upset that Urken took well thought out quotations from me and contorted them gently to fit the frame of his polemic. Confronting people is a really good thing. So many people are so very wrong and are in dire need of being corrected. Lots of things are justified by that pursuit. But it’s damn hard to correct people with lies and one-tenth-truths, and it’s even harder to run with your foot in your mouth.

Even as I write this piece, I wonder why people care so much about Jewish chaplaincy. All the attention this issue has gotten might be construed as evidence of a media conspiracy. But we sane, level-headed, people know that there is no such thing, right? Jews don’t control the campus media! Conspiracy theories notwithstanding, the issue of a Chabad chaplaincy has gotten lots of campus media attention, most of which is pregnant with obvious bias and, as a result, seriously lacking in fact. Bias is great. Lies are not.

To remedy this dearth of veracity, I’m gonna act as your factual Pez dispenser – popping delicious candied truths out of my mouth one at a time. Let’s not single out poor R either – his is but a single quill in the quiver, if perhaps the loudest, most arrogant, and most prolific of the lot. There are lies all around us, and we should correct them all in turn.

Truth #1 – The University is very invested in the Center for Jewish Life. Princeton built and maintains the CJL and operates the Kosher dining hall within. Last I heard, the CJL is the most costly dining unit on campus. More expensive than the whole of Wilcox-Wu. Two separate kitchens, Kosher certification, and cleaning the whole thing for Passover will do that.

Truth #2 – Chabad Lubavitch is a Hassidic Jewish Movement. Though Urken admits this fact, it deserves reiteration. Having started in the 18th century, Hassidic Judaism is a relative newcomer to the landscape of Jewish traditions. I think Hassidism is cool, but it is in no way the sole heir to millennia of Jewish tradition.

Truth #3 – There is exactly one student on this campus who practices Chabad Judaism. His name is Howard Neur. I love Howie. He’s really cool, thoughtful, and interesting, great to talk to about Judaism, math, life, whatever. But when Urken offers Howie as an example of someone who the CJL doesn’t serve adequately, he gives us probably the most disingenuous argument of all time. I do not mean that to be hyperbolic. Howie’s a great guy, but he’s the only person on campus for whom the CJL is not Kosher enough.

Truth #4 – The Chabad mantra “A Jew is a Jew is a Jew” is not as feel-good as you think. First of all, the mantra has an inductive caveat – a Jew is a Jew is a Jew (who has a Jewish mother). Moreover, the slogan actually proclaims the non-existence of Jewish denominations. A Reform Jew is a Jew, as is a Conservative one, as is an Orthodox one, as is a Hassidic one. All are one in Chabad, whether they like it or not. The catchphrase disguises beliefs that many who see the issue of a Chabad chaplaincy as one of religious freedom would find quite objectionable.

Truth #5 – Rabbi Webb is not the only person on campus “who truly learn[s] the Torah and Jewish scripture.” The very statement that he does belies a particular idea of what constitutes the study of Torah that is not shared by many people on this campus and elsewhere. There are plenty of Jews on this campus who learn Torah without Rabbi Webb. Even some non-Jews. Oh my!

Truth #6 – Rabbi Webb is not an evil person. In point of fact, he is really nice, outgoing, very smart, and cares deeply about serving Jewish students. I respect his commitment and caring immensely. Eitan is also really interesting to talk to. In my experience with Eitan, Joe Skloot’s invective is entirely unfounded.

Truth #7 – Rabbi Roth is not an evil person. Nor is she the toadstool of an “Aryan” Tilghman. Whatever you may think of Rabbi Roth, her ideas about Judaism, the kind of leader that she is, or her personal politics, she is a genuine and nice human being. Despite Will Scharf’s harsh words, I do think that she would take the time to drive to the graveyard for your grandmother’s funeral. If, that is, you had taken the time to get to know her.

So I was shooting for Ten Truths. I guess I fell a bit short of divinity. Nonetheless, I’ll give a shot at synthesis.

Chabad does provide social and religious services to students on this campus. Eitan does a great job – he teaches people things they want to learn, organizes really cool events, and publicizes them really well. Lots of students prefer the environment fostered by Rabbi Webb to that of the CJL. There is a certain personal touch to Eitan and Gitty that sits in modest contrast to the CJL. At the same time it would be false to paint this issue as one of religious freedom – the CJL has not prevented anyone from practicing Judaism as they see fit. Rabbi Webb himself prays regularly at the CJL.

More accurately, it’s a matter of personal preference. Unfortunately, people seem to defend their personal preferences tooth and nail.

Former Chabad Student Board President Will Scharf ’08, calls Joe Skloot ’05 a “militant Reform Rabbi” as if Reform Judaism was the mark of the devil rather than a denomination of Judaism. Skloot, a Reform rabbinical student, on the other hand, seems to think that Chabad is akin to a fraternity in it’s relevance to campus life. Grow up, both of you.

Scharf, along with his father Michael Scharf ’64, think that denying Rabbi Webb chaplaincy is somehow anti-Semitic. Urken appears to agree, asking us whether “Princeton has progressed enough to accept as an official chaplain a bearded, be-yarmulked man.” In light of Princeton’s huge financial commitment to the non-denominational CJL, how we could possibly see the administration as anti-Semitic? While we speak of progress, why not also ask if Chabad is progressive enough to accept a yarmulke-wearing, Torah-teaching, female Rabbi?

Urken sees Chabad as the underdog in a campus wide Jewish war. To quote Urken as he does others, without permission, “It’s always fun to defend the underdog.” Indeed it is fun. However, I contest the idea that there is such a war, that Chabad is an underdog at all, or that it is permissible to treat the truth as malleable in defense of underdogism. I said earlier that I wouldn’t single Urken out. So I lied. The most pernicious thing about Urkens’ effete hipster monologues is that he knows the whole truth and withholds it deliberately.

Should Rabbi Webb be a recognized chaplain? Does personal preference a chaplaincy make? I don’t know and I really don’t care. Should people investigate matters fully and tell the whole truth? Hell yeah.