Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Zionism and Aesthetics

And before you ask, no, the two subjects are not related. I've just been rather lax on my blog discipline. I've been thinking things and thinking "okay, I'll address that in the blog later", which has ended up as making me think less rather than more about these subjects.

Zionism first because it's more recent and briefer and I'm not as sure about what I want to say about it. It is the eve of Independence Day, and I can't help but feel averse to this whole setup. I'm taking issue not so much with the idea of a Jewish state here as such (at least not yet), but more with the sheer simplemindedness of the enthusiasm.
I spoke very briefly before of tribalism in religiousity. This is the same thing here. It's right because it's us versus them. No it isn't.

Fact is a Jewish state in Israel will always victimize those unfortunate enough to not be Jewish - pretty much unavoidably - and Israel's consensual definition of itself as both democratic and Jewish is more than a little bizarre. Democratic societies don't speak as readily as we do about their ethnic minorities as "a demographical threat". It's not that there aren't still good arguments to back this Zionism thing up, but I think it's reasonable to expect a little bit more honesty. Waving a flag around doesn't make everything okay. At the end of the day this country will always be an enormous compromise on human values. I'd feel happier if I saw this issue less consistently and comprehensively ignored.

We have the Remembrance Day for Israel's fallen soldiers and victims of hostile actions the day before Independence Day - today, that is. I suppose the idea was to temper the celebrations with a reminder and an honouring of the human cost, but instead of the spirit of remembrance penetrating into the jingoism what seems to happen is the opposite - I was at a memorial today in my old highschool, and the place was so stuffed with flags you could hardly see anything. Somehow, this year, it felt obscene to me. Instead of focusing on the human tragedy we were celebrating the nobility of dying for the flag. It's disgusting.

I'm not even sure I have a point. I suppose I'd like to see myself less resigned to this sort of thing in practice. Not being a fervent Zionist pretty much makes me a stranger in this land. It's time to begin to deal with the reality of that. What, in practice, should change, I'm not quite sure. I guess we'll see eventually if I don't completely disregard this above-mentioned aversion like I have thus far.

Aesthetics, then, if I must. It's a funny name for what I'm trying to talk about. I came up with it in half-jest. Essentially, it is the issue of real, responsible, day-to-day life - being fucking ugly.
Not in terms of any ideology or anything - just gray, dull, boring.

I'm not sure if it's relevant, but it was reading the lyrics of a specific Nick Drake song - At the Chime of a City Clock - that got me thinking about this. It was reading poetry in general, and being reminded of Impressionist paintings. I can tell I'm not communicating this very well, but it seems like you have the power to apply your own aesthetic sensibilities to the world, and that this power is reduced the more you try to conform and integrate into regular society. Throughout the past years, I have been very conscious of this as a reason not to seriously engage people.

Today's a little different. It has become blindingly obvious that it is necessary, to me, to engage people - that it's not something I can really decide not to do - but I still have no idea how to do that and at the same time experience life as beautiful. And I'm far from sure this premise is even true - who said that engaging people had to dilute your experience of the world? The fact that I do it and many others do it doesn't necessarily mean it is inevitably always done.

It's basically a problem with getting visibly excited about anything. It goes against my instincts. I could never quite figure out why. I suppose it exposes you to ridicule, but I have trouble believing I'm really that afraid of looking ridiculous. I think that your subjective passions, along with your convictions, are what makes you who you are, and I suspect what I'm really trying to do is postpone coming to grips with who I am, more out of a long habit of procrastination than anything else. Don't do anything today that you can do next year. I can no longer really say I'm waiting for anything. This is my life here and if I won't make it beautiful now nobody else will.
That's probably, come to think of it, the main thing this blog is supposed to be - a chronicle of all the things I found beautiful recently. If nothing else, it can be an exercise in "visibly" reconciling myself to who I am. Good luck with that.

As a symbolic first step, this:

A city freeze
Get on your knees
Pray for warmth and green paper.
A city drought
You're down and out
See your trousers don't taper.

Saddle up
Kick your feet
Ride the range of a London street,
Travel to
A local plane
Turn around and come back again.

And at the chime of the city clock
Put up your road block
Hang on to your crown.
For a stone in a tin can
Is wealth to the city man
Who leaves his armour down.

Stay indoors
Beneath the floors
Talk with neighbours only.
The games you play
Make people say
You're either weird or lonely.

A city star
Won't shine too far
On account of the way you are,
And the beads
Around your face
Make you sure to fit back in place.

And at the beat of the city drum
See how your friends come
In twos or threes or more.
For the sound of a busy place
Is fine for a pretty face
Who knows what a face is for.

The city clown
Will soon fall down
Without a face to hide in.
And he will lose
If he won't choose
The one he may confide in.

Sonny boy
With smokes for sale
Went to ground with a face so pale.
And never heard
About the change
Showed his hand and fell out of range.

In the light of a city square
Find out the face that's fair
Keep it by your side.
When the light of the city falls
You fly to the city walls
Take off with your bride.

But at the chime of a city clock
Put up your road block
Hang on to your crown.
For a stone in a tin can
Is wealth to the city man
Who leaves his armour down.


  1. Okay, I have no idea what you're talking about. How are non-Jews having any "human values" violated by living in our country? You're sort of taking that for granted, but I don't see how it is so. And what the heck are you talking about when you say "engaging people"? And what does "applying your aesthetic sensibilities to the world" mean? You're right that you're not being particularly clear about any of this.

  2. To make an analogy: if I come over to your house, I'm treated with respect and as an equal. That doesn't give me the right to make changes to your house, because it's not my house, it's yours. That's not inhumane, it's only fair. To say that anyone can come in and mess around with your house, just because they're human beings, is to deny you your right to have your own house.

  3. Hey. Sorry for the lateness here. I actually read this before but then forgot about it and I've been away from the computer for most of this week.

    First of all, a lot of this probably just isn't going to make sense. It's kind of the nature of these subjects. It's trying to tackle subjects "spiritually" rather than rationally. And no, don't ask me what that means.

    However. When I talk about human values I'm talking mainly about the enormous amount of Arabs who reside in this country and which the government will always see as undesirable, to one extent or another.
    It's the one million citizens living in a country that defines itself as democratic and as "not them"; it's the 3 million living under occupation and with no civil representation or real autonomy; and it's the 4 million descendants of those that did live here, left for debatable reasons, and then weren't allowed to come back.
    There are arguments to support each one of these situations, but properly, regularly speaking, a "democracy" gives equal representation to all that live or lived within its jurisdiction. It is, in short, the principle of equality, and the conviction that if you want to compromise it the very least that should be required to do is acknowledge that you are. I don't think that people generally do.

    As for your house analogy - it doesn't really work - mainly because empty property and enormously populated landmasses aren't really analogous.
    This house is mine (or my parents') because it was bought off the previous owner (who built it) for money.
    This land is the Jews' because the UN, followed by Britain, decided that was the way it wanted to split the remains of the Ottoman Empire, and mainly because we won a war.
    As far as I'm concerned neither of these things gives us a moral right to this land. A government, generally speaking, becomes legitimate once it gives equal democratic representation to its subjects. There may be mitigating circumstances in this case, but the point is it's a fair bit more complicated than property law. I'm not saying anyone can come and mess around, but the people who lived here? That still live here? We can't just wave them off like that. Even if we have been at war with them for a hundred years.

    The other stuff is more complicated but will probably get expanded upon if I ever continue with this thing, which I'm not really doing.

    "Engaging people" basically means communicating with them rather than nodding and smiling and waiting for them to be out of my way. Engaging people is the opposite of being emotionally detached in my interactions.

    "Applying aesthetic sensibilities" is a reference to Impressionist paintings. It's about seeing the beautiful in what others consider mundane or boring or unworthy for whatever reasons.
    Thing is, other people's opinions are like poison. They infect you. The more time I spend with people, the less capable I become of independent thought. I am realizing mainly lately that the problem is not with people but with my attitude towards them. That's pretty much the short answer.