How to best tell the story? Where to begin? What in the master story speaks to one and therefore makes one speak?
In “The particulars of rapture” Avivah Zornberg identifies the main themes of the numerous narratives of the Exodus story as redemption, revelation, betrayal, and the quest for “God in our midst.” [p. 2]
I confess to reading no further than the introduction, but that alone is so rich and thought provoking, it will fuel me for a while.
I wanted to find texts that reflect these themes, whether directly and indirectly, as I prepare for retelling the Exodus story at the seder on Monday. I chose to begin with a section from James Joyce’s Ulysses, which to me represents in the first part revelation, and in the second part redemption, and I will quote in full from the above edition:AND IT WAS THE FEAST OF THE PASSOVER
“He stayed in his walk to watch a typesetter neatly distributing type. Reads it backwards first. Quickly he does it. Must require so practice that, mangiD. kcirtaP. Poor papa, with his hagadah book, reading backwards with his finger to me. Pessach. Next year in Jerusalem. Dear, O dear! All that long business about that brought us out of the land of Egypt and into the house of bondage. alleluia. Shema Israel Adomai Elohenu. No, that’s the other. Then the twelve brothers, Jacob’s sons. And then the lamb and the cat and the dog and the stick and the water and the butcher and then the angel of death kills the butcher and he kills the ox and the dog kills the cat. Sounds a bit silly till you come to look into it well. Justice it means but it’s everyone eating everyone else. That’s what life is after all. How quickly he does that job. Practice makes perfect. Seems to see with his fingers.
Mr. Bloom passed on out of the clanking noises through the gallery on to the landing, Now I am going to tram it out all the way and then catch him out perhaps. Better phone him up first. Number? Same as Citron’s house. Twentyeight. Twentyeights double four. “ [p. 118]
There are many reasons I like the above section. Aside from its direct link to the Exodus story, I am familiar with the feeling the story invokes in Bloom as he observes the typesetter and his memories carry him back to his father reading the hagadah. The boy is terrified of the narrative because it is often a cruel and terrifying narrative, with many plagues and boils and all sorts of bad punishments. And you seem to get little in return for you suffering. Not only that, but, as Bloom points out, we are sitting here around this table as a direct consequence of that story. At this point I must return to Zornberg who reminds us [p.2] that the biblical text does not stand alone, that it is open to commentaries and intertextuality and finds meaning in isolated text.
It is thanks to this tradition that I can take Joyce’s text as representing the Exodus narrative and the feeling of terror I associate with the story. But if the direct consequence of those long ago events is what brought us “into the house of bondage” then it was worth the journey and if this is what we got in return for our suffering, then we did well.
So now, to the third grand theme of the Exodus story, betrayal. For betrayal I turn to a book that was never translated into English, so I will do my best to provide the background and text. Le’mor (to say) by Ariel Halperin, is a 118 p. long poem written in verse and divided in sections. The book was printed in a limited edition in 1986 by an independent bookstore in Jerusalem, and sold only in the bookstore. The book has long been out of print and the author never published literature again. The translation is mine and quite loose
“Every Passover I would hold back my tears until the time comes and the guests gathered at our house. We would eat large flat crackers and read the hagadah. On my feet were new shoes, always red, but the socks were white […] A lump would fill my throat, my suppressed tears, I knew the moment would come and I would have to ask. […] I open my mouth but the lump is deeper. Hoooow whispers a woman whose face I can’t recall, but whose voice, full of pity and compassion, released the squeaks from my throat while people looks away in embarrassment. […] Rare as miracles were the successes […] Why must I endure this year after year […].” [section 17]
And finally, to the last of the main themes of the Exodus narrative, “God in our midst” I want to remind my few readers about a staple of the Exodus story, and that is freedom. The Israelites leave Egypt as slaves and emerge after 40 years of wondering in the desert as a people. It is a story of liberation. Liberation, we are told by Alan Watts in the chapter Psychotherapy and Liberation in the book The couch and the tree is “the transformation of consciousness, of the inner feeling of one’s own existence; and second, the release of the individual from forms of conditioning imposed upon him by social institutions. “p. 80.
In this same collection, Akihisa Kondo discusses Karen Horney and says Horney “believed that when we become disillusioned of the idealized image of ourselves that handcuffs the development of our real self, our real self has a chance to grow. […]. From the Zen point of view, this is a fine step in discerning how grievously illusory are our idea about ourselves and our lives.”
Finding “God in our midst” is taken here as finding that chance to grow. The longest journey, said Dag Hammarsköld is the journey inward, and that is where the narrative of Exodus takes me and leaves me there to find the growth that is within.
James Madison is often invoked in discussions on freedom of information and his memorable words “Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own governors, must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives. A popular government without popular information or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy or perhaps both” are at the foundation of our rationale for freedom of and access to information.
March 16, Madison’s birthday, is celebrated as Freedom of Information day, and often serves as an opportunity to both celebrate and take stock of the state of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in the U.S.
Sunshine week is celebrated this year on March 16-22 and affords many opportunities to learn about and promote free of information.
This is a natural next step to the proactive disclosure that the DHS committed to in their Aug. 26, 2009 memorandum.
And no, I will not accept the cybersecurity argument as a reason not to implement this practice.
Happy Sunshine week and Freedom of Information day.
I am touched and inspired by the outpouring of emotion following the tragic death of Aaron Swartz. His life and activities have affected many. I am most familiar with Aaron Swartz through two of his works of activism: the PACER document release, an action that I strongly support, and his download of JSTOR files, an action that I sympathize with.
I am touched and inspired by the number of tributes I have seen friends post on Facebook and Twitter. At SILS, we well remember Aaron’s visit to the student association, SILSSA, back in the 2006/7 academic year. I had no idea how many people looked up to him.
I am touched and inspired by the way Aaron’s death reached beyond the circles of free information enthusiasts. The New York Times online reported on his death in detail on the front page (or front screen, as the case may be). The On the Media coverage was equally dignified.
I am touched and inspired after listening for two and a half hours to the live streaming of the memorial to Aaron Swartz organized by Democracy Now!. I am not quite sure how many speakers there were, but my guess is between 10-15. Each and every one of the tributes is worth listening to; don’t skip a single one. Aaron’s scope of activity, and the personality he had to match, require this many people to tell his story.
I am touched and inspired by the words of Roy Singham (and I apologize, but as of this writing there are no minute breakdowns in the recording of the memorial, and you’ll have to watch it all to find any one speaker), whose j’accuse words generated positive action from anger toward the prosecutor, U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Carmen Ortiz.
I am touched and inspired by all the tributes paid in the memorial and am in awe of Aaron Swartz and his commitment to First Amendment Rights. I urge you to watch the entire (2.5 hour) recording. Due to the inability to pause-and-play right now, I am refraining from writing a more detailed review.
I am touched and inspired by the words of Quinn Norton and Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman, the only women among the speakers. Both are personal friends, the first a former partner and the second his current partner and an activist in her own right. The words were personal and moving and they both, particularly Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman, addressed his civic activities as well.
And while I would not have omitted any of the speakers, I can’t help but wonder at the lack of women among them. Are there no women active among access rights, or did Aaron Swartz not work with them? Some who come to mind are Patrice McDermott from Open the Government, danah boyd, who paid a very nice tribute to Aaron on her blog , Melissa Hagemann from the Open Society Foundations , and Kathleen Fitzpatrick of MLA. This absence of women saddens me and I am not aware of any women, Aaron’s age or younger, who are taking on these activities—though correct me if I am wrong, and send me names.
I am touched and inspired by the work of Aaron Swartz and he will continue to inspire and inform my own work for many years to come.
I will end with a quote from an essay titled When is Transparency Useful? that Aaron Swartz wrote and that was made freely available to the public by the publisher, O’Reilly, in tribute to him.
I suspect few people would put “publishing government documents on the Web” high on their list of political priorities, but it’s a fairly cheap project (just throw piles of stuff into scanners) and doesn’t seem to have much downside. The biggest concern—privacy —seems mostly taken care of. In the United States, FOIA and the Privacy Act (PA) provide fairly clear guidelines for how to ensure disclosure while protecting people’s privacy.
I hate it when within a span of a week I get eight pick up notices from NYPL for books that I reserved online. But alas, this is what happened this week, when eight books arrived all at once. Since there is no way in a million that I can read them in three weeks, I spent the last couple of days going over them one-by-one, reading a chapter or two before deciding which I will keep and which I will return unread.
Here are my first impressions of the following books:
Zadie Smith, NW. This is going to the return pile. Despite a promising beginning, Leah, the heroine, who is dwelling on how boring she is, convinced me enough so that I don’t really care to read on. The language feels like it was written for the camera, you could feel it moving between the characters at an angle and their lines. I do admit there are some gems here, even in the first few sentences that I read:
For example, when pondering on the chain of event that improbably brought her and her husband together, she reflects:
It is hard to explain – in that game of musical chairs – why they should have
stopped, finally, at each other.
Or this exchange between Leah and Michel, they end:
- What do you want me to say? The world is what it is.
- Then why’re we even trying?
Salman Rushdie, Joseph Anton. I admit, I was never a big Salman Rushdie fan. To me, he is the author of one important book, Midnight’s Children, and I never cared for anything else he wrote. But after hearing an interview with Salman Rushdie on his recent memoir, I decided to give it a try. Bottom line: another one for the return pile. The book is just too long; the 600+ pages should be cut by half. There are some really good sections but they are separated by long sections with side stories on too many characters and it feels like a lot of name dropping is going on. The editor should have been more insistent here.
Robert Caro, The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson. Maybe my attention span is shortening, but at 736 pages, this too is a bit too detailed for me. We all know that politics is petty but it’s enough to give just a couple of examples and not a play-by-play of the entire eight weeks. The book feels a little like a Twitter reenactment of the first eight weeks of LBJ’s presidency.
Lynne Sharon Schwartz, Two-part Interventions. This novel is “grabbed from the headlines” and based on the story of the pianist Joyce Hatto and her husband and producer William Barrington-Coupe, who was discovered to have faked his wife recording. The story was covered in the New Yorker soon after the fraud was discovered.
The book is readable but not satisfying. Schwartz goes to great efforts to demonstrate Philip’s devotion to his Suzanne but the relationship is flat and has undertones of a romance novel. The parts about the fraud and the chain of reasoning that leads someone to commit such fraud while being well aware of the risks, are the better parts of the book. Alas, when once can choose only 1 or 2 from eight, difficult choices have to me made.
Joseph Epstein, Essays in Biography. This is a book I will probably end up buying. It contains short biographical essays for about forty people, mostly literary figures. I read the one about Bernard Malamud and enjoyed it very much. When a name comes up, I would prefer to turn to this book than to a Wikipedia entry.
And now for the keepers: I put three aside although clearly I will not get to all of them before the due date, so they will probably need to be returned and borrowed again.
Pow! and Big Breasts & Wide Hips by the 2012 Nobel laureate Mo Yan. Both books come with a warning to readers about writing that is violent and bloody, but the first few pages a Pow! Are quite captivating so I will give them a try.
Peter Hoeg, The Elephant Keepers’ Children. Since I loved Simlla’a Sense of Snow I am going to give this book a go as well.
The spring semester begins next week and my reading for leisure is expected to slow down. I wish there was a better way to manage requests from NYPL so that I don’t end up with eight books in one week. Netflix seems to manage that with the 1-at-a-time or 2-at-a-time system, so how about it NYPL?
Recently, someone asked me where I get my books, and this sent me to plot the data from my book list so I can generate some statistics. In 2012, I read a total of 29 books, in print and e-book formats. According to a study by the Pew Research center, a non e-book reader reads an average of 15 books per year while the combined e-book/print readers read an average of 24 books per year.
Bottom line: combined readers read more, and my numbers are further evidence.
Like, 21% of Americans, I too read e-books, and have been encouraged to read more, but unlike most Americans, my first choice is always to get my books from the public library. In fact, of the 29 books I read this year, 17 were library books. These include 13 kindle books and 4 print books. Of the 13 kindle books I read this year, 9 were borrowed from the New York Public Library.
Like 88% of American e-book readers, I read printed books as well. As I said, I read
17 print books this year, 13 of them were library books.
But this is where I differ from most American: My fist choice is always to borrow books from the library.
The Pew study reports that these readers
… are also more likely than others to have bought their most recent book, rather than
borrowed it, and they are more likely than others to say they prefer to purchase books in
general, often starting their search online.
As you can see 45% of the books I read this whether print and e-books were borrowed from the library. Not all the books I wanted to read were available at the library, but that was not the only reason I bought book. Four of the 29 books I read were in Hebrew and not available from the library. Some had long waiting periods at the library and for whatever reason I could not wait, and some I wanted to own.
I have many grievances against NYPL (maybe subject for a future post), but I am first to admit that their offering of e-books has increased. I read 13 e-books this year, 9 from the library and 4 from Amazon. Of the four, two were available from NYPL, but I could not wait for whatever reason.
If, as the Pew study reports, most readers prefer to buy books than borrow them from the library, then the library isn’t doing a good enough job in getting their message across to readers. The question is what should we be doing?
As I was riding the subway this week I noticed the Audible campaign ad and could not help but wonder on the possible impact if NYPL engaged in such a campaign. Most New Yorkers, I suspect, are not aware of the resources available from their library.