YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

November 26, 2007

THINKING IN A DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC. LOVE CONQUERS ALL, OR DOES IT?

These are my notes for a radio program I did for the Houston Pacifica radio station, KPFT. It is archived on Michael Woodson’s LivingArt show. I doubt that I got to all the points outlined here. As soon as I find the date of the actual program, I will post it here.

I can’t say enough about the work of Frank E. Manuel. Read his Scenes From The End, a poetic montage of his experiences in Germany ca. 1944-45 while he was an interrogator for the U.S. Army. Writers will love it as they should all his work. I am not enamored of most academics, but this one stands out as a great man and a great historian.

1. Review Jonathan Israel, Enlightenment Contested. Diderot: Pull out merging of self-love with social welfare and criticize from p.o.v. of Frank Manuel, two conflicting needs that may not be harmonized: self-development versus need for community. (Melville understood this conflict and confronted it throughout life.) Coerced harmony as a strategy of social democrats, presumably brought about by redistribution, better communication and diplomatic skills. My view: conflict is normal, harmony a dream that is realized in the arts that exemplify organic unity and the union of opposites, (paradox, ambiguity, irony). Many prior utopias were ascetic: luxury bred corruption and unwillingness to defend the social unit. In actually existing socialism, inability to produce consumer goods was turned into assault on “consumerism” in the corrupt capitalist democracies.

2. SHINE (supposedly the story of pianist David Helfgott). Do Jews control the movie industry? No: in general they have adapted to liberal Catholicism. Hollywood has elevated love and forgiveness as the cure-all for social problems that may be structural in nature. This film contrasts the Jewish father, vengeful, stern, pushy, and authoritarian with the various Christians who support the schizophrenic Helfgott through love and understanding, bringing him back into the beloved community. This is a sub-text that critics do not recognize, and is based on a misunderstanding of Judaism and the Hebraic forms of Protestantism. Jews and the religions that are grounded in the Old Testament, demand that the wrongs we do to others be recognized, then repented and reparations made. Apologies are not enough: we must change our behavior, repairing ourselves above all. Repairing the world was an adaptation of Reform Judaism to social justice Protestantism.

3. The exploitation of the demonic and the paranoid style. The [Jewish] mad scientist as dominating our lives and the future. What is the appeal of horror movies or those that elevate gangsters such as The Sopranos? David Chase and his remark that “this country is run by gangsters.” In the process of socialization, we attempt to subdue our aggressive impulses or sublimate them through the arts or sports, but they are not extinguished. Hence the religion-based arts that exploit this sense that the anti-social, self-aggrandizing instincts are controlling us and are a constant threat. Such a feeling of pervasive invisible threats can lead us to immobility and the inability to act in our own self-interest. We trust no one (especially ourselves), and appropriate skepticism can devolve to cynicism and careerism. And worse, the real menaces in the outside world are not recognized, but are dismissed as the delusive products of capitalist and imperialist propaganda. We become putty in the hands of demagogues, including many in the classroom and in public media.

AUTHORS TO RECOMMEND: FRANK E. MANUEL (UTOPIAN THOUGHT IN THE WESTERN WORLD, REQUIEM FOR KARL MARX); SAUL FRIEDLANDER VOLUMES ONE AND TWO ON NAZIS AND JEWS (VOL.2 The years of persecution); anything by Walter Laqueur; Doug Macdonald on recent scholarship on Viet Nam that could change your mind: write to me and I will forward his essay on H-Diplo.

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2 Comments »

  1. “Hebraic forms of Protestantism” — are you referring to the Reformed tradition or the more “legalistic” forms of restorationist “nondenominational” Christianity of the Stone-Campbell movement or something else? I regret how much of the Christian church mischaracterizes Judaism as “legalism.”

    By the way, I remember listening to you on KPFK in the ’80s. I see you’re still thinking deeply about Herman Melville. I’m going to have to hunt down “Hunting Captain Ahab,” although I doubt I’ll be able to understand it.

    Comment by John Harding — October 17, 2011 @ 8:39 pm | Reply

    • I refer only to those forms of Protestantism that were judged to be “Hebraic” by contemporaries and successors. For instance, the rebels in the English Civil War, or the Puritans who emigrated to New England (these are specified in chapter five of HCA), also I refer you to Frank E. Manuel’s The Broken Staff. As for my book, it is not academic-speak, but geared to the educated reader, even if that person has never read a word of Melville. Thanks for your question and memories of my radio days.

      Comment by clarespark — October 17, 2011 @ 8:49 pm | Reply


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