Free speech does not coerce, nor serve the power that does. Rather, free speech frees from coercion: It empowers. The power of speech as such is the power to free, not the power to coerce. It is the power of the open hand, not of the closed fist: of invitation, not compulsion.Read More
Like all too many laws, that one was selectively enforced. Basically, it was there to be used by those vested with authority for law-enforcement to bust people they wanted to bust, but could find no other legal grounds for busting.Read More
Individuals or nations who are sure of who they are, rooted deeply in their own native identities, are secure in their own boundaries. That security does not close them off from others. Rather, it first makes possible a true and genuine interchange with others, who are respected in their very difference, for who they are.Read More
This is the last in a series of posts.
* * *
To pray is to allow one’s thoughts to rise to God.
* * *
My own first real experiences of prayer occurred when I was still a very young child, not yet old enough to be put in school. At the time, I did not know that what I was experiencing was called “praying.” Nor did I associate what I was experiencing with the word “God” (a word about the meaning of which I really had no ideas at all yet at the time). The combination of those two pieces of ignorance, of “not-knowing,” made my prayer all the more pure.
Thus, long before I ever heard of Heidegger, let alone read him, I heeded his admonition not to let words get between us and things. Just so, in my initial childhood experience without even needing to try, because I did not even know the words yet, I did not let the word “prayer” get between me and praying, or the word “God” between me and God. Instead, my soul just rose up to God like a feather carried aloft by the slightest breeze, as Abba Isaac, the old Christian desert solitary, long ago told John Cassian, who carried the desert tradition to the West, the soul would naturally just do, unless weighed down by its own sins. Because at the time I am describing I was still too young to have weighed myself down with my sins (or at least any obsessive consciousness of them), my soul did just that—and I just prayed, without even knowing I was doing so.
* * *
My father’s pride and joy during my early childhood years was his 1947 maroon-colored Buick Roadmaster convertible, which he always liked not only to drive fast, but also to drive fast quick, as Faulkner so nicely if ungrammatically put it. I am the youngest of three children. By brother is three years older than I am, and my sister is ten year older.
As a child not yet in school, my favorite place to ride in my father’s Buick, whenever the whole family went somewhere together and the weather was chilly enough that we had to leave the convertible top up, was in the well behind the back seat, where the convertible top would go when we went topless. On those colder weather occasions, I would climb over the backseat and stretch out on my back in the convertible-top well, and just look out the plastic window at whatever passed by overhead, from tall buildings to telephone wires to clouds to the moon and stars. Perhaps my very warmest childhood memory is of just lying there, thinking of nothing, wanting nothing, being content with whatever went by, and feeling the warmth and comfort of being surrounded by the family of which I was a part, without having to take any special part in what the rest of that family was saying to one another. I was just attentive to it all, open for whatever offered itself to me next through the plastic window above me—and I was happy.
* * *
It was not until many years later, after I’d been sober for more than a decade and was in my fifties, that I realized what I had really been doing as I rode along happily and attentively all those years ago in the well behind the backseat of my dad’s pride and joy, his Buick Roadmaster convertible. I was just lying there as a young child, just letting my mind go where minds naturally go, when not weighed down by sins and self-preoccupations.
I have never prayed so purely since, nor been so rapt in God.
Theodor Adorno once famously said that poetry is no longer possible after the Holocaust. Well, if by “poetry” one means some sort of grand and flashy chatter that calls attention to itself by how catchy it is, like some advertising slogan, then certainly after the Holocaust to write such junk is questionable, to say the least.Read More
By serendipity or synchronicity, I happened to read just last spring a book that explores six such places of remembrance of the Holocaust as Paul Celan (as I read him) calls for, although at none of the six is the Holocaust even mentioned.Read More
What else could possibly answer to the Holocaust, and the silence of all who were murdered in it? What else, besides silence itself? What else could be the Holocaust’s genuine memorial, what else truly preserve its memory?Read More
n 1967, just three years before he committed suicide by jumping into the Seine River in Paris, Paul Celan paid his one and only visit to Martin Heidegger, whose writings had had a major impact on Celan’s thinking and his poetry. Celan went to visit Heidegger in the latter’s ski-hut on the slopes above the little Black Forest town of Todtnauberg-im-Baden, the very place where Heidegger wrote most of Being and Time and many later works. There was a little well near Heidegger’s hut, with a star carved into the crosspiece above the opening. Heidegger also kept a guest-book in the hut for visitors to write a line or two in when they visited.Read More
Remember the Holocaust? If that means never, ever to forget it, then try as we might to remember it, we will keep on forgetting it yet again.Read More
The God we encounter in Paul Celan’s poems in his Niemandsrose collection, the God to whom such poetry after the Holocaust calls us to pray, would be a God to whom even such “pure” Jews as Sigmund Freud and Jean Améry could pray.Read More