Thursday, December 26, 2013

800 Words: Other People's Christmases

Oddly enough, the most connected I ever felt to Christmas was in Israel, in Jerusalem’s Old City, going to midnight mass, seeing the Christian pilgrims on their ways to church, taking in congregation after congregation, running into my cousin on the same journey, hearing various conversations and homilies in languages I’d rarely ever heard, talking at length with a cute and rather distractible German volunteer outside of a Lutheran church, hearing the various bells ring, getting harassed by Arabs in the Muslim quarter when I turned the wrong corner, hearing an eternity of gunfire in East Jerusalem. It was, without a doubt, the Christmas of a lifetime. Otherwise, Christmas always seems to happen apart from me, like some big secret to which I was the only person not in on. What the hell’s everybody celebrating?

I’ve spent Christmases at friends’ houses, I’ve trimmed trees, I’ve gone to Midnight Mass, but I doubt that there are many Jews, at least not many as unobservant as I, whose lives were so blithely unaffected by Christmas. Christmas is that parallel holiday when the rest of the world seems to go berserk while the world of my childhood stood perfectly still.

Pikesville, MD. A place more Jewish than Israel itself, has got to be the least Christian place in Christendom. There is nary a house with lights, nary a store with decorations, nary a Mall Santa at the department stores and nary a Salvation Army Santa on the street. I think it was after winter term of my senior year of college that my friend Il Giovine dropped me at my house on the way back to New Jersey. Before he left, I took him to the old Suburban House so he could do what we all did at the Suburban House, eat pastrami and watch old Jews yell at each other. Neither was disappointing, but on the way there he was aghast: “Where the hell are all the Christmas decorations? It’s like it’s any other time of year!”

I didn’t really know any non-Jews until I went to boarding school. So it was always a bit of a shock to see that there was this huge deal that the whole world seemed to care about except for everybody I knew. My world didn’t change at all during December, and yet the radios played Christmas music all December, the TV commercials were all about Christmas day sales, every TV show had a Christmas episode, every music teacher would host a ‘Christmas concert,’ and every adult got off work. I remember a couple of years when we used to go over to some Orthodox cousins of ours during Christmas, and thinking how odd it was that I was basically going to a Christmas party hosted by Orthodox Jews. Once we arrived, we would inevitably sit down to that most Christian of spreads, bagels and smoked fish, followed by giant, barely sweetened pastries.

I never felt particularly left out from all this commotion. How could I, being barely acquainted with the wider world of ‘Der Goyim’ which all the adults assured me was a bit scary and unhealthy? I knew stories about older Jews feeling isolated and scared because they had to sing Christian hymns in school and didn’t get any presents, or even occasionally get beaten up by Catholic kids (like my Dad, more on that story later…) and I suppose I felt vaguely jealous that these Christian kids whom I didn’t know and was vaguely intimidated by apparently got a holiday in which the very purpose seemed to be to spoil them rotten. But I wasn’t much like many other kids I knew, and not much like many other kids anywhere. The usual Christmas toys wouldn’t have provoked much excitement in me, and if anything, it would have been just one more source of anxiety in which I’d have to figure out yet another way of fitting in with other kids I had nothing in common with. There’s probably nothing that would have made 10-year-old Evan happier than a complete set of Bruno Walter recordings, and if I’d ever gotten them, I’d have only felt ashamed and depressed for wanting something so bizarre and having hardly anybody to share my eccentric interests with.

Christmas, Christians, Christianity in general, is so divorced from everything in my childhood that it took on a fascination in adulthood that I can’t help having. When Pope John-Paul II died, I glued myself to the television - watching the first Papal conclave of my lifetime with more interest than I ever exhibited in any of the dozens of Jewish studies classes I had. My roommate of the time worried that it became an unhealthy obsession. He once went on my computer to discover that I had ten pictures of the old Pope open on my desktop (don’t ask...), and told me he felt as though he’d stumbled upon a person’s bizarre pornographic fetish.

The only contact I’d had as a child with Christians was through music. For a number of years, my violin teacher’s base of operations was St. Matthew’s Catholic Church, which I think was the one on Loch Raven Blvd near Good Samaritan Hospital. It was a very weird transition to go from Pikesville, where there was a Synagogue on every corner, to the world of the music I loved, which then more than ever seemed intimately bound up with the extremely forbidden rites of the Church. One sabbath, I was supposed to sleep at my Day School’s synagogue for an event which we Day School Jews call a ‘Shabbaton.’ I had a rehearsal in the middle of the Shabbaton on Saturday afternoon, and my father made the mistake of telling the Rabbi in charge that it was at a church. It might have been a ‘conservative’ synagogue, but Rabbi was so scandalized that he nearly banned me from the Shabbaton altogether, telling my father that he was disgusted that my father couldn’t let his children ‘be Jewish for even one day.’

The first time I fell in love was with a fundamentalist Christian girl. Amy S_____. I was seventeen, and I met her on a cruise boat on the Black Sea. She was my first kiss - yes, it was quite late, but if you have to have a late first kiss, then experiencing it under a meteor shower off the Greek coast is probably the way to go. She was a Californian, a red-head like me, but 5’11 to my 5’4 ½. She claimed she was solicited to become a model, and it was not at all hard to believe. I was too shy to go up to her for nearly a week, but the day before I left, I finally worked up the nerve when I saw her on the deck, and told her that if I didn’t speak to her before I left, I think I was going to regret it. We were inseparable until five-o’clock the next morning. As it turned out, we had a lot in common. We were both too smart for the situations we’d found ourselves in. We were both clearly itching to get out from underneath backgrounds we found too repressive, or at least that was my impression of her. I’d met her mother earlier that week, and her mother was a holy terror, bragging to anyone who would listen about how terrified her children were of her. And during those years at a rather draconian boarding school, my very mind was being warped from mere depression to outright delusion. For a year or two afterward, we kept in touch via phone and IM, and would occasionally swear our mutual love to one another. On New Year’s Eve 2000 we spent the night talking on the phone to one another about eloping. When I found out she wasn’t serious, it began (for many more reasons than that...) the worst month of my life. In retrospect, I wasn’t particularly serious either, but having fallen into a place as I did which literally caused me to experience manic delusions and hallucinations, I was looking for any way out, and desperate enough to think that underage marriage to a fundamentalist Christian was a legitimate option. Nevertheless, as I was (perhaps) still a potential marriage prospect down the road, or at least one to whom she kept declaring her love, she kept trying to ‘save me’, and getting me to see the rightness of Jesus Christ. The emotional disasters that followed were rather inevitable...

As the term ‘self-hating Jew’ is often thrown around, I often like to protest that my self-hatred and my Jewishness have nothing to do with one another. But the truth is rather the opposite. They have everything to do with one another. The tension between growing up rather Jewish and rather secular has defined just about everything in my life, for good and ill, and made me feel as though I don’t quite fit with either world, even if I (as so many people in my position do) often think I understand both worlds better than those who belong to either world much more neatly.

It’s one thing to be a Jew in the ghetto; whether it’s the nominally secular ghetto of Pikesville, MD, or the religious ghettos of Crown Heights and Meyah She’arim, you are among people who think and believe exactly as you think and believe. You don’t have to explain or justify yourself to anyone, and you automatically have the same feeling of belonging as any ‘goy’ would in their wider world. It’s another entirely to maintain a somewhat Jewish identity when nobody shares it. I often feel as though I’m the appointed Ambassador from Jewish Baltimore to Hipster Baltimore. Even if I’m entirely self-appointed and play the part to the hilt, I’m the man everybody seems to come to with questions about Judaism and Israel, the one who everybody has to tell the latest Jewish joke. I often feel as though my life is one long conversation about Judaism in which I spend half my life explaining Jews to goyim, and the other half explaining goyim to Jews. I find this role infinitely preferable to remaining in the ‘ghetto’ of my youth, but I still find it exhausting. I am a Synagogue of One, who finds no comfort in the traditional environs of last generation’s Pikesville, nor in the Tikkun Olam environs of Judaism’s Social Justice crusaders from my generation. I can’t help it if I wish there were more people around me who shared my views, but my Judaism doesn’t seem to exist for anyone else, it never existed for anyone but me, and I’m not even sure from moment to moment what the beliefs are. Like all good Jews, I can’t even call myself a Synagogue of One, I’m two synagogues of halves. I can’t even decide for myself whether traditions should be kept in spite of the fact that God clearly doesn’t care whether or not we keep them, or whether the State of Israel will in the long run do our ‘people’ more good than harm, or even whether being Jewish is not a burden too great to ever bring a child into this world. In lieu of definite answers, I’m sure I’ll do what I’ve always done, which is whatever is most convenient at any given moment. As I’ve said so often on this site, my religion is the religion of doubt and skepticism. There are no traits more Jewish than those, but no religion can be built on doubt alone. No wonder we Jews have such talents for suffering.

Friday, December 6, 2013

800 Words: The Lesson of Mandela

Nelson Mandela was no saint. He is every bit the ‘Great Man’ which posterity will assign him to be. But his greatness comes not from being without blemish, but from redeeming himself from his blemishes, and there were thousands. For most of his life, he was a militant, a fellow traveler to Communist brutality, a leader who advocated violence and had underlings who practiced it with what can only be termed ‘tacit consent.’ He was a man of his time and circumstance, and like all of us, did what he felt was right, and did so in a situation that was already morally compromised in the extreme.

Even today, Mandela is thought of by many South African blacks as a capitulator - a man who betrayed his own cause by preventing the perpetrators of apartheid from being brought to justice, and enabled South African whites to maintain their privilege. But the alternative to Mandela’s reconciliation was Civil War. Back in 1994, many liberals were still scared of what a President Mandela might do. He was a hero for what he endured, but he was not yet ‘Nelson Mandela.’ For  a long time, he was no Martin Luther King, he was not unlike Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the Russian who bravely told truth to the tyrannical power of the Soviet Union at extreme personal risk, all the while motivated by an extreme nationalist ideology of a different type. When brought to power, he could easily have become a Mugabe, who would create a puppet democracy with a newly empowered black population given weapons so they could murder thousands at his bidding. Instead, he managed a transition from a particularly loathesome semi-democracy to a full, and peaceful democracy, in which whites and blacks (and Indians) all had a shot at opportunity. How many leaders of newly empowered peoples, from Mugabe, to Arafat, to Khomeini, to Castro, can we set against Mandela's example? How many disappointed the world by proving just as corrupt and tyrannical, if not moreso, than the leaders they overthrew?

However extreme Mandela once was, it can’t be denied that Apartheid was an unambiguous moral stain built atop older unambiguous moral stains, brought upon South Africa not out of fear of civil war, or threats to national security, but out of the same perverted racial ideology which pervaded so much of the world during the Imperial Age. It was a compromise made to preserve a privileged Dutch (Afrikaaner) and British class which should never have been allowed to immigrate to South Africa in the first place; its richest citizens afraid of losing their privilege for more than a hundred-fifty years after slavery was abolished by the British Empire in 1833.  

America has many of its own terrible blemishes which should keep any American who’s ever been interested in politics up late at night, and many worse than Apartheid itself. Such is the price of living in the Real World, in which moral compromise is an unavoidable state of being in its best days. Were the entirety of America’s actions in the third world justified? Certainly not. There is absolutely no justification for providing assistance to mass murderers like Suharto or Seko, who senselessly killed hundreds of thousands with brutality comparable to the worst of Soviet and Soviet backed dictatorships (from the ranks of which, one must admit, there was a far greater number comparable mass murderers). Actions like the support of a Pinochet, a Mubarak, a Chiang Kai-Shek, are severely grey even if they were done for the most prudent reasons (and there’s often reason to doubt that…).
Was there a way to combat the prospect of Communist dictatorship in third-world countries without supporting right-wing opposition which was barely less militant? There is no way of knowing, but not even Franklin Roosevelt, the most liberal president until Barack Obama, was willing to engender that level of risk. The only one who was was Jimmy Carter in who allowed the Sha of Iran to be replaced with Ayatollah Khomeni, and part of the result was the Iran-Iraq War, which killed well over a million people. Was the United States wrong to back the Apartheid government of South Africa? In an absolute sense, absolutely. But the world is a strange, complex place. Don't be quite so quick to judge American leaders who supported the South African regime with 100% condemnation, which included not only Reagan but every president from Truman until him, including Lyndon Johnson, without whom American civil rights for blacks would still be languishing far more than they still are. There are very few cases like Mandela’s African National Congress, in which a Soviet-backed organization turned out to be a force for freedom. Had Mandela been elected a few years earlier when the Soviet Union still existed, perhaps the story would have necessarily turned out quite differently if the Soviet Union demanded that he install a Soviet foothold in South Africa.  Against Mandela, one has to set hundreds of examples to the contrary. That Mandela turned out to be different from so many other communist allies only adds enormous stature to his greatness, but no sane person could have predicted he was as towering a man as he was.

Monday, December 2, 2013

800 Words: What Is This Blog?

By temperament, I am by no means a writer or an intellectual. The longer I keep up this blog, the clearer it seems that there is some element of sitzfleisch which I lack which would allow me to sit down methodically every day and grind out the once-a-day posts which was once my fondest ambition for this page. I’ve surprised myself by the sheer sitzfleisch I’ve summoned, but I had hoped that with practice I’d find still more. I haven’t.

However shy or bookish I often am, I’m a performer by temperament; perhaps a highbrow performer, but a performer nonetheless who craves attention, spotlight, and reaction - approval if possible, but settling a bit too happily for disapproval. Since there are so few readers as there have always been on this page, it’s become exceedingly difficult to work up the ability to work through the four or five hours of laborious boredom which a good post inevitably takes (to say nothing of the few hours of editing I should but never do…).

And this blog is, in so many ways, a performance. As I once discovered as a composer, I don’t think I have original ideas, and yet for a person who makes such a fetish out of skepticism as I try to, I find it alarming that I have thousands of opinions which I clearly burn with all too great a desire to communicate. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure I even understand the ideas I espouse on this page - I just do the best I can.

Having the healthy ego of a performer which I do, the performance on this page is a performance version of me. I seem to find my inner monologue so fascinating that the idea of getting inside someone else’s head has, thus far, been almost impossible. Most of my few attempts at fiction on this page have been fairly risible, so in lieu of that, I explore the contents my own head. I’m an inveterate self-revealer, and yet I wonder if by sharing so much of myself, I’ve in fact obscured more than I’ve revealed. A blog, like a photograph, is a vision of a person frozen in an instant - a two dimensional rendering of a subject with three dimensions. The main difference between a photograph and a painting is the amount of time it takes - painting involves endless retouching. Painting and sculpture do not capture something which already is, it gradually becomes the thing it is - and therefore the best of it has an extra dimension of rumination which even the best photography (or blogs) find more difficult to attain - however many the other qualities which photography does better than the artform it in so many ways supplanted.

There are many unfinished multi-part blogposts I’d hoped to go back and complete, but I never have and have rarely tried. Many of them only make sense to me in the moment of their composition, and what I write about on any given day is whatever I’m sufficiently ‘burning with desire’ to say. It’s very hard to be inspired by a subject for days on end. The mind wanders from subject to subject, and few people’s minds stand still for long enough to burrow like hedgehogs, ever more deeply into a single subject. As I’ve said many times before, I can’t help viewing people with such minds with a mixture of boredom and alarm. We are all, to a certain extent, trapped by the obsessions of our own minds. How much more dangerous is it then to willingly give in to our obsessions? But one can’t help realizing that it is such people, blessed or cursed with such a weltanschauung, that get things done in the world. They have their overarching goal for which no pain is great enough to stop them from achieving, and therefore it is almost inevitably these are the people who move the world forward and backward. While their minds stand still, their persons are always moving, and while our minds are always moving, our persons stand still.

Perhaps there is a single prism through which a person can see the world, but how can you be so certain that you’ve used the right prism? Plagued by that most urgent of “Doubting Thomas” questions as I am, I often find myself in extreme difficulty with regard to precisely that problem on this blog. Writing these posts is often a mad scramble to finish, regardless of how excruciating the process, because I know that by tomorrow I’ll be thinking about something else, and unable to summon yesterday’s vision for today’s need.

For years, I coveted acceptance from hyper-achievers. I saw myself, and perhaps I still see myself, as a displaced hyper-success from a world of privilege I never knew and probably never will know. I never necessarily saw myself as the smartest guy in the room (though, of course, I have all too often…, and occasionally people are dumb enough that I can allow myself a bit of justification in that regard :), but I’ve always seen myself as among the most curious, the most driven to understanding, the most filled with longing for knowledge. Even if I wasn’t the smartest guy in the room, or even if I’ve often been quite far from being so, it always dismayed me how satisfied so many other people were by incuriosity. I grew up going first to Jewish parochial schools, then to a boarding school for underachieving kids. Neither milieu was ever going to be anything resembling an intellectual Mecca, and I’d look on the honors students with enormous envy. Growing up in Pikesville, Maryland as I did, I knew many of these honors students, and a lot of them were morons just as idiotic as the learning disabled kids I knew, and less interesting too because they simply did what they were told with no questions asked. But were I more like them, I might have had a chance of meeting smarter people, making smarter friends, having smarter teachers, and generally having people at whom I could talk to without feeling like I speak a foreign language.  Perhaps my entitlement complex and ego are just that huge that I blamed others for my inability to feel like a regular kid and adolescent, but I don’t understood why I was made to feel ashamed of not being so.  

But by college and afterward, I started mingling in my own small way among the ‘smarter set,’ and I must say, I was invariably disappointed in the extreme by what I found. Rather than curiosity about ideas, there is passion for a single idea, and an unwillingness to consider the relative strengths and weaknesses of any worldview but one’s own. All those ideas which do not fit into a total worldview are viewed with hostile suspicion.

it’s fairly easy to come up with a cogent explanation for this phenomenon. Few low achievers are ever encouraged to satisfy intellectual curiosity, and they therefore don’t bother much with mastering subjects whose study they’ll never be rewarded. A low achieving person would rarely study with a particular goal in mind, only to have new things to consider. Whereas a high achieving person must have goals to accomplish and reasons to meet these goals. There must be an end in sight - something to achieve attain. People of action require not ideas, but ideas to prove.

I began college as a philosophy major, and I promptly failed introductory philosophy because I alienated my first philosophy professor with far too many questions and stopped showing up to class. Ever since I was a college freshman, I’ve proven to myself again and again that I have no real interest in philosophy. For years I’ve picked up its heavy tomes, only to put them down, singularly unimpressed by the knowledge I once was insatiably curious to learn. The whole idea that we beings of extraordinarily limited understanding can come up with a definitive explanation of reality is its own kind of hilarity. The few philosophers whose ideas have ever stirred me - Mill, Berlin, Eric Hoffer, John Locke, etc - are those who warn against precisely the dangers of such explanations. A few weeks ago, I had a very long conversation with a friend of mine who took precisely the opposite trajectory in philosophy. She’s a philosophy doctoral student at one of the world’s premiere universities, and we had a particularly long digression about Kant, whom she adores. In so many words, I told her (much more diplomatically) that it’s ridiculous to admire any philosopher so greatly who wanted to create a theory of everything, because such theories, even the most abstract (perhaps especially), have inevitable real world consequences. To which she replied “If you’re not going to try to come up with a total explanation of the world, what’s the point of philosophy?” What indeed?

Kant is hardly the most erroneous or dangerous of German philosophers. But Kant himself provided his best rebuttal in one of his rare moments of comprehensibility: “Out of the crooked timber of humanity no straight thing was made.” What Kant argues with the categorical imperative and the 'thing-in-itself' is a monstrous tyranny of reason, a replacement for God himself in which we are coerced to follow our own thoughts to their logical conclusion, no matter how dangerous or limited those thoughts are. It uses empiricism as a mere featherweight on which to pin a presupposition that our puny reason can understand the world well enough to act upon it with impunity. She countered this by saying that Kant ameliorated the categorical imperative’s harsh degree by admitting that considerations of human rights must be taken into account; indeed, that the 'categorical imperative' is a directive to act with the dignity of human beings in mind. But what if a person reasons his way out of consideration for human rights? What if people reason, as they often have throughout history, that certain human beings are less than human? It’s difficult to believe that Kant didn’t understand that problem, and it's more likely that he simply didn’t care. One of his other famous phrases was coopted from the Holy Roman Emperor, Ferdinand I: “Let justice be done, though the world perish,” It’s difficult to believe that Kant never read Rousseau, and like that of many enlightenment thinkers, his imagined world is a world where reason needn’t make any compromise. It is only one step from Kant’s Categorical Imperative to Schopenhauer’s Will, which we are imprisoned by and cannot contradict. In fact, Schopenhauer once declared that he discovered the 'thing-in-itself', and that thing is the all-conquering will. It's then one step from Schopenhauer to Nietzsche’s Superman, who wills the world into change by the force of his own powerful reason and will to power, whose reason is of course ‘better’ than the reason of others. and one step from Nietzsche to…

But Kant is no different than so many thousands of philosophers, working in a field that works with the most extraordinarily limited means in even its best moments. Most philosophy is antithetical to the the word’s meaning ( love of wisdom), and nothing more than a crude instrument plowing into a fertile, untrammeled earth; an earth which might yield more edible results if we simply left its mysterious processes alone. Perhaps one day it will yield better results, but by and large, philosophy has gotten us into an enormous amount of avoidable trouble.

I have no brain for math and science, and while I hope eventually to remedy it, my understanding of even the most basic theoretical stuff is not unlike a kindergartener trying to read Ulysses. If I’m in any sense a true pointy-headed ‘intellectual’, then my subject is History. I’m the son of a ‘failed’ historian, I come from stock shook by many of history’s greatest upheavals, I have a Rain Man-like mind for dates and quotes. More and more, I find myself cracking open the history books - as best I can, I want to know how our world came to be the way it is. And so I do my darndest to disappear into Hobsbawm, Spengler, Barzun, Taylor, even Niall Ferguson (ah, the sins of one’s youth…), And yet each of them, however informative or well-written, is every bit the ‘totalist’ which one gets from the most dogmatic philosophers. Each gives us a tantalizingly conjured key to all realities that disappears at the slightest critical approbation. I long to find some large, well-written, historical work in which history has no end - only a series of theories expressed on the page, and taken as a given that the next epoch will prove it utterly wrong, with the mystery and folly of the world preserved intact from age to age.

No, I don’t much like facts. Don't get me wrong, I love the most useless of them, and have a great mind for useless trivia. But I don’t much like the idea that the world is a simple place that can be contained by explanations. I like reading about the follies of the explanations, and perhaps there is an explanation out there which can contain the world’s contents, but I’d rather not know about it. It simplifies the world to a horrible degree and takes the mystery, and therefore the fun, out of living. It’s taken me thirty-one years to get it, but for all the insatiable curiosity I’ve tried to will myself into having, the world does not exist to be understood - it exists, to the best of our abilities, to be enjoyed. There is no point in a greater understanding of the world unless you can enjoy that understanding.

My most particular, and intense, enjoyment comes out of expression - not in intellect, not in emotion, but in the messy blend between the two which increases our experience of both. To interest me, it’s not enough to display emotion or cold logic. The emotions must feel revelatory because they’re complex and conflicted, and the thoughts must be suffused with a human dimension. And not only that - a person has to be willing to share them with others, regardless of how difficult; like an intense and rewarding conversation with a close friend or family member you love, in which by the end you know the person better than you ever did before. You’ve captured a part of their mystery, their perception of their own mystery, and their perception of yours, in a completely new way which adds to the mysteries which life holds, and you therefore love them even more.  

Few things can beat the pleasure of conversation. But for me, the arts come close, or at least they do some of the time. I love those romantic/realist painters from the early 19th century like Delacroix, Goya, Courbet, and Turner who manage to create the most innovative techniques (in some ways, painting never moved beyond them), yet marry all those magnificent innovations to emotional expression. Contrast that to the decadent pleasures of impressionism, or the ascetic coolness of modernism, and you’ll immediately see the difference. By the time of the impressionists, a painter like Van Gogh and had to swim against the current and was driven to suicide. By the time of modernism, a painter like Chagall with a personal vision was completely poo-poohed by the obsessive art lovers who should have loved him best. For the same reason, I love early 20th century Post-Romantic composers like Mahler, Janacek, Richard Strauss, Carl Nielsen, Sibelius, Elgar. Poor Britten and Shostakovich were born too late, poor Brahms and Bruckner too early, and though all four achieved great notoriety in their lifetimes, they had to bitterly persist in pursuing their own personal greatness against forces which wanted nothing more than for their greatnesses to be rejected. Or post-production code Hollywood movies from the 70's - Bonnie and Clyde, The Producers, The Last Picture Show, The Godfather, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Annie Hall, Raging Bull, The Right Stuff, etc maybe even Nashville... - that eschewed dry European 'formalism' for good old-fashioned Hollywood storytelling. Even so, the stories they told were challenging, personal, unpandered, and unspoiled by bottom lines and focus groups - a truly popular art. To be sure, there are greater painters and composers and moviemakers than those mentioned - not a single Mozart or a Rembrandt or Welles among them. But, in some ways, the work of these ‘late’ masters suffered because they all aspired to a higher metaphysical aim than it ever occurred to the greatest masters to express. They aspired to things which their artforms could not do, and therefore failed nearly as often as they succeeded. Some find all this work I’ve mentioned insufferably bloated and too intense. But I love its excess - sometimes these creators fall off high rungs, but they do so because they risk so much, and often reap rewards beyond which even Mozart and Rembrandt can attain. To the best of their abilities, the whole world is contained within their creations, and nothing is alien to them.

If I had to categorize myself and the point is of this blog, it’s to capture my very limited portion of the world, and my attempt to understand it. The best philosophy, however amateurish, is wisdom-writing. And as an extremely limited follower of essayists like Montaigne and Emerson and Orwell, I’m trying to understand the world and make sense of it in an extremely unscientific, warm-hearted way in which no answers are to be found - only new questions.

This is where I have to admit, a person with such a proven record of being the very opposite of wise has no business writing anything related to wisdom. But perhaps its that very need for wisdom, and my follies in obtaining it, that necessitates the writing, and has enabled me to sustain it in some manner for nearly two-and-a-half years. This blog is the canvass on which I, to the best of my limited ability, portray, capture, and express myself.