(Rome Pieces) On the Wall & De-Material (Richard Tuttle)


About these images, one could create a spiritual allegory about the appearance of the presence of a god in the world. The Rome Pieces by Ricard Tuttle are discrete little things. The humble mark made of graphite lines and cut and pasted paper disappears into the wall. I’m posting two sets of digital photos here. The first gives each image its own due and focus. In the second image, I stepped back to try to capture a point where the mark begins to appear on the surface of the wall into which it is blended. Archived here, this catalogue essay by Marcia Tucker says so much about so little. If all of our work and all our thinking could be so subtle.

About Tuttle and the Rome Pieces, Tucker writes,

Tuttle’s own attitudes are refreshingly anomalous in an era when art means business. For him, an essential level of his work is that of “investigation.” He is often surprised by the changes that take place in a piece upon completion or when an old work is installed in a new location. He is reluctant to make comparative judgments about the quality of his own work, because he finds that each piece is “self-sufficient,” having its own necessity for being. One key to the peculiar look of the work is that Tuttle has always tried “to make something that looks like itself,” that is, to avoid anthropomorphic or naturalistic references. He also avoids polemic in his work, refusing to use the work to deal with art issues per se. That one is led to discuss the work as though it had a mind of its own is a result of Tuttle’s desire to make work that looks “ecstatic, as though the artist had never been there.” Tuttle comments that “if the artist does a piece of real work and we see it, it’s as though we ourselves are doing it.” This exchange between viewer and work has been noted by others: “If we really attain the art object perceptually.” says Norberg-Schulz, “we may get a strange experience of participating.” This directness accounts in part for the “my kid could have done it” response to Tuttle’s work, a response so marked even from the aesthetically sophisticated viewer as to make the childlike aspect of Tuttle’s work one of substantial importance and worth considering. This quality is compounded by the casual, wobbly, tentative look of the lines and forms he uses, and the simplicity and directness of their execution. The instantaneous look of the work, as if each piece had appeared all at once, makes it anomalous to a public which equates the value of the materials used, the amount of time spent in the execution of the piece, and the manual skill of the artist with the value of the art itself.

In this sense, Tuttle’s work is anti-materialistic, transcendental in both intent and affect. According to him, “the work rests at the unconscious level. Bringing it to the conscious level is like resisting its own will.” The sense of quietude that the exhibition elicited in many observers is at the core of the work. It is an interior, almost meditative state in which the boundaries between work and viewer, inside and outside, can be obliterated.


The Rome Pieces, also done in 1975, are equally refined in visual terms, that is they are small and difficult to see because they are composed of paper pasted to the wall, with pencil lines intersecting or underlining them. However the Rome Pieces are more cerebral and analytical, more rigorously diagrammatic in feeling than the lyrical and chromatic Houston Works. They continue Tuttle’s concerns with the interplay of substance and shadow. Of the three works in the Whitney show, the 16th and Nth Rome Pieces (first and second installations, respectively ) have graphite lines drawn on the wall in relation to the pasted paper in such a way as to make the mark and the extraordinarily delicate shadow cast by the thin edge of paper ambiguously interchangeable. In the 16th Rome Piece, a tiny triangle of pasted white paper has a graphite line drawn just along the lower edge of the triangle. In the Nth Rome Piece, two vertical, rectangular pieces of white paper are pasted at their outer edges; where they meet in the center a graphite line is drawn but it is barely visible, if at all, through the slight opening where the pieces of paper are not attached. The 3rd Rome Piece (first installation) differs in that the pencil lines are drawn along four sides of a five-sided paper figure, and when two of them are continued to twice their length, they cross and form an X, suggesting the reiteration of that paper shape on their opposite side. Through precisely measured lines, the ghost of an image is made to appear in the mind’s eye; logic dictates the incomplete poetry of the piece. Whereas the graphite line here suggests the substantive aspect of the piece (i.e., the paper), the substance that does not exist on the other side of the work becomes a ghost image or shadow because it is only implied

Several questions concerning the nature of Turtle’s art, outside its formal aspects, remain to be answered, and these are questions not of what and how, but of why. The most important aspect of Tuttle’s work appears to center on its affective nature, that is, on why work of such apparent simplicity, modesty and casualness is able to create such a strong response. This is not to say that the response to Tuttle’s work is always the same but, if the reactions to the Whitney exhibition are typical, they are never ones of indifference. It seems that the response generally centers on the issue of how the work could do so much with so little. The tiny 10th Rope Piece (second installation), for instance, prompted one observer to remark on its astonishing poignancy and prompted another to steal it. One critic admires Tuttle’s ability to “control an enormous expanse of space with the slightest amount of physicalitv.”  Another complains that “the spectator soon becomes so sensitized to the lilliputian scale and teeny-weeny subtleties of Tuttle’s work that he begins to scrutinize ordinary hairline cracks in the wall.”” It is clear that Tuttle’s work, in order to be seen at all, focuses the viewer’s attention in a particular way, forcing a concentration that alters ones vision not only of the pieces, but of everything around them as well, even to the extent of compelling one to pay attention to the very act of paying attention.

–From Marcia Tucker, “Richard Tuttle (1975)” in Out of Bounds: The Collected Work of Marcia Tucker




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(Trains) Holocaust & American Life (Steven Miller)

On moral depravity, this from Newsweek here: The Southern Poverty Law Center’s “Hatewatch” section published its latest series of emails Tuesday which were leaked by an ex-Breitbart editor. The emails reveal Miller pitching white nationalist and vigilantly anti-immigrant ideas to the right-wing publication while he was a rising GOP aide to then-Senator Jeff Sessions and later a top Trump campaign policy adviser on immigration. Miller’s latest leaked messages show he shared an article from far-right website WorldNetDaily with Phyllis Schlafly, who suggested the idea of shipping immigrants out of the U.S. on trains as a scare tactic and expressed fears that migrants might “replace existing demographics.

Image result for Phyllis Schlafly

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Jewish Thought At The 2019 Nation­al Jew­ish Book Award

Jewish books

At a time when so many of us worry about the future of reading, the future of books, and the future of university scholarship and the humanities, this type of community recognition is a ray of light. You can see all the categories, winners and finalists of the 2019 Nation­al Jew­ish Book Award here.

It is especially gratifying to see the place of Jewish thought and philosophy in this writers’ eco-system. For the purpose of this post, I’m highlighting those finalists writing, more or less loosely, under the rubric of Jewish thought. I’m noting in particular Paul Nahme, who published his book on Hermann Cohen at the series in New Jewish Philosophy and Thought at Indiana University Press (where he is joining, among all the brilliant writer-scholars at the series, award winners Mara Benjamin and Samuel Brody.)

In no particular order they are:

Rashi’s Com­men­tary on the Torah: Can­on­iza­tion and Resis­tance in the Recep­tion of a Jew­ish Classic
Eric Lawee
Oxford Uni­ver­si­ty Press

The Auto­bi­og­ra­phy of Solomon Mai­mon: The Com­plete Translation
Yitzhak Y. Melamed, Abra­ham Socher, eds.; Paul Reit­ter, trans.
Prince­ton Uni­ver­si­ty Press

Her­mann Cohen and the Cri­sis of Liberalism
Paul E. Nahme
Indi­ana Uni­ver­si­ty Press

Dis­si­dent Rab­bi: The Life of Jacob Sas­portas 
Yaa­cob Dweck
Prince­ton Uni­ver­si­ty Press

Sarah Schenir­er and the Bais Yaakov Move­ment 
Nao­mi Seidman
The Littman Library of Jew­ish Civilization

The Noto­ri­ous Ben Hecht: Icon­o­clas­tic Writer and Zion­ist Mil­i­tant 
Julien Gorbach
Pur­due Uni­ver­si­ty Press

Vasi­ly Gross­man and the Sovi­et Cen­tu­ry 
Alexan­dra Popoff
Yale Uni­ver­si­ty Press

The Foun­da­tions of Amer­i­can Jew­ish Liberalism
Ken­neth D. Wald
Cam­bridge Uni­ver­si­ty Pres

Amer­i­can Jew­Bu: Jews, Bud­dhists, and Reli­gious Change
Emi­ly Sigalow
Prince­ton Uni­ver­si­ty Press

Colo­nial­ism and the Jews 
Ethan B. Katz
Indi­ana Uni­ver­si­ty Press



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(Birthday) JPP is 8 Years Old (I Hate You All)

jpp anniversary

No, not at all. just joking, but, yes, actually, JPP is 8 years.  This past year was depressing, in the real world, here at the blog. Too much Trump, too much anti-Semitism. I’m on leave this spring. A big book project is turning into two. I want to go-see and write-post more about art. I think I’ll take a walk, outside, into an urban forest, to reflect some. As always, thank you for your kindness and critical push back.

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Understanding & Combating Anti-Semitism Today (Analysis From The American Jewish Progressive/Radical Left)

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Without comment and such as they are, here are op-ed analyses from quarters on the Jewish radical/progressive left about how to understand and combat anti-Semitism today. I’ll update this post as more of it comes in.

At Jacobin: Only the Left can defeat anti-Semitism

At Jewish Currents: Envisioning Solidarity

At The American Prospect: Combatting Anti-Semitism Is Core to the Progressive Project:

At Jewish Currents: March obscured “deep frissures” in Jewish community and no gentiles

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(Not Whiteness) Christianity is at the Root of Anti-Semitism in America

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After Pittsburgh and Poway, it was almost comforting to be able to identify the political and racial identity of white anti-Semitism. We knew, more or less, where it was coming from and recognized the motivating ideologies. Now many of us are less secure about that after the attacks in Jersey City and then Monsey and the attention these drew to the ongoing harassment of hasidic Jews in Brooklyn, predominantly by people from communities of color. About this, because the appearance of these facts, largely not understood, does not always conform to a clear political agenda, liberal and progressive gentiles, white and black, have been largely silent. Already very nervous, American Jews are now very, very nervous and on edge. It’s not an unfair question to ask. Where is this coming from? As a socially distributed form, violent and lethal anti-Semitism seems to be truly ambient and everywhere.

A number of analyses from the anti-Zionist Jewish progressive/radical left about anti-Semitism are structured around whiteness, i.e. primarily the whiteness of rightwing ethno-nationalists in relation to Jews, and then the whiteness of white Jews in relation to POC, including Jews of Color caught at a uniquely terrible intersection. According to this point of view, white supremacism is, in this country, the primary cause of anti-Semitism and of anti-black racism and Islamophobia; mainline Jews are deeply implicated in American whiteness; and Zionism is racism. The solution going forward is to recognize that Jews and POC are “natural allies”; police-securitization of the problem only undermines this alliance; and that social justice, political revolution, and solidarity with communities of color are the only answer to the problem.

The primary line of this argument about the deep common root of anti-Semitism and white supremacism is, effectively, the exact reverse of the titular line of critical thought in the classic 1967  thesis penned by James Baldwin. Addressing two different sources of anti-Semitism, the argument being made today on the progressive/radical left that Americans Are Anti-Semitic Because of White Supremacy mirror Baldwin’s claim that “Negroes Are Anti-Semitic Because They’re Anti-White.” However and in that the analysis coming out of today’s Jewish progressive/radical left ignores another constituent feature of American culture, it lacks Baldwin’s critical nuance while missing the key point of Jewish difference in the western tradition, which has little to nothing to do with race per se.

While one must recognize that white supremacism and anti-whiteness are deep factors contributing to the expression of contemporary anti-Semitism in the United States, it’s also the case that Americans’ aren’t anti-Semitic because of whiteness.

Americans are anti-Semitic because of Christianity.

By “Christianity” is meant, and only and narrowly in relation to Judaism, a two thousand year hegemonic structure of thought and feeling that has dominated European cultures, an assemblage of historically sedimented habits that, over time, cut across class and race and that predispose people to look at Jewish things in a negative light, more or less utterly and before they are even aware of it.

About this too, Baldwin has much to say, although this part of his analysis often goes overlooked, overshadowed by the claim about anti-whiteness in the African American community.

I’m identifying three lines of thought, not one line of thought, that distinguish Baldwin’s analysis of anti-Semitism, in this case the particular form coming out of the African American community at the time he penned it.

[1] The first line of thought is the dominant one, which is that African Americans are anti-Semitic because they are anti-white, because Jews have become white and do nothing to distinguish themselves from other Americans of European ancestry. Embedded into the rhetorically provocative title, this is the line of thought that has dominated the reception of Baldwin’s essay, and gets picked up and mimicked by the radical/progressive Jewish left. Less commented upon is how this first line of thought leads to the next.

[2] Baldwin positions American whiteness not simply on its own and as itself, but in relation to Christianity. In a probably unintended inversion of the argument made by Marx about the relation between Christian capitalism and Judaism, Baldwin writes, “In the American context, the most ironical thing about Negro anti-Semitism is that the Negro is really condemning the Jew for having become an Americiviilan white man–for having become, in effect, a Christian.” For Marx, it was the Judaism of capitalism that was supposed to scandalize his gentile readers, whereas for Baldwin, it was the Christianness of Jewish social privilege that was meant to shock his Jewish readers, But Baldwin is writing also to Christians, not just Jews.

[3] While writing about black anti-whiteness in relation to anti-Semitism, Baldwin knew better about something that was once commonly understood by both Jews and gentile and has been forgotten, across the entire political spectrum. It is perhaps a still impolite and impolitic thing to say, which is the recognition recognized by Baldwin that Christianity “[controls] the American drama,” that anti-Semitism is a “devastating” Christian “vice,” that “the crisis taking place….is not produced by the star of David, but by the old, rugged Roman cross.”

Perhaps the sudden appearance of the swastika today obscures and takes our eye off that rugged Roman cross, and lets us forget about religion and the intersection between religion and culture, which includes the soft or hard bigotry that sees in the Jew some thing either beneath contempt and not worthy of attention or the immediate cause of “our misfortune.”

In relation to anti-Semitism, whiteness and blackness are mainly beside the point. To focus only on these, first, in the assessment of the appearance of white ethno-nationalism, anti-blackness, and, then, on the assessment of white anti-Semitism and black anti-Semitism in relation to the rise of Trump is to miss something important about America and the violence of its culture. Regarding the particular form of anti-Semitism, historically a more minor but suddenly lethal prejudice in this country, a good place to look is at the variegated points of difference between Jews and Judaism in relation to Christianity and Christians.

It’s not that Christians are the problem or that Christianity is the “cause” of modern anti-Semitism, There are many, many Christians who are not anti-Semitic and recognize the problem of anti-Judaism in their own tradition. And there is more to Christianity than its relation to Jews and Judaism. But Christianity is there at the root of the original social prejudice and stigma that first creates the difference between Jews and gentiles, setting up and permeating the entire cultural milieu which all of us inhabit together in the United States after genocide in Europe.


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Women & Talmud & Daf Yomi (כדור של בנות)

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I’m sharing two articles, here and here, about women completing the seven and a half year cycle completing, one page a day, the entire Babylonian Talmud. Neither articles does the heavy lifting that concern “the problem” of Talmud and gender. What they do very well is introduce the general interest reader not just to the phenomenon of women studying Talmud, but to Talmud itself and the study of Talmud as a cultural project and spiritual practice. Of particular note is how little attention to “law” and normativity is given in these two accounts, as opposed to a less grizzled language of capacity and possibility.

It has already been observed how the Daf Yomi, a twentieth century innovation, contributes to the democratization of Jewish life. It does so on two counts, one obvious, one less so.

[1] Opening the study of Talmud to everyone, including and especially women, bringing new perspectives into the text does something to eviscerate the hard aura of Talmud and its study. It is no longer the phallogocentric preserve of a removed scholarly class. No longer looked upon at a distance, the Bavli is brought up close and made accessible. This turns Talmud and the study of Talmud into a more intimate and tactile, now more ready to hand “object.” Talmud study is now “a thing.” You don’t need to be an expert to know something or even a lot. As per the mitzvah, a portion of the day is set aside for this purpose.

[2] Some insiders complain that this is not the way Talmud was ever read in the traditional academy, that Talmud was never meant to be read as a book cover to cover. You cannot substitute a more or less quick review of a single page, one after another, with the deep dive at precise (strategically, ideologically) moments of the text. True mastery of the text takes time, cross-referencing inside the Bavli and across the larger rabbinic corpus; delving into a history of commentaries and super-commentaries. But what happens with Daf Yomi also constitutes democratization. Instead of discrete parts or cuts, the Daf Yomi method gives the reader a more comprehensive hold vis-a-vis the text, taking the reader, tractate by tractate, to strange places in the text about which maybe some traditonalists once knew nothing having never looked at the whole of the body.

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