Rubbernecking (What Do You Think About After Politics?)


What do you do when your attentional focus gets overtaken by politics and political events –the Newtown massacre, slaughter in Syria, the inevitable self-dooming of Israel by its political right? Talk about something else, think about something else, but how do you avert your attention to consider other things, things which perhaps, for people like “me,” are more close to home when home, for people like “me,” is more quotidian and less catastrophic. Laura Levitt picks up this problematic in her book on American Jewish Loss after the Holocaust. For the last number of posts, I was caught in a very depressing loop focused on goddamned Israel and the goddamned Middle East. I wanted very much to get out of this loop, and now I’m out of it, mentally and affectively.

Already before listening to President Obama’s speech, my resolve was simply to rip my attention out of it by sheer dint of will. At a certain point, one decides that one has to avert one’s eye, to refuse the political along with the actual, genuine, moral demands that the political puts upon us. Do it before your attention gets morbid, self-righteous, and self-dramatizing, politically and morally superior, and self-deluding about the actual efficacy of your political attention. Do it before you start finding what Schiller, following Kant, identified as a negative and then positive pleasure in the kinds of affective responses excited by the picture or the idea of the suffering of others. It’s too much like rubbernecking at a car crash.

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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4 Responses to Rubbernecking (What Do You Think About After Politics?)

  1. evanstonjew says:

    What does a Trostkyite do when the hope of world revolution turns into Stalinism? What does a Bundist Jew do when labor unions become the enemy, and everyone identifies with the rich. They used to go to South Florida and wait to die. Today Miami is booming with rich Brazilians and Chinese buying up everything in sight. If you are single there is an internet dating sight “Concerned Singles” where the generation of ’68 can meet significant others for a life of bird watching and hiking. Dystopian and apocalyptic novels are another source of comfort. Perhaps that’s why God gave the Torah in all its Talmudic complexity…it enables Jews to be politically engaged and not fall into despair.

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