MD543 (Between MD440 and US1)

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Feels like the deep South with the trees, rolling hills, and electric lines around and about in northeast Maryland. The rolling landscape is soft and giving, no doubt deceptively.

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Spot the Churches (Ocean Parkway)

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“Let’s play spot the churches,” quips a funny person on a drive down Ocean Parkway to Brighton Beach the other week. None were to be seen, except a single van belonging to Champions for Christ. In the meantime, here’s what I learned from Wikipedia: Ocean “Parkway extends over a distance of about five miles (8 km), running almost north to south from the vicinity of Prospect Park to Brighton Beach. The parkway runs roughly parallel to Coney Island Avenue, an important commercial avenue several blocks to the east.” What I did not know was that the boulevard was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux (who were also responsible for Central ParkProspect Park, and Eastern Parkway) suggested Ocean Parkway to Brooklyn park commissioners in reports prepared during the 1860s. They drew up a plan for the parkway, inspired by  boulevards in Berlin and Paris such as the present Avenue Foch. Work was completed in 1880.  Created in 1894, the bikeway was the first of its kind in the United States. The apartments were built after World War II and replaced the older homes. In 1975, the boulevard was designated a landmark as a way to limit the damage done by the building of Prospect Expressway in the 1950s, another Robert Moses project.

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(Abstract Bodies) Balls or Columns or Cubes (Resurrection) (Maimonides)

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With characteristic confidence, Maimonides is here arguing against what assumes is the false, nay absurd, notion that human souls would, in fact, have bodies in the world to come. He thinks the world to come is entirely without nature and natural needs like nourishment and procreation. For Maimonides, bodies must have a biological purpose. But I would like to stay with the image of abstract bodies raised by him, geometrical bodies, as it were. “For the Lord,  blessed be He, would not let anything exist without a purpose and would not create anything except for a reason. God forbid that his perfect actions be compared to the actions of idol worshipers: they have eyes but they see no, they have ears but they hear not. So is God, may He be exalted, in the opinion of those (misbelievers), in that He creates bodies, that is to say organs which do not at all serve any other purpose.” That should be the end of it, but then Andalusian philosopher leaves his readers with this little kick. “Perhaps to those (misbelievers), the people in the world to come do not have organs but nevertheless have physical bodies; or perhaps they are hard balls or columns or cubes.” Perhaps indeed. But, according to Maimonides, “such speculations are really ludicrous: Oh that ye would altogether hold your peace, and it would be your wisdom” (Maimonides, Treatise on Resurrection, translation by Fred Rosner, Ktav, p.34)

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Pagan Rabbis of the Mishnah (Jacob Neusner)

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Against history and messianic end-times, Jewish philosophy might want to take note that at the conclusion of a discussion of the Order of Appointed Seasons (Seder Moed) of the Mishnah, Jacob Neusner describes these pagan rabbis. Their world picture is cyclical, rooted in nature and in pleasure, raised, as a French philosopher might have said to the nth degree in repetition.

“Unlike the recurrent emphasis of Deuteronomy, the Sabbath or festival is no longer a theme or topic available to some moment in historical time, to something which happened to Israel…The Mishnah refer…solely to recurrent events, embedded on the regular lunar calendar, defined in nature, by the movement of the seasons and the moon, and in Scripture, in the main by the affairs of the cult” (Judaism, The Evidence of the Mishnah, pp.136-7),

Forget Franz Rosenzweig who framed the holiday structure around big ticket items like God, world, “man,” creation, revelation, redemption, concepts that will ruin  the mind. “When the Mishan speaks of appointed ties, it means not the end-time or the one-time fulfillment of time but recurrent Sabbath and festivals, new moons and holy days. When the Mishnah asks what is to to be done in response to those appointed times of nature and cult, it answer in terms of  cooking and eating, working and resting, sleeping, celebrating, and rejoicing. The Mishnah’s program for Sabbaths and festivals speaks not of a being other than the ordinary life of Israel, but of a heightened enjoyment of everyday pleasures…The framers of the document, moreover, so lay out matters that the sole provision in the village is for comfort and relaxation” (p.137).

At the same time, Neusner denies that this is a rejection of myth. It’s “a different cosmic myth, which speaks of different things to different people.” “The reason for the Mishnah’s worldliness is its otherworldly conception of the this world life of Israel” (ibid.).

(Veteran scholars of rabbinics, please excuse these late’ish career musings on Jacob Neusner of a Jewish philosophy scholar. These cannot be helped, neither the lateness nor the enthusiasm)

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The Place of Connection, A Form of Relationship (Distinct But Inseparable) (Deleuze)

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How to sort through the relationship between this and that, the material and the immaterial, the political and the religious, art and everything else? The radical critical reflex is to start with and assert the value of one primary formation or identity, and either line everything else up in relation to that starting datum, or reduce everything else to it. Against identity and negation, this neat little formulation is a much better device with which to sort out the relationship between those disparate “things” that you know are nonetheless inseparable in real life. For those of us interested in theology, ontology, epistemology, politics, and aesthetics, here’s Deleuze drawing off Leibniz.

“The reciprocation of the Leibnizin principle  holds not only for reasonable souls, but also for animal or sensible souls themselves: if two really distinct souls can be inseparable, two inseparable things can be really distinct, and belong to two levels, the localization of the one in the other amounting to a projection upon a point (“ I do not  think that we can consider souls as being in points, perhaps we might say…they are in a place of connection’)” (Deleuze, The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque, p.12, emphasis added).

It’s not just that these terms subject to binaries in classical rationalist philosophy are subject to deconstruction. It’s that an identity maintains its own distinct consistency even as it remains inseparably linked up in this or that assemblage in the form of differential relationship. In Deleuzian philosophy, these figures are not so much placed in harmony as with Leibniz, but volatized, each point brought to the nth degree. I’m offering below a list of items about which this formulation might make sense of points of interest to me in Jewish philosophy and in Jewish politics.

They are:

God – world

The human – the divine

Animal – -human

Body – soul

Matter – Mind

Imagination – Reason

Religion – politics

Society – Religion

Politics – Aesthetics

Religion – Aesthetics

Money – Art

Politics – Money

Judaism – Christianity

Israel – Palestine

Judaism – Israel

The Occupation –  Religious Pluralism in Israel

Racism – Imperialism

Democracy – Imperialism

Freedom – Slavery

So for instance, as per Deleuze after Leibniz, “The soul and the body can always be truly distinguished, but inseparability traces a coming and going between one level and the other. My unique monad has a body; the parts of this body have crowds of monads; each of these monads has a body.,,” (p.108). The immediate reference here is to the body that I “have” and the swarms of animal creatures that inhabit that body. Deleuze will go on to say that “a real distinction” subsists between souls and matter. “One never acts upon the other, but each operates according to its own laws, one by inner spontaneity or action, the other by outer determination or action.” The relation that one can ascribe between levels (one acting on or causing the other) is just another way to say that each according to their own way, express “a single and same thing, the world.” The two levels for Leibniz are both distinct, but folded into each other (pp.118-19).

It would be no hard thing to draw similar lines of connection between those other points that I listed above. The immediate reflex in critical no less than in conservative thinking is to reduce one thing to another, to focus on the one while obviating the other. Especially in political arguments, the critical attitude can be quite pig-headed, nasty and negative. There is no one, no union of opposites, no sublation. Deleuze offers a way out of this kind of conceptual trap. Whether the topic is religion and politics, or art, or Israel and Palestine, what Deleuze reading Lebniz clarifies is the distinct actualization of the one in relation to the other with which it is always, already inseparable. For Deleuze, the view is not so much of world harmony, but a volatile swarm; and yet for all that, there are “things,” distinct or discrete, pleated phenomena. Difference is radical down to infinitesimal points, distinct and singular, and to the relations that leap across.

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Everyone Died & Went to Heaven Except a Few Passerby & A Dumb Little Dog (Upper West Side Ghost Town)

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(At the Intersectional Left) JVP Targets The Bad Jews

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Claiming to be a Jewish Voice for Peace, the activist organization gins up antipathy against Jews and Jewish communities at the intersectional left. What they leave in their wake is mistrust and rancor, broken relations, and a strong whiff of anti-Semitism with which others are left to contend. As a religious and political form, the anti-Zionist sectarian logic of JVP is that of the litmus test and loyalty oath, with good Jews, the righteous ones, on one side separated from wicked mass of Jews on the other. And in case a person unfamiliar with Jews, Judaism, Jewish history, and symbols can’t tell the one from the other, JVP will ferret out the truth. “Yes, that person over there is a Zionist, that person, especially that liberal person, supports pinkwashing and police violence against African Americans.”

–Pinkwashing is a red herring. You can read a JVP statement here. In truth, the vast majority of American Jewish support for LGBT rights and communities in Israel does nothing to whitewash the occupation. Liberal Zionists who (still) support a 2 state solution and civil rights in Israel and human rights in Palestine contend that one should simultaneously work towards LGBT rights in Israel and a just, agreed upon resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This should only be impossible if one’s political starting point is that the State of Israel and the vast majority of Jews who support the State of Israel in this or that form are a primary source of unmitigated evil with a wide international reach in the world at large.

–Behind this JVP video here lies the unsubstantiated claim that Israel and a cabal of Jewish institutions are behind the police shootings of black people in the United States or contribute to that culture of American racism. This too is a form of demonization, creating the image of a web-like, nefarious association at work to shoot and strangle POC. What one is to take from the video is the notion that cops in America are in deep and ongoing systematic cahoots with the Israeli armed forces, that Israeli police shoot Palestinian citizens of Israel on a regular basis like happens here to African Americans, and that American Jews and Jewish American Jewish organizations are to blame for this.

–BDS targets to silence not the State of Israel and its economic institutions, but a large class of Jews, namely Israeli Jewish academics, artists, and activists, as well as supporters of Israel and Zionism. What JVP wants one to understand is that Zionism is an emblem of white supremacy, not the historically and theoretically complex and pluriform idea that Jews constitute a people and that Jews should enjoy somewhere the right to political self-determination (as opposed to bourgeois civil rights of a minority protected [or not] under law). On Israel and the Occupation, JVP demands a pure and unsullied form of apologetic Judaism.

The upshot is clear once you align Zionism and all Jews who support Jewish life in the State of Israel with pinkwashing and racism. There is one and only one subject of Jewish conversation: the Occupation and Jewish-Zionist state violence in Israel. And the only Jewish voice at the intersectional left is Jewish Voice for Peace and those like it, the ones for whom Jews symbolize some righteous standard of suffering and struggle. They are the One; everyone else is the Other. They are the ones who get to define Judaism and Jewish values and symbols. The political, if not physical, abuse of those other Jews is okay. Those Jews, one can shout down and silence. Against them, it’s okay to “target,” “hold accountable,” “take action,” expel from public space. This is a rabbit hole into anti-Semitism.

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