Sunday, January 08, 2006

An Interlude from Stevens

I woke from a nap this afternoon with this passage in mind. Somehow it, too, is a part of our SJC / RP conversation.

It's the first canto of the "It Must Be Abstract" section of Stevens' "Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction--as relevant a passage, certainly, as the one from Stevens' prose that Vendler cited in my post a few days ago:
Begin, ephebe, by perceiving the idea
Of this invention, this invented world,
The inconceivable idea of the sun.

You must become an ignorant man again
And see the sun again with an ignorant eye
And see it clearly in the idea of it.

Never suppose an inventing mind as source
Of this idea nor for that mind compose
A voluminous master folded in his fire.

How clean the sun when seen in its idea,
Washed in the remotest cleanliness of a heaven
That has expelled us and our images . . .

The death of one god is the death of all.
Let purple Phoebus lie in umber harvest,
Let Phoebus slumber and die in autumn umber,

Phoebus is dead, ephebe. But Phoebus was
A name for something that never could be named.
There was a project for the sun and is.

There is a project for the sun. The sun
Must bear no name, gold flourisher, but be
In the difficulty of what it is to be.
The last three stanzas are the most on point, here. What would a Jewish poem that thought such thoughts look like, sound like, be like? A Jewish Romantic poem, or Romantic Jewish one. That's my next question to consider, perhaps after another nap.

Two good quotes from Ha'aretz this morning, from a piece about secular Israelis getting together to study & worship & do good deeds with some American Jews from New York. I was struck, first, by the reference to "the spirit of American Judaism" strikes the Israelis, as "naive and sentimental." And, second, by this:
Even inspirational tension requires effort. "It's not straightforward," admitted Rabbi Ofer Shabbat-Beit-Halahmi, who was ordained as a rabbi after visiting BJ at the end of the 1990s and is now active in the Reform community in Tzur Hadassah. He spoke about the issue on the lawn of Kibbutz Tzuba, where 20 leaders of the Israeli communities met last week to discuss this year's visit. "First of all it's a different culture," he said. "A culture that's different from the Jewish perspective as well. The type of Judaism experienced by people like me, who grew up in Israel, is totally different from [that] in the Diaspora."

Shabbat-Beit-Halahmi gave an example connected to the language of prayer. Israelis understand the words of the prayers and so sometimes feel uncomfortable saying liturgical blessings like, "And you are faithful to resuscitate the dead. Blessed are you God, who resuscitates the dead." He said that Bronstein told the Israelis, "You have to find a language that people don't understand in order to pray in it."

"I think that this joke is actually not a joke," said Shabbat-Beit-Halahmi.
Mulling that one over,

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