Please, Stop Calling My Friends Lazy

Disclaimer: These ideas are half-baked.  That’s how (in my mind) blogging works.  I look forward to a healthy discussion, and I am completely sure that I will rewrite on this topic in the future having learned from y’all and amended some of my points.  Flamers gotta flame, and I know that.  But try going into this assuming that if something I said sounds off that maybe I just didn’t state it well and give me the opportunity to try again before you decide I’m a horrible human being.  I also fully admit that I am writing this from an incredibly privileged I-actually-got-to-go-college white-cisgendered-straight-female East-Coast-American point of view.  My peer group, my friends, and the “we” I refer to throughout this article are not many people’s “we.”  Writing from experience got me yelled at in philosophy classes and probably will get me yelled at on the internet, too.  Just try not to stray into Godwin’s territory.

It has been ten years since I matriculated at Converse College, full of dreams of a career and a love for learning that often got me in too deep with extracurriculars and 18 hour semesters.  I went to a fancy private school, and I have the student loans to prove it.  I have a top-notch liberal arts degree and graduated an honors student.  I went on to get a MA from the University of Georgia and am now working on a PhD at Virginia Tech.   I wanted (and still do) to be a college professor.  I still don’t think it was a bad goal.

My parents helped when they could, but I have had a job in some capacity since I started college (and even before) in 2003:  federal work-study, cashier at Target, adjunct at far too many colleges to name.  I have always had a job not because I wanted to – being a full-time student is already a full-time job – but because I have had to.  TA stipends are all publicly accessible, so I know I’m not spilling any secrets, but my stipend at UGA for my MA was $10,000 a year, plus full tuition remission, for a 2/1 teaching load.  Pros:  in theory, one should not have to take out any student loans (and if you add out-of-state tuition to 10 grand, it’s not bad) and would end up with a valuable degree.  Cons:  the 10 grand was only a 9 month stipend (summers didn’t count) and you didn’t qualify for food stamps.  Roommates were a necessity.  Second jobs were discouraged by the department but were absolutely necessary.

In any case, I’ve been lucky.  I have generally been able to find work when I’ve needed it, and I have been able to teach (and not work retail) since I completed my MA.   My one not-academia job between my MA and my PhD was actually (sort of) in my field.

But I do refer to myself as lucky intentionally.  I have worked hard.  I haven’t done my very best every single day (who does?) but my overall trajectory has been upward.  Yet many of my peers have worked just as hard, if not harder, and find themselves so incredibly lost.  People with MAs still only able to find part-time work.  Incredibly brilliant women from Converse who still only make $10/hr (on at least their 6th job) after seven years on the job market.  Friends who have managed to make it, but only by leaving behind what they have studied and finding a job completely outside their field (You studied accounting? How about being a photographer.  Journalism?  Yeah, why not work at the Apple store.  ROTC?  Oh, well, you actually got a job in the Army.  Good for you).  Some are happy.  Many are not.

We graduated at the peak of the last bubble.  Some of us got lucky and managed to get jobs just prior to the burst.  Others are still drowning years later.  And yet, we are called entitled.  We took out student debt we couldn’t afford.  Because we banked on getting jobs we were told our entire lives we would get.  So we worked hard and believed what we were told (teachers and parents aren’t supposed to lie, right?).  And now, I don’t know of one friend right now that isn’t on loan deferment or income-based-repayment for their loans.  Not because they don’t want to pay their loans, but because they can’t.

I was talking with my best friend from undergrad tonight, and so I will admit some of these ideas are hers.  But overall they got me thinking.  We are told we are the entitled generation.  But most of us have caved, crumbled, given up on dreams.  We’ve not necessarily accepted our fate of being less secure than our parents’ generation, but we are trying our best to work within the “new normal.”

I now have multiple friends who have resigned themselves to not having children.  When I was a kid, we were told (by often… well-meaning(?) adults) that people who chose not to have kids were “yuppies” that “chose not to have children” so they could “travel” or “buy things” or “have a life.”  How heteronormatively classist.  I’ve come a long way in understanding, I hope.

Now, I have friends who would be brilliant parents electing to stay childless.  Not all of them, but many, are making this decision not because they don’t want children, but because they know they aren’t financially stable enough to responsibly bring them into the world.  My parents have always told me “you’re never truly ready to have kids.”  I’m sure on some level, that’s true.  I don’t know that I’ll ever be really ready to be responsible for a thing that can’t even support its own head for months (is it months? Or weeks?  I have no idea.  Maybe this is why they have parenting classes), but if that time comes, I’ll hunker down and figure it out as best I can, as every parent should.

The difference is that these friends who are now electing childlessness aren’t being paranoid.  They truly understand that they can’t afford to have children and raise them responsibly.  Hell, many of them cannot even afford retirement plans for themselves, let alone rent without roommates (as married/partnered thirtysomethings).  So where are college funds for 2.5 kids, when college is more expensive than ever and you really need a masters for any job of “value” (massive sarcasms/scare quotes here.  And let’s not bring up the fact that graduate students cannot get subsidized loans any longer), supposed to come from?  These very real issues don’t just “work themselves out on their own.”

I’m not an economist.  I have tons of friends (or, at least two) that can claim that title.  But I do know that I had friends slightly better off than we were (Enlisted Navy Brat here, y’all) whose parents had way nicer and newer stuff than we did. And bigger, nicer houses, that their parents owned.  And looking back, I’m sure most of it was on credit that places like Wells Fargo gave them with limits they could not truly afford.  But everything was good, right?  The economy was booming, and everyone could have new, shiny things.

My generation is now dealing with the aftermath.  The good news is that medicine is getting such that we can have kids later and later.  The bad news is even with that, many of my friends who want to still may not be able to.

So what is this rambling rant really all about?  I’m not trying to advocate having kids, or buying things you don’t need, or a return to “the way things were.”  I’m just sick of daily hearing at least one of my friends lamenting a situation that in many ways is not their fault, which they are made to feel guilty about by some of the very people that got us here.  And I’m also not trying to say that our parents and grandparents are terrible people.  Most of them had no idea of the big economic picture (and if they did, I would hope would have made different choices).

Here is (finally) my thesis:  My friends are not lazy (yeah, there are exceptions, but generally speaking, my generation is not plagued with a do-nothing disease).  And we are quickly losing our pie-in-the-sky ideals (high-paying jobs, houses, cars).  We are definitely far more pragmatic than we are often given credit.  I still drive the 1997 Subaru that I inherited from my parents.  I currently have three jobs to make sure I’m not going into (much) consumer debt to survive.  I help proof job letters and resumes for my friends whenever I can.  I watch my friends list jobs on Facebook from their companies to see if they can help others find a job.

If anything, it is our parents that are still living with certain assumptions.  That everyone ends up with a house, and a car (or three), and 2.5 kids.  That we make more than $18,000 a year in professional jobs (I’m talking teachers, y’all) ten years out of high school.  Why not? They did.  And that was in the 80s/90s, when $18,000 went quite a bit farther.

I’m not trying to toot my own horn, and I’m certainly not saying that we Millenials are perfect.  But please, stop calling my friends lazy.  Stop firing my friends or reducing their hours so you don’t have to give them health insurance.  Stop telling them they have to work harder if they really want to do better financially only to nag them about why they haven’t had kids yet.  Stop expecting us to own homes when our student loans are $600 a month for loans you co-signed on while telling us we would have no problems paying them off.  I know you’re trying to give us advice, but you’re only adding to the emotional burden.  Most of us really are doing our best.  Please, just stop.  You’re only making us feel worse.

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Snow Day Cooking – India Edition

So the East Coast, USA has been covered in snow the last two days.  At this point, I can barely find my car and Virginia Tech has preemptively closed twice now (Hell has indeed frozen over).  This is the view of my porch when I woke up this morning.

Not too shabby, Virginia.

Not too shabby, Virginia.

My brother and I decided that if we were going to be snowed in for days that we should at least eat in style.  Having had some amazing Indian food in California in January, I’ve been craving it ever since.  So up on the menu:  matar paneer, roti, and raita.

Now I won’t bore you with all the details of the cooking, but I did want to share some photos and recipes:

Paneer
Paneer is an incredibly easy cheese to make.  All you need is pasteurized (but not ultrapasterized) milk, lemon juice, a candy thermometer, and cheesecloth (I used an old pillowcase).  It works better if you soak it ice water prior to using it (we used snow water…).  Don’t ask me why.  I’m not a chemist, just an amateur cook.

Cucumber-Mint Raita
This is a gorgeously simple recipe.  Very similar to tzatziki.  Eaten with the matar paneer, it really helps cool your mouth off.

Roti
Similar to naan, but unleavened.  Basically I screw up every single leavened bread I make.  My challah always turns out closer to matzah than actual bread… So I figured if we were going to make a panfried bread, I should go foolproof.  This was surprisingly easy and incredibly basic.

Matar Paneer
And now, the finale.  I love any dish involving paneer.  Who doesn’t love a non-melting cheese that picks up flavors like tofu?  And who doesn’t love peas??

The one thing I will say about this recipe is that it was not nearly spicy enough as written.  I will double or treble the requisite spices next time.  Still, quite tasty.

Put this all together, and you get an amazing no-silverware all-awesome dinner:

The chianti worked surprisingly well.

The chianti worked surprisingly well.

Well, there you have it, Constant Reader.  A beautiful snow day in the NRV complete with delicious food, excellent wine, and great company.  And now, here it is: Your Moment of Zen.

The happy cooks just prior to om-nom time.

The happy cooks just prior to om-nom time.

“Are you still going to be Jewish?” – Or, “This isn’t ‘Nam! There are Rules!”

I should start by saying that if anyone needs to freak out on this blog post, please do it here on WordPress and not on my syndicated statuses (I really don’t want a Facebook avalanche).  I’m sure there will be some Big. Shock. on some of your parts by the contents herein.

I visited my grandmother in Baltimore yesterday.  I was in town in preparation for a trip out to the Left Coast today (I’m typing this on the plane next to two lovely new people I’ve just met.  Tyler Durden would be so proud).  It was the first I had seen Gramma since announcing my divorce to my family and close friends (if you’re just now learning this, sorry.  You may be my close friend and I just forgot…  Yes, I’m fine.  No, I don’t want to publicly talk about it), and to say I was apprehensive to see her would be an understatement.

I’ll admit it; I’d chickened out and hadn’t told her myself (I made my father do it…).  My grandparents were married 49 years before my grandfather died, and having only been married 2.5 years, I’ll admit I was a bit embarrassed to admit to her that I had failed.  Of course, being the good grandmother she is, she hollered at me for thinking she wouldn’t understand and told me I had her full support.

But one of her questions did blindside me:  Are you still going to be Jewish?

Too much Passover for one hand.

Too much Passover for one hand.  2009.

I suppose it’s a reasonable question on the surface.  My partner and I converted together (along with my wonderful friend E.) about four months after we got engaged, so I could see how it would seem that I had converted because of him.  But her question got me thinking: how many people in my life 1) think I’m Jewish because of my partner (and if this is a lot, how bad am I at communicating?) and 2) do not understand how conversion to Judaism works?

These questions kept me up last night.  Seriously.  I’m an instructor of religion, after all, so what do I do with all this nervous mental energy?  Start composing a blog post in my head at 3:30 in the morning (on my cousin’s couch, between superhero sheets, like a BOSS).

Some things people should know about converting to Judaism (NOTE:  this is from a Reform/Liberal POV, so it is, of course, liberally biased):

  1. The rabbi will not let you convert if they think you have been coerced in any way.  Meaning, you cannot convert for someone.  It must be your choice, and the choice must be made freely.
  2. Many people do convert when their intended spouse is Jewish, but in many Reform (and some Conservative) marriages, conversion isn’t necessary.  For Orthodox couples, both partners must be Jewish.  In any case, it still must be the choice of the convertee and not the partner.
  3. There is an education process associated with conversion, which gives you time to change your mind if necessary and to make sure you fully understand the new life you are choosing.  This can vary in length depending on the denomination and the impetus behind conversion (I’ve heard it as few as six weeks in the event of an upcoming wedding and as long as 18 months).
  4. Part of your vows when you convert (in front of a beyt din) are to live a Jewish life and to raise any children you have as Jewish and to forsake all other previous religious vows.
  5. When you convert, it is not an individual experience.  Three other Jews have to stand for you (the aforementioned beyt din).  The ceremony is public.  Your community becomes your family.  You take on the entire history of the Jewish people as your history.  The Holocaust, the pogroms, the Inquisition – all of these historical events happened to your people.  Your rabbi makes absolutely sure you understand this.

And what about my conversion?  I will not go into the details of why I chose to convert, but I came to the decision separate from my partner.  I had been contemplating this decision since high school but did not convert until October 2007, due to moving around and trying to find the right temple to take classes.  Classes were monthly, taking place over the course of one year.  In addition, I had to attend services weekly to make it through one entire festival cycle.

Torahs are really heavy.  I don't recommend strapless dresses.

Torahs are really heavy. I don’t recommend strapless dresses.  2007.

When someone converts to Judaism, they take on a Hebrew name.  This is the name one is called to the bema, or altar, with, to say prayers and to read from the Torah and other books.  If born Jewish, your parents choose your Hebrew name, and you are “that name the son/daughter of their names” (so if I were to use my English names, I would be Holly the daughter of Michael and Cynthia.  As a convert, I was given the parents Abraham and Sarah, the de facto parents of all converts.  I chose the name Devorah after my Aunt Debbie, who has always been incredibly supportive of all of my school, religious, and life goals.  Now that I am changing my name back to my maiden name, I had considered taking Devorah as my middle name, or second middle name, but it doesn’t quite work with Holly Jordan.  And Dr. Holly A. Jordan just looks smashing on a door.

Being Jewish with my partner, who converted in the same class with me (again, because he was already on that path and not because of me), was a blessing.  Knowing that I would raise Jewish children in a Jewish home was an important part of my relationship.  I will not say that relationships cannot work out with different religious traditions (all my Cashews prove otherwise, and I’ve got some Jain-Hindu and Muslim-Jewish friends, too), but having that support, and having a Jewish wedding and life, was always important to me.

But no, my new life doesn’t mean an end to my Jewish identity.  My Jewishness is my self, not my relationship self.  I think I’ve been Jewish since my father brought me home my first menorah from a yard sale (or since I realized that Old Testament/Hebrew Bible stories are WAY more fun [and less redundant] than New Testament stories).

If nothing else, the tumultuous events of the last several weeks have led to a rededication to my Jewish life.  My first Friday alone in my apartment, I took down my candlesticks and kiddush cup for the first time since I moved to Blacksburg and welcomed in Shabbat (with my sad little Stouffers veggie lasagna and bottle glass of wine) with my dog.  I felt more in touch with my Judaism than I had since my wedding.

So will I still be Jewish?  Yes.  Could I convert back or to something else?  Absolutely.  I have that ability as a human being.  But the process of conversion ensures that it is a decision that you do in fact want.  I am Jewish.  Nothing will change that.

The Night of the Dissertation Proposal Defense

For most people, nightmares include intrinsically scary elements.  Your second grade teacher suddenly becomes a T-Rex and disembowels all of your classmates Red Wedding-style as you stare on in horror.  Out of nowhere, you’re in your dorm, and MONSTERS! Scary MONSTERS! show up and all you have to fight them with is your stupid Red Devil pitchfork from your “sorority.”  In most nightmares, something “scary” happens, and you have no control.

For me, nightmares are dreams I cannot wake myself from.  I’m a very lucid dreamer.  If a T-Rex shows up in one of my dreams, I can conjure a dinosaurs-obliterating asteroid to land on its head.  If scary MONSTERS show up, I can turn that plastic pitchfork into a flaming sword.  A nightmare happens when i 1) don’t realize I’m dreaming and thus 2) cannot wake myself up from it.

The worst is when it happens ALL NIGHT.  I swear, every time I did manage to wake up (I’m an end-of-REM-cycle-wake-up-long-enough-to-roll-over-and-flip-a-pillow-sleeper), I’d fall back asleep into the same hell:

My dissertation proposal defense.  Which is today.  For which I will probably look like this:

This was yesterday.  Note the bugged-out eyes and size of the mug.

This was yesterday. Note the bugged-out eyes and size of the mug.

I really don’t know if it was the heavy dinner (which was amazing) that my brother made me last night, or if my brain-phasers were set to AHHHHHHH!!!!!!, but I think I just had an 8 hour proposal defense the night before my 2 hour proposal defense this afternoon.

So, in an unprecedented foray into my psyche, I give you the list of things that *could* happen in my defense today, apparently:

  1. Non!Stoner!In!Real!Life!Classmate brings roaches for all of my advisers (including advisers I’ve never met), who then toke up during the defense and get the giggles.
  2. All of the Converse memers (thanks Caitlin) show up and live-meme my defense, complete with loud color commentary throughout.  I then kick them out for being bad Connies.
  3. A professor I don’t even know calls me out for referring to Star Trek: Enterprise in my bibliography (note: while I do teach with ST:  Enterprise, it appears nowhere in my MS) as Star Trek: Enterprise instead of just Enterprise (I made some sort of BS reply about how it went from ST: E to just E when Berman died, which isn’t even remotely true in Real Life).
  4. Another professor I don’t know, apparently a Known Defense Troll, shows up and starts asking long, detailed questions about her podcast as it relates to my research.  Newsflash: it doesn’t.  Even Stoned!Committee!Chair can recognize that, which he states before forcing me to still answer the question.
  5. My mom shows up, and whenever someone asks me a hard question, interrupts and asks why they’re trying to make me cry.
  6. The defense literally goes for 8 hours, during which time I manage to make it 2 sentences at a time into my prepared 5 minute speech only to be interrupted for issues of “clarity.”  We never actually finish.
  7. In reference to the speech in point 6, I have no idea what the hell I was reading in the dream.  It was like a few sentences from every single paper I have written in the last 10 years of college, put together, and I kept insisting the entire time that “No, trust me, it all comes together at the end and if you would stop gorram interrupting me, you’d know that!
  8. One committee member shows up 1.5 hours late, but it doesn’t matter, because I’ve only gotten through 2 paragraphs of said speech.

All of this became a nightmare, and not hilarious, simply because yeah, I didn’t realize I was dreaming.  In good news, I’ve already defended for 8 hours, so what’s the worst that can happen now?  Pretty sure that none of this is going to happen today.  Except maybe point 3…

ETA:  The high of the day today is 28 degrees F.  I’ve read enough of my Dante to know that the lowest levels of hell are frozen.

The Day of the Doctor – A Response

Given this thing previews the first paragraph on all my social media feeds, I’ll start with some non-spoilery language for all of you who can’t figure out how not to spoil things for yourselves.

First off, I hate Jelly Babies.  There, I said it.  We picked up a couple bags in England for the 50th and the Christmas special, respectively, thinking it’d be a great way to celebrate the show.  Not so much.  They’re all the worst parts of jelly candies put together.  And I love jelly candies.

Okay onto the episode.

As an episode, The Day of the Doctor was… problematic, in the most Moffat-y way possible.  Once the “holy crap they’re all together” goggles came off, the episode itself is very choppy.  If it was supposed to be about the end of the Time War, why bring in the Zygons at all?  Sure, their homeworld was ruined in the Time War, but so were any number of others.  The terrifying nature of the Zygons is completely missed in this episode, simply because there’s just not enough time (Ha! See what I did there?) to deal with them in addition to everything else.

As an anniversary episodes, The Day of the Doctor was brilliant.  It tied up so many loose ends I didn’t even realize I needed tied up (The line about the children of Gallifrey, especially.  And that rather throwaway line about Elizabeth I from The End of Time finally coming full circle).   The banter in the episode was The Three Doctors-style brilliant.  The War Doctor’s repeated castigation of the youth of Ten and Eleven is exactly what we need going into Capaldi’s regeneration.  Timey-wimey? Yeah, I’m excited for an adult now, too.

Tom Baker’s appearance made me deliriously happy, mostly because of all the classic doctors, he deserves the most to be there, and they managed to do it in a way that wasn’t insulting to the character of Four.  That being said, the Night of the Doctor really should have been a part of the special itself.  There’s just a bit of the entire arc that’s missing by not making Eight’s fall a part of the main event.

And who doesn’t want more McGann?

Speaking of people that should have been in the special, where was Timothy Dalton??  Seriously?  Rassilon was the one pushing for the Moment, and he doesn’t show up for the end of the episode.  Madness.

My brother brought up an excellent point when it was all over – the TARDIS is the one that often takes the Doctor to his destinations, rather than the Doctor choosing his next spot.  And given that the War Doctor and Ten really won’t remember the events of The Day of the Doctor, it’s fascinating to realize where is the next spot that the TARDIS takes the Doctor?  London.

Rose.

A face he instantly trusts with no reason to do so.  With no memory as to why.  And then when Nine saves Rose from the Autons, he says “Forget me, Rose Tyler.”  Not realizing he’s already forgotten the Bad Wolf.

Suckerpunch to the gut.

Also, not going to lie, Ten’s slight freakout that no one really paid attention to about Rose was awesome.  Way better than some shmaltzy “But I left you in an alternate universe!” wangstfest that could have easily happened.

Overall, I’m pleased.  There’s a little wiggle room to bring Classic Doctors back in new and exciting ways.  There’s a goal for the show again (the show has felt rudderless since, well, RTD left).  And the Brigadier made an appearance.  Awesome.

The Underwhelm of Academia

Adapted from a FB status last night (and added onto significantly):

All achievements in academia seem to be underwhelming. You write and write waiting for that moment of validation (“send it on to the committee”), only to feel completely underwhelmed when it actually comes through because you’re so emotionally exhausted from the entire process. Are all jobs like this, or are academics just weird?

This has happened to me before.  I remember finishing up my MA and defending my thesis and just feeling kind of… numb.  I think we bank for some sort of epiphany/life-changing feeling to wash over us when we hit those milestones, and when it doesn’t come, it’s just… well, it’s nothingness.  Maybe it’s because I graduated in the summer, a year after my original cohort, but I felt absolutely no motivation to even walk in that ceremony.

You work for years and years on a degree.  Other than an 18 month “break” from academic work (though I did still adjunct during that period), I have been in school since 1989.  I’m set to earn my Ph.D. in 2015.  26 years of school.  That’s longer than my father’s military career.  Will the end have that “payoff” feeling?  I joke with people all the time that the only reason I’m getting the Ph.D. is for the cool hat, but what happens on that special day when all I feel like I have is a cool hat?

Luckily, I have my head far enough out of my ass to be able to say this:  it’s not all underwhelm (yes, I’m coining this as a noun).  There are moments of such pure joy when a thesis finally comes together, when a colleague gets into that cool conference/journal/job that they’ve always wanted, when your students really *get* something.  They’re little joys that keep you going along the emotional rollercoaster.

But it is a little crummy when you anticipate an emotional payoff – that joy you will feel just to hear your adviser say good work, your proposal is ready – and when the moment comes it’s just… blech.  Because you can’t find it in you to just pause and enjoy that moment.

You’re already onto the next step, the next thing to stress over.  The next labor of love.

“Hannah Arendt” – Why Now?

Okay, so here’s the transcript of my talk from last night.  I ad-libbed some stuff about questions from yesterday’s blog post.  I plan to rewrite it for publication, so any thoughts/suggestions/haikus would be appreciated.

“Hannah Arendt” – Why Now?

Thank you, and thank you to everyone who worked together to put on this event:  ASPECT, Religion and Culture, Political Science, and the professors here.  Rather than try to do a critique of the film as a whole and somehow fit it all into the body of Arendt’s work, I instead decided to bring out four key points from the film that stood out to me (which actually might be doable in ten minutes):  Arendt’s own Judaism, the status of Arab Jews, the position of the bureaucrat, and the funding for the film itself.

No outward signs of Judaism in her house:

Arendt was Jewish, but culturally so.  She was a secular Jew, and her home showed it.  There are none of the tchotchkes associated with Judaism on the shelves, no mezuzah on the door.  Even in Jerusalem, she maintains her Western appearance and does not dress as traditionally as the other women she interacts with.  Revisionism to make Arendt seem more “Jewish” may have done something for her character in the film, but the film pulled no punches, showing her as others perceived her and keeping her in this motif.

Arab Jews have no voice/presence in film:

Along with that attention to historical accuracy, Arendt’s personal beliefs on types of Jews shows up obliquely in the film.  Arendt is known for believing that German Judaism was the best Judaism, remarking that it was lucky for Eichmann to have three German Jewish judges in Israel, who she called the “best of German Jewry.”[1]   She stated to Karl Jaspers once that the Israeli police force “gives me the creeps, speaks only Hebrew, and looks Arabic.”[2] (xvii).  This, in comparison to her championing the rights of Arab Palestinians seems strange.[3]  It is remarked upon in the film that she never quite forgave Germany for letting her down as a German, yet she is inseparable from Germany in culture.  The film portrays this subtly; while she passes Arab Jews and Eastern European Jews in the streets of Jerusalem, she does not interact with them.  All of her Jewish friends are German Jews and she argues with them from the point of view of German continental philosophy.  The film did an excellent job keeping this reality in place, in spite of the fact that it makes Arendt look less than favorable to non-German Jews.

Bureaucrats:

The status of the bureaucrat comes up often in the film, as in Arendt’s work, and has definite applicability to discussions of the modern Israeli state.  Part of Arendt’s arguments for the banality of evil are the bureaucratic persona of figures like Eichmann—dedicated pencil-pushers who just followed orders.  I’ll go out on a limb of controversiality here and say that these arguments are fascinating when one considers some of the more contentious policies of the Israeli government with regard to border control and settlements in the West Bank.  Many of these policies, which Arendt herself cautioned against, could be seen as being able to be perpetuated by a banality within the bureaucracy of Israel.  Groups like J Street represent American Jews against the policies of occupation in the West Bank and Gaza, and there are many op-ed writers within Israel who speak out often against Israeli treatment of Palestinians, yet these policies continue.

When Arendt criticizes Israel’s right to even try Eichmann, her colleague Kurt Blumenfeld responds, “Be a little patient with us,” implying that Israel is a new state bound to make some mistakes.  But how long is too long to remain being patient?  At what point does “Be a little patient with us” become a crutch for not having to take a closer look at divisive policies?  If nothing else, this film spurs the audience toward reevaluating the current state of affairs in Israel through Arendt’s lens.

Funding of the film:

I’d like to conclude with the funding and the making of the film.  According to Heinrich Blücher, “History more than one man” was on trial during the Eichmann trial.  It is with this point of view on history rather than individual that I do wonder why make this film? Why now?  Two Jewish film funds, the Israel Film Fund (a 501c3 nonprofit) and The Jerusalem Film and Television Fund (under the auspices of the Jerusalem Development Authority, a joint venture between the Israeli Government and the Jerusalem Municipality), partially sponsored the film.  But why?  Why now?  Was it to redeem Arendt’s reputation amongst a new generation of Jews?  Or was it to teach a new generation why Arendt’s views were dangerous to the Israeli state?

I was left unclear by the film itself.  While the audience is naturally pulled toward supporting Arendt, both through Barbara Sukowa’s stunning performance and the weight of Arendt’s words herself, the negative responses to her work in the film far outweigh the positives.  Arendt’s rousing defense of her work before the students and faculty of the New School at the end of the film leaves the audience thinking the film will have a positive dénouement, yet the mood is ruined by her dear friend and colleague Hans Jonas not being convinced and disowning her.  The film ends as it began, Arendt alone in her apartment, listlessly smoking a cigarette, isolated with her thoughts.

Characters in the film talk about how Arendt is asking questions about things best laid to rest, but why?  Simply because the questions make us uncomfortable?  And what does it say that Israel funded a film that reopens all these questions?  The good news is, we are asking these questions.  By having a panel such as this, we’re trying to find out how Arendt’s work is still valuable today, and I would definitely argue that it is, indeed, valuable.


[1] Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem:  A Report on the Banality of Evil  (New York: Penguin Books, 2006), xviii.
[2] Eichmann in Jerusalem:  A Report on the Banality of Evil  (New York: Penguin Books, 2006), xvii.
[3] Eichmann in Jerusalem:  A Report on the Banality of Evil, 13.

Hannah Arendt (film): A Personal Review

Tonight, along with several of my ASPECT colleagues, I will be presenting on the 2013 film Hannah Arendt at VT and will have something much more coherent and scholarly to say by then.  But the film kept me up for most of the night, and I just need to say a few things.

The film itself is visually and emotionally stunning.  Arendt shines through as the antihero, spurned by most of her closest friends, but sure of her views.  Her beliefs are well-represented, and at times, the script is a direct quotation from Eichmann in Jerusalem The Heidegger bits of her life are tastefully done and not as salaciously presented as in other accounts.  The viewer is left devastated by Arendt’s naivete regarding her work and how it would be received.

This naivete, I think, is what kept me up so much last night.  I work a lot with the writings of Arendt, Butler, and other Jews on the fringes of the Zionism/Israel/Palestine debate.  I try to be as objective in my analysis as possible when discussing these issues, but the problem becomes that it becomes absolutely impossible to enter into debate with those who do not separate their religion from their politics (and how can you as a Jew talking about Israel?).

As seen through the film, most of Arendt’s friends who disowned her hadn’t even read her pieces in The New Yorker.  They were going off hearsay and quotes out of context.  Barbara Sukowa’s performance is stunning, and you can feel the despair that Arendt felt through the closing act of the film.

I had a conversation with a colleague just yesterday about my dissertation.  Its current title is purposely provocative (Mama needs a book deal, y’all).  He pointed out that it’s a great title if I never want a job.  I retorted that if someone didn’t want to hire me because of my research, I probably wouldn’t want to work for them.

Probably a stupid point of view in the current academic hiring environment.

But on some level, I do believe in what I said.  It would be impossible to be a part of a department that didn’t at least respect my research.  Judaism has always been a religion that revolved around asking questions.  Questions are the basis of the entire Talmud.  Abraham, Moses, even Job (though G-d really does get a bit snarky with him…) question G-d.  Elie Wiesel’s The Trial of God puts G-d on trial (and G-d is found guilty) for the crimes of the pogroms.  To question faith, G-d, and even Jews is part of the rhetorical tradition of my chosen faith.

So the viciousness of the response to Arendt’s work was painful, absolutely painful to watch.  Arendt even admitted later in life that she could have worded things better/more clearly in Eichmann, that she could have been less sarcastic.

As a sarcastic person myself, I completely understand hiding behind words to distance myself from tough topics.

Arendt was not antisemitic.  Like many European Jews of her time, she was, unfortunately, orientalist in many of her views of non-Western Jews, and for that, I am disappointed.  But her portrayal of Eichmann in many ways is spot on and deserves respectful discussion, even if you disagree.

I have been called antisemitic by those who disagree with my research on numerous occasions, and given I am a practicing Jews, these slurs are so hurtful.  As Butler states in Parting Ways, to be critical of any of the State of Israel’s policies has been turned into being an antisemite.  Leave off the table any discussion of Israel’s legitimacy, right to exist, etc., because frankly I don’t care (Israel is there, and we can’t change that.  Deal with reality, people).  Any government can be criticized for its failure to live up to its own stated goals.

I find it interesting that while her work was eventually banned in Israel for a period, initially the backlash against Eichmann was far worse in the US than it was in Israel (Haaretz was actually quite kind, at first).  It’s not all that surprising, though.  Many of the most vocal supporters of Israel tend to be from outside Israel in the Diaspora.

Here’s where I’ll probably get lambasted like Arendt herself.  Israel is a Jewish state.  Questioning everything is a Jewish tradition.  To ask questions is not to demonize.  No one has a problem with questioning the US government over its actions.  Israel should be no different.  Israel, as a relatively new state, should not want to be different in this way.

I loved this film, but it terrified me.  What if I pour all of this time and love and energy into a dissertation (and hopefully book) that explicitly states what I want it to, yet is dismissed because people assume its content rather than actually reading it?  What if it ruins my career before it even starts?

If we ask questions, but no one actually reads the questions, what’s the point?

The point is that we must ask questions, of Israel, of Palestine, of any and all governments in this world community of ours.  We must question our leaders, our public thinkers, hell, even each other.  Even if the questions anger us, enrage us, make us have to think about things we don’t want to think about.

These half-baked ideas brought to you by a complete lack of sleep.  My actual talk for tonight will be posted tomorrow.

The Impossible Pit: Satan, Hell, and Teaching With Doctor Who

For those of you who wanted to see my conference presentation, here it is in all its glory.  There’s a hiccup about 17 minutes in where my camera turned off and R. had to turn it back on.  Feel free to leave constructive feedback.  This is a shortened version of the full paper, which I am hoping to get published very soon.

ETA (01/30/2016):  If you are interested in the article (and have library access), please click here!

For forays into using comics in teaching, see my post Nerd Cred and Teaching with Ms. Marvel.

What is Life?

Sitting on our bed in our hotel room in Manchester, UK.  This probably won’t be the picture-heavy travelogue many of you were hoping for.  Don’t worry, that will come later.

After three days of traveling…

(BWI-->Heathrow-->Greater London-->Bishops Stortford-->Greater London-->Manchester)

(BWI–>Heathrow–>Greater London–>Bishops Stortford–>Greater London–>Manchester)

… much of which was on foot or cramped in a seat that even I don’t fit into, tonight has been a well-deserved respite.  Tonight, Ryan and I wandered around our tiny corner of Manchester, hitting up used book shops and ordering curry take-away.  We even hit up a Tesco’s for some beer before coming back to our room and eating our picnic of goodness on our bed (in PJs!).  Even having to put the finishing touches on my PowerPoint for tomorrow can’t mess up this good mood.

Just listened to George Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass, Volume One” while taking a long soak in an Olympic-sized tub.  Listening to George Harrison in the north of England.  How much better can it get?

OK fine, you want a picture.  Here’s a picture (completely unedited) of the fish (of the fish and chips I hear are so popular here…) we had for dinner last night:

Ryan and O. for scale. According to our host, F., we basically at “half a whale.” My stomach agreed in the best possible way.