32. Greeks and Hebrews, Immanence and Transcendence:  Some Notes on the Gospel of John

In the Christmas season, an old man’s thoughts (at least this old man’s thoughts) turn to John, arguably the most incarnational of the gospels.

Most of us are used to thinking of John as the brother of James, the son of Zebedee, the disciple who leaned on Jesus’ breast at the last supper, the disciple to whom Jesus commended his mother from the cross, the disciple who was exiled for a time on the island of Patmos where he received the visions that became the book of Revelation, the disciple who lived to be 100, and, when he and the first century were both in their 90’s, wrote the fourth gospel and the letters of John. There are still scholars who believe that was all one John, though there are others who think no one person could have done that, and that there must have been two or more Johns.

But I have been setting that issue aside to focus on the Gospel of John, particularly on the first 14 verses, often called John’s Prologue. We may begin with a wide observation: that everyone who talks about a deity talks about its two aspects: how much it is like us, that is, its presence; and how much different it is from us, that is, its remoteness, its otherness.  The deity must be something like us, else how could we even talk about it? Yet it must be something other than us, else why would it be worth talking about? Its presence among us we usually call its immanence; its remoteness, we call its transcendence. (Immanence,” by the way, meaning “swelling within,” is pronounced the same as as “imminence,” meaning” about to happen,” and “eminent,” meaning “high in station.”  It’s confusing, I agree.)

Early accounts of Jesus notice that Jesus seems to embody both aspects of God. The first three gospels–the synoptics—emphasize Jesus manifesting God’s immanence, his being like us.  They talk about Jesus as man. He is born in a manger. He has a hometown. He has siblings and parents. He gets tired. He gets angry. He celebrates the Passover with his friends. He falls asleep on a boat. He sweats blood. He teaches. He has nowhere to lay his head. He stumbles carrying the cross. He thirsts.  This Jesus wears sandals.

In John, on the other hand, Jesus wears seven-league boots. Theologians say John exhibits “high Christology.” John’s gospel,  particularly in the first 14 verses, are more about Jesus manifesting as God’s unlikeness from us—His transcendence. John’s Jesus does not get tired, he does not fall asleep. He does not stumble carrying the cross, nor does he thirst. He gives discourses in which he continually refers to God as his father. In the prologue, Jesus was present with God from before time (“He was in the beginning with God”), and He was co-creator of the universe (“Through Him all things were made”), themes which are reinforced in Hebrews 4 and Colossians 1:14.

John’s unique features allow it to connect the gospel to many other things. John’s is a kind of Velcro gospel that attaches itself to anything it comes near. And it comes near to four things.

First, John connects with Genesis. By beginning his Gospel with the words “In the beginning,” John deliberately connects the life of Jesus to the book of Genesis, which begins with those same three words. And by using the Greek for Word, John calls our attention to that fact God SPOKE creation into existence then, just as now he speaks into existence the new creation, redeemed by Christ.

Second, John connects with the wisdom tradition in the Hebrew Scriptures. He uses language that resonates with those passages in the Hebrew Scriptures that talk about Wisdom. In the canonical Old Testament, the best known of those is Proverbs 8, but in the apocryphal books there are even more compelling passages in the Wisdom of Solomon, chapter 9, and the book of Ecclesiasticus chapter 24.

Third, John connects with Greek philosophy. He uses the word Logos to refer to Jesus. In Greek he says “In the beginning was the Word.” En arche en ho logos. By doing so, he connects Christ to Greek philosophy in which this word is common and crucial. Logos can mean simply word or speech, and it is often used this way in the NT. and it can also mean reason or logic. But in Greek philosophy it often has a much wider meaning, as the animating principle of the universe. In this usage, it can be found in the pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus five centuries before Christ. The Hebrew philosopher Philo, writing at the time of Christ uses it 1300 times. It is central in the philosophy of Stoicism, which was the most widespread philosophy in the Mediterranean in the first century.

This use of the word Logos in the sense of underlying principle is part of Greek passion for unity. Even before Socrates, the Greek philosophers sought for some principle or substance underlying everything. One thought it was water, one air; one thought it was flux, another thought it was love. Aristotle wrote about it as the uncaused cause or the unmoved mover. As the principle of truth, Socrates thought it was important enough to die for.

John, a Jewish fisherman living in a Greek-speaking world, saw that there were two ways deity could manifest itself. As a Jew, John knew about the Hebrew God, the personal God who DOES things, specific things.  He walks with Adam in the garden. He speaks with Moses on the Mountaintop telling he Hebrews what to do about mold in their houses and how far to put their latrines from their campsite. He speaks to the prophets in an audible voice.  He tells Moses where to strike the rock to get water. He protects and guides the Hebrews step by step. But as a Greek-speaking convert to Christianity, John also knew the God of the Greek philosophers, the principle of unity, the god that does not really DO specific things, but which, by logical necessity, undergirds and gives coherence to everything.

As a Jew, John held in one hand what he knew about Jesus of Nazareth, the immanent messiah predicted in the Hebrew scriptures. As a Greek, he held in the other hand the most compelling idea in the Greek-speaking world, the abstract principle of  unity and transcendence. He touched the two wires together at the word Logos, and it is not too much to say that through these five letters, the Hebrew Messiah fused with Greek philosophy and became something that could be passed to Augustine to the Roman world and on into the Middle Ages, and the Renaissance and to us.

On the way to Augustine it passes through the Eastern Fathers, Basil and Gregory, who were instrumental in forming the creeds, including the Nicene. That is the fourth thing John’s gospel connects to. But that is a story for another day.

 

 

31. Simone Weil and the Key of A

Some things are so painful, we know they must be good for us. For example, scales. I do them almost every day on the guitar and have for years, improving hardly at all. I know I am not the common case, that I labor under a handicap, for I have only a vague idea of where my hands are. If I close my eyes, I cannot consistently point to the same place on a page or consistently touch the same spot on my face. And my memory, never prodigious, seems to collapse when asked to remember a sequence of words if I am at the same time trying to place my fingers accurately on the fretboard. Every morning, the g-sharp in the key of A (with its variations, such as the harmonic and melodic minors) will elude me on the first three or four tries, and even if I persist until I can do a scale twice, the next day I will have to begin again almost from the beginning.

Yet I do not give up. Why?

Partly, I do it BECAUSE I am no good at it. This paradox seems so strange that I have always been reluctant even to think it, but I have recently found it eloquently expressed and defended by Simone Weil in an essay written in 1942, called “Reflections on the Right Use of School Studies with a view to the Love of God.” It appears in her book Waiting for God, with a headnote saying she wrote it for a colleague, who was teaching at a Catholic school in Montpellier.

It begins:

The Key to a Christian conception of studies is the realization that prayer consists of attention. [Studies are] the orientation toward God of all the attention of which the soul is capable. The quality of attention counts for much in the quality of prayer. Warmth of heart cannot make up for it.

Students should, therefore, learn to like all subjects, “because all of them develop that faculty of attention which, directed toward God, is the very substance of prayer.” Then comes a stunning sentence: “If we have no aptitude or natural taste for geometry, this does not mean that that our faculty for attention will not be developed by wrestling with a problem or studying a theorem. On the contrary, it is almost an advantage.”

She goes on:

Never in any case whatever is a genuine effort of the attention wasted. It always has its effect on the spiritual plane and in consequence on the lower one of the intelligence, for all spiritual light lightens the mind.

These words, if taken seriously, would almost render null and void the work I did for 40 years in the classroom, where I always helped students achieve success, partly because that was what I was being paid to do (and I was careful to pass enough of them to assure my supervisors that I was doing my job), but also because I wanted students to feel good about themselves.

But these words, which seem to so seriously undermine my vocation as a teacher, seem to pulse with life in my retirement,  when I have been given some time “to orient toward God all the attention of which I am capable.”

Weil tells a story from the Inuit tradition: “In the eternal darkness, the crow, unable to find any food, longed for light, and the earth was illumined.”

She goes on:

If there is a real desire, if the thing desired is really light, the desire for light produces it. . . Even if our efforts of attention seem for years to be producing no result, one day a light which is in exact proportion to them will flood the soul.

I am content–content beyond measure– to wait for that day and that light.

30. Blues Notes: The Music, the South, and Bringing it all back Home

 

Ever since I read Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, I’ve liked to think of travel as a pilgrimage—visiting a place where something holy (or at least something important) happened, and trying to draw strength or insight from it. We have just returned from a pilgrimage to Blues Country on the upper Mississippi Delta—three nights in Memphis, four nights in Clarksdale, Mississippi, three nights on the road. We went to hear the music, so I will say something first about that, though I have more to say later—about larger contexts.

Part I: History

I started listening to blues about the same time I started listening to jazz, in the 50’s. The few Blues albums I still have are–like my Brubeck– selections from the Columbia Record Club that I belonged to as an undergraduate. If you had asked me then why I like Blues music, I would have said, for the same reason I like jazz, and T.S Eliot, and French New Wave movies—because they are hip and cool and because my parents don’t have a clue about them, because they are the antithesis of the small-town rural culture from which I was trying to distance myself. Not good reasons, I agree, but the kind of reasons one would expect from an aspirational adolescent in the 1950’s.

I graduated with a degree in chemistry in 1959. The next 25 years went by in a kind of a blur—military service,  graduate degrees in English, marriage,  family,  career,  divorce, second marriage. The blur did not include a decent sound system. When I came up for air in the mid-80’s –and did get a decent sound system–I began with Dylan, who I had heard was very important.  I understood his first album included a lot of covers of traditional blues. Joanne and I worked through all of the Dylan then available and continue as ardent fans.

More recently, I gave her, for Mothers’ Day, Martin Scorcese’s DVD Series, Martin Scorcese Presents the Blues, which we supplemented from PBS’s American Masters, YouTube, and a few CD’s.  So we had the canon in our head, at least as names: Son House, Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, John Lee Hooker, Charley Patton, Sonny Boy Williamson, Howlin’ Wolf, and especially Mississippi John Hurt, whose technical skills seem linked to a sweet soul.

I knew “Blind Willie McTell” was among Dylan’s greatest songs, but I thought maybe he had made the name up, as he had when he recorded a few songs in the early 60’s under the name of Blind Boy Grunt.  I had even invested in a 6-CD set of recordings, called The Smith Anthology, put together in the Village in 1952 by Harry Smith, from his own collection of recordings from the 20’s and 30’s I vaguely understood that Blues had links to Africa, but that its call and response format grew from the field hollers used by slaves in the cotton fields, which was also found in black gospel music, also rooted in slavery. I understood there was a female Blues canon, more urban-based, that included Ma Rainy, Big Mama Thornton, Bessie smith, Etta James, and Billy Holiday. I had heard of Sam Cooke but about soul I had not a clue.

So I had kind of a narrative in my head, however wrong or full of gaps. I understood, vaguely, that the canonical singers were recorded in the early 40’s by Allan Lomax for Smithsonian, that those recordings gave some of those singers courage to come North in the 50’s where they played an electrified version of the Blues in Chicago and recorded with Chess Records. I understood, vaguely, that Elvis’s early recordings were covers of Black singers, so that Rock Music and all its iterations was rooted in Southern Blues tradition and that one of those early iterations was Little Richard, whose songs Dylan performed in high school.  I also understood that Dylan abandoned Rock and Roll to become a folk singer when he started college in 1959. I understood that Dylan and his folk-singer friends in the Village in the 60’s were drawing on the rural Blues, combining it with Songs from Appalachian ballad tradition that had come originally from England and Scotland, that had been collected in the early 1800’s as The Childe Ballads, that I had studied in graduate school as part of the Romantic Movement.

I understood that some of the canonical singers were rediscovered in the 60’s and brought north to perform at the Newport Folk Festival, where Dylan performed in 63, 64, and 65. Before we left, we had read Griel Marcus’s Like a Rolling Stone: Bob Dylan at the Crossroads, which attempts to tell the story of five decades of American history through the lens of one song. On the way down, driving though Illinois, we listened to an audio book, Sean Wilentz’s ‘s excellent Bob Dylan in America, which sets Dylan’s work in a dozen different contexts, from  American Marxism, to slavery, to rock and roll. (To be continued.)

 

29. Stalking the Modern II. Definitions

The Modern Part II.

Definition: The Three Axes

Don’t worry, I am not talking about chopping wood, though before I am done we may both wish I were.  I mean the other kind of axes, the plural of axis, pronounced axe-ease. 

We are looking here at a belief system called modernity, as a name given to the growing influence of science as a basis for our worldview or conceptual model, or source of our deepest assumptions.  Modernity took hold among educated persons in the 1600’s, gathered strength in the ensuing 200 years, and is the reigning worldview today.

Let me define modernity a little more specifically, by positing three continuums: matter, purpose, and morals.

With regard to matter, one can imagine at one end of a continuum—let us arbitrarily say the left end— people who assume that the basic stuff of the universe has the quality of idea or spirit; on the right end are those for whom the basic stuff of the universe is some inanimate material substance, such as atoms.Those on the right generally call themselves materialists.

With regard to purpose, one can imagine at the left end of a continuum people who believe that processes and entities are being “puled” to some end, presumably good; at the right end are those who assume that things have no purpose in themselves but are being blindly “pushed” by forces or laws which can be described mechanically and which have evolved as a necessary part of existence, without any help from a divine mind. Those on the right generally call themselves naturalists.

With regard to morality, one can imagine at one end of a continuum the belief that there are in some sense standards of right and wrong which are ultimately enforced by some supernatural agency; at the other end are those who doubt absolute standards or any supernatural reinforcing agency, though they might be willing to say that some behaviors are more expedient or helpful than others. Those on the right would generally call themselves—or consent to be called by others—moral relativists.

Views to the left on these continuums we may call pre-modern; views to the right we may call modern. In general, people at the left end of these three continuums are comfortable with some idea of God, most generally the Judeo-Christian God. Those on the right will be inclined to more skeptical religious views, though not always.

Simply put, in 1600, there were more literate people on the left side of these three continuums than on the right. By 1700, there were more literate persons to the modern right than on the pre-modern left. This is generally credited to Copernicus, Galileo and Kepler in the early 1600’s and to Newton later in the century. To be more specific, In 1610, Galileo proposed a non-geocentric universe; In 1687, Newton published the Principia. Almost any intellectual historian you can find will tell you these people delivered a body-blow to the pre-modern world view, a blow reinforced by Darwin in the 19th century and Freud in the 20th. As the shift is usually analyzed, Copernicus, Darwin and Freud successively disconnected us from our place at the center of a divine mystery, giving us, in compensation, a sense—some would say a false sense—of power over our own destiny.

In less than 150 years,  whole civilization shifted its intellectual foundation. Some thinkers, mainly scientists, found this liberating.  Others, mainly poets, were less sanguine and found eloquent phrases to say so. In 1611, John Donne wrote, “The new philosophy calls all in doubt,” and in 1849 Alfred Tennyson, wrote, “The stars she whispers, blindly run.” Others, such as Thomas Browne, a 17th century medical doctor, gave voice to eloquent ambiguity.  The same sort of cheerleading and ambiguity can be found today. The whole thing  is endlessly fascinating, but I am particularly interested in the impact the shift has on individuals, particularly one, myself.

The fact is, a normal boy growing up in a small mountain town in the middle of the 20th century, in a religious home, and leaving home to study chemistry at a state college, can experience the same shift of intellectual foundation. The next post will talk more about that.   

28. Stalking the Modern I. Preface. Things Hard and Glittering

I may not have a wooden leg, but for sixty years I have been hunting a White Whale called The Modern. That is, I have been looking, in my way, for some larger context into which I could put intellectual yearnings having to do with The Modern. Modern is my Secret Word. No one philosopher has quite given me the tools or vocabulary to do this, though a German philosopher named Jurgan Habermas seems promising.

But more of that anon. First, let me try to articulate some persistent yearnings since I believe that all philosophical quests, whether culturally significant (e.g. Wittgenstein, St. Paul) or trivial (e.g. Slanger) are rooted in personal experience. In my case, that experience was listening to Paul Brubeck’s music, in1955, in Bozeman, MT, in Gene Shumacher’s dorm room on a (for the time) high end stereo system he had built himself. Paul Brubeck was a jazz pianist and composer, only recently deceased, at the age of 92. Over a 60-year career, he played and recorded, frequently with an alto saxophonist, Paul Desmond, who composed and arranged some of Brubeck’s most famous songs, including “Take Five.” I am sure Gene Shumacher played vinyl LP’s, but I must have bought the same music on 45 RPM records I could play at home on a little record player my parents bought in Great Falls, MT, in 1954. In the summer of 1956, after my freshman year at college, I played those songs over and over, especially, “Take the A-Train.” Paul Desmond’s opening sequence is embedded in mind about as deeply as anything can be.

I cannot give a name to just what Brubeck awakened in me, but it had to do with freedom, with breaking out of what in my adolescence, I considered a confining rural existence into something cosmopolitan, difficult, exclusive worldly, exotic and up-to-date, which is the root meaning of the word: Latin modo, “just now.”  In my mind, things modern were hard and glittering and I was drawn them like a crow.

A year or two later, I began to read T.S. Eliot, and in due course the rest of the modernists—Ezra Pound, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Stevens, James Joyce, Lawrence, Katherine Mansfield—and a little later, the Beats—Burroughs, Ginsberg, Kerouac. Reading was a hieratic experience, being initiated into a mystery. I heard of other names and picked their books as they crossed my path—Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Sartre, Camus. I gathered that these authors were part of a larger movement that also included Picasso and Stravinsky and that this larger movement was called Modernism, a kind of cultural fever that began in the late 19th century in France with impressionist painting and symbolist poetry and crested in the 1920’s with those authors who lit up my skies in the 1950’s.

I was a chemistry major at the time, and I associated these authors with science, which was also cosmopolitan (or at least international), exotic, hieratic, exclusive, just-now—in short, hard and glittering. So the works of T.S. Eliot and the periodic table became my twin shining stars. Beside them, the rich brocade of Anglicanism in which I had been raised seemed a pale thing, and I declared my liberation from it, along with as much of my cultural inheritance as I decently could.

So it is clear that my gratitude toward these twin stars was partly, or even largely, adolescent rebellion. I was drawn to these things because my they were not part of my parents’ world. I was lucky; ten years later, my rebellion might have come with a side of psychedelic drugs.

Over the years, the rebellion eased, as adolescent rebellions tend to do. But I never lost my curiosity about Things Modern. I learned that for some writers modernism is interchangeable with modernity, which usually meant a scientific worldview that began in the 16th century with Galileo, continued in the 17th century with Descarte, and crested in the 18th century, with Voltaire and Locke. When the term post-modernism came on my radar screen  toward the end of my teaching career, I read about that too, thinking that if I got a clear definition of that term, I could work backward to a clear definition of Modernism. That never happened, or perhaps is just beginning to happen.

My attempts to chart the landscape of German Idealism in blogs 18,19, 21, 22, 23, along with my notes on Kierkegaard (blog 25) are part of this larger enterprise, which I am compelled, like Ahab, to continue. I expect my quest will end better than his, certainly less dramatically. I have no Melville to tell my tale, so mine cannot be as interesting. I do not expect many people to sign on, though you are free to wave now and then as you see me sailing by.

27. On Belief I

As the political advertising reaches its pitch (and when doesn’t it?), people ask each other what they believe and try to persuade others to believe as they do. I cannot remember ever changing my mind in response to this advertising, but I have asked, so why DO people believe what they do? And the related questions: How do we talk to people who believe differently that we do? Can we “help” believing what we do? How and why do we change our mind?

So far as I know, no one has been able to predict anyone’s belief about anything about which people disagree: ice cream, politics, space aliens, God. People in the same peer group or who have common backgrounds will tend to agree about things, but they won’t always. There is always a margin of randomness. There must be more than logic, for even logicians disagree. 

A friend has a wonderful take on this, which has led me to a clearer idea about it.

He says that he used to say to himself, “ I believe what I know to be true.” But then he realized that none of us know very much, and to limit himself to what he knew would be silly. So he reframed his thought to,  “I believe what I HOPE  to be true.”  There are some loopholes there, but it acknowledges a deep truth: that what we WANT to believe is more important than what we DO believe. What we do believe blows with the wind. Even Leonard Cohen says, “I don’t trust inner feelings. Inner feelings come and go.” But hopes can be shaped by reason into something more permanent, something that can be a beacon to guide one’s action over the long haul. 

In response I tried to come up with a similar statement of my own. The result as something more “priestly” than I might have expected, given the fact that I am no longer serving at altar, and that my calling to the priesthood was always  conditioned  by the needs of the local parish. What I came up with was: “I hope to believe what the Church, at its best, has always taught.” That is, I accept that the Church has it right when it teaches that a loving God made a good world that has gone wrong, but that God intervened in history to give us access to ways we can use to make it more like it was intended, until one day when it will be set right, finally and irrevocably and in unimaginable ways.

These ways are written about in the most mysterious and profound and troubling book I have ever read, and I have read many books.  I do not understand much of what the Bible  says, despite having read it through every year for many years and studied it with many commentaries. But I know that when I turned my attention to scripture my life improved, and so I keep my face in that direction, aided by the light of some of  best minds of the Western world, thinking hard for 20 centuries. There are many questions I cannot answer, and I will not force myself to premature answers that give no comfort. But I will abide in confidence that when answers are forthcoming, they will come from that direction.

26. On Getting Ready to Read Phillip Roth

I am about the same age as the distinguished American novelist, Phillip Roth. We were both born in the 1930’s, after the crash but before the war. He published his first book, Goodbye Columbus, in 1959, the year I graduated from college with my degree in chemistry. I read it about 1965, after my military service, after my conversion to an English major, about the time I started my teaching career.

The title novella and the short stories were all about urban, non-practicing Jews about my age, doing things I was doing:serving in the military, falling in love. But his characters–and by extension Roth himself–seemed to have access to a wise sadness that made me vaguely wish that I had been born Jewish. Jewish writers still do that to me.

Roth’s career took off when he published Portnoy’s Complaint 1969. I read it soon after that, when I was starting my graduate studies at the University of Washington.I knew what do with pornography, but I didn’t quite know what to do with funny, literate pornography. I still don’t. I put Portnoy on my list of books not to reread, but I followed Roth’s career from a safe distance, aware that he had updated Kafka with a novel about a man who becomes a breast, and that he had written a series of novels based on life of an alter ego named Nathan Zuckerman.

A recent episode of American Masters renewed my interest, so I have been reading Roth, reading about Roth, seeing and remembering movies based on his books.

I rented a movie called Elegy, based on a Zuckerman novel called The Dying Animal, in which a professor, played by Ben Kingsley, sleeps with his beautiful student, played by Penelope Cruz. Brilliant performances by both actors still don’t quite convince me that this relationship is as profound and poignant as Roth thinks it is. (I have the same reaction to Woody Allan’s Manhattan every time I watch it, but I keep watching, to see the great Manhattan shots and to hear the wonderful speech about reasons not to commit suicide.) Then I realized that a movie I had seen some months ago, called The Human Stain, was based on a Zuckerman novel. In the movie, Anthony Hopkins plays an aging professor who sleeps with a young slut, played by Nicole Kidman. Hopkins is wonderful as always, and Kidman does an alluring slut, but male fantasy trips are still male fantasy trips even when written up by gifted novelists and filmed with gifted actors.

I read The Breast, or some of it. I read the lack-luster memoir by Claire Bloom, the distinguished British actress and Roth’s second wife. I read a non-Zuckerman novel, called Nemesis, about a polio epidemic in New York in the 40‘s, with nary an aging professor or Young Thing in sight–so he can do that. But I was still trying to see what this Zuckerman thing was all about, so I read Exit Ghost, which Roth’s publisher says may be his last Zuckerman novel. In this one, yet another literate, aging writer imagines seducing a yet another beautiful young writer. He HAS to imagine it, since he has been rendered impotent and incontinent by a prostate operation, which conditions are described in tender and compelling ways.

But reading Exit Ghost, a funny thing happened. I found myself speed reading the seduction scenes but lingering over the novels’ setting, which is America after George W. Bush’s re-election in 2003. Then came the epiphany: Roth’s real gift is not for writing about age-inappropriate sex, but for social history.

Roth has the perfect ear for the apocalyptic language of professorial liberals, though I understand he can do the same for conservative cries of despair. But he has a gift also for the calming perspective. Let me quote you one passage where the aging Zuckerman is trying to console the obligatory Young Thing, who in the wake of the Bush victory is threatening to leave the country—or, what is worse from her point of view—quit writing. Zuckerman thinks:

All the things I thought to tell her would likely strike her as cant. I thought to [say], It’s amazing how much punishment we can take. I thought to say, If in America you think like you do, nine times out of ten times you fail. I thought to say, I’t’s bad but not like waking up in the morning after Pearl Harbor was bombed. It’s bad, but not like waking up in the morning after Kennedy was shot. It’s bad, but not like waking up the morning after Martin Luther King was shot. It’s bad, but not like waking up the morning after the Kent State students were shot. I thought to say, We have all been through it. But I said nothing. She didn’t want words anyway. She wanted murder.

So I think I’m ready to read Roth: I Married a Communist for its insights into McCarthy era, American Pastoral for its account of domestic terrorism in the 1960’s, Indignation for the Korean War. And so on. And if I don’t like the sex scenes, I can just skip them.