Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Books Doing Their Own Thing

Between piano and fixing dinner and rushing out to hear the incredible Karen Abu-Zayd, I glanced down on our coffee table and had to laugh to see the pairing that someone's strewing(s) had provoked.  Underneath is Jacques Derrida's The Animal that Therefore I Am, a heady tome that was the subject of a reading group this semester that I've been too sick to attend (the book has, consequently, been following me around the house successfully inducing guilt and longing); and on top is Nick Bruel's Bad Kitty vs. Uncle Murray, a romp between a dolt and a cat. The former questions the line drawn (by philosophers of all people!) between the human and the animal from the human point of view; and the latter has a cat vehemently reassert the line between animal and human thank you very much. I can't tell you how much I mourn not being a part of that reading group - Mac and I might read the book together next summer, which I'm looking forward to, but it's not the same as sitting in a group of twelve pondering.  On the other hand, I've read Bad Kitty vs. Uncle Murray about 15 times - so there's your accomplishment for you.  The Bad Kitty That Therefore I Read.

But that unlikely juxtaposition of books is, of course, an expansive allegory. Of life in academe ("It's Tuesday, must be the Late Roman Empire!" after one's morning coffee) and elsewhere. I think of Karen AbuZayd's call for dialogue and (and this is what we talked about the most afterwards amongst ourselve) naïveté.  Can you believe that, naïveté? A woman who has worked and negotiated for refugees for over thirty years making a call for naïveté, as a necessary element to sitting down and starting a dialogue (she spent 10 years in Gaza, which only makes her statement the more remarkable).  A colleague of mine said it beautifully when she shrugged and said "It's about how you keep working in the absence of actual progress."  I love this colleague. And so I think of my students' naïveté, and my own (neither of which are productively directed, but there they are), and I've been mulling the fourth paper assignment in my Jerusalem first year seminar for about a week now, and I think I have it: I'll be working on it right after this, and it will ask them which event in the history of Jerusalem they would choose for discussion, if (the naïve part), both sides had agreed to sit down to discuss a historical event.  Since we're right before the Balfour Declaration in the syllabus, this could include a great number of events.   They were fascinated as a whole by Suleiman the Magnificent's clearing of the area around what we know today as the Western Wall, and his securing of it for Jewish worship.  An unexpected pairing, a naïve second look.


  1. The Bad Kitty That Therefore I Read: that's a book I would purchase.

    Naively, perhaps.

  2. And I just saw on facebook that I missed your wonderful birthday - now I know what I'm getting you next year! You make it really good to be back!!!