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So perhaps due to some testosterone deficiency connected with aging, I’ve found college football pretty boring in recent years. BUT I did watch much of the Alabama-Auburn “Iron Bowl” yesterday. It’s sobering to know that the location of football excellence in our country—with the exception of FG kicking—is now in the particular state of Alabama. And never before has one great coach made so many errors concerning basically less than one second of one game. It was genuinely a astonishing—because far from miraculous—ending to a quite singular contest. Fans of Ohio State and such have to admit that the only REAL national championship game would be a rematch.

To ascend to an infinitely higher level of profundity and wonder, our friend Ivan the K has written a brilliant review of the work of Chagall singularly illuminated by the particular concerns of the philosopher and Jew Leo Strauss. Here’s a taste:

It’s important to note that Chagall’s absorption of Christian memes wasn’t meant to demonstrate an infatuation with Christians, per se. In fact, he was resentful of what he saw as their passivity when confronted with incontrovertible evidence of the Holocaust. In a speech he delivered in 1944, Chagall forcefully related his consternation: “But, after two thousand years of ‘Christianity’ in the world—say whatever you like—but, with few exceptions, their hearts are silent . . . . I see the artists in Christian nations sit still—who has heard them speak up? They are not worried about themselves, and our Jewish life doesn’t concern them.”

In order to understand Chagall’s reliance upon Christian categories to universalize the plight of 20th-century Jews, it’s important to situate his own experience as a Jew within its proper historical context. Judaism struggled to fix its identity in the aftermath of the German Enlightenment, which reduced religion to one private pursuit among many. “Religion” came to be defined in Protestant terms, a private, individual enterprise with non-political but universal significance. In contrast, Judaism was traditionally typified by its public character, as a politically charged practice for a particular nation of elected people. The challenge for Jews was to divine a way to preserve their distinctive Jewishness—their ineradicable particularity—while also laying claim to universal significance. The Jewish people were charged with maintaining their status as a people set apart while simultaneously affecting their assimilation into modern society. The history of Judaism’s fractured permutations in the 19th and 20th centuries—Reform, Orthodox, Hasidism, Zionism, etc.—is the history of its attempts to square this circle and gain full admission into modernity.

There is, of course, much to be said about squaring the circle. The discouragingly ineffective use of Christian imagery to appeal to the Christian heart is touching beyond belief, as is every modern effort to understand particular persons nonpolitically or universally. For Walker Percy, it’s the invincible particularity of the Jews that remind us of the untruth of every form of modern science, of the self-denial of every form of radical assimilationism. For Strauss, being a philosopher and a Jew means, I think, having two incompatible identities. But for the Christian, the personal LOGOS allows us to think of particularity and universality to be features of the same whole, relational, but deeply non- or transpolitical person.

Anyway, thanks to Ivan, now I have reason to take Chagall seriously, despite being aesthetically challenged enough in many ways.

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