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Twenty years later: The Men Who Still Love “Fight Club” — and Adam Driver: “What do you mean, ‘toxic masculinity’?” he asked.

4 Nov

“They also talk about the appeal of joining a band of brothers united by purpose.”

Screen Shot 2019-11-05 at 12.09.00 AM.pngDavid Fincher’s “Fight Club,” from 1999, has become a focal point for the exploration of postmodern masculinity, white-male resentment, consumerism, and gender relationships.   Photograph from 20th Century Fox / Everett

It’s pretty amazing how many guys I know that still love this film and how many women I know that are totally freaked out by it.

Adam Driver on Girls might be the closest to a Tyler for the 2010s we have.  I have to admit that I find Lena Dunham more than just a little irritating, but Girls was frankly a television masterpiece.  There was a real yummy irony to it — an annoying millenial like Dunham, brilliantly portraying annoying millenials.  And without an excess of snark.  I hate these generational labels, but I have to admit that the kids we call millenials seem to have a real heart as opposed to the insufferable irony of Gen-X.  (Or what an asinine Toby Miller, a cinema professor at NYU — spiked peroxide hair though he was pushing 50, black leather everything, and an atrocious Australian accent — once called a class of late boomers I was in: “post-modern brats in black”; I remember we almost all looked at each other and mumbled to ourselves: “Look who’s talking…”).  But Girls had that heart.  The characters were real people.  And they loved and cared: about things, about society, their families, about art and about each other.  They had real emotions.

Of course what first hooked me onto the series was the character Adam.  And I remember that I immediately thought from the first episode that he was a Fight Club Tyler for the 2010s.  I was shocked, frankly, and delighted, that at the dawn of the #MeToo movement and the sudden epidemic of “toxic masculinity” everywhere, that mainstream television was putting out a character that was an unapologetic vessel for male independence and uncastratable libido; he was strong, independent, proud, fit, knew what he wanted, went for it when he saw it, knew his heart and knew when to give it and when to protect it, and though deeply soulful, was completely unpussywhipable by any woman, even one he loved as deeply as Dunham’s character, Hannah.

I couldn’t believe that a twenty-something Dunham had written such a character and was totally getting away with it in 2012.  Adam Driver’s actual personality had a lot to do with it, so I’m grateful to both of them.  And it’s weird.  Something is going on in the cosmos, the Jungian in me says.  (Maybe it’s an #anti-metoo backlash, still socially semi-conscious as of yet, but you can bet it’ll be ugly when it zeitgeit-surfaces).  Because this Fightclub article was put out by the New Yorker EXACTLY one week after the Adam Driver profile they did.  And I’m cheating and posting both below.

Screen Shot 2019-11-05 at 12.44.53 AM

Adam Driver

The whole NYer article below, for what it’s worth.  The topic needed a much more substantive and longer treatment.

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The Men Who Still Love “Fight Club”

The first sign that “Fight Club” might inspire men to do anything other than quote “Fight Club” on their Facebook walls came in the mid-two-thousands, with the rise of the “seduction community.” These were groups of men searching together—sometimes in live seminars, but increasingly via online Listservs—for an objectively reliable set of techniques that would maximize their chances of getting women in bed. These groups had existed below the cultural radar for decades, well before “Fight Club.” In 2005, they received a new level of attention when Neil Strauss published “The Game,” a memoir/investigation about his time living in an Los Angeles group house devoted to the refinement of seduction techniques. Strauss attempted to engineer his own transformation from, in the lexicon of his housemates, “AFC” (average frustrated chump) to “PUA” (pickup artist) to “PUG” (pickup guru). Though the book ended with him taking a critical view of the PUA experience, its publication—plus a wave of bemused media coverage—brought new legions of curious men to pickup artistry and, by extension, to a world view that framed interactions between men and women as a scientifically hackable quest for maximum sex with minimal emotional investment.

In the years that followed, I became a regular lurker on message boards not just in the PUA world but also across the networks of male resentment to which pickup artistry frequently functioned as a gateway drug: “men’s rights” activists, the anti-feminist hive called the Red Pill, incels, the amorphous “alt-right.” Browsing through this world, I saw “Fight Club” references and offhand worship of Brad Pitt’s character, Tyler Durden, all the time. Tyler is an alpha male who does what he wants and doesn’t let anyone stand in his way; “Fight Club,” then, was a lesson in what you had to do to stop being a miserable beta like the film’s other main character, a frustrated white-collar office worker played by Edward Norton.

There was little discussion on these boards of how Tyler is ultimately revealed to be a hallucination who exists only in the Norton character’s mind: a projection cooked up by his subconscious to yank him out of an existential malaise of alienating corporate work, condo payments, and IKEA catalogues. In the final scene, Norton’s character “kills” Tyler, implicitly recognizing—and picking—a path between mindless middle-class consumerism and the nihilistic will to power of the terrorist. This act is crucial to the movie’s most articulate defenders: proof that “Fight Club” functions as a critique of Tyler, not a valorization. But when I saw this element of the film acknowledged online, it was usually presented as a thematic flaw, or a sop to the demands of big-studio moviemaking. No one was naming himself after Norton’s character. In fact, Norton’s character doesn’t have a name.

Over the summer, I talked about the enduring influence of “Fight Club” with Harris O’Malley, who runs a dating-advice Web site called Paging Dr. NerdLove. O’Malley offers dating advice “to geeks of all stripes”: relationship tips geared toward fans of video games, comic books, sci-fi, and the like, formulated with an eye toward steering people away from the appeal of PUA-type misogynistic snake oil. In the e-mails he receives and the one-on-one coaching sessions that he gives, O’Malley told me that “Fight Club” comes up so regularly that he has come to expect it. A lot of people who contact him for advice, he says, are “young disaffected men who feel they’ve done everything they were told to do, but nothing is happening. And it’s slowly starting to dawn on them that the rewards they were promised are never going to appear, certainly not in the way they were promised. ‘Fight Club’ and ‘The Matrix’ seem to provide a lot of meaning. They’re both about social malaise, and they’re both about people waking up.”

In one of the most-quoted scenes of “Fight Club,” Tyler bemoans the sunken fate of masculinity in late capitalism:

Man, I see in Fight Club the strongest and smartest men who’ve ever lived. I see all this potential, and I see it squandered. Goddammit! An entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables, slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need. We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our great war is a spiritual war. Our Great Depression is our lives. We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires and movie gods and rock stars—but we won’t. We’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.

In theory, O’Malley said, “Fight Club” was a cautionary tale about where the adrenaline rush of “waking up” can take you. Tyler starts by preaching empowerment and authenticity but ends up sowing violence and terror, demanding cult-like subservience from the men he claims to be liberating. Despite this, O’Malley said, “I do meet a lot of people who feel like they should be more like Tyler.” They also talk about the appeal of joining a band of brothers united by purpose. “Fincher does his job too well,” O’Malley said. “He sells why it was tempting to fall for the cult of Tyler. But he doesn’t quite show the horror of where that gets you. Or, for some people, that’s not the part of the movie that sticks.”

Recently, when I checked out Palahniuk’s novel from my local library, the librarian, a woman in her thirties, visibly struggled to hide her displeasure. She had bad memories, she explained, of an ex-boyfriend who badgered her not just to watch the movie and read the book but also to acknowledge its genius. Experiences like these seem to be fairly widespread, and are referred to often on social media. Of course, “Fight Club” (both the book and the movie) has its share of female fans. But it’s also a symbol for certain insistent myopias of masculinity. The story has just one female character of any significance: Marla Singer (portrayed in the film by Helena Bonham Carter). The nameless narrator pines for Marla, though we never see him getting to know her well; Tyler uses her for acrobatic sex followed by emotional neglect. What does it mean for a man to tell his girlfriend that this, of every movie in the world, is his favorite, or the one with the most to say about gender today? Among women who get in touch with Dr. NerdLove, O’Malley told me, “It’s kind of, like, Yeah, if his favorite author is Bret Easton Ellis, his favorite movie is ‘Fight Club,’ and he wants to talk about Bitcoin or Jordan Peterson—these are all warning signs.”

Over the summer, I had a series of phone calls with “Fight Club” enthusiasts: the type of superfans with “Fight Club” tattoos and pets named after “Fight Club” characters. In my conversations with this completely unscientific sample of men with fierce attachments to the film, their focus was overwhelmingly on the movie’s first act: on the nameless protagonist’s sense of ennui and adriftness; his mistaken assumption that endless work hours or the purchases that they enabled him to make will bring him meaning; his intertwined currents of emptiness and longing. One man described how “Fight Club” helped him toward the realization that he didn’t have to work all the time, and didn’t have to worry so much about what other people thought about his life choices. Another talked about how the movie helped motivate him to specialize in existentialism when he pursued a master’s degree in psychology—and, eventually, to write and self-publish a novel about a bitter office worker who, instead of joining Project Mayhem, goes into therapy. At first, the office worker hates therapy, but eventually his sessions help him work his way to a new level of honesty about the disconnect between what he wants from the (imperfect, inherently limiting) world and how he is actually living.

To my mind, stories like these—stories of men driven to take some ownership of their fate, but without seeking out opportunities to inflict pain on others—are more interesting and vital than anything in “Fight Club.” But how many people would want to watch these stories? Sitting in the theatre watching “Joker,” I felt only despair. The movie presents us with Arthur Fleck, a mentally ill social outcast—a white man, perhaps inevitably—so neglected and maltreated by the world that his recourse to violence is all but guaranteed. If jumping from one movie to another were possible, he would be a great candidate for Project Mayhem. But, just as “Fight Club” admits that Project Mayhem is a misguided bridge too far without showing more than a sliver of interest in alternatives, “Joker” presents a world so broken that a nihilistic, existential lashing out—coupled with a hateful grin for the world that forced your hand—has become the only way for a lost man to assert his humanity. By the end of October, “Joker” was already the world’s highest-grossing R-rated theatrical release of all time.

  • Peter C. Baker is a writer based in Chicago and a contributing editor at Pacific Standard magazine.

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Adam Driver, the Original Man

Why so many directors want to work with Hollywood’s most unconventional lead.

Colleagues view Driver as a throwback to the off-center movie stars of the seventies. “Game respects game,” Spike Lee observed.

Photograph by Richard Burbridge for The New Yorker

When white phosphorus touches skin, it can burn through to the bone. As the particles ignite, they emit a garlic-like odor and melt everything in their path. Adam Driver, Marine lance corporal, 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, Weapons Company, 81st Platoon, was aware of these effects when he looked up at the California sky, during a drill exercise, one day in 2003, and saw a cloud of white phosphorus exploding above his head. The only thing to do was run.

Driver had joined the Marine Corps the previous year, when he was eighteen. After high school, he’d been renting a room in the back of his family’s house, in Mishawaka, Indiana, and mowing the grass at a 4-H fairgrounds. He had vague ambitions of being an actor and had auditioned for Juilliard, in Manhattan, because he knew that it didn’t check grades. When he was rejected, he decided to go to Los Angeles and try to make it in the movies. He packed up his 1990 Lincoln Town Car with his minifridge, his microwave, and everything else he owned, and said goodbye to his girlfriend. “It was a whole event,” he recalled recently. “Like, ‘I don’t know when we’ll see each other again. Our love will find a way.’ And then: ‘Bon voyage, small town! Hollywood, here I come!’ ”

His car broke down outside Amarillo, Texas, and he spent nearly all his money fixing it. When he got to L.A., he stayed at a hostel for two nights and paid a real-estate agent to help him find an apartment (“A total fucking scam”). He walked around the beach in Santa Monica, calculated that the two hundred dollars he had left was enough for gas money, and drove back to Mishawaka, where he got his job with the 4-H back. He’d been gone a week. “It was all just embarrassing,” he said. “I felt like a fucking loser.”

After 9/11, he found himself filled with a desire for retribution, although he wasn’t sure against what or whom. “It wasn’t against Muslims,” he said. “It was: We were attacked. I want to fight for my country against whoever that is.” His stepfather, a Baptist minister, had given him a brochure for the Marines, which he’d thrown in the trash. But now he reconsidered. He craved a physical challenge, and the marines were tough. “They kind of got me with their whole ‘We don’t give you signing bonuses. We’re the hardest branch of the armed forces. You’re not going to get all this cushy shit that the Navy or the Army gives you. It’s going to be hard.’ ” His decision to enlist was so abrupt that a military recruiter asked if he was running from the law.

He was sent to a processing center in Indianapolis for a physical exam, then to the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego, for boot camp. The first night, the recruits lined up to get their heads shaved. A guy four spots ahead of Driver had a mole on his scalp which got shaved off, leaving him bleeding and screaming. Driver was six feet three and lanky, with squinty eyes, a beaky nose, and ears that stuck straight out. Another recruit, Martinez, also had big ears, and he and Driver were nicknamed Ears No. 1 and Ears No. 2. Basic training was as gruelling as it was in the movies. “I was allowed one call, and my parents weren’t home,” Driver recalled, “so I didn’t talk to anybody for a long time.”

After two and a half months, he was sent to Camp Pendleton, in Southern California, where he trained as a mortarman. In one exercise, he and another trainee had to pound a nerve on each other’s thigh until it was numb. “That’s kind of what the Marine Corps is like,” Driver said. “They’ll just keep hitting it until it’s numb. Until you conform.”

During a simulated battle scenario, the mortarmen were to drive Humvees into a valley and fire mortars at a distant target, to be designated by a white-phosphorus explosion. In a screwup, the phosphorus exploded not over the target but over the men. Driver heard a boom overhead. Luckily, the wind was blowing, so the toxic plumes wafted a bit, and the marines sprinted to safety.

Later, as Driver was collecting himself at the barracks, he thought about the two things that he really wanted to do in life, and he vowed to do them. One was to smoke cigarettes. The other was to be an actor.

Driver, who is thirty-five, was telling me this story one morning in June, at an industrial-chic trattoria in Dumbo, over a lemon herbal tea. To help me picture the scene, he positioned a saltshaker to represent the target. His phone was the panicked mortarmen.

A tattooed waiter came by for our order, and Driver, who lives nearby, in Brooklyn Heights, chose scrambled eggs with spinach. He said that he smoked cigarettes for a few years after the white-phosphorus incident but quit, more or less, in his twenties. The acting thing stuck. In 2012, he got his big break on HBO’s “Girls,” playing Adam Sackler, a mysterious weirdo whom Lena Dunham’s character, Hannah Horvath, visits for booty calls. The character, a peripheral one at first, became central. Adam Sackler was an odd specimen of boy: as big as a tree trunk yet affected in his tastes, particularly sexual ones. In one episode, he masturbates as Hannah berates him, demanding money for cab fare, pizza, and gum. It took seven episodes before he appeared outside his apartment. When Hannah spots him at a party in Bushwick and announces, “That’s Adam,” her friend Jessa deadpans, “He does sort of look like the original man.”

The same year, Driver had a small part in Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln,” as a telegraph operator. (He studied Morse code for the role.) I remember being jarred by his presence in the film: What’s the pervy hipster from “Girls” doing in the nineteenth century? But Driver has a range and an intensity that have transformed him into one of Hollywood’s most unconventional leading men. In just six years, he has worked with an astonishing roster of directors: Spike Lee, Martin Scorsese, Jim Jarmusch, Steven Soderbergh, the Coen brothers. Scorsese, who cast him as a seventeenth-century Jesuit priest, in “Silence,” told me that he was impressed by Driver’s “seriousness, his dedication, his understanding of what we were trying to do.” When I asked Lee, who directed Driver last year in his Oscar-nominated performance in “BlacKkKlansman,” why directors were drawn to him, he said, “There’s a very simple answer: game respects game.”

Driver has the bearing of a self-effacing vulture and a face like an Easter Island statue. (Not since Anjelica Huston has a movie star so embodied the concept of jolie laide.) Despite his stolid presence, his characters are often thwarted and befuddled—high-strung alpha males driven by an ancient code of valor but tripped up by contemporary frustrations, like a Cro-Magnon man airdropped into Bed-Stuy and handed the wrong person’s latte. Jarmusch, who cast Driver as a poetry-writing bus driver, in “Paterson,” and as a hapless police officer who fights zombies, in “The Dead Don’t Die,” pointed to his “unusual usualness.” Directors love his peculiar contradictions and his syncopated speech. (When the trailer for “The Dead Don’t Die” was released, in April, the Internet went briefly gaga over his elongated pronunciation of the word “ghouls.”) “He’s very disciplined, and yet he can be absolutely goofy,” Terry Gilliam, who directed Driver in “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote,” told me. Soderbergh cast him in the heist comedy “Logan Lucky” after seeing him on “Girls.” “He seemed to be operating with some different kind of compass,” Soderbergh said. “His physicality, his speech rhythms were all unexpected and yet totally organic. You didn’t feel like he was putting on a show or that it was mannered. He just seemed to be from another universe.”

In 2013, a column in Variety posited that Hollywood was suffering from a “Leading Man Crisis.” George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and Will Smith were all middle-aged, and few younger actors seemed poised to take their place. But, six years later, there appears to be no shortage of leading men. Hollywood is awash in sad-eyed brooders (Ryan Gosling, Jake Gyllenhaal), muscled he-men (Channing Tatum, Dwayne Johnson), sophisticated gents (Benedict Cumberbatch, Eddie Redmayne), high-spirited underdogs (Michael B. Jordan, Ryan Reynolds), bug-eyed misfits (Rami Malek, Jared Leto), and the interchangeable hunks known as the Chrises: Evans, Hemsworth, Pine, and Pratt.

Driver doesn’t fit any of these molds. In some ways, he’s a throwback to the off-center movie stars of the seventies—Dustin Hoffman, Al Pacino, Jack Nicholson—who blurred the line between matinée idol and character actor and infused their roles with a sense of alienation and neurosis. Next month, he stars in two films, each as a man navigating a tortuous modern maze. In Noah Baumbach’s “Marriage Story,” he plays a theatre director whose divorce from an actress (played by Scarlett Johansson) turns into a nightmarish, yet totally ordinary, ordeal. In “The Report,” directed by Scott Z. Burns, he plays the former Senate staffer Daniel J. Jones, who spent years investigating the C.I.A.’s use of torture in the war on terror, only to be stymied by Washington bureaucracy. Soderbergh, who produced “The Report,” told me, of Driver, “He just radiates obsession, and that is what ‘The Report’ needed above anything else: somebody that you believed would willingly lock himself in a room for five years to perform a task that may or may not end up being relevant or even known.”

Then there’s the “Star Wars” reboot, in which Driver plays Kylo Ren, an interplanetary warlord who can’t seem to live up to the infamy of his grandfather Darth Vader. During the course of the trilogy, which wraps up with “The Rise of Skywalker,” in December, Driver has managed to transpose the wounded virility of his twenty-first-century characters to the saga’s galactic scale. (The comedian Josh Gondelman recently said that he empathized with Kylo Ren, “the only ‘Star Wars’ villain who can correctly rank all the best Death Cab for Cutie albums.”) Kylo Ren is the J. Alfred Prufrock of space: a self-conscious poseur, needled by his own insecurities. J. J. Abrams, who cast Driver in the role, said, “Kylo Ren feels like he hasn’t arrived. Even as he becomes supreme leader, he is wanting. It’s like anyone you know who thinks that, when he arrives where he’s going, he will feel fulfilled. For Kylo, the hole only gets bigger.”

Baumbach, who has directed Driver in four films, once heard him call acting a “benign rebellion.” He told me, “It does accurately describe what he does so beautifully, because he’s both serving the role and the story and the director, and at the same time always looking for other things and pushing back.” Baumbach first cast Driver in a small role, in “Frances Ha,” as a hipster in a porkpie hat. One of his lines was: “Amazing.” “The way Adam says it is like a song: ‘Ah-ma-zinnggg,’ ” Baumbach said. “I always think of that word that way now.”

When I asked Driver about “benign rebellion,” he said, “Sometimes you have to shock yourself out of your rhythm.” I first met him one evening this summer, in his dressing room at the Hudson Theatre, where he was starring in a Broadway revival of Lanford Wilson’s 1987 drama “Burn This.” He was playing Pale, a boorish, coke-addled restaurant manager who bursts into the apartment of his late brother, Robbie, and begins an unlikely affair with the brother’s dancer roommate, played by Keri Russell. “This supposedly was Ethel Barrymore’s dressing room at some point,” Driver said, wearing a Naval Base Coronado hat. “But I can’t prove that.”

On the table was a poetry collection by Sharon Olds, which his wife, the actor Joanne Tucker, had given him as an opening-night gift. He showed me a few favorite lines, in which Olds envisages her parents as college students and yearns to stop them from making the mistake of their marriage, but relents: “I want to live. I / take them up like the male and female / paper dolls and bang them together / at the hips, like chips of flint, as if to / strike sparks from them, I say, / Do what you are going to do, and I will tell about it.”

“The language is so great,” Driver said, as he shovelled down a burrito bowl. “Striking sparks between two things—it’s kind of similar to plays. That’s it, right? You have an experience and then you go tell about it in your work.” “Burn This” was more taxing than he had anticipated. Unlike with “Angels in America,” in which Driver appeared Off Broadway, in 2011, he couldn’t let the language take him where he needed to go: “It’s very much about everything that they’re not talking about, which is the death of Robbie and the grief, you know?”

Driver is protective of his process and of the enigmas of acting, but he agreed to let me watch his preshow routine, of which the burrito bowl was the first step. When he finished eating, he went into the bathroom and put his head under a running faucet, while we talked about movies. “Have you ever seen ‘The Miracle Worker’?” he said mid-dunk. “There’s a scene with Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke where they’re just beating the hell out of each other. Fucking one of the best scenes in film. That’s a non sequitur.” He squirted gel into his hand and smeared it into his shaggy black hair. “With this play, I’ve been really going to town on this shit. I think you’re only supposed to use a handful, but I fucking plow this stuff on.”

As he blow-dried his hair, he talked about his taste for Danish-modern chairs; he and Tucker have a knockoff Hans Wegner, and he joked that if he weren’t an actor he might have been a furniture-maker. He sat in front of a mirror and wound a bandage around his right hand. (When Pale first appears, he’s been hurt in a bar fight.) “This bandage for some reason is the part that gives me the most anxiety,” Driver said. “There’s a lot of trial and error over what is the right amount of blood. And the bandage cuts off circulation, so by the time I’m done my fingers are purple.” He drew a red trickle on his knuckle with a marker. Then he traced over it in brown. “It’s not a fresh wound,” he reasoned. “It’s, like, an hour or two hours old.”

He stood up. “Now I’ll brush my teeth, because I have to kiss Keri,” he said. On the couch was a piece of fan art he had received at the stage door. During “Girls,” strangers would often share details about their sex lives with him. (One guy stopped him in the subway and said, “I love that scene where you pee on her in the shower,” then turned to his girlfriend and said, fondly, “I pee on her all the time.”) But “Star Wars” has made him uncomfortably famous. “This one woman who has been harassing my wife came to the show and gave me a creepy wood carving that she made of my dog,” he said. He and Tucker have a young son, whose birth they kept hidden from the press for two years, in what Driver called “a military operation.” Last fall, after Tucker’s sister, who was launching a peacoat business, accidentally made her Instagram account public and someone noticed the back of his son’s head in one picture, the news wound up on Page Six. Driver stretched his foot on a foam roller and lamented his loss of privacy. “My job is to be a spy—to be in public and live life and have experience. But, when you feel like you’re the focus, it’s really hard to do that.”

He lay down on the roller and massaged his back; his body seemed to take up the entire room. His physique is sometimes regarded as a riddle of nature. When the play opened, the style blog The Cut convened four writers to discuss the question “How Big Is Adam Driver in Burn This?” (“I was so flustered by his quads that at one point I spilled all of the contents of my purse on the floor,” one said.) After stretching, he boiled water for his throat-soothing “potion”: half a teaspoon of salt, half a teaspoon of baking soda, and half a teaspoon of corn syrup. At seven-twenty, he raced downstairs to the stage, where the cast had gathered for their nightly fight call. Russell, who lives in Driver’s neighborhood, was gossiping on the sofa about snotty Brooklyn preschools. They ran through their fight scenes, stomping and kicking and smacking at half speed, as if they were in a Three Stooges routine.

Driver went back upstairs to shave and to gargle his potion. Because of Actors’ Equity rules, I wasn’t permitted to see the rest of his routine, but he told me what would happen next. When the play started, he listened on the speaker system until he heard his cue. As he headed to the stage, his dresser reminded him to put a prop watch in his pocket. He thought about the character of Robbie, his dead brother. Sometimes he would picture Robbie as the idea of “losing something beautiful.” Or he would think about a mass shooting in the news. Or he would peek out at the silhouettes of the ushers in the theatre and view them as Robbie. Or he would think about the AIDS epidemic—Robbie is gay but dies in a freak boating accident—and project it onto the audience: “Maybe they were all Robbies, and here I am facing them all. And they’re faceless. All these artists who are gone.”

And then he tore through the apartment door onto the stage and delivered a ten-minute rant about parking and potholes and “this shit city”—Wilson wrote it in the throes of an anxiety attack—as he thrashed around like a wild bird in a cage. “Sometimes everything I’m thinking about helps,” he told me, “but every once in a while it doesn’t. And, the minute I get in my head, it’s fucked.”

“Marriage Story” begins after the marriage in the title has ended. Charlie and Nicole, played by Driver and Johansson, are in a mediator’s office, the air between them thick with resentment. The film is, in some ways, an update of “Kramer vs. Kramer,” the 1979 drama starring Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep—but while Streep’s character disappears for most of the movie, allowing the audience’s allegiance to drift toward Hoffman, “Marriage Story” toggles between the spouses, as if they’d been granted joint custody of the story. At one point, when Nicole seems to be winning the battle over their young son, Charlie tells his lawyer, through tears, “He needs to know that I fought for him.”

Driver’s parents divorced when he was seven. Until then, the family lived in San Diego, and Driver has happy memories of their life; every Friday, they’d go to the beach and eat hot dogs. His father, Joe, was a Baptist youth counsellor, and his mother, Nancy, who met Joe at Bible college, played piano at church. After their split, Nancy moved Driver and his older sister to her home town of Mishawaka. He said, of “Marriage Story,” “It feels very familiar. Just trying to wrap your head around your parents not being together anymore—and not only that but you’re moving to the Midwest. Like, the first time seeing my father cry, as we’re leaving. It’s just all those very raw feelings that stick with you that you don’t articulate.” After the divorce, Driver’s father left the church, and he now works at an Office Depot in Arkansas. While shooting “Marriage Story,” Driver said, “something I thought about all the time was the things that my dad didn’t do that this guy does in Noah’s movie. The fighting to get custody”—he took a long pause—“was moving to me. My dad didn’t do any of this. He didn’t put up a fight.”

Mishawaka was a jolt. “We were living with my grandparents, and that sucked,” Driver said. “I mean, they were nice.” His father had shown him grownup movies such as “Predator” and “Total Recall,” but his new classmates talked about “Saved by the Bell.” Nancy got a job as a legal secretary in South Bend (she is now a paralegal) and reconnected with her high-school boyfriend, Rodney G. Wright, who drove a cab. With Nancy’s encouragement, he became a Baptist preacher. He also became Driver’s stepfather.

Driver began to pick up on strange tensions in their religious community. At Twin City Baptist Church, the pastor refused to officiate at his mother’s marriage ceremony, since she had been divorced. Around the same time, a girl in the Youth Department accused the pastor’s wife of being a lesbian, an assertion that split the congregation and led to screaming matches that Driver struggled to comprehend. “I remember this idiot yelling at my mom, saying, ‘No wonder your husband left you!’ ” he recalled. “Only recently did I realize, Oh, I hate organized things, because I feel like I’m missing something. I’m being told it’s one thing, but it’s actually something else.” The family soon joined another church nearby, where Driver’s stepfather became the preacher.

There wasn’t much to do in Mishawaka, a blue-collar town that had been devastated by the demise of a Uniroyal plant. As teen-agers, Driver and his friends Noah and Aaron would climb radio towers or set things on fire. (“Leaves. Clothes. Tires. Things like that, that you have to really douse,” he said.) They would dumpster-dive behind a potato factory and feast on expired chips. They rented movies from P. J.’s Video, down the street. “Because my parents were religious, we wouldn’t watch any of these movies in the house,” he recalled, so he would go to his friends’ houses and binge on Scorsese and Jarmusch and “Midnight Cowboy.” “I started to form opinions on what was good and what was bad, through conversation with those guys.” The first time he saw “Fight Club,” he said, “I felt kind of sick. It made me feel very strange. But then I watched it again almost immediately.”

In the woods behind a Kroger supermarket, the trio made camcorder movies. “It was, like, John Woo ripoffs, where we’d take plastic guns and paint them black and wear long trenchcoats,” Driver said. “They had no plots. They were just action movies.” The friends also started their own fight club, in the field behind an event space called Celebrations Unlimited. The one rule was: “Don’t hit in the balls.” Driver doesn’t believe that he was expressing latent anger. “I think it was something that scared me, getting hit, and the challenge in yourself to just turn the volume down on things.” The club dissolved after neighbors called the cops.

By then, Driver had developed an interest in stage acting. In his father’s church, in San Diego, he played Pontius Pilate’s water boy in an Easter cantata. In middle school, he auditioned for a play and didn’t get cast, so he operated the curtain. Then he landed a one-line part in “Oklahoma!” (The line was “Check his heart,” spoken by a cowboy as Jud lay dying.) In his sophomore year, a new drama teacher cast him as a lead in “Arsenic and Old Lace.” His teachers urged him to audition for Juilliard, so he drove to Chicago for regional tryouts. “I didn’t get in, I think, because I wanted to please,” he said. “I had no opinion about what I was saying.”

 

Instead, he bummed around Indiana, doing odd jobs. His stepfather had him wheel their lawnmower around to neighbors’ houses and offer to mow their lawns, which he found humiliating. He made telemarketing calls for a basement-waterproofing company. He sold Kirby vacuums, or tried to—he doesn’t remember selling a single vacuum. At one point, he was driving around Chicago in the three-piece suit he wore for church, hawking stress balls and National Geographic videos about whales. “I was basically peddling shit,” he said. He convinced himself that he could use his acting skills to entice people. During one telemarketing call, he asked a woman if her husband was home. “There was a long pause, and she says, ‘My husband’s dead!’ and started crying and hung up the phone. I felt terrible.”

Joining the Marines gave Driver a sense of purpose and some distance from his conservative religious upbringing. “The nice way of saying it is, it’s not part of my life anymore,” he said of the church, though he emphasized that he considers faith and religion to be two separate things. He is wary of discussing his parents or religion. In 2014, his stepfather told the South Bend Tribune, “I don’t agree with everything that he does, but I agree with his work ethic.” His mother didn’t know that he was on “Girls” until the second season, when she found out from a co-worker.

The pull between faith and apostasy has interlaced his movie roles. In “Silence,” he based his character, Father Garupe, on St. Peter. “He’s the only one that’s questioning, and I find that is healthier,” Driver said. “Doubt is part of being committed to something, I think. They’re very hand in hand, and that seemed more human to me. Garupe, in that story, he’s committed, and then at a certain point he’s, like, ‘This is fucking bullshit.’ I feel that with religion. I feel that with acting. I feel that with marriage. I feel that with being a parent. I’m constantly filled with doubt, regardless of what I’ve accomplished. It doesn’t mean anything. You still don’t know how to do anything, really.” He described Kylo Ren, in “Star Wars,” as “the son of these two religious zealots”—meaning Han Solo and Leia—who “can be conceived as being committed to this religion above all else, above family.” Part of him still feels blindsided, as if he’d missed a class and hadn’t yet caught up on the wider world. While discussing “Fight Club,” he asked what I thought of the movie. I said that I hadn’t seen it in years but wondered how it would play in an era when people are hyperaware of toxic masculinity.

“What do you mean, ‘toxic masculinity’?” he asked.

I suggested that male aggression is seen as less purifying now than it may have been portrayed as being in “Fight Club.” “I’d have to think about it,” Driver said. “I mean, I haven’t heard much about toxic masculinity.” He chuckled. “Maybe because I’m part of the problem!”

Hours later, in his dressing room, he was talking about how his suspicion of dogma shaped him as an actor. “For a lot of times in my life, I was told there was a right answer,” he said. “And then, when I got older, I was, like, ‘That’s fucking total bullshit.’ I feel that very much with acting, too. If you knew how to do it, you would do it perfectly every time.” He added, “So anytime anyone tells me, ‘This is the right answer,’ or ‘There’s something called toxic masculinity,’ I’m, like, What? What are you talking about? I’m skeptical of it, because I feel like I was duped for seventeen years of my life.”

In early October, Driver was at Lincoln Center, where “Marriage Story” was the centerpiece of the New York Film Festival. He had flown in from Brussels, where he was filming “Annette,” with the French director Leos Carax, and landed at 3:30 a.m. That evening, there was a red-carpet première, and at midnight he would fly to England, for the London Film Festival.

Baumbach said that when he was writing “Marriage Story” he had long phone conversations with Driver in which they discussed such classic movies as “The Red Shoes” and “To Be or Not to Be.” One of their abandoned ideas, a film version of Stephen Sondheim’s musical “Company,” found its way into the script in the form of two musical numbers. (Baumbach told me that Driver had recently sent him a photograph of the Mets pitcher Noah Syndergaard, who has a blond, Thor-like mane, with the message “This would be good for something.”)

At noon, Driver was clutching a cup of coffee in a greenroom at the Walter Reade Theatre, before a press conference. The cast trickled in: Laura Dern, Alan Alda, Ray Liotta. (Johansson was stuck in traffic.) Liotta, who plays a divorce lawyer, approached Driver. “Hey!” he said in greeting, then struck a reverent tone. “Did you serve?”

“Yes,” Driver said shyly, standing to shake his hand.

“Wow,” Liotta said. “Thank you for your service. Seriously. My trainer was a marine.”

Driver quickly changed the subject. His military background makes him anomalous in Hollywood; the days of Clark Gable and Jimmy Stewart leaving pictures to fly combat missions are long gone. Though his time in the Marine Corps was formative—and gave rise to a nonprofit organization he founded, Arts in the Armed Forces, which fosters art appreciation among the troops—it came to a disappointing end. After more than two years of training, Driver was preparing to ship out to Iraq. At the time, he wasn’t thinking about the politics of the Iraq War, he said, just about his loyalty to his guys. One morning, he and his friend Garcia went mountain biking in Pendleton’s Camp Horno. On the way down, Driver hit a ditch. The handlebars slammed into his chest, and he dislocated his sternum.

Driver’s first sergeant told him that he was too injured for the deployment. Attempting to prove otherwise, he loaded up on hydrocodone and worked out in the gym, but he made the damage worse. He was honorably discharged, while his former platoon shipped out to the southeast tip of Iraq, to run security missions on the Iranian border. It was early in the war, and the unit returned safely. But Driver was devastated. “They had gone and done the thing that we trained to do together,” he said. “And I felt like a piece of shit.”

Driver’s platoon commander, Ed Hinman, had always found him more “pensive” than the others. “There was something more going on, I could tell, between his ears,” he told me. Hinman said that life after the Marines can be tough under any circumstances. “You go from being in a family to being on your own, without an identity and without a mission. And, if you know it’s coming, that’s one thing. But if you don’t, like Adam, that can be pretty scary.”

Humiliated, Driver drove back to Indiana in a Ford F-150 he’d bought from an officer and enrolled at the University of Indianapolis, where he acted in Beckett’s “Endgame” and in the musical “Pippin.” He applied to be a policeman but was turned down, because he was under twenty-one—“Which was ironic to me, because I was a SAW gunner, and suddenly I can’t handle a Glock?”—so he got a job as a security guard. But he felt adrift, his mission unfulfilled. Then, remembering his brush-with-death vow to be a professional actor, he went back to Chicago and re-auditioned for Juilliard.

Richard Feldman, a Juilliard teacher, recalled, “This very interesting young man walked in the room—big, tall, lanky, with hair partially flopping over his face.” Driver performed the opening lines from “Richard III,” a contemporary monologue he’d found at a Barnes & Noble, and, for his musical selection, “Happy Birthday to You.” His acting wasn’t polished, but, to Feldman, he radiated something genuine. Driver was guarding a Target distribution warehouse when he got the call that he’d been accepted. “I ran up and down the truck area, jumping around,” he said. “I was fucking elated.”

In the summer of 2005, he moved into a closet at an uncle’s house, in Hoboken. He got a job at Aix, a French restaurant on the Upper West Side, where he served asparagus to Tony Kushner. He was as good at waiting tables as he was at selling vacuums. “I’d never heard of broccoli rabe,” he said ruefully. Juilliard was a shock. He’d gone from firing mortars to pretending to be a penguin in improv exercises. He was disdainful of civilian life, sneering at classmates who wore their shirts untucked or arrived late to class. One time, he snapped so sharply at a student who had used his yoga mat that he reduced the guy to tears. “I was, like, I gotta be better at communicating,” he said. He holed up at the performing-arts library and read plays by David Mamet and John Patrick Shanley, and found that drama helped him express his roiling emotions.

His classmates were mystified by the hulking ex-marine. Gabriel Ebert, who later won a Tony Award for his role in “Matilda the Musical,” recalled their 9 a.m. movement classes: “I probably got there at eight-forty-five to stretch, and Adam was already in a full sweat, like he’d been there for at least an hour working out. He brought a discipline to his physical prowess that most of us didn’t learn until well into our second year.” Driver and Ebert got an apartment in Queens, and Driver would run five miles to school every day. He did pushups by the hundreds in the hallways and ate six eggs for breakfast (minus four of the yolks) and an entire chicken, from Balducci’s, for lunch.

Driver met Joanne Tucker, a classmate, during his first year. “She read a lot of books, knew a lot of shit,” he said. “She was very composed.” Her family lived in Waterside Plaza, in Murray Hill, and Driver would go over and eat all their cereal. Feldman, who, in 2013, officiated at their wedding, told me that Tucker didn’t stand for Driver’s holier-than-thou attitude: “She doesn’t take any nonsense.”

Acting wasn’t entirely different from military life: both required a team effort and a sense of mission. But when Driver saw his marine buddies he would poke fun at his cushy new life, ashamed that he hadn’t joined them overseas. In his third year, he and Tucker started Arts in the Armed Forces. At Camp Pendleton, the “mandatory fun” had included a skateboarding show and a trivia game in which you could win a date with a cheerleader. (The “date” was a stroll around the parade deck.) “Even at the time, I was, like, This is nice, but it’s playing to the lowest common denominator,” Driver said. He wanted to bring the troops something smarter, and show them that theatre didn’t necessarily mean men in tights. Feldman told me, “Adam was always trying to unite these two aspects of his life that seem to us in contemporary America so contradictory: how can you be a soldier—a marine, of all things—and an artist?”

Driver appealed to the U.S.O., but was told that the military demographic wouldn’t be interested in plays, so he went to Juilliard’s president for funding and solicited alumni to participate. In January, 2008, he returned to Camp Pendleton for AITAF’s inaugural show, along with Ebert, Juilliard graduates including Laura Linney, and Jon Batiste, a jazz student from the music division (he is now the bandleader for “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert”). Ebert recalled, “Jon and I stood in front of a grocery store at Camp Pendleton and handed out flyers for hours. ‘Hey, you want to see some monologues? You want to see some jazz?’ ” Around a hundred people showed up—the competition was the college-football championship—and watched monologues by Danny Hoch and Lanford Wilson, under a marquee that read “Juilliard Performance: Adults Only.”

During his third year, Driver was cast in a play at the Humana Festival, in Louisville, Kentucky. Juilliard has a policy against students taking professional roles before graduation, so he would have to drop out. Feldman urged him to stay. “I asked him to think about whether he had ever had the chance to finish anything in his life,” Feldman recalled. “He’d left college. He had to leave the Marines, because he got injured. And I challenged him to finish this.” Driver went through every step of quitting except for turning in his keys—and then changed his mind. His fourth year, he performed “Burn This” with Tucker and got an agent. He graduated in 2009.

Driver had thought about becoming a firefighter if acting didn’t pan out, but his career took off almost immediately. In 2010, he appeared in a Broadway revival of Shaw’s “Mrs. Warren’s Profession,” with Cherry Jones, and in the HBO movie “You Don’t Know Jack,” starring Al Pacino as Dr. Kevorkian. The next year, he played a gas-station attendant in “J. Edgar,” directed by Clint Eastwood, and Frank Langella’s son in the Broadway play “Man and Boy.” He and Langella became close. “He’d come up to my country place on his motorcycle, play badminton, help move furniture, do the dishes,” Langella recalled. “Once, at my New York place, I gave him some old suits of mine, and he left, bunching them in his arms, heading for the subway. ‘Take a taxi,’ I said. ‘Nope,’ he said. ‘Too expensive.’ ”

Driver initially turned down the audition for “Girls,” on account of television being evil (“I was an élitist prick,” he says), but his agent persuaded him. The casting call described Adam Sackler as “a carpenter, incredibly handsome, but slightly off.” Driver showed up with a motorcycle helmet under his arm. Jenni Konner, Dunham’s co-showrunner, recalled the reaction in the room as ecstatic. “Remember the old Beatles films, where the women are screaming?” she told me. “That’s what his audition felt like.” As the show evolved, details of Driver’s life would seep into the scripts; in the third season, the fictional Adam lands a role in Shaw’s “Major Barbara” on Broadway, a nod to Driver’s appearance in “Mrs. Warren’s Profession.” “He was always someone I saw as a rhinoceros, who picked one thing and ran toward it,” Driver said of his character on “Girls.” “He can’t see left or right at all, just sees what’s immediately in front of him, and he chases it until he’s exhausted.”

The first time Driver saw himself in “Girls,” on Dunham’s laptop, he was mortified. “That’s when I was, like, I can’t watch myself in things. I certainly can’t watch this if we’re going to continue doing it,” he said. Many actors decline to watch themselves, but for Driver that reluctance amounts to a phobia. In 2013, he watched the Coen brothers’ “Inside Llewyn Davis,” in which he has one scene, singing backup on a folk song called “Please Mr. Kennedy”: “I hated what I did.” He swore off his own movies, until he was obliged to sit through the première of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” in 2015. “I just went totally cold,” he recalled, “because I knew the scene was coming up where I had to kill Han Solo, and people were, like, hyperventilating when the title came up, and I felt like I had to puke.”

The directors I spoke to sympathized with Driver’s aversion. “I think he’s rightly concerned that he would become conscious of himself in a way that would be harmful to his acting,” Soderbergh said. When I spoke to Baumbach, he was still “in a discussion” with Driver about watching “Marriage Story.” Spike Lee told me that Driver did see “BlacKkKlansman,” at Cannes (“It was very, very happy”), but Driver corrected the record: he had hidden out in a greenroom and returned for the closing bow.

In September, I met Driver in Brussels, where he was shooting “Annette” on a soundstage. He plays a failing comedian; his wife, played by Marion Cotillard, is an opera singer on the rise. To ease the resulting tension, they take a sailing holiday with their baby, Annette, and get caught in a storm. That day’s scenes took place during the squall. In one corner of the studio, half of a life-size sailboat was mounted ten feet high on a gimbal, a mechanism that would toss and turn the boat like a mechanical bull, while a cyclorama projected a tempestuous curved backdrop around it. Sprinklers would unleash rain and fog, while water cannons spewed waves. Also, the film is a musical, so there would be singing.

Carax, the director, smoked a cigarette in his sunglasses, as Driver and Cotillard emerged from a pair of black makeup tents. They rehearsed the scene in which Driver draws Cotillard into a drunken waltz on the sailboat’s deck. He mocks her theatrics (“Bowing, bowing, bowing”), and she pleads with him in song (“We’re gonna fall, gonna die”), before he flings her offscreen. The film’s co-writers, Ron and Russell Mael, known from the seventies band Sparks, watched on a monitor. “We spoke very briefly to Adam about three years ago, just about the style of his singing,” Ron whispered to me. “We didn’t want it to be Broadway, you know?”

Driver, wearing a fake mustache, measured the exact distance to spin before accelerating in the final moment. “If I’m throwing her, I don’t want to wing it,” he said. There was little leeway for benign rebellion. Driver later told me, of Carax, “His movies to me feel very much like freedom—like captured chaos—but they’re very, like, ‘Turn here, move left here.’ So it’s like doing math, but then not making it look like we’re executing choreography.”

A crew member yelled, “Silence, s’il vous plaît,” and in came rain, thunder, lightning, and waves. Between takes, Cotillard sang her lines to herself, while Driver stretched his legs on the railing of the boat, like a dancer at a barre. During one take, they slipped and fell. “Are you O.K.?” Driver said, helping her up, then asked the gimbal operators if the device was turned on too high: “We did this all yesterday, and we didn’t slip once.”

Like Robert De Niro in his “Raging Bull” days, Driver is known for embracing physical feats. For “Silence,” in which Garupe is captured by the Japanese, he lost fifty-one pounds, on a diet of chocolate-flavored energy goo, sparkling water, and chewing gum. For “Paterson,” he learned how to drive a bus. For “Logan Lucky,” in which he plays an amputee, he learned how to make a Martini with one hand. “He wanted to be able to do it in a single take,” Soderbergh said.

After Driver and Cotillard had been soaked half a dozen times, Carax called a twenty-minute break. “Let’s do a tight twenty minutes,” Driver requested. He dried himself off for the next scene, in which the comedian wanders the ship alone, pummelled by waves and singing an ambiguous mantra, “There’s so little I can do.” By the end, he is crouched on the deck, his palms pressed to his ears.

They tried it again, and again. “Our timing was off,” Driver said after one take, wringing water from his black T-shirt. He and Carax went over the timeline of waves, music, boat rocking, and drunken stumbling. By now, Driver had been singing in a fake thunderstorm for five hours, and he was drenched. But he wanted more. “It doesn’t match up to the music,” he said of the boat movements, leaning over the railing.

Carax suggested that they had what they needed. “If you already have it, then fine,” Driver said, sounding agitated. “I’m trying to move on, but I don’t understand. And the timing is wrong.” He listened for a moment. “All right, then. I’m fine moving on. It’s just unsatisfying.”

Then they had a revelation: the boat choreography didn’t need to match the underscoring. They did the scene one more time, a cappella. Finally, for safety, they recorded a clean audio track of Driver’s singing. Wrapped in a towel, he sang his line repeatedly into a boom mike, alternately braying and mumbling, and then trailing off into a near-whisper. “There’s so little I can do,” he sang, dripping and determined. “There’s so little I can do. There’s so little I can do. There’s so little I can do. There’s so little I can do. There’s so little I can do. There’s so little I can do. There’s so little I can do.” ♦

Published in the print edition of the October 28, 2019, issue, with the headline “Original Man.”

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

NOW Williamsburg’s manufacturing is leaving???

30 Nov

Didn’t know there was any left.  The still great institution, Village Voice, has excellent piece on the city’s attempts to use zoning to keep manufacturers in “EASTWilliamsburg.

Tahini_0207-1366x911Tahini pours into tins stamped with Joyva’s signature sultan logo.  Gwynne Hogan

See article by Gwynne Hogan.  “East” kind of perplexed me though, since it’s kind of joining in on the gentrification process by using the name; there was never an “East” Williamsburg until Williamsburg itself got so hipster-saturated that realtors decided they’d call an adjacent ‘hood “East Williamsburg” because that would be a greater draw than calling it what it really was and is: Bushwick.  Same happened at some point much earlier when realtors decided that part of the Lower East Side north of Houston would be called the East Village, because LES wasn’t cool yet and still reeked a little bit of schmaltz.

There were three Williamsburgs actually: the far southern Hasidic parts, south of the bridge; the also “south” streets that were solidly Puerto Rican and are now mixed Rican and Dominican — what Nuyoricans call “los sures”; both of these are still pretty much intact socially, especially the Hasidim.  The third was the heavily Italian-American “northside,” which went from being a working-class neighborhood of the kind that New York — if any place in the United States — definitively does not have any more, through a middle period where it was a kinda old-immigranty, romantically dead waterfront zone, mixed with slight funkiness and bars you had to know in order to find, say, like Galapagos, to what it is now: the single most obnoxious neighborhood in New York.

I doubt Bushwick is safe from a comparable plague, no matter what the city has planned.  To seriously fuck with the real estate industry is political suicide in New York.

I don’t know how or why Williamsburg and Bushwick were so food-oriented.  I still remember being hit by the whiff of herring, bread and sweet-candiness as you crossed the Kosciuszko (pronounced “Kasi-as-ko” in Boroughese) in from Queens on the BQE.

CandyIMG_0246-1366x911Workers at Joyva’s confectionary plant in East Williamsburg, which may relocate after 99 years to take advantage of soaring real estate values.  Gwynne Hogan

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

 

Michael Eric Dayson: “Facing this unadorned hate tears open wounds from atrocities that we have confronted throughout our history.”

14 Aug

In a truly disturbing op-ed piece in the TimesCharlottesville and the Bigotocracy“, Dayson makes the same point I made in Ireland — Gimme a break; I can’t believe this is even up for discussion“.

dyson-master768White nationalists and neo-Nazis demonstrated in Charlottesville, Va., on Saturday. Credit: Edu Bayer for The New York Times

“This bigotocracy overlooks fundamental facts about slavery in this country: that blacks were stolen from their African homeland to toil for no wages in American dirt. When black folk and others point that out, white bigots are aggrieved. They are especially offended when it is argued that slavery changed clothes during Reconstruction and got dressed up as freedom, only to keep menacing black folk as it did during Jim Crow. The bigotocracy is angry that slavery is seen as this nation’s original sin. And yet they remain depressingly and purposefully ignorant of what slavery was, how it happened, what it did to us, how it shaped race and the air and space between white and black folk, and the life and arc of white and black cultures.

“They [white supremacists] cling to a faded Southern aristocracy whose benefits — of alleged white superiority, and moral and intellectual supremacy — trickled down to ordinary whites. If they couldn’t drink from the cup of economic advantage that white elites tasted, at least they could sip what was left of a hateful ideology: at least they weren’t black. [my emphasis] The renowned scholar W.E.B. Du Bois called this alleged sense of superiority the psychic wages of whiteness. President Lyndon Baines Johnson once argued, “If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.””

From my post:

But everybody has to be better than somebody, or else you’re nobody.  So, just like Catalans have to think they’re really Mare-Nostrum-Provençal Iberians (3 ***) and not part of reactionary Black Legend Spain; or Neo-Greeks have to think that they’re better than their Balkan neighbors (especially Albanian “Turks”) because they think they’re the descendants of those Greeks; or the largely lower-middle class, Low Church or Presbyterian or Methodist Brits who fled their socioeconomic status back home and went out to India in the nineteenth century in order to be somebody, had to destroy the modus vivendi that had existed there between Company white-folk and Indians, creating an apartheid and religiously intolerant social system that laid the groundwork for the unbelievable blood-letting of the Indian Rebellion of 1857; or, perhaps history’s greatest example, poor whites in the American South (many, ironically, of Northern Irish Protestant origin) that had to terrorize Black freedmen back into their “place” because the one thing they had over them in the old South’s socioeconomic order, that they weren’t slaves, had been snatched away (and one swift look at the contemporary American political scene shows clear as day indications that they’re, essentially, STILL angry at that demotion in status); or French Algerians couldn’t stomach the idea of living in an independent Algeria where they would be on equal footing with Arab or Berber Algerians.  So Protestant Ulstermen couldn’t tolerate being part of an independent state with these Catholic savages.”

But since we’re talking about the dangerous, delusional myths people need to believe, I might as well take this moment and take one tiny issue with one point in Dyson’s piece:

“This bigotocracy overlooks fundamental facts about slavery in this country: that blacks were stolen from their African homeland to toil for no wages in American dirt.”

People might not like me saying this, or at least think it’s the wrong time.  Oh well…  Of course African slaves were made “to toil for no wages in American dirt.”  But they were not “stolen” from their African homeland; they were bought from other Africans.

Am I blaming the victim?  No.  But if that’s what it seems like, like a lot of people think I’m anti-semitically blaming the victim if I say that the idea that there’s only one God and everybody else’s is false, and on top of it that one God loves you more than anybody else, is bound to get you kinna disliked by those around you sooner or later, then that’s cool.  (Another favorite idea of mine: if Christianity makes Jews so uncomfortable, they shouldn’t have invented it.)

I wrote my M.A. thesis in Latin American Studies on Cuba, particularly on abolition, and the complex interaction between the Cuban wars of independence from Spain, a vicious struggle that lasted three decades from 1868 to 1898 when the United States stepped in and annexed all of Spain’s remaining colonies, and the abolitionist struggle to end both the slave trade and slavery itself (the Spanish slave trade ended in 1868, and slavery itself wasn’t abolished, and then only gradually, until 1886).  In brief, and with clear echoes in the American South, a creole class in Cuba was ambivalent about independence because they were afraid of being over-run by the Black Cuban majority, while a bourgeois pro-independence class didn’t think Cuba could be a democratic republic while so many Cubans were enslaved.  In the end they did what most ex-slave societies did: free the salves and import indentured workers from the English-speaking Caribbean and immigrants from Galicia, marginalizing native Black Cubans, so that all groups together could be kept in a state of seasonal semi-employment which kept wages depressed and created enmity between the ethnic groups that should have felt some socioeconomic solidarity.  Let’s not forget that the “Danza de los millones” — “the Dance of the Millions” — when sugar generated unprecedented wealth for Cuban planters, surpassing anything the nineteenth-century slave economy could produce, and made Cuba one of the richest countries in Latin America, when the beautiful Havana we now see was largely constructed — happened in the 1910s and 20s, decades after abolition.

My thesis involved a heavy dose from my advisor of reading in West African history.  So any one who knows something about that history knows that almost none to absolutely none of the Africans brought to the Western Hemisphere during the slave trade — by some estimates 12 million human beings — were hunted down by slave-hunters Kunta-Kinte-style; it would have been logistically impossible to carry so many people across the Atlantic by that method.  African slaves were bought in huge numbers, in en masse cargo-loads by European slave traders, from West African kingdoms who had enslaved them in the course of warfare between those kingdoms.  There’s a legitimate argument to be made that the European slave trade made warfare between those kingdoms so profitable that conflict between West African states became endemic.  Doesn’t absolve anybody though, not Africans, not Yankee do-gooders, who didn’t need slaves anymore because they had already gotten rich off the trade (as that great song from the musical “1776” points out: “Hail Boston! Hail Charleston! Who stinketh the most?” — see below) and could afford to get moral on the rest of us, not Protestants or Catholics or any Christians, or Muslims for that matter.

Here’s some other un-fun truths:

* Black slavery in the Muslim world never and nowhere reached the scale that it did in the Christian Western Hemisphere, but that may simply and largely be because the agro-industrial infrastructure was not present, not because Islam was more enlightened on the idea of slavery generally.  East Africa supplied the Muslim eastern Mediterranean and Arabian peninsula with plentiful slaves for centuries.  I don’t remember when the Ottomans abolished slavery, but I think it wasn’t even during the Tanzimat, but at some point in the 1908 constitutional revolution, i.e. early twentieth century.  I’m always amused at “religion of peace” Islam apologists who try and make us understand how many passages there are in Muslim scripture that deal with the fair and “humane” way to conduct war, and massacre/execution or enslavement, and I wanna think: “gee, if there are so many passages that deal with the right or wrong way to conduct war, and massacre/execution or enslavement then those things must be mighty important to this religion of peace.”

NO monotheism is innocent; let’s get that through our heads once and for all.

* I hate to burst the bubble of Muhammad Ali or Malcolm X’s souls, or that of the wacked Nation of Islam, but Islam was not the religion of your African ancestors.  (They may not have been called Cassius Clay, but it’s for sure that they weren’t called Muhammad Ali either.)  Islam took a while to penetrate as far south as the coastal regions of West Africa.  And actually, your ancestors almost certainly were the still polytheist inhabitants of the coast who might have been sold to European slave-traders by the newly Muslim kingdoms of the Sahel (currently Boko Haram country), the belt between the Sahara and the coastal jungle/savanna.  If Afro-Americans anywhere in the Western Hemisphere are at all interested in the religion of their ancestors, they should look to Cuban Santería or Brazilian Candomblé or Haitian Voudon to re-establish a historical connection; when I was researching Santería in the 90s in Brooklyn, there was a real culture war between those Black Americans who were attracted to the Cuban religion of Yoruba origins — an amazingly relaxed, open-minded group, since polytheism is an open system, where you got to experience great music and dance, once you got past the practice’s defensive boundaries — and those Black Americans who were recent converts to Islam: puritanical pains-in-the-ass, like most converts, who had learned enough Arabic to call everybody else Kafirs, and who irritated the Senegalese and Malian immigrants in New York to no end.

And Black Southern Baptist or Pentecostalist  Christianity may have originally been the “slaveowner’s religion,” but its “getting the spirit” is a purely African phenomenon that has its emotional-devotional roots in the same parts of West Africa as Santería/Candomblé/Vodoun.  Read the second to last chapter of James Baldwin‘s Go Tell it on the Mountain, which takes place in 1930s (I think) Harlem and then the last chapter of Maya Deren‘s Divine Horsemen on Haitian Vodoun.  They mirror each other totally and both pieces still blow me away whenever I read them with the closest possible artistic representation of deity possession, the most impressive discursive capturing of a completely non-discursive, intangible experience, that I know of.

Divine Horsemen

* Another bubble to burst is the “Kwaanza-ism” bubble. No African-American before President Obama had any connection to East Africa, Kenya, or Swahili.  Another geographical term — Africa — turned into a completely artificial cultural construct, as if anything that happens on the African continent is somehow connected to African-Americans.  The BBC is currently running a series on “The History of Africa” — so modest those folks over there — that, as had become common-place but I thought we had moved on from (turns out we haven’t), lumps together Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco into one “African” history instead of placing them in the history of the Greco-Roman-Christian-Arab-Muslim zone.  (Does anyone remember the height of this absurd argument: the Newsweek magazine cover with the picture of an Egyptian relief and the screaming caption: “Was Cleopatra Black?”  To Newsweek‘s credit, however, the article didn’t take its own title seriously and after going into an analysis of the African-American kulturkampf that gave rise to this question, ended simply with: “And Cleopatra?  She was Greek.”)

And does anybody still celebrate Kwaanza?

I always chuckle when people call Constantinople the city on two continents, as if the quarter-mile crossing of the Bosporus into “Asia” is some kind of massive, marked civilizational change, like the people in Kadiköy are Chinese or something because it’s in “Asia.”

Newsweek Cleopatra

This was a real train-of-thought, free-association post — many think that everything I write is — so thanks for sticking with me.  Below are some videos selections based on my continued free association process:


“Southern trees bear strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

“Pastoral scene of the gallant south
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth
Scent of magnolia, sweet and fresh
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh.

“Here is fruit for the crows to pluck
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop
Here is a strange and bitter crop.”

“Strange Fruit” was written by Abel Meeropol, a real shayne Yid (beautiful Jew) if there ever was one.  Read the NPR story on him that I’ve linked to.  He also adopted the Rosenbergs‘ children, Robert and Michael, after that closetted scumbag Roy Cohn (a real self-hating Jew and queen if there ever was one) had their parents electrocuted.

6-abel-meeropol-robert-michael-with-train-set-1954-_wide-3cb2d45bee8bab3d344570df91679295419dbb20-s800-c85Abel Meeropol watches as his sons, Robert and Michael, play with a train set. Courtesy of Robert and Michael Meeropol

And Maya Deren’s beautiful documentary footage of Haitian Vodoun:

See also Talking Heads’ David Byrne’s beautiful documentary, Ilé Aiyé on Bahian Candomblé.  It’s the best introductory “text” I know.  In reference to the dancing, drumming and singing, and animal sacrifice, food, alcohol and tobacco offerings that are meant to bring the god (or orisha in Yoruba) down into possession of his or her devotee, the narration includes the precious line: “They threw a party for the gods — and the gods came.”

And — on a lighter note — the great Celia Cruz below singing “Guantanamera” (you have to watch her move…wasn’t it great when women were allowed to have bodies like that? and if you have any idea what those silly kids who appear at the end are doing, please share) a song based on a poem of José Martí‘s, Cuba’s national poet and a man revered by Cubans of every color and political stripe anywhere.  In the end, Black Cubans played a significant part in the Cuban struggle, personified most in the person of Antonio MaceoAs Celia sings: “Freedom was a trophy won for us by the mambí [largely Black guerilla fighters], with the words of Martí, and the machete of Maceo.”  Yikes.  The Cuban Wars of Independence were truly brutal, often really fought with machetes, the symbol of Afro-Cubans’ cane-cutting bondage become an instrument of rebellion, but Spain’s imperial ego simply did not want to let go of “la siempre fiel” — “the always loyal” — and extremely profitable island.  1898, the year Spain had to give in, was a year that became a byword for disaster for Spaniards, and Cuba was the most lamented loss; there’s still a common expression in Spain: “Más se perdió en Cuba” — “There was more lost in Cuba” — when you want to say that “oh well, things aren’t so bad, not, at least, compared to the loss of Cuba.”  Ironically, Cuban independence was followed by a massive wave of migration to the island from Spain, largely from Galicia and Asturias, so in a weird way Cuba is the most connected to Spain of Latin American countries; a great, very unresearched musicological subject is the reciprocal exchange of musical influences from Cuba to southern Spain, especially for the gypsies of Seville and Cádiz, both port cities that were gateways to the Americas or “the Indies”, the flamenco genre “rumba” being just one indicator.

Celia was an initiated Santería priestess of the Yoruba male fertility deity Changó (you have to move a little in your seat every time you hear or say his name or you see lightning); her performances often contained dance moves associated with Changó (you have to move a little in your seat every time you hear or say his name); whether she was “mounted” by him at the time — which is the expression used to indicate deity possession, de allí Maya Deren’s reference to “horsemen” — is something only she can have known, though mostly devotees have no memory of their trance after they come out of it.  Most salsa singers since have been initiates — have to stay competitive and you only can if the gods are helping you — and the improv vocabulary and dance gestures of salsa performances are heavily derived from Yoruba Santería.   There’s one video of her singing “Quimbara” (below) where I think it’s really happening — the bending down and touching of the floor especially.

Here:

Finally, a NikoBakos memory.  Mambí was a chain of 24-hour Cuban restaurants, Mambí #1, Mambí #2 — I think there were five of them all over once heavily Cuban Washington Heights and Inwood — that used to provide me and friends with some early morning, post-salsa sustenance.  The food, like the neighborhoods, had become pretty Dominican by then, but they still made a mean Cuban sandwich.  All the Cuban restaurants I knew as a kid in New York are now gone, in Manhattan and Brooklyn replaced by Dominican plantain places, and in Queens, by one more mediocre Colombian bakery.  Schiller’s on Rivington Street still makes a good Cuban sandwich, but it’s $18.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

 

This is the saddest story: Syria’s last Jews leave — By Sami Moubayed, Special to Gulf News

12 Nov

Aleppo’s last Jewish family leaves Syria

Family separated for the first time after Israel rejects Muslim members

SOURCE: Govorkov Central Synagogue of Aleppo

By Sami Moubayed, Special to Gulf News

Beirut: The last Jewish family has left Aleppo, according to sources in northern Syria, ending a long and illustrious chapter in the diverse demographic and religious history of the city that is now torn by war due to almost five years of a vicious conflict.

Chances are that Aleppo Jewry will never return as the city remains at the crosshairs of an ongoing war between Syrian troops, Russian airplanes, and a large variety of rebels fighting on Syrian soil.

Armenian photographer Derounian’s 1914 photograph of a Jewish wedding party in Aleppo. The men, women and children are all dressed in European fashion, except for one Fez-wearing family member


The family was that of Mariam, a salt-and-peppered haired feeble 88-year old Jewish grandmother, born in Aleppo during a military uprising against French colonial rule in 1927. Childhood memories of foreigners running around her city with their light arms would have remained vividly imprinted in her mind — Frenchmen, Brits, Turks, Nazi Germans, Indians in the British Army. All of them passed through Aleppo at some point during her life in the city, either right after the First World War or throughout the Second.

More recently so have Chechens, Tajiks, Saudis, Jordanians, Iraqis, Moroccans, and a colourful assortment of European Islamist radicals who have all flocked to join Daesh.

As Daesh closed in on Aleppo earlier last summer, Mariam’s nerves collapsed. Fearing slaughter at the hands of Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi’s men, she nodded helplessly when her two daughters showed up saying that they must leave Halab — as the city is known in Arabic and Hebrew — immediately.

An Israeli-American tycoon named Moti Kahana stepped in with a mission to get the city’s last Jews out. Israel has in the past run secret operations to get Arab Jews it perceives to be in danger out of their countries.

A Central Synagogue of Aleppo. Picture taken pre-1940s


With very little luggage, Mariam sluggishly boarded a minibus provided by Kahana with her two daughters Gilda and Sarah, a single woman in her 40s, and all of her grandchildren. Present with them was Khalid, the Muslim husband of Gilda. All the women wore the Muslim headscarf — the hijab, to avoid arousing unnecessary attention at Islamist checkpoints. They waited for the guns to go silent at noon prayer then whizzed through the streets of Aleppo, driving through debris and dead bodies, crossing checkpoints manned by the Al Qaida-affiliated Al Nusra Front and Daesh. It took them 36-long hours to reach safety at a small apartment in Istanbul, where Moti Kahana was waiting for them.

Kahana was very proud of his feat — himself a loud opponent of the Syrian regime who posts online photos of himself carrying the green tricolour of the Syrian uprising. According to Kahana’s own account of the story, since no member of the Syrian Jewish family agreed to speak to the press, only Mariam and Sarah were allowed safe passage into Asqalan (Ashkelon), where they have now settled.

Gilda and her family were turned down because her husband was a Muslim and she had converted to Islam three years ago, in keeping with Israeli law that only allows naturalisation Jews. The Muslim members of the family were told to stay in Turkey but they refused, preferring to return to their war-torn country than live in refugee camps.

After a painful separation from her aging mother, Gilda returned to Aleppo with her Syrian passport, and now lives there in silence with her Muslim husband and children, refusing to ever comment about the entire ordeal. Moti Kahana was the person to break the story, saying: “I got the last Jewish woman out of Aleppo. I feel very emotional when I think about it.”

Coexistence lost

Just 15 years ago, there were approximately 200 Jews living in Syria, a small number compared to the country’s then-population of 23 million. The number dropped significantly over the past decades, once standing at 15,000 during the short-lived Syrian-Egyptian Union (1958-1961). In 2000-01, 150 Jews lived in Damascus while the rest were divided between Aleppo and Qamishli in north-eastern Syria.

According to the US annual International Religious Freedoms Report, the number of Jews inside Syria had dropped to no more than 80 by the year 2005. Last December, various sources put the number at approximately 50 Jews, mostly living in Hay Al Yahud (the Jewish Quarter) within the walled Old City of Damascus, side-by-side with Shiites.

The Jewish community of Aleppo was once a powerful and wealthy one, well-connected in overseas trade and deeply rooted in the city’s ancient history. As early as 1901 they established the Aleppo Jewish Community Synagogue in occupied Jerusalem and bankrolled Syrian Jewish migrants who fled to the Americas during the First World War.

Aleppo was considered the unofficial capital of Sephardic (eastern) Jews and according to popular lore the city’s Grand Synagogue was erected by one of the Biblical King David’s generals.

The community started to gradually to lose influence and leave Aleppo, either to Israel or to Brooklyn, New York after 1948, when their homes and synagogue were attacked by hoodlums during the first Palestine War.

One of its celebrated figures was Yom Tov Assis, an Aleppo-born reputed historian who now teaches at the Hebrew University in occupied Jerusalem and chairs its centre of Aleppine Jewry, an institute dedicated exclusively to studying the city’s Jewish community.

Sami Moubayed is a Syrian historian and former Carnegie scholar. He is also author of ‘Under the Black Flag: At the frontier of the New Jihad’.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

[La Guardia] Community College Students Face a Very Long Road to Graduation

6 Oct

05COMMUNITY1-articleLargeJake Naughton for The New York Times (click)

A beautiful piece of journalism by Ginia Bellafante from October 3rd’s New York Times on New York’s community colleges and the struggle of their mostly minority and immigrant population to make it through:  “Community College Students Face a Very Long Road to Graduation.”:

“LaGuardia was founded in 1971 out of the struggles for a more egalitarian world that had characterized the previous decade. At any time, it has approximately 50,000 students from 150 countries who among them speak 129 languages. [my emphasis]  In February, Mayor Bill de Blasio chose the college as the site of his first State of the City address. Gail O. Mellow, the president of LaGuardia and a community college graduate who went on to get her doctorate, has been an entrepreneurial and enlightened leader, forging relationships with Goldman Sachs, for instance, and the Japanese government. The school recently won a $2.9 million grant from the United States Department of Education for a proposal to enhance student engagement; it was one of 24 colleges to be awarded money, in a competition that drew 500 applicants.

And still its challenges, like those of nearly every other community college, can appear insurmountable. More than 70 percent of LaGuardia students come from families with incomes of less than $25,000 a year. The college reports that 70 percent of its full-time students who graduated after six years transferred to four-year colleges, compared with just 18 percent nationally, but only a quarter of LaGuardia students received an associate degree within six years.”

I taught ESL at La Guardia for over ten years.  At times it was a frustrating experience.  I felt like the administration was not really up-front with students about precisely some of the issues this article covers — like how long it usually takes to graduate — leaving too many to believe that they’d do two years at a community college and then two more at a four-year college and get a Bachelor’s.  I don’t envy the positions of department heads or administrators in these colleges: they have to come up with the funds necessary to keep things running in order to serve their population but at times have to do so in ways that shortchanges or maybe even exploits those students.

In my more specific case as an English teacher, the pedagogical mentality or philosophy of TESOL (Teaching of English as a Second Language) — if it can even be called a real discipline with a philosophy — and that of most of my colleagues’ and my department’s, is stuck with a historic burden of “remedialness” that informed a lot of instruction and that left many of our best students — all immigrants, of usually middle-class and fairly well-educated backgrounds and with full literacy skills in their own languages — often feeling infantilized and bored.  And one program I taught for — a big money-maker for the college — gave any one who registered for a full-time schedule a student visa of seemingly infinite renewableness, with only minimal attendance and academic requirements, and, as you would expect, these classes ended up full of kids from Seoul or Caracas whose daddies were paying for them to hang out in New York for two or three years, often unbearable brats impossible to teach and resentful that they had to be sitting in your class and not hanging out on Bedford Avenue — nothing like the poignant life-struggles of the student that Bellafante describes.  And my often angry clashes with the administration about those conditions — I wanting to maintain some degree of academic integrity and discipline and the department afraid that demanding too much of the students would lead to business at their “visa-mart” dropping off — was what ultimately led to my being fired in 2010.

At the same time, and for the most part, it was perhaps the most rewarding experience of my life and one I miss intensely.  There is still a strong sense at La Guardia of its being born “out of the struggles for a more egalitarian world.”  The neighborhoods of western Queens and northwestern Brooklyn that La Guardia serves are to the 1990s and 2000s what the Lower East Side was to New York at the beginning of the 1900s: the cauldron out of which a new city was and is emerging.  The opportunity to work right in the thick of this momentous historic process and in fact, not just to be able to help students learn a language and literature I love (yes, ESL students are interested in literature…and poetry…and journalism…and politics…and have opinions on all of the above) but also to help them learn or at least understand a little about a country I respect and the city I’m ferociously loyal to, was an amazing privilege.  And while being able to ease, as a teacher and even if only a bit, the pain or frustrations of being an immigrant made me feel like I was giving people like my own parents a tiny bit of support, what the students gave back to me — in terms of knowledge of their cultures, their openness and hospitality, their respect and affection — was incomparably greater.  How many of us get to experience so fully what might just be the very essence of New York? …four hundred years of reciprocal generosity between city and newcomer.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

Tisha B’Av?

13 Aug

Sorry, but it’s pretty funny that Romney’s trip has made of Tisha B’Av such a central metaphor for contemporary Israeli politics and the problematics of Jewish conscience (see previous post).  In old Ashkenazi humour — at least as I know it from Brooklyn — Tisha B’Av, Ti-shabuv in Yiddish pronunciation, is used ironically because it’s such an obscure holiday that no one ever knows when it is.

“When is he gonna finally paint the kitchen?  Who knows?  At Tishabuv…”

“If you’re waiting for the perfect girl to come along, you’ll be waiting till Tishabuv…”

And the like…

But Beinart’s piece, Mitt Romney Misuses Judaism to Support Israel and Buttress His Own Campaign, is truly beautiful, expressing the best tradition of Jewish moral self-reflection, which time and again has saved them and saved us too, in ways too complex to get into here:

“Sorry, but that largely misses the point. Tisha B’Av is less about steeling Jewish resolve against our enemies than fostering self-reflection about the Jewish misdeeds that allowed those enemies to prevail. The Talmud says that God allowed the Babylonians to destroy the First Temple because the Jews committed idolatry, bloodshed, and sexual sins. Similarly, the Romans are bit players in the Talmud’s intricate explanation of the chain of Jewish sins that led to the Second Temple being destroyed. Among those sins—none of which easily lends itself to a GOP stump speech—are “baseless hatred” among Jews and a concern for ritual stringency so obsessive that it trumps concern for human life. [my emphases]”

What other people, even if they lapse so often and so often tragically, are so honest and clear-eyed about their faults?

 

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

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