Wednesday, June 2, 2010


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I suppose I should be embarrassed. I am back at the Hammer Museum to play ping pong and make fun of the respectable professionals who are attracting big audiences to hear them speak. I came over from Starbucks, where the big fat preacher with the guitar sings out his blues under the historic movie marques, he sings,"I hate the Jewish girls, I hate the Jewish girls...." No one responds, though he can be heard from a mile away. I put in my earplugs and stand facing him a little to his side, waiting, waiting. No, no one observes me observing him either. Total invisibility.

Down at the Hammer there is a Slovenian philosopher who is giving a lecture entitled something like "The "Jewish Christian Wagner". The professor of philosophy makes the argument that Wagner wasn't really a Jew hater because the obvious hateful Jewish character he creates in one of his operas is not so bad as other characters in the same opera. And anyway we moderns can't really understand anything old unless we adapt it to our present time and place communities, even change the story. Adding sex and violence is especially useful.

This philosopher is much loved by his community. They love his numerous tics: he pulls on his nose, tugs at his tee shirt collar, jabs his hair away from his forehead, snorts, with many more jerks and jars clocked at around two per second. His community likes this sort of thing. We are oppressed by ideologies, he is famous for saying. We have to love, but not make loving an ideology itself. We must put our love into our practical life in our community, and all together we'll get somewhere and arrive at new understanding, mystical and communal.

That is why we can't understand that Wagner wasn't really a Jew hater unless we reconstruct our community around our new attempt to understand what we only thought was anti-Semitism.

I understand. I am getting into the community spirit. The preacher at Starbucks who hates the Jewish girls - really what he was getting at, trying to say in his old fashioned way was that he hates the devil more, so he really doesn't hate anyone, we are all together in this fight against ideology and power. The preacher however, goes on to confide to his listeners that he is god's authorized representative, give our money to him, not the church on the main roads of life.

The audience applauds wildly the philosopher when the event is all over.

For a while I have been entertaining the guard outside in the lobby, offering my live commentary to the lecture broadcast on the TV monitor there. He laughs, I laugh, we have our own community.

Who are we, though? What composes our union? Well first of all, we aren't a group of people who paw at ourselves constantly while we talk about mystical communal love in which racial hatred is just an unreal idea when judged against the deep truth of our mutual togetherness. The guard is recording the passage through the doors of the museum patrons on his pocket clicker counter, and I don't even have that much excuse for my presence in these halls of power. He counts patron exits and entrances, I count twitches of philosophers.

The guard asks me why I think the philosopher and audience want to believe they understand something better when they change it.

I say it would seem more sensible to argue just the opposite: old works of art that surprise and disturb us demand that we attempt to adjust ourselves to them, so we can understand the reason for our confusion.
But isn't it something great if we imagine with the famous philosopher that we are deep creative cooperative gods, recreating with mystical power in community the thinkers and artists that disturb us? We're gods because our confusion is not our fault, we are simply in an historical process of improvement, we improve upon the anti-Semitism of Wagner, of the Starbucks preacher with the guitar and the 10 block voice of blues who hates the Jewish girls.

I say to the guard of museum entrances and exits: if community is not defined by ideas, only by its mystical union, what is really holding people together? Oracle to my own question, I answer: money.

We are free from victimization of ideology in politics when we turn ourselves into gods of reinterpretation. So long as we get paid for it. So long as we are in an academic or museum community that pays.

And where does that money come from? Really, we all know the answer: the same people whose ideology we are hiding from while imagining ourselves gods.