Tonight was dominated by art that provokes reflection.
First, we watched Tuesday's episode of the Colbert Report, with musical guest Paul Simon. His performance was An American Tune -- IMO his most beautiful and sobering song. There's something about it that can always bring a tear to my eye: a quiet solemnity that reflects both the ideals of the country and the difficulty of living up to those ideals, while still getting on with life. It's a fine song for the times.
And then -- well, I'm always far behind in my comic book reading, so I only just got around to reading Judenhass, a short graphic novel from Dave Sim.
Sim has been a mixed bag for many years, veering between eccentric brilliance and pedantic lunacy. You never quite know which you're going to get -- often, you get both in the same issue. This is one of the former. As with much of his best work, it is a fairly quick read, but drives its point home with ruthless efficiency. Judenhass is German for "Jew Hatred", and the book is best described in his own words:
This is followed by the meat of the book, in which he allows western culture to concisely damn itself through a mix of quotes and bloodless facts that trace Judenhass over the centuries. Oh, there are some Nazis in the quotes -- but mostly he cites the great and good: Martin Luther, Voltaire, Mark Twain and a host of politicians down the ages. And behind the faces of those quoted are the images of the Shoah, traced with cruel precision from the photographs.
Jewish remembrance of the Shoah, distilled to its essence of "Never Again" implies the self-preservation of the life of not only each individual Jew wherever he or she lives, but of all of God's chosen people wherever their collective continued existence is threatened -- as that collective continued existence of the European Jew was very much threatened in Europe in the 1930's and 1940's.
And is, to me, significantly different from non-Jews saying "Never Again" from behind the sheltering and disingenuous facade of:
"How could this have happened?"
Implying as it does that the Shoah had been a genuinely unthinkable act without precedent in non-Jewish society... as if the Shoah had been a one-in-a-million happenstance which could only have happened in Germany and only under the Nazi regime, whereas I believe the historical record of non-Jewish culture and its tolerance for and embracing of Jew hatred shows, instead, that the Shoah was very much...
The result is chilling and sobering, lending a lot of support to his argument of inevitability, driving home that there was nothing radically different here, merely the conclusion of a long chain of reasoning that wound its way around our civilization.
*Not* a fun read in any way, but a salutary reminder that tragedy is born out of many little hatreds and callouses that finally weave themselves together...