It’s been seven weeks since I’ve had the company of a human being’s corporeal presence for more than four words at a time. What, pray tell, have I done with all this time besides shitting it away (not that I’m even doing that, as for the last two weeks I’ve had a bout of constipation)? For seven weeks I’ve planned and planned and planned and fantasized and fantasized and wished some ostensible ‘great work’ into being which my deeply embedded mania whispers to my ears I have within me to write or compose. How can someone like me ever be lonely with his massive ego for company?
And yet for all this narcissistic aggrandizement, never here have I embarked upon more than a page or five of outline, the high of the brainstorms too stratospheric to willfully bring my focus down to earth and the brutal mundanities of endowing physical form to a presence in my brain so sublimely ethereal. I embarked upon the beginning phases/phrases of half a dozen attempts, but isolation over-plowed it into drought soil.
It was, perhaps still is, a foot crushing work of historical fiction, an inner history, THE inner history, of the Jewish experience with their neighbors, potentially as long and varied as the Bible, populated with Jews migrating place to place from generation to generation, century to century, as they work and wait and work and wait, but always ejected and exiled from every old new land, and so too will we eventually from here. In nation after nation, city after city; some neighbors had to be there to welcome Jews in, some neighbors had to embrace Jews and promote them to prosperity’s apparent zenith, some neighbors had to be there to resent Jewish success, some neighbors had to be there to blame Jews when things went wrong, and some neighbors had to be there to drive the Jews out, to beat and torture them, and eventually to kill them, and surely there must be some god who works his unvoiced machinations upon our world to preserve the lifespan of our improbable community in circumstances through which we would long since be better off dead.
Jewish history is the ultimate epic. For anyone able to set their imagination so loose to capture it all upon a page or screen, the work would dictate itself to the mind. I made what I thought was a decent beginning of it in 2017, yet so rambled I that it captured none’s attention but mine, and rather than speed the plow through history’s length and breadth, I, believe it or not, got it into my head that I could earn readers by borrowing liberally from the life-stories of people I knew in manners for which I have little right. I didn’t even get that far. In autumn 2017, as all at once my life came undone yet again, I scrapped it and deleted from the internet all evidence I’d ever even made a start, except various drafts on a personal blog nobody reads.
We seem to live in an era of hyphenated identities, so for any writer identifying themselves as a “Jewish writer,” such a work can seem a kind of Holy Grail, a work of works destined clearly to be written: not just a James Michener bestseller about Jewish history that ties itself to a fictional town in Israel, but a work of fiction that circles the globe and captures the whole giant wheel… pendulum… spiral… tetragrammaton… of history. And someone, anyone, who can open their imagination to the literally millions of vivid scenes from our endless scroll of history, will be the person to write this book of books, drama of dramas, show of shows, and therein lies the problem.
There is something incredibly un-Jewish about its spirit. Jews exist within a religion that, at least since the Talmudic Sages, expended every effort to accommodate itself to reality’s needs rather than establish yet another monumental imposition upon history, for once upon a pentateuchal time, Jews made history’s ultimate imposition. For better or worse, we foisted upon the world a god sovereign to all humanity; not yet another spirit of a river or valley, but an infinite presence of imperium occupying all space, all time, all being; and year by year over millennia’s course, He established the dominion for which we longed upon everyone, everywhere, every-when. So powerful was our idea of god that he became lord of the world.
A portion of our cup is fire and brimstone, and in every generation, it seems that Hashem is simultaneously the greatest and the worst thing that ever happened to us. He is blessing and grace, he is curse and reproach; the source and salvation of every problem. He, or rather, His absence, is always present.
Nation after nation gets their turn for the bird’s eye view above history’s shitshow, only to be dumped back into existential sewage within a mere generation. It took only one generation between David’s glory to reach the bifurcation into Israel and Judea. It took only one generation from Alexander the Great’s unification of Greece and the accompanying intellectual golden age to collapse into partition and forty years of war between Alexander’s successors. It was only one generation between Rome’s peace of the Ausgustan Age and the tyranny of Tiberius, Caligula, and Nero. It was but one generation between the conquests of Muhammed and the Shi’ites who believed Ali Muhammed’s appointed successor and the Sunnis who elected Abu Bakir. Only one generation between the Elizabethan Age in England and the beheading of Charles I. One generation between Bismarck’s unification of Germany and Kaiser Wilhelm’s pointless entry into World War I (and we needn’t remember what came next…). And now there’s one generation between victory in the Cold War and the election of the stupidest head of state in world history.
So why does it keep happening? What is it about humans that even in the best of times, our ability to be satisfied, live in peace with ourselves, accept that this is as good as it gets, is completely absent from our neurons?
In one sense, the answer is obvious. Even at its best, humanity is shit, and even golden ages beset us with all the same struggles and blows of fortune; what makes a golden age golden is that, for once in our lifetimes, we beat the odds. But victory is so much easier than defeat that it’s very easy to get accustomed to believing that we’ll win again, and once we get too well-acquainted with winning, winning ceases to amaze us. We forget just how hard it was to come so far as we did, we forget how chaotic is the world as everyone but us experiences it, and the ways in which the world still isn’t satisfactory metastasizes through our heads like a brain tumor. And so in moments like these when we’re all the freest fate ever allows us to follow our bliss and become our best realized, most unique vision of ourselves; we bifurcate ever more neatly into exactly two individuality-surrendering mass movements who believe that the solution to all the remaining problems of life are obvious, and so deprived are both sides of the oxygen of life’s realities that we honestly believe that this mirage of a better world is just behind the next sand dune. Once upon a time, these two sides were Fascists and Communists; once upon a time, these two sides were Protestants and Catholics; once upon a time, these two sides were the followers of Rehovam and the followers of Yerovam.