3 books, 2 songs, and 1 poem to give you some perspective
This past year, Israeli society has undergone significant upheaval, with political turmoil and social unrest manifesting from various quarters. Throughout history, literature, and music from various cultures and eras, have mirrored such tumultuous times, providing both solace and insights. In this piece, I’d like to offer three books, two songs, and a poem to give some insight into our current predicament.
1. “A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens
Dickens’ masterpiece, set against the backdrop of the French Revolution, offers poignant parallels to our current societal tensions. While the opening lines resonate profoundly with today’s dichotomies, it’s Madame Defarge, with her relentless revolutionary fervor, who most starkly encapsulates the dangers of unchecked zeal. Her chilling words, “Tell the wind and the fire where to stop; not me!” remind us of how revolutionary excess can overshadow the very ideals it seeks to uphold. In our tumultuous times, Dickens’ tale cautions against letting righteous anger devolve into blind vengeance.
2. “The Chain” by Fleetwood Mac
As we navigate these turbulent times, Fleetwood Mac’s powerful hit “The Chain” seems to resonate deeply. One line, in particular, captures the collective sentiment of disillusionment: “Damn your love, damn your lies.” Interestingly, “The Chain” is the only song on the “Rumours” album with writing credits for all five members. Perhaps, in that unity, despite differences and emotional turmoil, lies a lesson for us all.
3. “Julius Caesar” by William Shakespeare
Shakespeare’s historical tragedy offers a wealth of insights into political maneuverings, the intoxication of power, and the consequence of betrayals. Act 2, Scene 1, ironically highlights how the conspirators plotting to overthrow Caesar struggle with basic facts, pointing to their lack of a cohesive vision. This reflects the sentiment that while it’s essential to fight against corruption, as emphasized by the quote, “The abuse of greatness is when it disjoins remorse from power”, it’s equally crucial to have a compelling political vision in place to avoid descending into greater chaos.
4. “For What It’s Worth” by Buffalo Springfield
The song, written amid the political and cultural upheavals of the 1960s, provides a timeless reflection on societal discord. The lyrics “What a field day for the heat, A thousand people in the street, Singing songs and carrying signs, Mostly say, ‘Hooray for our side'” warns against the danger of echo chambers and filter bubbles and the need for broader understanding. For a more modern take, consider the version by Public Enemy featured in Spike Lee’s “He Got Game“.
5. “The Bonfire of the Vanities” by Tom Wolfe
In Wolfe’s astute exploration of 1980s New York, the protagonist, Sherman McCoy, stands as a symbol of ambition and the downfall it can precipitate. Wolfe describes the transformation of a man, once esteemed as he navigates the brutal world of politics and social ladders. Our politicians, much like Sherman, begin their journey admired and respected. However, over time, external forces ‘beat’ and ‘taunt’ them, pushing them to become more aggressive, even vicious, to survive. Just as the dog in Wolfe’s analogy, our political leadership is losing all semblance of civility.
6. “The Second Coming” by W.B. Yeats
Written post-pandemic, after World War I and during the beginning of the Irish War of Independence, Yeats paints a bleak picture of a world in chaos, with “Things fall apart; the center cannot hold“. It serves as a cautionary reminder of the potential consequences if society continues to fracture along ideological lines.
For those who’ve given up all hope, you might find solace in BB King’s “The Thrill is Gone.” It might not provide answers, but it can provide comfort. Let’s hope the falcon hears the falconer soon.