It’s been kind of tough for me in New York since coming here in December, a rough introduction (owing in part, but only in part, to unrelenting ‘polar vortex’ winter) to living and working in this city of cities. And I don’t love it here to begin with; didn’t come here in pursuit of any New York dream; have a hard time, really, understanding why so many see this ‘here’ as a destination of choice. My failure to be attracted to the great metropolis is something I guess I’ll have more to say about in time. At the moment, though, I’ve got to share a sort of ‘New York, new normal’ incident that I’d have to be a pretty hard case not to get a kick out of or feel some gratitude for, three months in.
Writing this from the New York subway — leaning against one of those ugly painted steel columns on the boarding platform at the moment. In a few minutes I’ll be getting on the G to return from my new employer’s office in Brooklyn to the room I’m renting in Queens, which takes an hour, give or take, depending on how you do it and whether the trains are on schedule.
Noting here a two-week-old article in the NYRB about the Jew-caricature in medieval Europe and its connection to evolving Christian tradition.
In accord with the new devotions, artworks had just begun to portray Christ as humbled and dying. Some Christians struggled with the new imagery, discomfited by the sight of divine suffering. Proponents of the new devotions criticized such resistance. Failure to be properly moved by portrayals of Christ’s affliction was identified with ‘Jewish’ hard-hearted ways of looking. In this and many other images, then, the Jew’s prominent nose serves primarily to draw attention to the angle of his head, turned ostentatiously away from the sight of Christ, and so links the Jew’s misbegotten flesh to his misdirected gaze.
The author, Sara Lipton, teaches history and Judaic studies; I gather she’s been working on the story of the development of anti-semitic imagery for a long time. The article seems intended to introduce her new book Dark Mirror.
This would be a fine occasion, obviously, to pick up again with what I started in May, but I don’t have time for it now. Hope to come back to it in the new year, perhaps.
I’ve achieved, or suffered — a question of interpretation, there —, a nice diversity in work taken on this year. This will be the year that stands for the failure of the several previous years’ efforts to channel myself in a single field by jumping aboard the old new green economy. Or the apparent failure of those efforts, let’s say. I don’t think it amounts to failure entirely.
For the present post, I’m going to keep things easy and look back at a project from spring. Last year, I helped a friend with one of his air-sealing & insulation jobs on a house outside Washington, D.C.; I was there to cut the access holes where his crew went into attic spaces to work, and to patch up the holes with drywall afterward. While we were there for that job, the owner asked about having a closet built into one of the attic spaces we were accessing. So I went back in spring and did that. It was a nice little project with a bunch of parts — sort of a micro-remodel. And a real functional improvement to the home to boot. In a hundred-year-old house, too! Call me crazy, but I like old-house work.
Went to Mass today. It’s some years now since my Rome-ward shift, and though I can say that it’s proven a substantial thing, I’m still very much in process of finding my way. I don’t go to church every week. I would like to, but I don’t. Sometimes there are good excuses, sometimes not. I’m not especially ashamed of not making it to church regularly, in any event. The long period of my adult life in which regular church-going was a sort of primary virtue is past, possibly for good.
As I understand Christianity, it conceives of the world as wholly oriented to the call of God via the resurrection of Jesus. Christians say that God not only creates and rules over, he also redeems and restores. That he redeems and restores the world assumes first, of course, the fallenness and (therefore) the freedom within it of human beings, who are the weirdest, least obviously integrated piece of an otherwise evidently comprehensive and systematic, generative and entropic material order of God’s making. Human beings don’t introduce corruption and fallenness on their own, but in their freedom they take part in introducing it, and they’re susceptible to it by nature: susceptible, subject to its structural effects and to dealing constantly with its meaning.