Sunday, November 20, 2011

Four Years: Repetition Compulsion, Revisited

This coming week I'll have been working this space for four years and will have posted 412 times. It still feels a rare privilege to sit down at my desk, get something off my chest, and feel engaged by the expectation of reaching so many intelligent readers. (I don't know exactly how many, but some 24,000 "unique visitors" have checked in at various times over the past year. Far fewer see the blog more or less regularly, but getting to know people who, in various chance encounters, say they feel like they know me has been delightful and humbling.)

If you are a regular reader, you may have noticed that I haven't posted in almost three weeks. I could give the excuse that I've been busy with a mix of long-form projects, which is true: an article in the December Harper's on the Palestinian right of return (subscribe!), a book review on American healthcare forthcoming in the Nation, the galleys of my Portnoy book--all projects dear to my rather promiscuous heart. But the truth is a little less grand.

More and more, I've been finding that the thing on my chest has been got off before, here and elsewhere--in some cases many times before--and that knowing the intelligence of the blog's readers gives pause in a vaguely familiar way. When I was around nine or ten, a pupil in an orthodox Hebrew day school (Talmud Torah in Montreal), I came to the precocious understanding that the daily Jewish liturgy, whatever its aesthetic virtues or failings, was excruciatingly repetitive; that most of us came to regard "davening" as a kind of smug sacrifice. You were seriously bored (try even listening to Pavarotti sing "Nessun Dorma!" three times a day), but in suppressing revulsion for your boredom, and whispering, say, the "Amida" yet again, you were proving yourself worthy, ethically disciplined somehow, in touch just a smidgen with the suppressed revulsion Isaac must have felt when Abraham bound him, and thus sharing a smidgen in his moral prestige. I thought: was the All-Knowing dumb enough to fall for this kind of thing?

Anyway, I sat down recently to write yet another post about the folly of entertaining an attack on Iran and felt that I was just davening. Ditto, the many laws pending before the Knesset that expose how vulnerable Israeli democracy is, and has been almost from its inception. I called a friend and went out for coffee, instead. I've done that a few times since returning to Jerusalem.

Needless to say, I don't want this blog to become some kind of mandatory ritual, and certainly not just a way of punching an ostensible moral coupon. So I ask your help in refreshing it. I have opened a new email account, bavishai.blog@gmail.com, and invite you to let me know what's on your mind--not "comments" in the ordinary sense, but ideas, reactions, hopes, confusions. I'll post notes I think especially provocative or original. Meanwhile, I'll pick up the pace, but probably with shorter and more off-beat posts.