A tiny voice asks: What happened to history?

photo-50Israel sensitized me.  That country where history is yesterday and always on the verge of existential struggle changed the frequencies of my antenna.  It was like being in a glass house of history, completely exposed. Running to the bomb shelter made me acutely aware of myself in a moment that is conditioned by the past and a springboard for the future.  The desire to bring memory forward has been coursing through me since I left.

That’s why I’ve been feeling so oddly disoriented in Europe’s glass houses.  There are magnificent glass constructs in new museums and airports, bound with steel rods and pegs.  But the chain stores that fill the old historic districts block a sense of history.   I am acutely aware of what is being said and what isn’t.  What is: Mango, Desigual, American Apparel, Brandy Melville.  What isn’t: the real fabric of society with its bloody struggles, its chauvinism and intolerances, its layers of ideologies.  Judging from a collective tour of European capitals, from my whirlwind tour and the reports of friends, cities from major to provincial, in Austria, Spain, France, are doing the same thing.

The exception might be Germany: German soul-searching and condemnation of its Nazi past has been thorough and front-forward for decades.  Walking along the sidewalk, looking down and seeing a plaque with the name of a Jew, the date of his or her arrest, camp deported, date of death is a jolting part of life in Berlin.  This is not a cultivated museum experience for those who want to know.  Kreuzberg, especially, is messy.  Their squatters expand into the center, occupying buildings and keeping real estate developers from driving out the locals.  The usual scenario is that people who can’t afford to renovate their historic houses go to the outskirts, leaving the field to those who prettify everything for sterile presentation.   Berlin is the center for European art; somewhat self-consciously it wears its Brooklyn-cum-Berlin on its sleeve.

The French now lament, “Mixitude.”  The Greeks said “agora,” the gathering place for democracy.   (Actually the word is a fusion of “I speak in public” and “I shop.”)  The retreat to self and those like ourselves has ushered in hideous wars in the recent past.  Shouldn’t we be reminding ourselves of that everyday?  When you don’t see people different than yourself, how can you know anything of the other?

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3 Responses to A tiny voice asks: What happened to history?

  1. Tom D'Evelyn says:

    Another superb post. The plurivocity of your point of view commands attention and respect. Your pointing the finger at obliviousness, brought on by commodification, is spot on. It is “demonic” as the old world used to use that idea: these forces of the “present” take over consciousness, make it unresponsive to a whole range of values. At the level of science (knowledge), I think what we need is to understand the self in terms of relation. The self is NOTHING BUT relation. Or rather, it is BOTH nothing AND relation. Without relation (connections, responsibilities, others) it is pulled into its own nothingness. A study of ontology will eventually bring one to understand being as relation; a study of oneself will say: if I have any being, it is my relations to others.

  2. Quick Silver says:

    Jill, I loved what u wrote. I followed each word, having a deep conversation with you, until — “agora.” I laughed out loud! The SAME word for “I speak (in public)” and “I shop”? Ahhh, comic relief. I speak therefore I shop. I shop therefore I am.

    When I lived in Israel, every moment was so intense, so deeply felt, that I escaped to Egypt every 3 months. (To RELAX. You could hang out at a Cairo cafe + smoke a hookah back then.)

    That sudden burst of laughter over “agora?” Reminded me of those much needed exhales in Cairo.

    Now safely ensconced in the States, I know: Living in Israel is oh-so-stimulating + hard as hell. All else pales in comparison.

    I’m diametrically opposed to Israel’s politics. Yet Israel saves MY butt daily. Israel gives me, an American Jew, a safe haven when the shit hits the fan.

    I can pick where I live. I’ve chosen ease In America over sweat in Israel. I’ve picked the morally weaker road. (Or avenue. Madison Avenue.) “I shop therefore I am.”

    Jill, your well written essay sparked my daily self-debate. (Imagine if another Jew were in the room? You’re here. 2 Jews, 7 opinions?)//Thank you, good friend.

    • jillbpearlman says:

      Dear Quicksilver,
      Thanks for your comment. Intensity is a double-edged sword – it stimulates but it can exhaust one’s inner resources. I love that we have the luxury to be meditative and to debate. We can have these self-debates and debates with others. That’s freedom. And wherever we are, we take it with us, air it, exercise it!

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