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Books for Christmas 2012

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Amongst the books I got for Christmas this year are:

The Magus by John Fowles. What is particularly remarkable about this gift is that the person who gave it to me did not know that, when I was in high school, I saw the movie by the same name which was based on this book. The screenplay was by Fowles. I very much enjoyed the movie at the time; as I recall, there was something unconventional about the story, the way it unfolded. I am told that the book is much better than the movie.

Levinas and the Wisdom of Love by Corey Beals. Having become quite enamored of Levinas (especially in the past year or so), the title of this book looks very promising inasmuch as Levinas seems to have tried his best to consciously avoid speaking in terms of love despite the fact that love might well be the best general term for identifying or describing Levinas' primary focus. The theme of this book is (initially at least) cast in terms of invisibility/visibility, apparently for the sake of a worthwhile anti-Derridean thrust. Of greater interest to me is the relationship between Levinasian responsibility/love and justice and whether justice necessarily eats away at responsibility.

The Nature of Love by Dietrich von Hildebrand. Having so far read only a few pages of the introduction by John F. Crosby (who along with John Henry Crosby did the translating), I am immediately drawn to the discussion of values and subjectivity (since this is an issue which comes up in the next blog piece which I am currently writing).

Forgiveness by Vladimir Jankelevitch. I learned of this book in something I read either by Buber, Levinas, or Arendt. I am currently about half-way through the introduction by Andrew Kelley who is also the translator, and I am already fascinated not only because of the brief biography which is provided but also by the depiction of Jankelevitch's thoughts about morality which so far seem to be essentially quite close to my own ideas, although the manner of expression (as put forth in the introduction) is not the one I would choose. Nevertheless, this passage is very good:

One never finds a set of rules or principles in [Jankelevitch's] writings, because, as he says, "morality is neither inscribed in tables nor prescribed in commandments." For Jankelevitch, one does not first grasp the moral law (as one would in Kant's view), or first contemplate the form of the Good (as one would with Plato), and then subsequently act. For him, through acting or willing we create virtues [here it is important to note that the term create has a technical sense which seems very much in line with what I have written about in terms of effecting] ... for Jankelevitch, moral work and moral action must be endlessly begun again. ... there is no system for loving or willing well. With each instant [where instant is also a technical term which seems close to what I have previously discussed in terms of event], one must begin again not only at loving and willing well, but also at coming up with what these things are. Thus, Jankelevitch did not have a strict definition of love, with perhaps the one condition that love makes a person look beyond himself or herself.

Kelley also notes that for Jankelevitch, "first philosophy necessarily concerns the ethical", and this warrants comparing and contrasting him with Levinas who regarded ethics as more ontological than ontology.

I also got Jankelevitch's Music and the Ineffable. This should be interesting because, as Kelley notes in the introduction to Forgiveness:

Not only does [Jankelevtich's] style of writing and speaking break with the academic norm ,,, [f]or him it was possible to find philosophically relevant material wisdom in a piece of music, a poem, a play, a story, or a religious work.
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Another book which I got for Christmas is Khirbet Khizeh by S. Yizhar, the pen name for Yizhar Smilansky who was born in 1916 in Rehovot, Palestine, and later became a longtime member of the Israeli Knesset. This work is a:

1949 novella about the violent expulsion of Palestinian villagers by the Israeli army [and which] has long been considered a modern Hebrew masterpiece... Published just months after the end of the 1948 war, Khirbet Khizeh was an immediate sensation ... Thousands of Israeli Jews rushed to read it, the critics began to argue about it, and a Palestinian journalist in Nablus described it as a sign that the Israeli army had a conscience and that peace was possible.

The Palestinian journalist's remark is particularly interesting in light of the very beginning of the book:

True, it all happened a long time ago, but it has haunted me ever since. I tried to drown it out with the din of passing time, to diminish its value, to blunt its edge with the rush of daily life, and I even, occasionally, managed a sober shrug, managed to see that the whole thing had not been so bad after all, congratulating myself on my patience, which is, of course, the brother of true wisdom. But sometimes I would shake myself again, astonished at how easy it had been to be seduced ... led astray and join the great general mass of liars -- that mass compounded of crass ignorance, utilitarian indifference, and shameless self-interest -- and exchange a single great truth for the cynical shrug of a hardened sinner.

What makes this opening passage so interesting in light of the journalist's remark is that what Yizhar here describes is the ethical/moral path which both leads towards and follows from the convention of politics in all of its thus far known forms. As promising -- as hope-inducing -- as it would be if the army were aware of this, it is only the realization of how widespread, how very nearly universal this pattern of ethics/morality is that would make a genuine, a constructive peace possible, and the key here is that indifference which is made seemingly so very rational precisely for its being apparently utilitarian. Therein lies the seduction which can manage to render ignorance as wisdom.

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