Exile and the Prophetic: ‘Body Worlds’ after life

Israel/PalestineUS Politics
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This post is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.

I’m in Richmond, Virginia for my Body Worlds’ presentation and staying at the wonderful Beaux Arts-style, Jefferson Hotel.

Dating back to 1895, the Jefferson has a fascinating history and founder, Lewis Ginter. Originally from New York, Ginter made and lost fortunes, fought with the Confederacy and used his earnings from tobacco for the good of the community. When he died he left money to the Jewish community. His bequest was published in the local newspaper on Yom Kippur.

Another well-kept secret – at least it’s not talked about much. Southern Jews did well under the Southern slave system and served the Confederacy with distinction. Even today, Southern Jews are a whole other can of worms. Talk about identifying White. Southern Jews know what’s best for them.

Evidently, our panel is more or less booked out. Over 200 people are expected for the discussion. Do you think they are coming to hear about the prophetic or a more esoteric sense of the mystical aspects of world religions?

Talking about mystical apparitions, on the plane I sat next to a woman reading Fifty Shades of Grey. As far as I can tell, the novel is soft-porn for the sophisticated. A few months ago, I saw an interview with Katie Couric – she blushed and fanned herself when she mentioned the book. So life goes in the moneyed world.

Back to the Jefferson Hotel, it’s quite a place to watch the Presidential town hall event. Real businessmen stalk the halls here. As you might imagine, the restaurants are quite pricey. Even though my hosts are paying the freight, it makes one wonder what kind of world the 1% live in.

Last night, President Obama stepped back into the ring. The Richmond papers report a “feisty” President, one who finally looks like he’d like to win a second term. USA Today called a “lively free-for-all.”

‘israel’ was mentioned last night – I noted only a passing reference. Isn’t it interesting that when you could really discuss ‘Israel’ no one wants to? Iconic ‘israel’ is left for the red meat campaign trail. Israel/israel has been reduced to this. ‘Jews’ are left out of it. So what is the faux discussion of ‘israel’ about?

I continue to think about the aloneness of the body – I wrote about it in yesterday’s lecture excerpt. We don’t think much about it until we arrive at that aloneness and refuse to or can no longer cover it up. The great foolishness of modern consumption is the proposition that we can consume our way out of that aloneness.

The Presidential debates are like that, too. They are there for our consumption. The real life consequences of policy discussions are left for others to experience – even when we are those others.

Injustice highlights aloneness – the place where we have no redress. That is why the prophet – and the prophetic – embodies that aloneness.

You can’t consume your way out of a prophetic aloneness. That’s when you know when the prophetic is real. There’s no way out.

Empire seems the way out. Everyone who can attain empire tries it on for size. So, interesting though, empire always seems ill-fitting, like the sizes are all wrong even when everything is set in its proper place.

Then, the afterlife beckons, at least as a topic for tonight’s panel. I need to include something about the afterlife since the Body Worlds’ panel is supposed to address that issue. Should I just say that, like most Jews, I’m light on the afterlife?

Upon reflection, I might not be. Religious language that surrounds the afterlife seems so abstract as to be almost mythical. Here’s my initial attempt to address it in my presentation.

5. When I think of the afterlife, I think of being enfolded into a people’s history – bodily. Now, while I know that I won’t exist physically after death, I also know that I don’t think of such Jewish luminaries as Martin Buber and Hannah Arendt as spirits. When I think of their thought and witness, I see their faces. When I see their faces I think of the history they arrived within. I think of the history they continue to live within. Historically, they wouldn’t make sense without that history. Today, they don’t make sense without that history.

6. If we view body and self without history, as bodies, in a universal mode, as human beings without an identity beyond their physicality, then they are just bodies. We think of the distinction between the human and other animals as the ability to think about our surroundings and to explore what is within us. What we really mean is the ability to form an identity that isn’t inherent. This means that we can become something other than is given as animals. For Jews that identity is the prophetic – and combined with the very detailed process of attempting to escape that identity – to escape the prophetic – is at the heart of a tradition that is perennially contested.

Is the human face in the afterlife the same human face we experience in this life?

Tonight’s goal is an interfaith ecumenical love fest. There we affirm that all religions are saying more or less the same thing – peace and harmony. Yet you never know where things will end up when one tradition goes off the “love one another track/love each other” track. It’s worth a try, don’t you think?

Introducing the prophetic tonight should come as a surprise. This may or may not prompt responses from my Muslim, Christian and Hindu colleagues. How do their traditions see the self and body in relation to the prophetic? Maybe, just maybe, we might get the prophetic ball rolling.

Think of the prophetic as traveling on a wild card track. Outside the station, once the tracks are switched, the trains’ trajectory is never the same.

About Marc H. Ellis

Marc H. Ellis is retired Director and Professor of Jewish Studies at Baylor University and author of Burning Children: A Jewish View of the War in Gaza which can be found at www.newdiasporabooks.com

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4 Responses

  1. seafoid
    October 17, 2012, 12:05 pm

    Interesting body news from Belarus.EX Mossad walla Meir Dagan , the man whose speciality was “separating an Arab’s head from his body”, has been separated from his liver and developed post op complications.

    link to haaretz.com

    The mills of G-d grind slow but they grind exceedingly fine.

  2. DICKERSON3870
    October 17, 2012, 10:02 pm

    RE: “The great foolishness of modern consumption is the proposition that we can consume our way out of that aloneness.” ~ Marc Ellis

    MY COMMENT: How true! ! !

  3. LeaNder
    October 18, 2012, 8:12 am

    I hope, we hear more about the interfaith ecumenical love fest.

    Strictly it doesn’t matter, I never went to see any of the staged exhibitions here in Cologne or anywhere else.

    I can’t really say why, I may have a certain resistance towards the spectacular in the arts, I am also slightly hesitant about innovation as core principle of the arts, or maybe as in his case of the thin line between “innovation” and “spectacle” Beyond that I found it interesting that artistic innovator Gunter von Hagens tried to copy Josef Beuy’s apparel in his mutation from “doctor” to “artist”. Thus the artistic innovator presented himself to the public as copyist of Joseph Beuys, not as an artist but as a human being.

  4. johnshoemaker
    November 14, 2012, 10:38 pm

    .” There we affirm that all religions are saying more or less the same thing – peace and harmony.”
    “All religions” come within the concept religion which is english for Latin re-ligion which is translated reconnection.
    We living humans reconnect our bodies to our minds by shushing the internal dialogue’ , reconnecting with bodily senses and stopping for a moment the tape that tells us what we’re thinking–who we are etc. The three middle-east establishments are nationalistic. At least the Jewish one mentions that their “g-d” was angered when they asked Moses for a King to be a nation like the others. “They’ve got ME and they want a king??! “Give them saul!: Who immediately numbered(drafted) them all.
    Plato wrote about this theo thing and the Christian bud that grew from Judaism was infected with his three in one body babble. The question is, is there intellectual life before death.

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