I'm strangely moved by an article in today's Guardian Review. "Personal Demons: Amon Oz on morality and literature". What moves me so? Not just that I am simultaneously listening to Symphonie Fantastique on Radio 3.
I would have expected not to agree on his thesis. That evil exists, the devil stalks the land.
Much of Oz's article was beyond me. He assumed his readers were familiar with great Classic and German literature, especially Goethe, whom I've never read. Not even about him. Despite my incomprehension I was bouyed along by the sheer beauty of the essay. By the resonance of deep spirituality, maybe of nearness to Jungian myths. His case for believing in the reality of evil was convincing. Hitherto my model has been that apparent evil is only absence or perversion of good. Hitler had high ideals, but grossly flawed, perverted. Many people have not had the gift of being led to appreciate the value of others, just as I have little respect for the midge I swat. It's just matter of degree.
But it was not a matter of reason. Reason flashed through Oz's essay like lights in a fog. The mistiness was the feeling of depth. Of 'that which is eternal'. Something speaking to my soul. I stopped a while to listen to the symphony, then read on.
"I called the devil and he came,
He is not ugly, is not lame,
But really a handsome and charming man."
Startling phrases. "We have enormous respect for cultures. For diversities. For pluralism. I know someone who is willing to kill anyone who is not a pluralist." Shady forces are blamed - never people. Socierty, painful childood, Colonialism, Zionism, Globalisation. "The Nazis imprisoned her along with her mother and sister and sent them to Ravensbruck. I wish I could tell you they were liberated by peace demonstrators carrying placards saying "make love not war", but in fact they were set free not by pacifists but by combat soldiers wearing helmets and carrying machine guns. We Israeli peace activists never forget this fact" "the ultimate evil in the world is not war itself, but aggression [it] sometimes has to be repelled by the force of arms before peace can prevail." "Personal good and evil are not the assets of any religion. The choice is whether to inflict pain or not to inflict it. To get personally involved in healing pain, or to make do with organising angry demonstrations and signing wholesale petitions"
I have often read about the spirituality of Judaism but never before sensed it. My Jewish in-laws seem not to want to discuss it (nor Palestine). An activist in the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (been there twice to work alongside Arabs trying to pick their harvest with Settlers taking pot shots at them. But the ISM sent me along to Rabbis for Human Rights. Where am I? )
However, I'm fascinated by Judaism. Judaic sprituality. On a recent multi-faith pilgrimage the Hindus were for me most tangibly close to that which is eternal, the divine, the Absolute; but the liberal synagogue was the most refreshing, uplifting port of call.
I'll buy his book. ("A Tale of Love and Darkness" by Amos Oz, pub Vintage.)
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