Sunday, September 13, 2009

Paper Memory: A Selective Reading Journal, Sept. 6-Sept. 12

«Mi sono detto: Yambo, hai una memoria di carta. Non di neuroni, di pagine.»

[I said to myself: Yambo, you have a memory made of paper. Not of neurons, but of pages.]

--Umberto Eco, The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana

"For by the latter part of the sixteenth century, a conception and theory of religious toleration had definitely come into being. Generally speaking, moreover, and in spite of the previously mentioned examples of pragmatic toleration in antiquity and the Middle Ages, the appearance and development of the idea of toleration largely preceded its realization. This development required a long and arduous intellectual effort down through the seventeenth century and was the work of a number of thinkers. Without an underlaying theoretical rationale that was both philosophical and religious--one that reflected a complex mixture of scriptural, theological, ecclesiastical, epistemological, ethical, political, and pragmatic arguments--and without the gradual acceptance by political and intellectual elites and others of principles and values enabling them to subordinate and set aside religious differences and strive for concord through mutual understanding, religious toleration and the freedom it implied could not have been attained as one of the predominant and most cherished attributes of modern and contemporary Western societies."

--Perez Zagorin, How the Idea of Religious Toleration Came to the West

"The tolerance which is the life element, the token of a free society, will never be the gift of the powers that be; it can, under the prevailing conditions of tyranny by the majority, only be won in the sustained effort of radical minorities, willing to break this tyranny and to work for the emergence of a free and sovereign majority--minorities intolerant, militantly intolerant and disobedient to the rules of behavior which tolerate destruction and suppression."

--Herbert Marcuse, Postscript to "Repressive Tolerance," in A Critique of Pure Tolerance

"Initially, we may be less convinced by the "truth-claims" of tradition than we are powerfully attracted to the richness of its language, both in word and in symbolic gesture. Through the profound echo chamber of the countless generations of its faithful, it offers us a way to express both the longings and the fulness that we know within. The language of sacred tradition, shrouded in mystery and awe, comes to seem like the appropriate vehicle through which to express those same feelings with regard to life itself. True, the words are antiquated, grandiose, and clearly far from anything we would choose to say if we were making up a language of our own. But precisely because the language of tradition so reaches into antiquity and is enriched by the lives of all those generations that have lived within it, it has a depth that words of our own simply cannot reach."

--Arthur Green, Seek My Face, Speak My Name

"To build a community that would survive, Amsterdam's 'Portuguese' elite wrestled with a number of problems, from the glaring challenges of heresy to the more delicate issue of relations with Dutch Reformed clergy. No problem, however, was more critical in the making of this community than that of balancing the two clusters of ideas about collective self, one associated with Jewish religion and peoplehood, the other with 'the Nation.' The problem was not clearly defined even by the communal leaders who dealt with it, but nonetheless it dominated the dynamics of community building. Other issues, important as they might have been, tended to be corollary to this one: ambivalence about Ashkenazi Jews; the policies adopted toward New Christians who lived 'outside Judaism'; the enforcement of halakhic norms within the community; and so on. In dealing with the entire array of issues that arose around this core problem, communal leaders revealed two somewhat conflicting (though not contradictory) aims: first, building a community belonging fully to the rabbinic-Jewish world, and second, preserving a distinct identity based on quasi-ethnic foundations alien to rabbinic Judaism."

--Miriam Bodian, Hebrews of the Portuguese Nation: Conversos and Community in Early Modern Amsterdam

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