June 30, 2008

(Reb Yudel)

Ben Yehuda Press publishes new catalog

June 29, 2008

(Reb Yudel)

What are the dreams of a TwentyFourSeven world?

Sean Voisen poses a fascinating question about cultural production:

There is a hypothesis that says that the purpose of sleep is to reinforce certain memories, or rather, neural connections, that were created during the previous day. Sleep does this not in a way that one might expect — by actually strengthening the connections — but rather by subtly washing away the neural connections created during the day that are deemed trivial or unimportant. Leaving only the most important ones remaining. A bit like waves washing gently on a rocky beach over thousands of years — eventually most of the rocks are turned to sand and only the largest rocks remain.

When it comes to the preservation of culture, time, I think, works quite similarly. Take literature, for instance. Of the many millions of bodies of text that have been created over the thousands of years since man first invented writing, only a very few have been continually preserved and set aside as “classics.” The rest were beaten into sand and washed away by the ocean of time.

isn’t a random process either. The Iliad or the Old Testament or Beowulf or Hamlet aren’t available to us today by mere fortunate happenstance. Society made great efforts to keep them in circulation and preserve them. If culture is like a brain distributed across a certain population, and time is its sleep, then these cultural works are the synapses that matter. Somehow. Even though when you read them in high school it doesn’t seem that way.

Will the Internet and digital storage media do away with this form of cultural sleep? If everything can be preserved, whether or not it is of significant cultural value, will it? Where then will classics come from? Or will culture break down into nervous chaos — where everything is of equal importance and so nothing is of importance at all — perhaps like the mind of a chronic insomniac?

Even in a digital world, preservation of information still requires time, money and resources, albeit small. Websites come and go. So do blogs. They are more ephemeral even than books. So, perhaps the reverse will be the case — that because we can preserve anything, we don’t produce anything worth preserving, and thus preserve nothing at all. Either way, in the future, the mechanisms by which culture evolves will almost surely be different.

At Ben Yehuda Press, we're trying to capture the best of today's Jewish culture -- much of it already flickering on screens -- and pin it down into books we hope will become classics for this generation, and beyond.

It's sobering to think that outside cultural forces beyond our control and prediction will determine whether our collection will prove to be -- to switch metaphors slightly -- a thriving cultural preserve, a zoo, or a collection of fossils.

I'm convinced, however, that just as neither a DNA sequence or a YouTube clip is the one best way for preserving an animal, so too the medium of books -- whether stand-alone or read on a device -- will maintain an important place.

June 12, 2008

(Reb Yudel)

How Would God REALLY Vote - A call for collaborators

David Klinghoffer, resident Jew at the Discovery Institute, has just come out with a new book: How Would God Vote: Why the Bible Commands You to Be a Conservative.

Longtime readers of Klinghoffer's Forward column won't be surprised to find the book maddening in its refusal to engage in serious thinking. He ignores whole swathes of Torah and Talmud; doesn't bother thinking of the actual consequences of his policies; and lines up enough straw men to constitute a fire hazard.

Klinghoffer does surprise on occasion. He praises the idea of reparations to African-Americans for slavery. He downplays the need for global conflict. (Better, he says, to fight "cultural decadence" at home.) And if you're looking for a Republican propagandist for whom opposition to abortion is only a first step toward banning contraception and no-fault divorce, Klinghoffer is your man.

However, as someone who does think the Torah has something to say about economic and political arrangements, I'm looking at this book as an opportunity. Get ready for: How Would God REALLY Vote: A Jewish Response to David Klinghoffer.

I'm looking for volunteers to write a chapter or two of the book. Chapters can come in a variety of genres:

  • You can rip tearing holes into Klinghoffer's logic
  • You can show where Klinghoffer misunderstands Torah
  • You can show how Torah addresses a policy area that Klinghoffer doesn't deal with
Contributions can be repurposed from already-published articles, op-eds, and blog posts.

Deadline is July 7. Publication date is planned for August 15, in time for political conventions and the high campaign season.

If you're interested, raise a virtual hand below, or drop me an email at larry at yudel dot com.