” . . . Some poor white from Mississippi told the dean that I was a propagandist for the Pope, which was patently untrue. I do not support the current Pope. He does not at all fit my conception of a good, authoritarian Pope. Actually, I am quite opposed to the relativism of modern Catholicism quite violently. However, the boldness of this ignorant lily-white redneck fundamentalist led my other students to form a committee to demand that I grade and return their accumulated essays and examinations. There was even a small demonstration outside the window of my office. It was rather dramatic. For being such simple, ignorant children, they managed it quite well. At the height of the demonstration I dumped all of the old papers – , ungraded, of course – out of the window and right onto the students’ heads. The college was too small to accept this act of defiance against the abyss of contemporary academia.”
It was obvious that if I had agreed to think about it with him, I would have given him consolation. But, on the contrary, as long as my father was alive, I felt combative (afterwards no longer); and I replied with one of those trite remarks heard every day in the cafés around the University: “For me religion is merely an ordinary phenomenon, something to be studied.”
“Phenomenon?” he said, disoriented. He groped for a ready retort and opened his mouth to utter it. Then he hesitated and looked at the second dish, which at that moment Maria was offering him. He didn’t touch it. Then, to gag himself, he stuck into his mouth a cigar stub and lighted it, allowing it to go out at once. He had granted himself a kind of interval, to reflect calmly. For an instant he looked at me resolutely: “Surely you don’t mean to laugh at religion?”
Like the perfect idle student I had always been, I replied, with my mouth full: “Laugh? No, I study it!”
AN ODD THING. Ever since Wednesday I have become acutely aware of Jews. There is a clue here, but of what I cannot say. How do I know? Because whenever I approach a Jew, the Geiger counter in my head starts rattling away like a machine gun; and as I go past with the utmost circumspection and with every sense alert—the Geiger counter subsides.
There is nothing new in my Jewish vibrations. During the years when I had friends my Aunt Edna, who is a theosophist, noticed that all my friends were Jews. She knew why moreover: I had been a Jew in a previous incarnation. Perhaps that is it. Anyhow it is true that I am Jewish by instinct. We share the same exile. The fact is, however, I am more Jewish than the Jews I know. They are more at home than I am. I accept my exile.
Another evidence of my Jewishness: the other day a sociologist reported that a significantly large percentage of solitary moviegoers are Jews.
Jews are my first real clue.
When a man is in despair and does not in his heart of hearts allow that a search is possible and when such a man passes a Jew in the street, he notices nothing.
When a man becomes a scientist or an artist, he is open to a different kind of despair. When such a man passes a Jew in the street, he may notice something but it is not a remarkable encounter. To him the Jew can only appear as a scientist or artist like himself or as a specimen to be studied.
But when a man awakes to the possibility of a search and when such a man passes a Jew in the street for the first time, he is like Robinson Crusoe seeing the footprint on the beach.
Employers sense in me a denial of their values.
One evening toward the end of March, I was a bit late coming home. Nothing unusual: I had fallen into the hands of a learned friend, who wanted to expound to me some of his ideas about the origins of Christianity. For the first time I was obliged to think about those origins, yet I endured the long lesson to please my friend. It was cold and drizzling. Everything was unpleasant and gloomy, including the Greeks and the Jews of whom my friend spoke; still, I submitted to that suffering for a good two hours. My usual weakness! I could bet that even today I’d be equally incapable of resisting, if someone made a serious attempt to persuade me to study astronomy for a while.
See announcement here.
As for hobbies, people with stimulating hobbies suffer from the most noxious of despairs since they are tranquillized in their despair. I muse along as quietly as a ghost. Instead of trying to sleep I try to fathom the mystery of this suburb at dawn. Why do these splendid houses look so defeated at this hour of the day? Other houses, say adobe house in New Mexico or an old frame house in Feliciana, look much the same day or night. But these new houses look haunted. Even the churches out here look haunted. What spirit takes possession of them? My poor father. I can see him, blundering through the patio furniture, the Junior Jets and the Lone Ranger pup tents, dragging his Saskatchewan sleeping bag like the corpse of his dead hope.