Wednesday, February 16, 2005

You know that glassy-eyed feeling people get sometimes? I've been having it a lot lately and from a variety of directions.

It's deadline season for the summer conferences in my field which means -- aside from finishing my own papers -- refereeing other people's papers. Most of these papers are as boring to me as they'd be to my seven-year-old. And often just as incomprehensible. First of all, they are mostly written in the international language of science: very bad English. Moreover, very few people are familiar with all the literature in their field (even in the narrowest sense of the word "field") and I'm certainly not one of them. So when I have to pass judgement on whether a particular paper presents a novel approach, I secretly wish there was a choice labeled "how the hell should I know". (Oddly enough, the choices are restricted to 1 through 6 -- very confining.) After grading about ten of these, I start edging into a semi-catatonic state.

So I headed off to the very fine library of a very fine hesder yeshiva near My Little Town. (Yes, the fact that the only form of respite I can think of from sitting on my tuches reading is to go somewhere else to read something else on that very same tuches is sorry testimony to something or other.) I started catching up on some of the journals including Netuim and Torah uMadda. Yitzi Blau's review of Marc Shapiro's book on Rambam's principles of emunah grabbed my attention but, I'm sorry to say, left me more glassy-eyed than I already was. The last thing I feel like doing at the moment is to write another boilerplate review ("...offers an interesting solution to an important problem. Nevertheless, several flaws mar what would otherwise..."), so let me just say that the article did a perfectly good job of doing what it set out to do. YB is concerned that one could infer from MS's arguments against the universality of Rambam's list of principles, that no list of principles is binding. YB argues that such a conclusion would be unwarranted. A significant part of the review descends into what we might call the "accounting school of Jewish theology". If there are many lists of principles, shall we take as binding the intersection or the consensus or what? This whole business, as I've said, leaves me glassy-eyed. I mean do I really have an opinion on free will vs. determinism? Did any one of a million Gerrer hasidim in Poland have an opinion, let alone firm convictions, about this topic? Does anybody who doesn't write books for a living really think that emunah ought to be thought of in terms of a Topps' checklist? (Tito Fuentes -- got 'em; Chuck Hiller -- need 'em; creation ex nihilo -- umm, lemme get back to ya)

Serendipitously, it turned out that a leading American rosh yeshiva was giving a guest shiur in the yeshiva today. The shiur was brilliant as are all the shiurim by this particular RY. But its structure was something like this. Begin with topic 1, somewhere in the middle make reference to topic 2, start a riff on topic 2, somewhere in the middle make reference to topic 3, start a riff on topic 3, ..., start a riff on topic k, close topic k, close topic k-1, ..., close topic 1. Miraculously, the parentheses never got crossed; a flawless last-in first-out performance. I think k maxed out somewhere around 7 or 8. It was reasonably tolerable because the riffs were so loosely connected that one could simply unpack them and process them independently. This is nowhere near as bad as Poilish pilpul in which each riff builds on all the previous riffs in increasingly implausible fashion (the inevitable consequence of combining unlimited memory and capacity for complexity with finite tolerance for abstraction and systemization), but it left me once again ... glassy-eyed.

7 Comments:

Anonymous mochassid said...

I think you need to get a spin bike

7:49 PM  
Blogger Doctor Bean said...

Yup, a spin bike. And posting more frequently couldn't hurt either. Unless you try posting from your spin bike. That could hurt.

10:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

or you could just quit showing off. it would go a long way to solving the problem.

8:23 AM  
Blogger Ben said...

Anonymous, you are right. I couldn't resist. I've deleted my last post and now I feel fine.

10:22 AM  
Blogger Anonymous said...

Of course I meant that you are showing off in this post, and in your general approach in your own life, but you knew that:)

I was kewl with the other post. It was even interesting!

3:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

yeah, why did you delete your latest post? i found it very interesting. did it give away too much info?

5:37 PM  
Anonymous yoeli from kj said...

gerrer chassidim in der heim were known for their great machshava, so i am sure they had opinions.

5:15 AM  

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