Dr. Dawg

How "Engage" engages

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Engage is a website and group of commentators purporting to offer a progressive take on anti-Semitism and the Middle East. I blogrolled the site quite some time ago.

Today I commented on a post there that I found astonishingly dishonest: an alleged comparison between Caryl Churchill’s play for voices, Seven Jewish Children, and an anti-Semitic mediaeval ballad called Sir Hugh, or The Jew’s Daughter, an early instance of the Blood Libel.

What follows is a “dialogue” between myself and Engage’s Richard Gold. Note that I mistakenly confused him with the actual author of the piece, not that this bears on anything material.

Here, then, is another play for voices. :)

Dr.Dawg :

This is free association of the most blatant kind.

If every mention of Gaza that happens to also mention loss of life is to be construed as a “Blood Libel,” then dialogue is shut down before it even begins. (Indeed, that other anti-Semitic libel—well-poisoning—was laid at the door of scientists who discovered concentrations of heavy metals around bomb craters in Gaza.)

I know, I know—these are but variants of the famous “Livingstone Formulation,” which holds that calling attention to such silencing manoeuvres—poisoning the well in the strict logical fallacy sense—is in itself anti-Semitic.

So I realize that I proceed at my peril. But for what it’s worth:

I don’t think that Churchill would have much difficulty with the “Jewish/Israeli” conflation, in the context in which she has set her play for voices. She is humanizing relations between parents and children under various historical moments of extreme stress.

This is from one of the quotations in this post:

tell her I look at one of their children covered in blood and what do I feel? tell her all I feel is happy it’s not her.

I hardly see any joy in the killing of children here. I see nothing but an intense relief that the parent’s own child was not hurt. Indeed, a reading of the play as a whole (and I have both read and witnessed performances of it) reveals considerable humanity-reactions of individuals rather than clashes of forces, the ambiguities that define and to some extent sustain us.

The voices are hardly unanimous-indeed, it is their differences in attitude, tone and content that provide much of the dynamic of the play.

But ambiguity, the lifeblood of art, does not satisfy the Zhdanovs in our midst, either pro- or anti-Israel. That’s how narrow ideology stamps out the essentially human. And this post-libellously comparing Churchill’s intricate work with an anti-Semitic ballad-is, unfortunately, an example of precisely that narrow ideology.

What would the author have the parents say? That’s the real question here, never posed. The problem for Gold is that parents say all kinds of things to comfort their children, some hasty and ill-considered, and never unanimous. If we locate the “meaning” of the play in parent-child relations, giving that notion some historical flesh and blood, I think we see in Seven Jewish Children something profoundly empathetic-towards Jews as well as Gazans, towards, in fact, all people caught in terrible and threatening circumstances.

Richard Gold:

The voices are hardly unanimous-indeed, it is their differences in attitude, tone and content that provide much of the dynamic of the play.

Like a show trial with the pretence of a defence barrister for show, when the verdict has already been decided.


And that verdict is…what, exactly?

There is no “verdict,” of course, and no cheap political moral.

Answer my question: what would you have the parents say?

Richard Gold:

Dr Dawg, i happy to engage with you but a bit of decorum would be appreciated.


Decorum? I’m afraid I don’t understand. If merely asking you questions is indecorous, perhaps I can spare your feelings by ceasing this attempt at discussion right here.

I would only add that calling Churchill an anti-Semite might be taken by some as a flagrant breach of decorum. No matter. Your site, your rules.

Richard Gold:

Well noted and all the best. Also the article as the link at the top indicates was written by Dave Rich over at the CST.


I trust my readers are sufficiently edified to draw their own conclusions about the “engagement” actually sought by Engage.

ADDENDUM: I must have been out of my mind.

UPDATE: (January 27) I should give a shout-out to newly-blogrolled Sarah Brown’s “Ariachne’s Broken Woof.” She has delivered a lecture on 7JC, and, while I don’t agree with everything she has to say, I like her tone of voice. What’s she doing hanging out with the trash-talking regulars at Engage?

UPPERDATE: The public wankfest at Engage continues unabated. Oh, the decorum!

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This page contains a single entry by Dr. Dawg published on January 24, 2011 4:55 PM.

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