Academic journal article Cithara

Chaos Theory and Humanism: A Tribute to Cithara on Its 50th Anniversary

Academic journal article Cithara

Chaos Theory and Humanism: A Tribute to Cithara on Its 50th Anniversary

Article excerpt

Personal Introduction

Let me say at the outset that I might be more comfortable stitching together, as the grandson of a tailor, some words of deserved tribute for Cithara and its distinguished editor, Professor John Mulryan (to say nothing of all previous editors, staff, and contributors who have sustained this journal for half a century), if I were a member of the Franciscan Order or a rabbi, since I then would be able to wrap a raiment of ancient tradition around my shoulders.

But if I were a rabbi, I doubtless would be affiliated with a progressive Reform or Reconstructionist congregation and somewhat removed from the scholarly traditions that characterize the Conservative and Orthodox versions of Judaism - which isn't to say that another kind of ethical and social case can't be made for these branches.

Still, the Reform and Reconstructionist movements are late manifestations of Judaism; and when I was preparing to get married in Manhattan's elegant and aesthetic Temple Emanuel on Fifth Avenue, I asked the Orthodox and observant grandfather of my bride-to-be if he objected to the fact that the rabbi who would perform the service was affiliated with a Reform congregation.

Grandfather Kay - a modest silk merchant, for whom daily prayer was as important as constant labor in order to make a decent life possible for his family in what had been a new country for him (the archetypical JewishAmerican story) - paused and said with a worldly smile, "Why should I object? So far as I'm concerned, the Rabbi isn't even Jewish."

He then opened a drawer and gave us an envelope full of cash. "I have a system," he added, "one envelope for each grandchild." My future wife and I were delighted and immediately bought a new station wagon to drive back to Ann Arbor. The station wagon stayed on the road for a decade; the marriage didn't.

So you will have to accept some words of praise for Cithara from a JewishAmerican teacher- writer who lives, as he has written, "in a world of echoes," not one of "deep" knowledge, with respect to the Old Testament, Jewish History, and Hebraism in general, from someone for whom a writer's unique "voice" is the most important tool he or she possesses (Midstream).

I am a teacher-writer who has no official affiliation with any movement, party, or religious institution, who has as much respect for Hasidim as he does for Jewish Christians. In the end, one's speech is one's own.

But this inclusiveness and flexibility, the tug of minds between tradition and the reshaping of tradition, an issue TS. Eliot made famous in his "Tradition and the Individual Talent" (1919), is central to the commitment of any journal of enduring value and function. Cithara has had a distinct purpose, even as it has interrogated that purpose and opened its pages to different narrative styles and modes of inquiry - including my own generational memoirs in recent issues.

I may be underestimating my catholicity. I discovered Dorothy Day's The Catholic Worker when I was a high school student; I published two pieces in Commonweal in the early 1970's; and I managed to get promoted to PFC in the 106th Combat Engineer Battalion, Upper Manhattan, through the good offices of a chaplain who taught English at Fordham. So: I do have some bona fides for this occasion.

Quality and Tone of Cithara

The flexibility of Cithara, its tensile strength and "textured complexity" (Abell), its ability to withstand some counter-pressure to its core values, is represented from its first issue (November 1961) in the use of the word "essays," not just "articles."

The word "essay" calls to mind, of course, Montaigne, who in 1571 "returned to a retired life at home and began the composition of the Essais" (The Essais of Montaigne XX), lucidly informal "attempts" to explore a theme in a short form.

The key word here is "attempt," a sense of provisional truth without giving up the possibility of absolute truth. …

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