Welcome back, Nelson Ascher
I am very happy to announce that Nelson Ascher is back and blogging at his old address, Europundits.
If you're unfamiliar with Ascher, it's probably because he's been away from blogging for quite some time. After several years of fairly regular blogging, his entries became almost nonexistent for the first part of 2005, and then totally dried up. Apparently, work and family sorrow intervened: specifically, the death of his elderly father.
He was one of my favorite bloggers back when I was a rabid consumer of blogs and not yet a producer. When I first set up my own blog I put Ascher on my blogroll immediately. I kept him there all this time mainly out of respect, long after I assumed he'd stopped blogging forever. I've been thinking I really should get around to deleting that link, and then--lo and behold!--I happened to idly click on it today, apropos of nothing, and discovered to my surprise and delight that he was writing again.
You may ask: who's Nelson Ascher? He's Brazilian, for starters. Despite the name of his blog "Europundits", he now resides (as best I can determine) in Sao Paulo primarily, although he was living in Europe when he began his blog some years ago.
Ascher is not only a blogger. He is also a poet, in fact one of Brazil's best-known and highly regarded; also an essayist, journalist, and translator. His style of writing in his English-language blog is forthright, fluid, bold, and conversational, all at once.
Ascher is the child of Holocaust survivors who fled Hungary after the war and emigrated to Brazil in the early fifties, with a brief stop in Israel along the way. He is a Brazilian native, but that parental history informs much of what he writes and is part of his unique perspective. Ascher is wide-ranging, as you might expect: he muses on politics, poetry, and whatever happens to suit his fancy and catch his interest.
Of special interest to me is the fact that Ascher is another post 9/11 "changer." A liberal all of his life until that event, he has described his change thusly:
Look, I'm an atheist and I don't believe in the supernatural.
But let's say I'm walking along a deserted street around midnight and I see a vampire, with extra-long canines, sucking blood from a girl's neck. There's a mirror somewhere close by where I can see the girl but not the vampire. Then the girl reaches for a crucifix and, thouching the vampire with it, burns his skin and makes him run away. I know I'm not under the effect of booz or drugs. Later, as I get in touch with her, she confirms the story. People living where the event took place saw it from their windows and they also confirm it. Let's say I reach logically the conclusion there actually was a real vampire right there.
Now, I won't be able to say that my worldview remains the same as before and that what happened was just a meaningless exception to it....
Before 911 I was a social-democrat, a liberal. I thought the worst things in human history were either over of confined to small isolated groups operating in the world remotest places. There would be no nuclear war, world war, genocides in the developed world, mainstream anti-Semitism in Europe, large scale religious wars and so on anymore .
We lived in a new age of reason and human rights. Most of mankind had reached rational maturity.
On 911, however, I had to repeat with TS Eliot: "After such knowledge, what forgiveness?" or "Humankind cannot bear much reality."
I spent a month or so coming to terms with the fact that I had to change my whole worldview, that it wasn't just a matter of some derranged terrorists and of an isolated incident.
My view of Europe and the Muslims, democracy and dictatorship, the Arab-Israeli conflict, human rights and the Euro-American left, the UN and the EU, of the late 20th century and the post-Cold War world, Clinton and Bush and Chirac and Blair and Schröder and Putin, of religion and secularism, of many intellectuals, writers, philosophers and movie-makers, even of human nature had to change.
There was almost nothing in my mind that didn't have to be seriously reconsidered. This was the meaning of "everything has changed" for me: there actually are mosters, vampires, werewolves, death-cults and, besides, people I considered perfectly reasonable and rational were their objective allies and rooted for their victory.
That gives you a bit of the special flavor of Ascher's style of thinking and writing. I've missed his voice in the blogosphere, and I offer a hearty welcome on its return.
[ADDENDUM: I wrote the following in the comments section, in response to those who felt that Ascher's post-9/11 change was motivated by fear. I thought it was important enough to reproduce it here in the main thread:
I am quite puzzled at those who assume Ascher's "change" experience was motivated by fear. That's not my impression at all.
There is not a word of fear in his essay, at least as I see it. There is merely shock at the existence of people whose motives and actions are far worse than he had expected, and a resultant abandonment of his previous idea that we are all rational, reasonable, and kindly-disposed actors here. And an amazement that many of his seemingly rational and kindly friends were rooting for the victory of those who would be out to destroy us and the virtues and accomplishments of the Enlightenment.
This is what caused him to change his view of the world: the knowledge that the world was different than what he had thought it to be.
I also think it's interesting that some of you are so eager to leap on the bandwagon of fear as an explanation. This seems to be, as I wrote here, a newly popular way to slam those who have undergone the change. But it totally ignores what's going on here.
Perhaps what's going on with people such as myself and Nelson Ascher is just too threatening, and it is easier to chalk it all up to some sort of fearful reactivity rather than a cognitive reorganization, based on facts.
I would like to add that you may not agree with that cognitive reorganization, and you may even dispute the facts, but don't distort and belittle the motivation and the process by which the change occurred. If you've read my "change" series, you should know better than that.]