Jerusalem Calling: A Homeless Conscience in a Post-Everything World: by Joel Schalit, 218 pgs By Maddy

Feb 02, 2011

Jerusalem Calling covers a lot of ground: Schalit's childhood, his experiences having an Israeli military hero as a father, his conflicting youthful impressions about communism, his commitments to Marxism and critical theory, his beliefs about the conflicts in the Middle East and Bosnia, and his disillusionment with punk rock. In theory, the idea of writing a book sort of about your family, sort of about politics, sort of about your band, sort of about critical theory isn’t the worst idea. However, in this case it results in a wandering, rambling book that never seems to make a clear or concise point.

The writing was problematic. Let me be blunt. If there’s ever a reason I’d want to avoid continuing my education, it would be out of fear that, post-graduation, I would write sentences like, “No matter how diligently individuals who are convinced of the Internet's potential strive to escape history, they will always be confronted with forces like the religious right that are proactively intent on making new technology subservient to antiquity.”Huh? Unfortunately, Schalit’s book overflows with this type of writing, clearly written for a select crowd of critical theorists, graduate students, and Marxists. It's not that the ideas he expresses are too complicated; it’s just that the language he uses is.

The actual content isn’t much better. Schalit opens the book with a childhood story about a death-driven Christian teacher who purposely takes his students on a life-threatening hiking trip, with tragic results. Schalit argues that the teacher is an example of the idiocy of religion. He then dives into a critique of the religious right that quickly indicates his lack of contact with actual, living Christians. I don’t like organized religion either, but his underlying argument that the world is logical and religious people aren’t logical, therefore religion is stupid, is, well, about two hundred years old, and about as subtle as a crusty punk shouting, “Let’s off the pigs.”

A few dozen pages later, Schalit turns to the Middle East conflict. Here he just seems confused, saying one thing one minute and another the next. Glorifying his father as a war hero, then acknowledging that the Palestinians are being mistreated. Talking about how the Golan Heights were fairly acquired (a ridiculous assertion for anyone who knows anything about the conflict) and then complaining about how he doesn’t feel safe in Israel anymore.

Schalit also finds time to talk about punk rock, where he makes his most annoying arguments of the book. Basically, Schalit is another one of those indie hipsters who are disappointed that punk rock sold out and still, in 2002, offer up Nirvana as an example. Schalit makes sure to maintain indie cred by only, surprise surprise, liking the very early, Sub Pop work of Nirvana, all the while complaining about MRR calling punks who signed to major labels “sell-outs.” Schalit stopped listening to punk altogether in the '90s, because of all the business influence.

Of course, if all you do is shop in trendy record stores, work for college radio stations, and be in a band on K, well, yeah, I can see how you’re disillusioned. But you’ve gotta wonder if people like Schalit have buried their head in a pile of feces (or maybe just rare Sonic Youth records) for most of the '90s. There are still basement shows everywhere and high school kids making crazy, messy music. There are still hundreds, even thousands, of punk bands putting out their own records, booking their own tours, doin’ things their way. Schalit seems to think that every band has a press kit, glossy band photo, promo sheet, and business card. If you’re that cut off from the underground, then it's no wonder you’re disillusioned. To Mr. Schalit, I say, how about checking out any of the following bands: the Dillinger Four, This Bike Is A Pipe Bomb, Against Me, The Devil is Electric, Chaos LR, Forced Vengeance, Toys That Kill, Yesterday’s Kids, the Modern Machines, the Fragments, Shotwell…. and that’s just the music sitting next to my stereo right now. Point being, if you’re jaded, it’s probably your fault.

Interspersed with all of these rants about his childhood, the Middle East, punk, etc., are annoying asides, such as “We [Schalit and his girlfriend] pulled apart hot croissants with our fingers, sipped fresh orange juice, softly kissed each other, and savored the idea that we were in France and in love.” I must ask the question, is this so necessary? Plus we get treated to tales of finding a new Derrida book somewhere in Paris and other tales of stereotypical young academics softly kissing or doing whatever else they do. Irritating.

The back of the book states, “Jerusalem Calling signals the emergence of a new breed of public intellectual…” I would disagree. Jerusalem Calling is exactly what you’d expect from an aging indie rocker with an interest in critical theory. Maybe it’s not completely horrible and maybe there are some interesting parts, but this is certainly nothing new. –Maddy (Akashic Books, PO Box 1456, NY, NY10009)

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