Tony Judt, man of words

I have never heard of Tony Judt until last month. He had passed away from Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

In the cold hotel room, I stumbled across the recorded interview. Immobilised from neck down, his use of the English language of such deep textures had me prematurely assumed that he was another elite, possibly a bigot. Yet, I couldn’t stop watching the telecast. The raspy voice resonated strength, loftiness, and at the same time, a deep sense of reflection. I was so lost in his strings of words, I could not keep up with the content and context. It was very frustrating. As the initial disorientation started to dissipate, it dawned on me – this is what being inspired feels like.

I know people say that one should always ‘put it simply’. What is really wrong with expressing yourself in an unnecessarily elaborated manner? In an email to a journalist about his Jewish identity, he wrote, beautifully –

More than I sometimes understand, I think, I am both writing in and about the tradition and spirit of Jewish cosmopolitanism: caught somewhere between Marx’s ‘ruthless criticism of everything existing’; pil-pul; zahor!; bearing critical witness; social responsibility; and perhaps a certain davka. I’ve never written about this directly, but I think it informs the tone – and probably the subject matter – of much of my work. It also makes me smile when American ultras accuse me of being ‘un-Jewish’ in my criticism of Israel, etc. It seems to me that, for good and ill, I am decidedly Jewish and in a long and worthy tradition.

In our pursuit of a good/better grasp of English, many people forget the power of the language. They forget that we can morph the metaphorical into reality. They forget that there is no limit to the imagination when words meet the mind.

Putting aside his political views and links, I am so glad that he reminded me of the philosophy of the written words. Like reading Jane Austen, the enigma reigns.


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