I’ve been back from Philly for a few days now and will be blogging again for a bit before I decide what to do once terms restarts. It’s a really fabulous city. It’s no Washington or New York, of course, but it’s wedged between the two more than just geographically: it feels a lot more authentic and grittier than DC , but without the belligerence and bustle of Manhattan. Perhaps it being Labor Day weekend explains the particularly peaceful feel, but I stayed in the Historic District and the only area packed with people was right next to Liberty Bell.
That District, though, is a political theorist’s wet dream. You’ve got Independence Hall surrounded by enough exhibitions on all things constitutional to last a week. That’s no exaggeration. On every street corner seemed to stand signs pointing people towards yet another centre dedicated to the politics of faith, freedom and the Founding Fathers. The stand-out trip for me was to the National Jewish Museum, which was running a special exhibition on George Washington and his work to garner public support for secularism and religious liberty. It was only after that kind of dense context – letter after letter intent on persuading all sorts of congregations – that you can start to see just how radical the American project was. And by the time I was done with the rest of that museum – three floors chronologically mapping out centuries of Jewish persecution and exile, during which America was for so many the only saviour – the messy but necessary role of Israel in US politics made so much more sense. I think I tweeted this at the time, but it was truly the closest I’ve come to grasping the power of communitarianism, the desire to tie a state up with a specific cultural identity.
Enough gushing, though. It should be pretty obvious by now that I’m drunk on the idea of America and that colours everything while I’m there. I’ll spare you the details of my seeing Springsteen again. I’ve blogged about that enough this summer (after Manchester here, and after London and Dublin here). Suffice it to say that I heard Jungleland played for only the second time since Clemons’ death, and I got this close to the Boss:
Here’s a seemingly typical Philly street:
And oh, just two more things.
Reading The New York Times and Atlantic in print over there, I realised just how great both are and how terribly mediocre The Times of London is. So naturally I’ve taken out a digital subscription to both. The NYT only charges $10 a month now if you have a student email address. That’s got to be the best bargain in the media world.
And on the way back whilst down south, I stopped by at Stonehenge for the first time. What an absurd mystery of a place! The audio guide might as well have simply said ‘Purpose: Unknown. Built: Somehow’. A circle of seven foot rocks that can be used to calculate seasons whilst also seemingly serving as a source of sun worship, perhaps in turn acting as a display of prowess and power, and also – wait for it – possibly perceived at the time as possessing curative powers making it tantamount to a pre-historic Lourdes?
More recently two major new theories have been proposed. Professor Geoffrey WainwrightOBE, FSA, president of the Society of Antiquaries of London, and Professor Timothy Darvill, OBE of Bournemouth University have suggested that Stonehenge was a place of healing… They argue that this accounts for the high number of burials in the area and for the evidence of trauma deformity in some of the graves. However they do concede that the site was probably multifunctional and used for ancestor worship as well. Isotope analysis indicates that some of the buried individuals were from other regions. A teenage boy buried approximately 1550 BC was raised near the Mediterranean Sea.
Yeah, I’m not even going to begin to wonder how you get from the Mediterranean across the Channel to England over three thousand years ago. The place is mind-blowing. If you live in Britain and you haven’t been, sort that out as soon as you can.
That’s all for now. Normal service – philosophy, politics – to be resumed shortly.