A Russian Sci-Fi Classic with Jewish-Gentile Relations at Its Forefront

The Doomed City, composed in the 1970s by the Soviet science-fiction writers Arkady and Boris Strugatsky was—unlike the brothers’ other works in the same genre—kept secret and unpublished until the late 1980s under Mikhail Gorbachev. Recently released in English translation, the novel tells the story of two protagonists in a mythical “experimental” city, the story of which is a compressed and twisted version of Soviet history. In his review, Marat Grinberg construes this deeply anti-totalitarian work as a commentary on Plato’s Republic, which the Strugatskys read in the manner of the 20th-century philosopher Leo Strauss. Thus it has an “Athens” component, embodied in the character of the idealist-turned-Nazi-collaborator Andrei, and a “Jerusalem” component, embodied in his Jewish counterpart, Izya:

It is through Izya, whom Andrei turned in to the Secret Police for torture in the novel’s second part, that Andrei acquires “understanding.” The brothers [Strugatsky], sons of a Jewish father and a Russian mother, were always fascinated with Jewishness, an interest manifested prominently in their works through characters, tropes, and allegorical constructs. Izya, “with his provocatively Jewish features,” embodies this preoccupation unabashedly, and he represents [the brothers’] philosophy of Jewishness. Transported to the City in 1968—after the Arab-Israeli Six-Day War, which played a crucial role in reawakening Soviet Jewish self-consciousness, and after the Soviet invasion of Prague, which shattered any illusions about the nature of the Moscow regime—Izya joins the “experiment” out of “curiosity.”

He acts as a Jewish Socrates, an eternal skeptic and trickster, never satisfied with any status quo yet fully comfortable with his Jewishness, even proud of it as the source of his wisdom. At the end of the novel, Izya, in whom the previously bigoted Andrei finally recognizes a true sage, develops a theory of the “Great Temple” of culture (also a corollary to Plato). The temple, “the heritage of the minority,” is being built by the select few—writers, artists, thinkers—whether the majority wants it or not; at best, history can provide conditions that do not irreversibly hinder the construction. . . .

Izya recognizes that the temple’s builders are not immune from the impurities of life, yet they are humanity’s only positive sustaining source. Their “minority” status emphasizes the temple’s Jewish underpinnings. Indeed, the novel’s conclusion hinges on the relationship between Jew and Gentile, or more specifically Jew and Russian.

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Read more at Los Angeles Review of Books

More about: Arts & Culture, Jews in literature, Leo Strauss, Plato, Science fiction, Soviet Union

 

Why the Recent Uptick of Israeli Activity in Syria?

Sept. 23 2022

On September 16 and 17, the IDF carried out airstrikes in the vicinity of Damascus, reportedly aimed at Iranian logistical centers there. These follow on an increase in the frequency of such attacks in recent weeks, which have included strikes on the Aleppo airport on August 31 and September 6. Jonathan Spyer comments:

The specific targeting of the Aleppo airport is almost certainly related to recent indications that Iran is relying increasingly on its “air bridge” to Syria and Lebanon, because of Israel’s successful and systematic targeting of efforts to move weaponry and equipment by land [via Iraq]. But the increased tempo of activity is not solely related to the specific issue of greater use of air transport by Teheran. Rather, it is part of a broader picture of increasing regional tension. There are a number of factors that contribute to this emergent picture.

Firstly, Russia appears to be pulling back in Syria. . . . There are no prospects for a complete Russian withdrawal. The air base at Khmeimim and the naval facilities at Tartus and Latakia are hard strategic assets which will be maintained. The maintenance of Assad’s rule is also a clear objective for Moscow. But beyond this, the Russians are busy now with a flailing, faltering military campaign in Ukraine. Moscow lacks the capacity for two close strategic engagements at once.

Secondly, assuming that some last-minute twist does not occur, it now looks like a return to the [2015 nuclear deal] is not imminent. In the absence of any diplomatic process related to the Iranian nuclear program, and given Israeli determination to roll back Iran’s regional ambitions, confrontation becomes more likely.

Lastly, it is important to note that the uptick in Israeli activity is clearly not related to Syria alone. Rather, it is part of a more general broadening and deepening by Israel in recent months of its assertive posture toward the full gamut of Iranian activity in the region. . . . The increasing scope and boldness of Israeli air activity in Syria reflects this changing of the season.

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Read more at Jonathan Spyer

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Syria, War in Ukraine