Does the Latest Israeli Science Fiction Tell Us Anything about the Israeli Psyche?

April 3, 2018 | Michael Weingrad
About the author: Michael Weingrad is professor of Jewish studies at Portland State University and a frequent contributor to Mosaic and the Jewish Review of Books. 

Reviewing several recent works of Israeli science fiction and fantasy—from tales of body-switching to zombies to teen fantasy romance—Michael Weingrad focuses on a biblically informed novel as one of the better specimens:

Dror Bernstein’s novel Teet (“Mud”) retells in detail the story of the prophet Jeremiah. He does so, however, in an unsettling way. The setting is contemporary in that the events take place in a world much like that of today, with smartphones and airplanes, yet different in that prophets are as common as public-relations specialists, and Israel’s neighbors are Babylonians, Assyrians, and pharaonic Egyptians. . . . [It] may be fairly asked whether this absurdist novel, despite a few fantastic elements such as a talking dog, is what we conventionally recognize as science fiction. In that the story and actors are biblical yet the technology and mentality modern, we might call Teet a science-fiction novel for Iron Age readers. . . .

What is ultimately most striking about Teet’s take on Jeremiah, and where it falls entirely on the side of the modern, is the near-total absence of any experience of the divine. Prophets in this novel are poets, inspired less by the word of God than by the possibility of a good review.

Weingrad concludes with some general comments on the genre:

As an American reader, one is tempted to mine these novels for insight into the Israeli national psyche. Common themes exist among some if not all of these books: the fluidity of identity in our social-media worlds, the nature of Israeli identity more specifically and whether it is something to be sought in the ancient past or the far future, escape from the body whether by technology or death, the power of imagination, and, of course, private detectives. Yet what we see here is mostly a varied and steady stream of speculation and play, and this is not a bad thing. Not every work of Israeli fantasy has to deal with specifically Israeli issues.

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