Harold Bloom’s Anti-Christian, Anti-Jewish, and Anti-Narnia Theory of Fantasy

March 29 2019

Forty years ago, the eminent literary critic Harold Bloom published a fantasy novel titled The Flight to Lucifer, which by most accounts—the author’s included—is a poor piece of work. Evident in the book is the influence of David Lindsay’s 1920 novel A Voyage to Arcturus, a work that Bloom claims “infected me personally with more intensity and obsessiveness than all the works of greater stature and resonance of our time.” Michael Weingrad argues that Bloom’s novel might best be seen “not as a weak rewriting of Lindsay but rather as a failed struggle against” another professor of English literature-turned-fantasy writer: C.S. Lewis.

[In a 1982 book], Bloom holds up Lindsay as a counter to the [self-consciously Christian] fantasy writers known collectively as the Inklings: J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Charles Williams. [His] argument amounts to a preference for romantic rebellion to religious tradition. . . .

In The Flight to Lucifer, Bloom, [like Lewis in his Perelandra], attempts a kind of rewriting of Genesis. His planet features versions of the biblical flood, the tower of Babel, and Nimrod the hunter, but with a familiar Gnostic twist: the biblical God is actually a satanic demiurge, and the characters who defy his authority are emissaries of truth. Unfortunately, in Bloom’s hands, these Gnostic inversions are repetitive and dramatically sterile. . . .

Judaism does not come out much better than Christianity, by the way, at least if Bloom’s portrait of Lucifer’s Mandaeans, “this fearful, narrow, aggressive remnant of a people” consumed with “the common quarrel about possession of land,” means what I think it does.

All in all, The Flight to Lucifer is less of an homage to Lindsay than an anti-Perelandra. And yet, despite Bloom’s intentions, it demonstrates that what Bloom calls “Promethianism” is, well, kind of narcissistic. It turns out that Gnostic rebellion is not especially interesting, at least in Bloom’s dramatization; it seems rather adolescent and self-obsessed. . . .

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More about: Arts & Culture, Christianity, Fantasy, Judaism, Literary criticism, Religion

 

Who Changed the Term “Nakba” into a Symbol of Arab Victimization?

April 19 2019

In contemporary Palestinian discourse, not to mention that of the Palestinians’ Western supporters, the creation of the state of Israel is known as the Nakba, or catastrophe—sometimes explicitly compared with the Holocaust. The very term has come to form a central element in a narrative of passive Palestinian suffering at Jewish hands. But when the Syrian historian Constantin Zureiq first used the term with regard to the events of 1948, he meant something quite different, and those responsible for changing its meaning were none other than Israelis. Raphael Bouchnik-Chen explains:

In his 1948 pamphlet The Meaning of the Disaster (Ma’na al-Nakba), Zureiq attributed the Palestinian/Arab flight to the stillborn pan-Arab assault on the nascent Jewish state rather than to a premeditated Zionist design to disinherit the Palestinian Arabs. “We [Arabs] must admit our mistakes,” [he wrote], “and recognize the extent of our responsibility for the disaster that is our lot.” . . . In a later book, The Meaning of the Catastrophe Anew, published after the June 1967 war, he defined that latest defeat as a “Nakba,” . . . since—just as in 1948—it was a self-inflicted disaster emanating from the Arab world’s failure to confront Zionism. . . .

It was only in the late 1980s that it began to be widely perceived as an Israeli-inflicted injustice. Ironically, it was a group of politically engaged, self-styled Israeli “new historians” who provided the Palestinian national movement with perhaps its best propaganda tool by turning the saga of Israel’s birth upside down, with aggressors turned into hapless victims, and vice-versa, on the basis of massive misrepresentation of archival evidence.

While earlier generations of Palestinian academics and intellectuals had refrained from exploring the origins of the 1948 defeat, the PLO chairman Yasir Arafat, who was brought to Gaza and the West Bank as part of the 1993 Oslo Accords and was allowed to establish his Palestinian Authority (PA) in parts of those territories, grasped the immense potential of reincarnating the Nakba as a symbol of Palestinian victimhood rather than a self-inflicted disaster. In 1998, he proclaimed May 15 a national day of remembrance of the Nakba. In subsequent years, “Nakba Day” has become an integral component of the Palestinian national narrative and the foremost event commemorating their 1948 “catastrophe.”

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More about: Arab World, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, New historians, Yasir Arafat