Fantasy Fiction, Morality, and Jewish Self-Hatred

Born in London in 1939, Michael Moorcock is the author of some 100 books, most of them works of fantasy and science fiction, genres to which he was a leading contributor in the 1960s and 70s. He was also the son of a Jewish mother, and Jewish characters and themes play important roles in a few of his works. One of them is the Pyat Quartet, an attempt to reckon with the Holocaust and 20th-century totalitarianism, about which Michael Weingrad writes:

The quartet is not fantasy literature but, at around 2,000 pages, it is a historical fantasia as ambitious as any novelistic project of our time. Darkly brilliant, the first book in the series, Byzantium Endures, shuttles between Kiev, Odessa, and Saint Petersburg during the first two decades of our own twentieth century. This is the rail-crossed, blood-soaked landscape of some of the greatest works of modern Jewish literature. Yet to an extent more extreme than any character one encounters in the works of Sholem Aleichem, Isaac Babel, I.J. Singer, Ze’ev Jabotinsky, and others who seem (especially Babel) to haunt the novel, Moorcock’s protagonist is a self-hating Jew.

In fact, the phrase may not quite be applicable since it is not clear how much of a self Colonel Maxim Pyatnitsky really possesses. Though “Pyat” is utterly convinced that he is of noble Cossack stock, and despite the near-constant stream of anti-Semitic and racist jeremiads delivered by this profoundly unreliable narrator, it is clear to everyone he meets that he is a Jew.

While Weingrad finds some of this engaging, it ultimately crashes against Moorcock’s limited moral horizons and “pretension to political significance” in the second half of the series:

Moorcock seems to think that his depictions of Pyat’s orgies with Hitler and pages-long fulminations against the Jews tell us something about the real nature of the modern West. But Nazism wasn’t a form of sexual dysfunction, as Moorcock seems to propose, and Pyat isn’t symbolic of anything except his own sociopathy.

Indeed, Weingrad suggests these literary failures stem from a blinkered moral vision apparent in some of the author’s other writings:

It is not just that Moorcock is unable to credit Christianity as a coherent moral response to the “world’s pain,” viewing religious faith as sinister hypocrisy. It is also that he requires a conservative enemy—Tolkien and C.S. Lewis in fiction, Reagan and Thatcher in politics—upon which to project his own moral flaws and distract from his own philosophical incoherence.

Moorcock’s Jewish identity . . . is mainly concerned with the Holocaust, disdainful of religion, and (in his online musings) taken up with sniping at Israel accompanied by a disinterest in getting to know that country firsthand. In this regard, he is typical of many assimilated and left-leaning Jews in both England and America.

Read more at Investigations and Fantasies

More about: Fantasy, Holocaust, Secularism

Iran’s Calculations and America’s Mistake

There is little doubt that if Hizballah had participated more intensively in Saturday’s attack, Israeli air defenses would have been pushed past their limits, and far more damage would have been done. Daniel Byman and Kenneth Pollack, trying to look at things from Tehran’s perspective, see this as an important sign of caution—but caution that shouldn’t be exaggerated:

Iran is well aware of the extent and capability of Israel’s air defenses. The scale of the strike was almost certainly designed to enable at least some of the attacking munitions to penetrate those defenses and cause some degree of damage. Their inability to do so was doubtless a disappointment to Tehran, but the Iranians can probably still console themselves that the attack was frightening for the Israeli people and alarming to their government. Iran probably hopes that it was unpleasant enough to give Israeli leaders pause the next time they consider an operation like the embassy strike.

Hizballah is Iran’s ace in the hole. With more than 150,000 rockets and missiles, the Lebanese militant group could overwhelm Israeli air defenses. . . . All of this reinforces the strategic assessment that Iran is not looking to escalate with Israel and is, in fact, working very hard to avoid escalation. . . . Still, Iran has crossed a Rubicon, although it may not recognize it. Iran had never struck Israel directly from its own territory before Saturday.

Byman and Pollack see here an important lesson for America:

What Saturday’s fireworks hopefully also illustrated is the danger of U.S. disengagement from the Middle East. . . . The latest round of violence shows why it is important for the United States to take the lead on pushing back on Iran and its proxies and bolstering U.S. allies.

Read more at Foreign Policy

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, U.S. Foreign policy