Posts Tagged ‘Michael Chabon’

Literary Authors on the Occupation of Palestine

March 31, 2020

Michael Chabon, ed., Kingdom of Olives and Ash: Writers Confront the Occupation (Fourth Estate 2017).

This is another book I found in the Postscript catalogue for April, 2020. It seems to be a collection of pieces by prominent western literary types dealing criticising the occupation of Palestine. The blurb for it runs

Edited in cooperation with Breaking the Silence, an NGO of former Israeli soldiers who served in the Occupied Territories, this collection of essays reflects on the human cost of 50 years of occupation, conflict and destruction in the West Bank and Gaza. The contributors include such celebrated international writers as Mario Vargas Llosa, Colm Toibin, Eimear McBride, Hari Kunzru, Dave Eggers and Rachel Kushner.

It’s usual price is £12.99, but they’re offering it at £4.99.

Michael Chabon’s the author of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, which seems to be a fictional version of the creation of the superhero comic by two Jewish lads in ’30s America. Which is how Superman started, and immediately became a massive success and icon of modern American popular culture. More recently, he’s the showrunner for Star Trek: Picard, the latest installment in the Star Trek franchise. This has been massively pilloried by fans because it has moved away from the Utopian optimism of Gene Roddenberry’s vision, to become dark and dystopian. It is also very heavy-handed in its treatment of contemporary politics, such as immigration, Donald Trump and Brexit. And it’s terribly written. But it seems that Chabon has done excellent work here in compiling this volume, with its contributions from some very prominent writers. Mario Vargas Llosa is a giant of South American literature, Colm Toibin is a favourite of the British and Irish literary landscape, as is Hari Kunzru, and Dave Eggers is another famous literary name.

As for Breaking the Silence, they’re one of the many Israeli groups against the country’s brutal maltreatment of the Palestinians, like the human rights organisation B’Tsalem, that Netanyahu has raged against and tried to silence. Because the extreme right-wing Israeli establishment, as it stands, really cannot tolerate criticism from Jews, even when they are Zionists and/or domestic citizens. They have to be monstrous autocrats like Netanyahu. Who I’ve heard described by one Jewish academic as ‘that bastard Netanyahu’. None of these writers are anti-Semites and the book seems to be a successor to previous volumes by historians, writers and personalities attacking the occupation of Palestine and the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians. One of the Jewish voices condemning the bombardment of Gaza nearly a decade ago was the respected British thesp, Miriam Margolyes. She said she spoke ‘as a proud Jew, and as an ashamed Jew’. This lost her the friendship of Maureen Lipman, who has spent the last five years ranting about how anti-Semitic the Labour party is. She began spouting this nonsense back in 2015 or thereabouts when the-then leader of the Party, Ed Miliband, who is Jewish, utter some mild criticism of Israel and dared to take a few steps away from Blairism.

Books like these are necessary, and they do seem to have an effect. The woefully misnamed Campaign Against Anti-Semitism was set up in 2012 because the Zionist faction in Britain were worried about the bombardment of Gaza had resulted in Israel losing the support of many severely normal Brits. It’s why the organisation seems to spend its time and energy not on pursuing and attacking real anti-Semites and Fascists, but mostly left-wing critics of Israel.  It’s why the Israel lobby is trying to close down criticism of Israel worldwide through contrived definitions of anti-Semitism like that of the IHRA, which include criticism of Israel.

It’s great that books like this are still being published despite the efforts of the Israel lobby to silence their authors and the principled Israeli organisations that work with them. And it’s a disgusting scandal that, in 2020, they should still be crying out against this glaring injustice.

Documentary Tonight on the Works of SF Author Ursula Le Guin

November 17, 2019

The Beeb are tonight screening a programme ‘The Worlds of Ursula K Le Guin’ at 10.00 pm on BBC 4. The blurb for it in the Radio Times runs

The American feminist writer, who died in January 2018, was best known for her ground-breaking science fiction and fantasy novels such as A Wizard of Earthsea and The Left Hand of Darkness, Produced with Le Guin’s participation over the course of a decade, this documentary explores how she defiantly held her ground on the margin of “respectable” literature until the sheer excellence of her work forced the mainstream to embrace fantastic literature. Tyhe film features contributions from the likes of Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman, David Mitchell and Michael Chabon. (p. 65).

The additional piece a few pages earlier by Huw Fullerton on page 63 reads

It’s fair to say that Ursula K Le Guin was a one-off. While plenty of sci-fi and fantasy authors could be described as ahead of their time, there are few to whom this applies as aptly as Le Guin, who was writing piercing, feminist and race-sensitive works as far back as the 1960s and 70s with works such as The Wizard of Earthsea, The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed, elevating her storytelling beyond the literary fringe.

In this new film, luminaries including Neil Gaiman, Margaret Atwood and Michael Chabon pay tribute to Le Guin’s life and legacy, interweaving with unusual animation to bring her story to (appropriately) fantastical life. 

I read The Dispossessed back in the 1990s, and I can’t say I liked it. It’s about a scientist, Shevek, from a desolate world colonised by Anarchists to its twin planet of Aieio. Shevek has been working on a Faster Than Light communication device, an ansible, a concept found in other SF writers, like James Blish’s Dirac Telephone. Unable to complete it on his world, he defects to its capitalist twin, now undergoing massive worker unrest and an ecological crisis. He becomes a figurehead for the working class radicals, and helps to inspire a revolution. He gives a speech, which is praised by Earth’s woman ambassador. The planet has been left a desert thanks to capitalism’s destruction of the environment. Conditions are consequently very basic, but humanity has been taken to the stars by the Hainish after they discovered Earth. After the revolution’s success, he travels with a member of an alien race, the Hainish, an ancient race of space travelers who have established interstellar contact between themselves, Earth and Aieio and its twin, back to his home world.

Shevek’s anarchist world is a harsh environment with no animal life on its dry lands, although it certainly exists in its seas. The society is based on the ideas of Odo, a female political thinker of a century or so earlier. There is no private property, no prisons and marriage has been abolished. However, couples may live together as partners. Children are brought up in state nurseries away from their parents, who may visit them. The harsh environment and puritanical ideology means that individuality in dress is frowned on as wasteful and extravagant. Everyone basically wears the same costume, although some do make it more individual in the towns and settlements away from the Centre devoted to dyeing. There is no government, but material goods are administered by the Centre, which contains the computer complex used to administer the society.

I didn’t find Le Guin’s anarchist utopia appealing. It’s far too like the totalitarian Communist societies, and particularly Maoism in its uniforms, hostility to religion, marriage and the family. I am also not sure that feminists would like a world where the differences between men and women are so extremely minimised. While women obviously want to be free to enter masculine professions, like science, engineering, construction and so on, there’s still a desire to retain some forms of traditional femininity. This was demonstrated in a piece on the one show about three Air Cadets, who had been voted its top people, and had won a trip to America to see where the latest high performance jet fighters bought by the RAF, were being made. Two of them were young women, and the third a young Black man. It shows that the RAF are trying to recruit a more diverse membership. What I found particularly interesting was that one of these prospective fighter pilots, a woman, outside of the Cadets blogged about makeup. This seemed to me to be the RAF reassuring prospective female recruits that the could still be girly and feminine while piloting an awesome engine of death. I also remember reading an interview with the psychotherapist Suzie Orbach, the author of Fat Is A Feminist Issue in the Financial Times in the 1990s where she said she didn’t want women becoming exactly like men, or men becoming exactly like women.

Also, I found Shevek himself to be a bit of a prig. He was very sanctimonious, pronouncing on the superiority of his planet and its culture at every opportunity. Le Guin recognises that it would have problems, like hoarding, as well as the administrative elite using their authority to suppress music and literature of which they don’t approve, but looking at the problems the Communist societies experienced, it struck me that these problems would be much greater. It also struck me that there would also be a serious problem with crime and criminality, simply because of human – or in this case – humanoid nature – which could not be solved through social engineering alone.

But there is no doubt that she is one of the great SF authors with a very wide following, and I’m sure that this programme will be an excellent examination of her works.