Claudia Moscovici

The Multimedia Launch of Velvet Totalitarianism (Intre Doua Lumi) in Romania

I’m happy to report that my first novel, Velvet Totalitarianism, was launched in Romanian translation (by Mihnea Gafita) under the title Intre Doua Lumi (Curtea Veche Publishing, 2011). The presentation will include my talk about the book as well as a book trailer produced by Claudiu Ciprian Popa and a music video produced by Andy (Soundland) Platon (see the below). This was the first multimedia launch, in which a book trailer and music video accompanied the presentations of the novel.

The political commentator Adrian Cioroianu, the literary critic Alex Stefanescu and the film producer Stere Gulea introduced my novel in light of their respective fields. The book launch took place at the Romanian Cultural Institute in Bucharest (ICR Bucuresti) on September 21, 2011 at 18:00 p.m. (Aleea Alexandru nr. 38, sector 1, 011824, Bucuresti, România).  

This novel is being made into a movie by the Romanian-American cinematographer Bernard Salzman (http://bernardsalzman.com/)

I’m pasting below the Advance Praise for my novel as well as Diana Evantia Barca‘s article about it in Catchy.ro and Anca Lapusneanu‘s article about it (and intellectual freedom) in Revista VIP.

Advance Praise for Velvet Totalitarianism/Intre Doua Lumi

A deeply felt, deftly rendered novel of the utmost importance to any reader interested in understanding totalitarianism and its terrible human cost. Urgent, evocative, and utterly convincing, Velvet Totalitarianism is a book to treasure, and Claudia Moscovici is indeed a writer to watch, now and into the future.

–Travis Holland, author of the critically acclaimed novel, The Archivist’s Story, a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection.

Claudia Moscovici’s first novel, Velvet Totalitarianism, triumphs on several levels: as a taut political thriller, as a meditation on totalitarianism, as an expose of the Ceausescu regime, and as a moving fictionalized memoir of one family’s quest for freedom.

–Ken Kalfus, author of the novel A Disorder Peculiar to the Country

 (2006 National Book Award nominee), of The Commissariat of Enlightenment (2003) and of PU-239 and Other Russian Fantasies (1999).

Western intellectuals have often blurred the fundamental differences between the imperfect free world they have been fortunate to enjoy and the totalitarian world of communism they never had the misfortune to endure.  Claudia Moscovici’s Velvet Totalitarianism is a powerful corrective to that ivory tower distortion of reality.  Moscovici makes her readers viscerally feel the corrosive psychological demoralization and numbing fear totalitarian regimes impose on those who live under them.  At the same time, with style and wit, and informed by her experiences as a child in communist Romania and then as an immigrant in the United States, she tells a story of resilience and hope.  Velvet Totalitarianism is a novel well worth reading, both for its compelling narrative and for its important message.

–Michael Kort, Professor of Social Science at Boston University and author of the best-selling textbook, The Soviet ColossusHistory and Aftermath

This vivid novel by Claudia Moscovici, historian of ideas and wide-ranging literary critic, traces a family of Jewish-Romanian refugees from the stifling communist dictatorship of their homeland through their settling in the United States during the 1980’s. This fascinating and compelling story is at once historically accurate, exciting, sexy and a real page-turner. Ms. Moscovici is as sensitive to the emotions of her characters as to their political entanglements.

–Edward K. Kaplan, Kevy and Hortense Kaiserman Professor in the Humanities at Brandeis University and author of Spiritual Radical: Abraham Joshua Heschel in America, 1940-1972, winner of the National Jewish Book Award

Moving between extraordinary and ordinary lives, between Romania and the United States, velvet totalitarianism and relative freedom, dire need and consumerism, evoking her Romanian experience in the seventies, the emigration to the U.S. of her family in the eighties, and the 1989 uprising in Timisoara and Bucharest that marked the end of Ceausescu’s regime, Claudia Moscovici offers her readers a multifaceted book—Velvet Totalitarianism—that is at once a love story, a political novel and a mystery. Love is the last resort left to people in order to counter totalitarianism under Ceausescu’s rule. It keeps families united, allowing them to resist indoctrination and hardship and to make sure their children enjoy the carefree beautiful years that are their due. Love gives the protagonist of the novel the strength to overcome cultural differences between Romania and the U.S. and to invent in turn a form of personal happiness in a context that, while far from being as harsh as her initial one, does not lack its own problems.

– Sanda Golopentia, Professor of French, Brown University

Cold historical facts and figures tend to leave us emotionally indifferent. The impact of a nation’s tragic events on one single person or family is much better understood and more profoundly felt. This is what makes Claudia Moscovici’s book, Velvet Totalitarianism, so very special. Her novel is prefaced by a well-researched history of Romania under communism. Depending on one’s point of view, Moscovici’s work could be considered as the fictionalized story of a real Jewish-Romanian family under communism, based on her own recollections and that of her family and supported by true historical facts; or a brief history supported by the fictionalized story of a real family. It’s a book well worth reading. The novel is a page-turner, witty and well written.

–Nicolae Klepper, author of the best-selling book, Romania: An Illustrated History.

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September 3, 2011 Posted by | Adrian Cioroianu, Advance Praise for Velvet Totalitarianism, Alex Stefanescu, Anca Lapusneanu, Andy Soundland Platon, Bernard Salzman, Bernard Salzman Intre Doua Lumi, Bernard Salzman Velvet Totalitarianism, book launch of Intre Doua Lumi, book review, catchy.ro, Claudia Moscovici, Claudia Moscovici si Libertatea Intelectuala, Claudiu Ciprian Popa, communist Romania, contemporary fiction, Curtea Veche Publishing, curteaveche.ro, Diana Evantia Barca, Editura Curtea Veche, fiction, ICR Bucharest, ICR Bucuresti, Intre Doua Lumi, Intre Doua Lumi by Claudia Moscovici, literary criticism, literary fiction, literature, literature salon, literaturesalon, Mihaela Carlan, Mihnea Gafita, Revista VIP Velvet Totalitarianism, Romanian Cultural Institute, Stere Gulea, Velvet Love, Velvet Love by Andy Platon, Velvet Totalitarianism | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Dystopic Utopias in Speculative Fiction and Art

 

There are several great novels associated with the dystopic utopia tradition, but without a doubt four of the most notable are: Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, George Orwell’s 1984, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Such novels distinguish themselves from both fantasy and science fiction. In an interview, Atwood stated that she prefers the name “speculative fiction,” a term coined by Robert A. Heinlein, to describe A Handmaid’s Tale (NY: First Anchor Books Edition, 1998): “Science fiction has monsters and spaceships. Speculative fiction could really happen.” (“Aliens have taken the place of angels: Margaret Atwood on why we need science fiction,” The Guardian, June 2005). Speculative fiction has become an umbrella term that includes utopian and dystopic fiction as well as apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction, some of which may also be considered to be science fiction or fantasy. The best speculative fiction, I believe, reveals what has already begun to happen and extrapolates with amazing lucidity how social and political ideals can turn into our worst nightmares. Every utopic ideology, from Marxism to eugenics and from primitivism to technocracy, has within it the seeds of its own dystopic undoing. Each one shows part of what has happened in our cultures and how things could get a lot worse.

 

Margaret Atwood’s novel illustrates what could take place in any culture or society where the women’s movement joins forces with the radical right to create a “purer” society.  In such a world, “freedom to” (dress as one wants, choose one’s profession and life partner) becomes “freedom from” (being a sex object, having too many choices of partners, location or profession). But “freedom from” is only a euphemism for lack of civil rights, for constraint, for invisibility itself (as women are enshrouded in a veil and even wear blinders on top of their heads, so they can’t see or be seen). It is a dystopic utopia; a contradiction in terms. Some societies have already implemented such a “freedom from” in the name of various religious or political ideologies. However, as Atwood underscores, no society—even the most seemingly open-minded and liberal–is immune to it. Totalitarian constraints can happen anywhere, even in the U.S, which, in fact, is the setting for her novel.

 

While Margaret Atwood envisions a danger that could happen, George Orwell describes a social experiment that did happen.  To many who have lived through the totalitarian phase of communism in Eastern Europe, as I have, Orwell’s 1984 is, in many respects, a historical novel: one that goes hand in hand with Robert Conquest’s monumental history, The Great Terror.  Newspeak, thought police, brainwashing; the physical and psychological torture of political prisoners to confess to nonexistent crimes and the show trials were all part and parcel of how the NKVD and other Secret Police organizations ruled  with an iron fist during communist dictatorships. O’Brien, the Thought Police agent in the novel, states the open secret of totalitarian regimes: “We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship.” (1984, NY: Harcourt Brace and Company, 1949,  p. 272)

Perhaps the only speculative aspect of Orwell’s utopic dystopia is, as O’Brien himself points out, that those put on show trials die purified of their thought crimes and convinced of the righteousness of the new regime. They often are not, as were the victims of Stalinist purges, the embittered martyrs of a lost freedom. O’Brien promises Winston: “I shall save you, I shall make you perfect” (251). Perfection in 1984 is a world with no objective parameters of truth and falsehood or of right and wrong. It is a world in which the past is a convenient fiction for the present; a world where the difference between fear and blind trust is obliterated.  The Thought Police aims not merely to oppress man, but also to gaslight him: to get him to accept relativism without question. “We do not destroy the heretic because he resists us; so long as he resists us we never destroy him,” states O’Brian (263). He pursues: “We convert him, we capture his inner mind, we reshape him…. We make him one of ourselves before we kill him… Even in the instant of death we cannot permit any deviation” (263).

 

By their very nature, utopias are ideological and dogmatic. They often represent a reaction to one form of constraint or dogmatism with an equally strong reaction in the opposite direction.   Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (NY: HarperCollins, 1932) probes another aspect of ideological dreams that could easily turn into nightmares: the social experiments of eugenics and the supposed biological justifications for social hierarchies and castes. Written during a time when the Nazi party was already starting to implement eugenic policies—described, in some ways, in the novel–Brave New World doesn’t spare democratic societies its sharp social critiques either.   Huxley describes the dangers that capitalism and industrialization, if left unchecked, can pose for humanity. Human beings are reduced to little more than automatons, consuming mood altering drugs and engaging in ritualistic sexual activities to compensate for lack of thought and the superficial and impersonal nature of their emotional ties.

 

Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 (NY: Random House, 1953) issues a powerful warning against censorship: books are burned because of their dangerous, potentially conflagrating ideological effects. However, as the author states in an interview in the late 1950’s, the novel also touches upon the alienation among people caused by an excess of information and too much exposure to the mass media: “But only a few weeks ago, in Beverly Hills one night, a husband and wife passed me, walking their dog… The woman held in one hand a small cigarette-package-sized radio, its antenna quivering. … There she was, oblivious to the man and dog, listening to far winds and whispers and soap opera cries, sleepwalking, helped up and down curbs by a husband who might just as well not have been there. This was not fiction” (quoted by Kingsley Amis in New Maps of Hell: A Survey of Science Fiction, NY: Ayer Co. Publishing, 1975). Obviously, the author’s critique can be exponentially multiplied today, when most of our human contacts are mediated by ipods, computers, twittering, Facebook and other technological gadgets and social/mass media networks.  The future is already here. Each of these speculative novels not only predicted it, but also critiqued it in a way that remains very current.

Why are these speculative novels still relevant and important today? I’d like to explore this question by using as my point of departure a few famous quotes by leading writers and intellectuals.

1.“Our business here is to be Utopian, to make vivid and credible, if we can, first this facet and then that, of an imaginary whole and happy world.” H. G. Wells, A Modern Utopia

Any society is flawed; any political institution, no matter how inclusive or democratic, has some corruption, inequality and unfairness in it. Utopian visions hone in on those weaknesses and injustices to imagine a better world, a world without these flaws. They function, in some ways, as a magnifying glass that allows us to see better the problems with our societies and institutions and as a mirror to imagine their obverse side.

2. “The founders of a new colony, whatever Utopia of human virtue and happiness they might originally project, have invariably recognized it among their earliest practical necessities to allot a portion of the virgin soil as a cemetery, and another portion as the site of a prison.” Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter

Almost every speculative novel is, in many respects, more multidimensional and more lucid than any political ideology was or ever could be. It captures both sides of the coin: the utopic vision and its dystopic, more realistic downsides. As Hawthorne puts it: both the ground you build a better society upon and the place you segregate its outlaws and its casualties.

3. “All paradises, all utopias are designed by who is not there, by the people who are not allowed in.” Toni Morrison, Online NewsHour interview, March 9, 1998

Utopic visions offer the best vantage point for social critiques. As Morrison points out, they are almost always correctives for hierarchies and injustices in the real world of the have’s from the perspective of the have not’s.  Since each society has so many distinctions and hierarchies, the have’s and the have not’s are not a binary dichotomy (between races or classes), but more of a fractal of many social and cultural dichotomies.

4. “Nearly all creators of Utopia have resembled the man who has toothache, and therefore thinks happiness consists in not having toothache… Whoever tries to imagine perfection simply reveals his own emptiness.” George Orwell, Why Socialists Don’t Believe in Fun

Utopic visions will always exist because nothing in our world can ever be perfect. We will always suffer from the “toothaches” Orwell alludes to. There will always be something wrong with our social and political institutions, no matter what they are. The need to imagine a world without whatever specific flaws we choose to focus on in our societies is therefore also inevitable. We will temporarily see in those utopic visions a better society. However, as Orwell points out, in reality, we might only be exchanging a toothache for a headache, or one problem for another.

5. “In the next few years the struggle will not be between utopia and reality, but between different utopias, each trying to impose itself on reality… We can no longer hope to save everything, but… we can at least try to save lives, so that some kind of future, if perhaps not the ideal one, will remain possible.” (Albert Camus, Between Hell and Reason)

As a counterpoint to Orwell’s cynicism, we can safely say that not all utopias (or dystopias, depending upon your perspective) are equal. Some hells are hotter than others; some political and social structures worse than the next. Utopic visions offer a horizon of possibility. They enable human beings to at least try to aspire to creating better social institutions and governments.

6. “Life without utopia is suffocating, for the multitude at least: threatened otherwise with petrifaction, the world must have a new madness.” E. M. Cioran, History and Utopia

A world without utopic visions is a world deprived of imagination, where one only sees what is and remains blind to what could be. Utopias enable us to dream and envision another way of life, perhaps a better world. They are healthy fantasies and necessary regulative ideals: as long as we remember their dangers and undersides, as each of these great writers reminds us.

 Claudia Moscovici, postromanticism.com

 

July 21, 2011 Posted by | 1984, Aldous Huxley, Alex Bustillo, Alex M. Bustillo, Bataille, book review, book reviews, Brave New World, Claudia Moscovici, communism, controlling women's bodies, controlling women's sexuality, critiques of the veil, Dan St. Andrei, dystopic utopias, Eastern Europe, Eroticism, Fahrenheit 451, fantasy, fiction, George Orwell, historical fiction, history, Holocaust, literary criticism, literary fiction, literature, literature salon, literaturesalon, mainstream fiction, Margaret Atwood, Myopia, photographer Alex Bustillo, photographer Dan St. Andrei, Ray Bradbury, Romanticism and Postromanticism, science fiction, speculative fiction, Story of the Eye, The Handmaid's Tale, utopia, Velvet Totalitarianism | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Unveiling the Veil in Contemporary Iranian Art and Literature

 

 

In 1979, Ayatollah Khomeini mandated that all Iranian women must observe an Islamic dress code, which included wearing the veil, under the threat of death for those who refused to abide by these laws. This happened at about the same time that the totalitarian leader of my own country, Nicolae Ceausescu, was starting to impose draconian measures on Romanian women. Between the years 1979 and 1989, Ceausescu instituted a series of laws that controlled women’s sexuality and reproduction by banning birth control and abortion. This was part of his narcissistic fantasy of doubling the population of the country, so that he could have more power. Eventually, as I described in my novel Velvet Totalitarianism, such measures lead to tens of thousands of unwanted children, many of which were placed in unimaginably bad conditions in the infamous Romanian orphanages. To my mind, both measures—in Iran and in Romania–represented a way of establishing power over women rather than being a reflection of religious or ideological (communist) values.

Having been sensitized early in life to these displays of totalitarian power, many years later, when I read Azar Nafisi‘s memoir, Reading Lolita in Tehran (2003), I was especially moved by the author’s critique of the uses of the veil to control Iranian women’s bodies. I was also very impressed by her creative allusions to Anglo-American literary history—the book is divided into four sections–Lolita, Gatsby, James and Austen–to launch her compelling cultural critiques. Many of you have probably already read this book, but if you haven’t, I highly recommend it. Vladimir Nabokov’s classic novel, Lolita, about a sociopathic sexual predator whose fetish is prepubescent girls functions as Nafisi’s main metaphor for Iranian laws, which, she states, imposed “a dream upon our reality, turning us into figments of imagination.” These female figments are objects of simultaneous control and temptation: temptation through prohibition by hiding the female body.

Recently, I ran across the images of an artist who, I believe, launches an equally powerful and creative critique of the veil by unveiling women. Majeed Benteeha is an Iranian-born photographer, poet and aspiring film producer. Moving back and forth between Tehran and New York City, he simultaneously combines and clashes both worlds, in a spectacular mix that challenges cultural assumptions on both fronts. His images often feature veiled women posing nude in an iconic fashion that seems more sacred than profane. Benteenha’s strikingly original photography violates religious orthodoxies–about feminine modesty, about the religious and social connotations of the veil–only to show us another way to respect women and all that they represent: love, maternity, sensuality, desire, intelligence.

His images are simple, beautiful, erotic and dramatic. They include symbols associated with the Muslim faith, but also seem very European in many respects. Perhaps unwittingly, Beenteha’s photography alludes to works like L’Erotisme, by the French anthropologist and philosopher Georges Bataille, which presents the sacred as inextricably related to the profane: not just for Muslim societies, but for all cultures in general. Bataille famously states: “The essence of morality is a questioning about morality and the decisive move of human life is to use ceaselessly all light to look for the origin of the opposition between good and evil.” It seems that is precisely what Beenteha’s artistic short film below underscores, in its mirroring and contrast between a universal modernity and Muslim tradition; between light and dark; between masculine and feminine; between tenderness and predation; between desire and contempt. You can view his photography and artistic films on the links below.

http://www.youtube.com/user/ClaudiaMoscovici#p/a/f/0/Mv3P-3kPfzo

Claudia Moscovici, postromanticism.com


June 3, 2011 Posted by | Ayatollah Khomeini, Azar Nafisi, book review, book reviews, books, Claudia Moscovici, communism, communist Romania, controlling women's bodies, controlling women's sexuality, critiques of the veil, Iran, Islamic dress code, literary criticism, literature, Lolita, Majeed Benteeha, Majeed Benteeha photography, Nicolae Ceausescu, Photographer Majeed Beenteeha, photography, Reading Lolita in Tehran, Romania, Romanian orphanages, sensual photography, sociopath, sociopathy, Surrealism, the veil, Velvet Totalitarianism | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Unveiling the Veil in Contemporary Iranian Art and Literature

Levi Asher’s Why Ayn Rand Was Wrong: A Strong Case for a New Humanism

 

The name Ayn Rand is well-known in our culture largely for being unpopular, or, at best, popular with unpopular people. And yet, argues writer, philosopher and literary critic Levi Asher in his new book, Why Ayn Rand Is Wrong (And Why It Matters), her legacy is being short-changed. Not that Asher agrees with Rand’s defense of egoism. Yet he believes that her philosophical argument is important enough to be taken into account and given a proper refutation.

Why is it important? For two main reasons: first, because the moral debates between altruism and egoism are as old as humanity yet also very current. They’re central to philosophical discussions about economics (implicit in the debates between libertarianism versus socialism), moral frameworks (be they individualist or altruist) and politics (is the state’s role to protect only individual liberties or the collective welfare?). Second, Ayn Rand’s philosophy is important because… Ayn Rand herself is an important cultural figure. Born Alisa Rosenbaum, the daughter of Russian immigrants, Rand was a big success as a fiction writer (her novels The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged were best-sellers), as the proponent of Objectivism and even as a playwright. Few American intellectuals have had as widespread a cultural impact as she did.

Having established the relevance of his chosen subject, Asher zeroes in on his main goal, which is offer a multidimensional refutation of Rand’s basic philosophical tenet of egoism, or “the belief that humans are ultimately self-interested at a basic scientific level”. Being a thorough philosopher, Asher follows Rand’s own advice to “check her premises.” He begins by unraveling the first premise of Rand’s argument for egoism: namely, that the “self” is clearly defined and distinct from other individuals. He shows how our sense of self is based on our interactions with others, our love for our families, our collective and national identities. The self, in other words, is not an individual unit living in a social vacuum. Ontologically, ethically and epistemologically, we’re connected to others. Therefore, Asher argues, even a philosophy that begins with the self will end up considering others.

Moreover, he pursues, the self is naturally empathetic. Just as we see and feel our own pain, if our brain wiring works correctly and we’re not sociopathic, we see and to some extent can identify with the pain of others. Because of this we suffer when we see our children hurt, or when we witness crimes against humanity. Any philosophy of the self will therefore end up considering the family and the group, which are inextricably related to and shape our identities.

In his eloquent, clear and impeccably argued book on Ayn Rand’s Objectivism, Levi Asher not only does justice to her arguments and persuasively refutes them, but also makes a compelling case for an ethics of empathy, based on an understanding of the self that is complex and intersubjective. This book presents the foundations of a new humanism.  Original, impassioned, rigorously argued and touchingly eloquent, Why Ayn Rand is Wrong is a must-read not only for fans and antagonists of Ayn Rand, but also for all those who love a good philosophical debate about moral and social issues of the utmost importance.

Claudia Moscovici, literaturesalon

May 13, 2011 Posted by | Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand, egoism, ethics, humanism, individualism, Levi Asher, Litkicks, moral philosophy, Objectivism, philosophy, refutation of egoism, The Fountainhead, the self, Why Ayn Rand Was Wrong (And Why It Matters) | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Levi Asher’s Why Ayn Rand Was Wrong: A Strong Case for a New Humanism

Bernard Salzman’s Mihaella: Chekhovian Fiction Meets Kabbalah

 

When one thinks of Eastern European fiction that tackles the big ontological questions—what is divinity, what is the nature and purpose of existence—as well as difficult metaphysical questions—such as the problem of theodicy, or why suffering exists in a God-created world—one thinks of writers like Dostoievsky and Tolstoy. However, often these questions seem too big for human beings to handle. Even a philosophical character like Ivan Karamzov seemed to give up on finding any satisfactory answers to such questions and, along with that, he also gave up on individual human love. In a famous quote from The Brothers Karamazov, Ivan states: “But it always happened that the more I detest men individually the more ardent becomes my love for humanity.” For Chekhov, on the other hand, the balance seems to be tipped in favor of depicting with compassion individual human beings. In the Russian literary tradition it is Chekhov, I believe, who brings large metaphysical questions down to Earth. His short stories and plays stage moral dilemmas in all-too-human characters, which he portrays with some irony and a lot of tender-hearted indulgence.

This is the tone of Bernard Salzman’s newest screenplay, Mihaella, currently in development by his film company, Eye Opener Films. This screenplay centers around the character of Mihaella, a young girl who lost her mother and is being taken care of by her uncle, Noah, and his wife Elizabeth. They live in a small town, reminiscent of Russian and Romanian villages where people go through difficult lives and pray to be spared some of their suffering by a divine miracle. Yet when faced with a being as miraculous as Mihaella–a hybrid of girl and angel—how will they react?

The answer isn’t simple, as nothing that crosses the boundaries of the explicable ever is. Neither religious dogma, epitomized at times by Father Gregory and some of his followers, nor empirical science can explain Mihaella’s mixture of special powers and human vulnerability. She’s not able to answer all of the villagers’ prayers to heal their ailments, as angels are supposed to do. Yet she grows angels’ wings, learns how to fly, and seems a mixed blessing for her new friend, Wright, a handicapped young man. Moreover, when pursued by a group of thugs, Mihaella manages to escape from harm thanks to her angelic demeanor and superhuman powers. But she can’t save Wright from being beaten by them, nor his father, Dean, from having his house burned to the ground. The best this human-angel can do is help people save themselves.

Like human knowledge of divine mysteries itself, Mihaella’s powers are only partial. And that seems to be why the villagers, including the local priest, regard her with ambivalence. They can accept the supposed certainties of religious dogma or the apparent truths of empirical reality much more readily than Mihaella’s hybrid nature and limited–yet clearly extraordinary–powers. When I asked Bernard about the religious and philosophical overtones of his screenplay, he replied that “The script is actually based on a short story I wrote many years ago. There are many universal questions I struggle with and I have spent many years studying Kabbalah in an attempt to understand.”

By depicting our human fear of the limits of our knowledge, this screenplay confronts one of the biggest metaphysical questions facing humanity: why does the suffering of innocents exist if the world ruled by an omnipotent and omniscient God? Why does Mihaella’s young mother have to die? Why does the sweet and innocent boy, Wright, have to endure so much humiliation and pain at the hands of others? Mihaella offers no easy answers about the nature of divinity and God’s ability to answer our prayers. In the Kabbalah, God is, like angels, a liminal being: neither matter nor spirit; the creator of both. God is unknowable to human beings, yet there is a revealed aspect of divinity that human beings can come to know and interact with. In the screeplay by the same name, Mihaella represents this aspect of divinity: one which the villagers must learn to embrace in order to learn the biggest lesson of this upcoming movie: “I think it’s not how much you pray, it’s how much you love,” Mihaella tells Father Gregory. But will he and the villagers get the angel-child’s message or chase her away, in their simultaneous longing for the unknowable and fear of the unknown? Watch and see for yourselves when Bernard Salzman’s new movie–filled with wisdom and hope–is released.

Claudia Moscovici, literaturesalon

May 3, 2011 Posted by | angel, angels, Bernard Salzman, book review, book reviews, books, Celebrity Dialogue Interview with Cinematographer Bernard Salzman, Chekhov, Chekhovian fiction, Chekhovian screenplay, cinematographer Bernard Salzman, Claudia Moscovici, contemporary fiction, Dostoievksy, Inner Circle Films, Ivan Karamazov, Kabbalah, La Tricoteuse, literary fiction, literature, literature salon, literaturesalon, love, Mihaella, miracle, miracles, new fiction, screenplay, theodicy, William Bouguereau | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Bernard Salzman’s Mihaella: Chekhovian Fiction Meets Kabbalah