Claudia Moscovici

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

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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

Neatorama’s Bitlit Launches The Cube: A Novel by Nat Karody

 

Today, Neatorama’s literature blog Bitlit is proud to introduce a new science fiction novel: The Cube by Nat Karody. Were you disappointed by the ending to the series Lost? What follows is a story with as intricate a mythology as Lost’s but with an important difference: in the end it is all explained mechanistically, without resort to mysticism or religion. At the conclusion of the novel, the following summary of the core mystery, taken from the opening chapter, will be perfectly sensible: The Oopsah told a story, a majestic, exalted, beatific story of the coming of the end times and the rise of the Controller.

He learned how the world would end, who would destroy it, and how he, Zranga, could prevent it. He learned that he had been appointed by destiny – by the Controller himself – to carry out this mission. But above all he learned of the existence of a perfect being, the demigod Celeste, trapped beyond time in a cycle of eternal death. Only Zranga could rescue her, and to do this he had to place a giant door on the bottom of the Silent Sea, and kill the Great Man. Read on to found out how far Ivy Morven will go to stop Tobor Zranga from realizing his destiny, and how this alternative universe is bizarrely structured so that the most rational acts are the most extreme.

What I  love most about The Cube is the fact that it’s phenomenally well written  and has great character development. Although clearly a science fiction narrative, The Cube also transcends its genre, to attract a broad audience. It tells the Romeo and Juliet story of a  young couple from adjacent sides of a  cubic planet who meet at an edge and develop a relationship in the midst  of a war that threatens to  destroy the planet. The story is unique  in creating an alternative  universe from first principles:  all matter is   oriented in one of the six Euclidian directions.

This simple deviation  from our own universe leads to the creation of cubic celestial bodies and   allows a reimagination of  transportation, power generation, warfare,   architecture, and lovemaking, among other things. As an example, the  political conflict   leading to war is that both inhabited sides of the   planet generate hydroelectric power by draining a large body of water on   one side   through edge sluices, a cheap and easy source of energy that will ultimately destroy the planet if the water is drained too far.

What  drives this story is the relationship of the two main characters,  a girl  escaping from a classified weapons facility with terrible secrets she   refuses to share, and a rural boy who literally catches her  when she leaps   over the edge and soon learns he is the target of international espionage.   The novel is organized around a series of   revelations of the girl’s   secrets culminating with an answer to the ultimate question — who is  Celeste?

As you can probably tell even from my brief description, The Cube is a multidimensional narrative (pun intended!) that could simultaneously described as a science fiction novel as well as a moving love story and a dystopic utopia fiction,  similar  to George Orwell’s 1984.  You can discover this alternative universe, governed by different laws of physics but similar political motivations and machinations for power as in our world, on the links below:

http://www.neatorama.com/bitlit/category/the-cube/ 
http://www.youtube.com/user/ClaudiaMoscovici?feature=mhum#p/a/u/0/BXP7xYtrVeU 

Claudia Moscovici, literaturesalon

March 31, 2011 Posted by | book review, Book Review of The Cube, Book Review of The Cube: A Novel by Nat Karody, book reviews, books, Claudia Moscovici, David Israel, David K. Israel, literary criticism, literary fiction, literature, literature salon, literaturesalon, love, love story, Nat Karody, Neatorama, Neatorama's Bitlit, new fiction, novel, novels, online fiction publisher, science fiction, The Cube, The Cube: A Novel, The Cube: A Novel by Nat Karody | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Neatorama’s Bitlit Launches The Cube: A Novel by Nat Karody

Book Review of Trivial Pursuits? by David K. Israel and Jennifer Byrne

 

There’s no easy or standard way in which human beings cope with loss. The process of mourning can pull families together or tear them apart. David K. Israel’s and Jennifer Byrne’s new novel, Trivial Pursuits?, reveals how two families deal with one of the most difficult and non-trivial aspects of life: the death of their loved ones. Although written in a realist style, with three-dimensional characters that readers can easily relate to, the structure of the novel has some postmodern, Robbe-Grillet, elements to it in the way it intertwines, in an almost accidental meeting, the two distinct strands of the plot.

One strand traces the life of Fareed, an endearing fifteen year old Druze boy from Israel, whose mother died tragically of breast cancer. He spends his life in an R.V. touring L.A. with his father, memorizing trivia in the hopes of landing a spot on the popular show Jeopardy! Teen-tour.

Incidentally, for the history buffs out there, the novel offers a fascinating depiction of the Druzes, people of Arab origin (perhaps with Jewish roots, some experts claim) that remain loyal to every country they live in. For this reason, as young Fareed explains, the Israeli Druzes are the only Arabs who enroll in the army to defend the state of Israel. This is a very interesting choice of narrator: one that crosses ethnic, religious and cultural boundaries in unexpected ways, especially given that the political situation in the Middle East is such a polarizing topic.

The second strand of the novel follows the lives of Amy and Greg, a couple who live a few miles away, in the Valley. Their marriage initially faces the challenge of not being able to have a baby (naturally) together, then the sudden death of their adopted child, P.J. To cope with their loss, both families undergo a difficult process of mourning. The only question is: will this pull them together or push them apart?

While Amy finds temporary solace in a casual but torrid lesbian affair with Lynette, Fareed experiences his first true love with an older girl named Eos. Their paths cross as Eos meets Amy and Lynette, but eventually the two sets of lives move in different directions. You can read this intricately woven and moving novel about loss and regeneration online, by purchasing it on Amazon.com Kindle Edition or by sampling select chapters on Neatorama’s Bitlit, on the link below:

http://www.neatorama.com/bitlit/category/trivial-pursuits/

Claudia Moscovici, literaturesalon

February 2, 2011 Posted by | bitlit, book review, book reviews, books, Claudia Moscovici, contemporary fiction, David K. Israel, Jennifer Byrne, literature, literature salon, literaturesalon, love, love story, Neatorama's Bitlit, new fiction, novel, novels | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Book Review of Trivial Pursuits? by David K. Israel and Jennifer Byrne

What’s Love Got to Do With It? Passion as the Key (Post)romantic Trope

Seduction and romantic love are often viewed as interchangeable.  But, in fact, they can be polar opposites. In the past two blog entries on psychopathic seduction, I introduced what love is NOT. Love is not a game; it is not a dominance bond; it is not based on deception; it is not a form of conquest of another. Today I’d like to offer a more positive reflection on love, and in particular, of one of the key tropes of Romantic love: passion.

Passion was the core of the Romantic movement. It is also, along with sensuality and the appreciation of beauty, the focal point of the contemporary aesthetic movement I co-founded with the artist Leonardo Pereznieto in 2002, postromanticism.com. Sensuality and passion hardly seem separable since we tend to experience them together. It’s nearly impossible to imagine passion without the excitement, agitation and upheaval of the senses and emotions that we associate with sensuality. At the same time, however, sensuality and passion are opposites. Sensuality is the acute sensibility to beauty and to the myriad of potential delights it promises. It’s a way of seeing beauty in the world, in both human beings and objects. Such beauty is so vast and all-pervasive—kalon, or sea of beauty as Plato’s prophetess, Diotima had depicted—that it’s not necessarily anchored by any preference or bound by any attachment. Every week we may gaze at dozens of attractive persons, inspiring scenes and beautiful paintings or sculptures. Sensuality moves our eyes from object to object, stirring our desires, dreams and solipsistic emotions, but not necessarily capturing our devotion.

Much as sensuality, in its link to perception, evokes the aesthetic and epistemological dimensions of postromanticism, passion constitutes its ethics. This doesn’t mean that postromanticism mandates that human beings should not appreciate a multitude of objects or beings. But it does unabashedly declare: love is special. Many of us fall passionately in love and such feelings are so miraculous that they seem to defy explanation. Yet, at the same time, they are so important that they have inspired thousands of writers, poets, philosophers and artists throughout human history to depict passionate love. Not everyone does or should fall deeply in love. But those who do, we tend to believe, are very fortunate. If passionate love is a privileged form of human experience that has intrigued us for millennia, then it’s certainly worth valorizing it in our times.

Like Romanticism, postromanticism focuses above all on the expression of passionate love. Yet, in our day and age—an age so imbued with feminine and feminist sensibilities—one can no longer speak of the asymmetrical love between a male poet or artist and his ethereal muse, which has long been the dominant cliché of Romanticism. Postromantic love is reciprocal and symmetrical. Nor does postromanticism preserve the instrumental view of passion as a means of reaching something higher than human experience; of moving from the human to the divine, as we see in idealist traditions of love from Plato, to the Renaissance neoplatonists, to the Romantics. In Postromantic poetry, literature and art, passion begins with earthly existence and never transcends it.

Definition: So what is postromantic passion? Above all, passion is a focalization of the senses, thoughts and emotions upon one primary subject. I call it an ethics because it implies considering at every step one’s attitude and actions towards the beloved and, conversely, his or her actions and feelings towards oneself.

 The transcendent in the contingent: The beloved is not randomly chosen. Even if meeting him or her occurs by accident—as do most human encounters—the fit between the lovers feels so right that it appears to be determined by a higher force. The intervention of that higher force cannot be proven. Nonetheless, it has a certain metonymic logic similar to the one described by the Stoics, who perceived the imprint of divine will in the beauty and harmony of the universe. Postromanticism thus spiritualizes, but only gently and lightly, passionate love. It doesn’t necessarily express a belief in divinity, but rather an elevation of emotion and humanity. Passionate love is that which uplifts one’s creative and life energies, as if by force of destiny, with the elegance, sense of wonder and inevitability of something that appears to transcend human experience.

The artist and the muse: With so many successful female artists in the world and, more generally, with so many women encouraged to pursue their talents, it’s impossible nowadays to retain the Romantic idea of the artist as male and the muse as female. When the passion is shared, both members of the couple can inspire and engage in creativity.

Idealization and lucidity: While Romanticism tends towards the idealization of the beloved, postromanticism claims that the beauty of love and of the beloved often lies in his or her imperfection. For the Romantic poets the muse was otherworldly. Only through her nonexistence could she embody aesthetic ideals. She wasn’t a woman, but a fantasy, a dream. In postromanticism, however, the source of inspiration is not a “crystallized” or idealized object of the imagination—as the novelist Stendhal had described love—but a contingent person who is known in the smallest details of his or her reality. Which is not to say that postromanticism follows the legacy of realism or naturalism. In postromanticism, unlike in naturalism, the mundane aspects of the lovers and of love itself never become scientifically predictable, mythical or grotesque, as they do, for instance, in Zola’s naturalist fiction. Postromanticism declares: real love is endearing and unique; a product of a rare fit between two individuals who, through their mutual devotion, create lasting values in an ephemeral life.

Focalization: We tend assume that the Romantic life is synonymous with the adventurous life, the life of an emotional tourist: traveling everywhere; having a multiplicity of relationships; experiencing each type of woman or man as one samples exotic dishes from distant parts of the world. Yet when one glides only on the surface of human existence, it’s difficult to be immersed in passion. For passion requires time to become deeper, richer and more intimate; it requires focalization so that it will not disperse and become a flash of intensity that’s one episode among a hundred others. In losing focus, passion also loses intensity and significance. It ceases to exist.

Energy: Passion is a mutual consumption that gives rather than depleting energy. Like a windmill, like any rhythmic movement, it generates while absorbing energy, but not all by itself, but from the external impetus of two individuals’ continual efforts to live for and with each other.

Symmetry: Passion is constantly reinforced by symmetrical dialogue. The lovers negotiate everything and feel equal in the relationship. Which doesn’t mean that they’re identical. In fact, often passion becomes more exciting when the lovers share differences in temperament, point of view and opinion. Yet there are no conventional gender roles in postromanticism. One person is not necessarily more submissive, the other more authoritative; one person is not necessarily more emotive, the other more rational. The differences are unique to each couple, not necessarily polarized. They are diffused, varied and less predictable than in the Romantic complementarity between masculine and feminine roles.

Reciprocity: Reciprocity, which was largely ignored by the Romantic movement, is the pillar of postromanticism. Passion that is mostly solipsistic—one human being’s dream or projection upon an idealized person—is not real. It may represent desire or even a strong infatuation. But only once feelings, thoughts and desires are shared, do we enter the realm of passionate love.

Proximity and distance: The Romantic male artists and their muses, even when they coupled in real life, appeared infinitely distant in art because the descriptions of women were so often veiled and disguised. The Romantics privileged the metaphors of woman as muse, angel, Salomé or femme fatale; of woman as all the more desirable because mysterious, multiple, changing and unattainable. In this tantalizing play and disguise of feminine identity, the difference between Romanticism, modernism and postmodernism is almost effaced. Postromanticism doesn’t need feminine mystery and masquerade to cultivate desire and love. Which doesn’t mean that it assumes love to be transparent. Postromanticism trusts that passionate love can generate its own dynamics: a constant movement between elevating and lowering barriers which, unlike the Romantic vision of the femme fatale who fans desire through strategic advancements and withdrawals, is reciprocal, genuine and spontaneous.

Breathing: Passion is nourished by a proximity and intensity of communication so strong that it seems as if the lovers are breathing each other’s air. Without suffocating. The withdrawals are themselves part of the process of breathing. They are periods of inhaling air, of absorbing life experience and knowledge, in order to exhale it back to one another; to have a renewed life energy to offer one’s beloved.

Thinking: Postromantic passion is characterized by a rhythm and emotion which are genuine and spontaneous yet thoughtful at the same time. In this respect, it resembles Wordsworth’s Romanticism, which described passion as a processed and thoughtful rather than immediate and visceral emotion. Without the mediation of thought, passion risks being just a passing fancy; a gust of wind. And winds quickly change direction. Passion is a symbiotic relation between two individuals who enable each other to interconnect the important aspects of human life, including sensation, emotion and thought. Passion engages all of our human faculties.

Devotion: Passion is an enduring devotion. It’s not necessarily a commitment or responsibility in the way more institutionalized relations are, where the primary connection is external to the relationship. In other words, in passion the connection is not made by conventional morality and law. But the result is even more spectacular. Because devotion, a term evocative of religious experience, has transcendental dimensions. Passion is a secular form of adoration.

Fidelity: We tend to believe that virtue is a more reliable foundation for fidelity than passion, but postromanticism says that’s not the case. Virtue is often tested in the face of temptation and experienced as a tension between conscience and desire. All too often, the desire is more immediate, easier to satisfy and stronger. Passion reduces that tension and alleviates its pangs. In passion, the obsessive desire and focus upon a primary object is so strong that the energy left for others is weaker and more superficial, thus not posing a real threat to the relationship.

Jealousy and Possessiveness: If philosophers from Plato to Kant cautioned against passion, it’s largely because they associated it with negative emotions such as jealousy, possessiveness and hatred, which occur when love turns full circle and collapses upon itself. The Romantics, from Goethe to Constant, often confirmed this negative impression in describing how the force of passion leads to madness, murder and suicide. It’s undoubtedly true that passion is often accompanied by feelings of jealousy and possessiveness. Yet that’s not necessarily a bad sign. In moderation, jealousy and possessiveness may constitute a declaration of love. They can express: I know you desire others and that others are desirable to me, but I need and am grateful for the uniqueness of our attraction and feelings. Jealousy, in moderation, rekindles the flame of passion. It suggests: out of all the desirable persons we meet, I still chose you and you me. Jealousy in excess snuffs out the flame of passion. It suggests: I don’t trust you; you’re not freely mine. Rather than loving you, I possess you.

Ritual: Passion is a cherished ritual rather than a habit. A repetition of activities that appear always new, always exciting, because they’re primarily motivated by emotions and desires. In lasting love, one needs the repetition of activities as one needs to breathe air or eat regularly, rather than going through the motions today out of inertia, because one did it yesterday. In its rhythm and intensity, the repetition of acts in passionate love—going to a movie, dining out—resembles the repetition of religious rituals.

Erotism: Postromantic passion is erotic in a way that’s intensely sensual and at the same time different from diffused sensuality. In passion, the physical longing for someone is stimulated by knowledge and love of that person, rather than the love being motivated primarily by desire. That’s what makes passion different from the multiplicity of human attraction. While sensuality is a feast for the senses, passion offers food for the soul. Postromanticism places passion at its center, declaring: life and art would be emptier and more impoverished without such exquisite nourishment. 

Claudia Moscovici

postromanticism.com

September 15, 2010 Posted by | Claudia Moscovici, literary criticism, literature, love, modern art, passion, Romantic literature, Romanticism, Romanticism and Postromanticism, thoughts on love, thoughts on passion | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on What’s Love Got to Do With It? Passion as the Key (Post)romantic Trope