On Science Fiction and Zionism

Doreet LeVitte Harten

 Thinking about Zionism and science fiction in terms of common denominators is no less than an act of sacrilege in the eyes of both Israelis and those fanatics of high culture/low culture separation. The question arises whether a comparison between a branch of literature and a real political movement is methodologically possible at all, since science fiction is a literary genre with image problems, whereas Zionism is a historical event, traumatic for its forced participants, as well as for those who, at a certain point in their lives, realized the costs it entailed. Between the glory surrounding the Zionist enterprise and the belief in science fiction’s low status in the hierarchy of literary genres, such a comparison is almost inconceivable, and it takes a breach of “good taste” to compare such entities which are not on the same order of eminence.
This apologetic is idiomatic, even chronic, where science fiction is concerned. It is innate to the genetic code of the genre, and it does not go away even when scholars such as Fredric Jameson discuss science fiction, pointing at its tremendous broader cultural implications (as in his formative book Archaeologies of the Future). I therefore suggest to regard both Zionism and science fiction as grand projects, namely—to reduce the element of literature from the science-fiction part of the equation, and concentrate on the ideological background that generates a space where both projects dwell, and in so doing find their mutual parameters. Clearly, there is good reason to regard SF as mere literature, but by reducing its spectrum to the way it is delivered, to its mode of appearance, we miss its greater meaning. We miss, for example, the fact that today, SF is the only way to discuss utopia without sounding ridiculous; moreover, such an approach explains why we cannot discuss utopia, or why any utopian project entails, a-priori, the seeds of its own catastrophe. That is, through SF we understand why any subject concerning the utopian is better discussed in negative terms than not discussed at all. This is why I shall refer to both fields, Zionism and science fiction, as projects, and thus set about enumerating their mutual parameters.
The first mutual parameter shared by science fiction and Zionism is the so called “sense of wonder.” This concept stems from SF theory. It denotes a certain quality which elicits a mystical-religious feeling, and as such, it is compared to the feeling of the sublime. The term “sense of wonder” defines the purpose of the field. It was coined by renowned SF writer Damon Knight in the 1950s, and since then has experienced ups and downs. The academic world found the term too poetic and not sufficiently accurate, but it remained central to the field nonetheless. The Oxford Dictionary of Science Fiction defines “sense of wonder” as “a feeling of awakening or awe triggered by an expansion of one’s awareness of what is possible or by confrontation with the vastness of space and time, as brought on by reading science fiction,”1 while John Clute and Peter Nicholls, authors of The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, THE ultimate reference book to the field first published in 1979, associate the experience with that of a “conceptual breakthrough” or a “paradigm shift.”2 This sense of wonder, which liberates one from the mundane, so to speak, has two sub-categories: that of the sublime and that of the grotesque; both can be found in SF as well as in Zionism.3
The sublime sense of wonder also has two facets or sources in the field of SF: natural and mechanical. When we talk about the natural origin, we deal with a sublime associated with natural phenomena such as an impressive landscape, which is evoked through the presence of terror according to the formula assumed by Edmund Burke,4 which brings terror and the sublime together. Placed in the context of SF, the element of terror is more congruent, rather, with Immanuel Kant’s differentiation between the mathematically sublime and the dynamically sublime in his Critique of the Power of Judgment (1790). While the former is evoked by the immeasurable and limitless, and therefore reminds us of our finitude, the latter relates to the superior power of nature as manifested in earthquakes or storms which endanger us, therefore producing the ambivalent emotions of repulsion and attraction. For Kant, both types are primarily an aesthetic category, hence the idea of safe distance is always there.5
This sublime, especially in its mathematical form, which is evoked through an encounter with certain types of nature, is reinforced when nature is not limited to our planet, but rather expands to the end of the universe. Since nature is virtually nonexistent in our present experience, at least not the kind of nature Burke and Kant had the good fortune to experience, not only the sublime (in its mathematical aspect), but the conditions of its existence too, disappear, and are to be found only in the spaces of a constructed ideology and in science fiction.
There is another kind of sublime which has less to do with natural phenomena, one which is specific to SF, and which evokes the aforesaid sense of wonder: the mechanical sublime, also called the industrial or technological sublime. In their book Culture + Technology (2015), Jennifer Daryl Slack and John Macgregor Wise demonstrate how the machine has supplanted nature by means of an “almost religious-like reverence.” During the Industrial Revolution, machines were monstrous, ubiquitous, and as equally dangerous as the forces of nature. It is easy to see why machines could be construed as sublime, as they commonly evoked “an overpowering combination of dread and reverence” in workers.6 This kind of reverence does not stop at the machine. It extends to the electrical sublime, which is the core symbol of the American definition of selfhood, as illustrated in David E. Nye’s American Technological Sublime (1994).7
To some extent, the sublime now returns to what it was in Longinus’s work: a form of human techne. Today, however, it no longer falls into the category of the rhetoric; instead, we find ourselves on the brink of the age of sublime technologies.
This “sense of wonder” is central to the idea of Zionism, and with it—the element of terror so central to the definition of the sublime. Embedded in Zionism, it is the referential framework within which Zionism is comprehended, meaning that the practical outcome of Zionism is regarded, first and foremost, as an act of wonder which should be regarded with awe. In 1903, Chaim Weizmann, who would later become the first president of the State of Israel, “had written to Gregory Lurie, ‘[A]s a concrete proposition, [Palestine] does not even come within our comprehension.’ Zionism presents us with a political movement that appears to be at once unanswerable and unreal. Freud’s (or Jung’s) patient does not know he is deluded. But Zionism … is a violation of reality that knows its own delusion. And runs with it.”8 Zionism is understood here as something against all odds; a wonder, if you will. This may account for the mantra referring to the revival in terms of two thousand years. The wonder is conveyed through the narrative, arguing that no other people has ever gone into exile and survived for thousands of years, only to come back and re-establish a national homeland. Therefore, the Jews’ return from exile to the Land of Israel was nothing short of a miracle. Israel’s Proclamation of Independence on May 14, 1948 opens with the following: “The land of Israel was the birthplace of the Jewish people. Here their spiritual, religious, and national identity was formed. Here they achieved independence and created a culture of national and universal significance. Here they wrote and gave the Bible to the world.” This kind of narrative introduces the act of return as a miraculous act. The sense of wonder evoked through 2000 years of Diaspora is the first stratum of every state ritual in Israel; furthermore, it was the point of departure for a nation-building ideology repeated through the educational system under which Israelis grow up and mature. It is actually a constructed myth, since by now we already know that an enforced exile on the scale of moving an entire people from their land simply did not occur, and there are no historical documents to sustain it. We know that the people carrying the seven-branched candelabrum on the Arch of Titus are not Jewish slaves, but rather Roman soldiers, and we also know that the Jewish population in Israel that survived the destruction of the Temple, knew ups and downs in the course of history, and was reduced for many reasons, none related to forced immigration. The terminology of revival framed as a wonder is based on a myth; nevertheless is has remained fundamental to the nation-building project. (This notion is central to Shlomo Sand’s writings from which I cite here, as well as to the writings of many post-Zionist historians).9
The Jews’ return to Israel, the main goal of Zionism, presented as an act of wonder and based on a constructed myth that started long before Zionism put it to use, introduces Zionism as a secular movement with deep religious roots. Another aspect of Zionism, however, connects us to the idea of the sublime, its being a messianic movement. Under a secular façade, it is deeply religious and messianic, nourished by a religious zeal articulated through the centrality of a particular terminology, spanning such expressions as redemption of the land and redemption of the soil. Zionism, in this sense, is at once secular and messianic.
If we regard the phenomenon of Jewish messianism as a definition of Zionism, however, we must return to Gershom Scholem whose studies on matters of Jewish mysticism are the foundation stone of messianism. Scholem refused to regard Zionism as a messianic movement since he defined Jewish messianism as a doctrine of catastrophe and, being a Zionist, he could not perceive it as entailing a catastrophic element.10 The affinities between Zionism and messianism were sketched by less enthusiastic Zionists, among them Moshe Idel.11 If Zionism is indeed a messianic movement, it must include the catastrophic element Scholem associated with messianism as its dominant characteristic. It must contain Burke’s terror in its chronicles, which is the outcome of the sublime, and it must recognize in this terror not only an element of fear, but a part which is its raison d’etre in a divine plan. This means that the sense of wonder in Zionism is not only evoked through the presence of the impossible—that is, coming back to the Land of the Fathers; it is there because its messianic characteristic demands a catastrophe and the presence of terror, and indeed such presence of the catastrophe is the impulse that still motivates local practices of survival and justification in Israel even today.
This element of catastrophe is also present in science fiction literature as part and parcel of its sense of wonder. The birth of Zionism from and into a catastrophic formation is the mental state which is at the very core of the science fiction project. This is especially true of the genre’s beginnings, from the late 19th century to the 1950s. Construing the sense of wonder as a terror, the field’s concerns focused on describing the ultimate catastrophe: the world after an atomic holocaust, after an economic disaster, after comet attacks and alien invasions. Another kind of terror prevalent in the field is the end of humanity through a paradigmatic metamorphosis into cyborgs, androids, and machines. In both fields, the sense of wonder starts and ends with catastrophe, thus designating both fields as crypto-religious.
If the first mutual parameter between science fiction and Zionism was the sense of wonder or the presence of the sublime, the second mutuality lies in what came to be known as the colonial ideology which, in its various forms, appears to be an ideology common to both projects. SF colonialism constitutes a historical context whose significance is central to the field.12 Science fiction is born in the colonial context; this is its natural space, and it is not accidental that SF began to flourish simultaneously with the aggressive phase of colonialism at the end of the 19th century. It was Edward W. Said in his Culture and Imperialism (1993) who indicated the literary mode of the novel and Imperialism as unthinkable without one another; in other words, he postulated that the novelist’s space is conceived in relation to the fantasies constructed by Imperialism’s expansion. Said does not speak about SF literature as the genre affiliated with colonialism; he discusses the novel in general, but the ideas of expansion and technological superiority to the conquered territory, without which colonialism could not be imagined, are central ideas in SF, whose icons are spaceships, robots, or super weapons—all of them tools in the project of expansion. To wit: if the novel echoes a colonial ethos, SF goes one step further. In its mutual myths, it corresponds with the idea of colonialism; rather than a mere echo, it is the place where colonialism imagines its fantasies.13
Although colonialism is the context of SF and SF is an outcome of a colonial mode, the genre never hesitated to criticize the maladies of this ideology sharply, starting to do so long before the postcolonial discourse came into being: H.G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds (1898) tells about a Martian invasion of earth, in fact comparing it to the European invasion of Tasmania. In so doing, Wells equates the colonialists with the Martian invaders, so that his reader can empathize first hand with the horrors experienced by the natives under the colonial gaze. Writing from within a colonial tradition, Wells challenged the Victorian notion of a natural order, whereby the British Empire had a right to rule due to their superiority over subject races. As suggested by Wells in Chapter I of his novel, “The Eve of the War”:
“And before we judge of them [the Martians / DLH] too harshly we must remember what ruthless and utter destruction our own species has wrought, not only upon animals, such as the vanished bison and the dodo, but upon its own inferior races. The Tasmanians, in spite of their human likeness, were entirely swept out of existence in a war of extermination waged by European immigrants, in the space of fifty years. Are we such apostles of mercy as to complain if the Martian warred in the same spirit?”14
Two key icons typical of SF literature are also at the core of the colonial ideology. One is the alien or extraterrestrial, whose role in colonialism is assumed by the native; the other is the new planet or land ready to fall, like a ripe fruit, into the hands of the new settlers. Whether on Mars or in Tasmania, the method is one and the same. The planet or the new place in both cases is defined as terra nullius, a land that belongs to no one.
I am drawing a line here from colonialism to Zionism to characterize the mutual parameter and its two aforementioned icons, and present colonialism as a feature found in both Zionism and science fiction, although I must admit that characterizing Zionism as a form of colonialism is performed here with a decent amount of discontent. First of all, the term colonialism is not neutral; it is an extremely negative term. It means to subjugate, destroy, rape, murder (on a genocidal scale), and exploit, to name only some of its negativities. Another reason for this discontent would be the fact that certain aspects present in French, English, or German colonialism are amiss here. For example, there is no land of origin as in the case of French, British, and German colonialism, where the distance between the point of origin and the colonized space is the cause for enriching the origin, and where the distance is also a mental distance and the citizens belonging to the colonial force, who stay in their countries, are not confronted with moral issues. In Zionism, the mythical point of origin and the colonized area are the same locus, and the moral confrontation is fully present, thus requiring a much more complicated mythical shielding. What is also amiss is la mission civilisatrice, the civilizing mission, which was directed primarily at Jews, and not at the indigenous Arabs of Palestine. Zionism did not exploit the native population to extract resources (at least as the tale goes); it was closer to the form of colonialism known as “pure settlement colonization,” which established colonies aimed at creating a homogeneous settler-immigrant population. This form of colonialism took place in Rhodesia (British settlers), Algeria (French and Italian settlers), and Palestine (Jewish European settlers).
Interestingly, the notion of Zionism as a colonial form was a late phenomenon. There were times when it was deemed an anti-Imperialist force. Emir Faisal, for one, regarded the Zionist movement as a companion to the Arab nationalist movement in their struggle against Imperialism, as he explained in a letter to Harvard law professor and future Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter dated March 3, 1919, one day after Chaim Weizmann presented the Zionist case to the Paris Peace Conference:
“We Arabs, especially the educated among us, look with deepest sympathy on the Zionist movement… We will wish the Jews a hearty welcome home… We are working together for a reformed and revised Near East and our two movements complete one another. The Jewish movement is nationalist and not imperialist. And there is room in Syria for us both. Indeed, I think that neither can be a real success without the other.”15
We have seen the mutuality of the sense of wonder and the colonial state shared by both fields, as well as by their common myths: the myth of the terra nullius proclaiming emptiness where natives or aliens are, disregarding them as human beings on the most profound level, hence allowing the territory its emptiness. Seeing them as non-human or as specimen of humanity in its nascent phases, legitimizes the concept of the empty place found in both Zionism and science fiction ideologies. This concept of the empty place is a type of fantasy that enables the colonizers to look at a place full of people (as in the case of Zionism) or intelligent creatures (as in the case of SF), and declare the place empty. In Hebrew there is even a name for such a situation: present absent or absentees (nokhahim nifkadim), referring to Palestinians who fled or were expelled from their home in Palestine by Jewish or Israeli forces before and during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, but who remained within the area that became the State of Israel. The term also applies to descendants of absentees. Present absentees are not permitted to live in the homes from which they were expelled, even if they live in the same area, the property still exists, and they can prove that they own it. They are regarded as absent by the Israeli government because they left their homes, even if they never intended to, and even if they did so involuntarily. Describing the status of the native Palestinian, this term may, in fact, apply to all native people under a colonial regime, people who are absent and present at the same time. In this respect, Israel Zangwill’s slogan “a land without people for a people without a land” corresponds with the ideology describes here. This quantum state also found expression years later in Israel’s unofficial anthem, “Jerusalem of Gold,” where the old Jerusalem square is described as empty, as the many Arabs populating it remained invisible to Jewish-Israeli eyes.
The brutality entailed in the disappearance of the native is central to science fiction literature. Other than Wells, who pointed it out early on, it may also be found in many SF novels dealing with this theme, such as Edmond Hamilton’s story A Conquest of Two Worlds (1932), or Robert A. Heinlein’s Logic of Empire (1941). The issue was addressed critically in SF in the 1950s, e.g. in Avram Davidson’s Now Let Us Sleep (1957), or later, in Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Word for World is Forest (1970) and Mike Resnick’s Paradise (1982). In many cases, the American authors retell the story of the Native American through the prism of a SF narrative.
Since the place is empty, a terra nullius, it has an imaginary geography. In science fiction, the new planet, being transformed from a space into a place, may be arid or covered with jungles, water, or mountains. Whatever the case is, it always comes under the title of wilderness, namely—a place yet untamed by civilization.16 The colonizer turns the planet or the new place into fertile land, which its natives failed to do, and for that reason are not entitled to live there.
From a colonialist point of view, to call a place “fertile” is to be able to move the treasures of the land to the point of origin, or to deliver them to the new settlers, thereby enriching them. To wit, a fertile place is associated with a certain economy which defines its fertility, and this quality turns it into what the Latin expression Ubi panis ibi patria wishes to convey: where one’s bread is, there is one’s fatherland.
This perception, shared by both colonial ideology and SF meta-text as responding to colonial needs, which regards the colonized place as a wilderness, has several goals. In science fiction, the wilderness does not start with the planet; it is linked with the idea of space itself, which is empty and hostile to human beings. Wilderness is defined exactly as in every colonized space, as a place whose economic potential has not yet been implemented, not yet executed. SF differs from historical colonialism, however, in that it criticizes this condition, but this criticism has the effect of a collateral damage in the sense that SF is too much embedded in colonialist desires to negate the ideology as a whole as faulty.
The place’s perception as a wilderness has more than just economic reasons. The very idea of wilderness legitimizes its conquest: when science fiction employs this consensual hallucination to justify an ideology that constructs its historical context, it is one thing, but when we are speaking about historical realities, this hallucination has horrendous consequences. In consensual hallucinations, as far as Zionism is concerned, I refer to the two slogans to which Zionism adhered: conquest of the wilderness (kibbush hashmama) and redemption of the land (geulat hakarka). This perception of Israel as a wilderness to be tamed, even redeemed in religious terms, was made possible not only because it was congruent with the colonialist narrative, but also because one does not need to be a colonialist to know that an imagined geography is always more dominant than a real one, as W.J.T. Mitchell taught in his essay Imperial Landscape (published in the anthology he edited in 1994, Landscape and Power),17 a groundbreaking study which reshaped the direction of landscape studies by considering landscape not simply as an object to be observed or as a text to be read, but as an instrument of cultural force, a central tool in the creation of national and social identities.
The mythical place, then, is always more dominant than the real one, which in the case of Zionism had to be supplemented with a salvation myth to gain moral legitimacy. So sometimes, the story we tell about a place is stronger and more effective than the place itself after it was emptied of its realities and transformed into a platform on which the myth is projected. In SF, the projected place, namely the myth projected on the real space, is an outcome of a desire that has nothing to do with the future in fact. The projection explains the present as its sole purpose, and it was Fredric Jameson who maintained in Archaeologies of the Future that SF is not about the future, but about our inability to talk about it, adding that SF is the only way to say something about utopia nowadays.18 Thus, the planets described in the genre, whether already settled by their natives or possessing their own culture, are always about their being a frontier and a wilderness, that is—a promised land or a future utopia. The SF planets are economical potentialities which extend the concept of globalism, hence also capitalism, to the end of the universe. SF also identified the metamorphosis in the colonizer’s identity, from being that of a nation to that of a corporation, namely an economic unit; as such, it diagnosed globalism as a kind of colonialism early on, in the 1950s, as evident in Frederik Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth’s The Space Merchants, and later in Richard Morgan’s Market Forces or Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy, as well as in William Gibson’s Neuromancer. In all these books, the fact that the future is corporate, rather than founded on national units, is the point of departure and the platform from which utopia is measured and criticized.
Let us return to the idea of the place whose myth is stronger than its realities, much like Eretz-Israel which Zionism saw as its home. My example here is that of Dracula. Bram Stoker published Dracula in 1897, reinventing Transylvania. Written as an epistolary novel, this style lends credibility to its narrative, although Stoker had never visited the Carpathians, and the local population was unaware of the presence of vampires in their midst. Dracula is not defined as a SF story, but rather as a gothic novel; as such, however, it is one of the forerunners of the genre. In collective consciousness, the book contributed to Transylvania’s having become synonymous with vampires. There is a whole literary stream trying to prove that Dracula was indeed a historical figure, attributing him to Vlad Tepes, also known as Vlad the Impaler, Prince of Walachia in the late 15th century. Vlad the Terrible, now turned Dracula, has a home: the Bran Castle, which became a lodestone for tourists. The Romanian authorities initially tried to push Dracula’s image off their land, but the myth was stronger than reality, and now they encourage the image of the Carpathians as a bloody region, as it proved itself to be a profitable one.
The case of Dracula is relevant to our context as it offers an example of a place whose myth is stronger than its reality, much like Masada, the Western Wall, etc. It is of interest to us since it also defines the West as progressive, and East Europe as primitive. Transylvania is at once Europe and not Europe; a frontier, if you will, before the ultimate primitivism of the East. Stoker’s story, which emphasizes the primitivism of the population and the realities of vampires, and his description of the landscape as demonic, teaches us that imagined geographies are not about a nonexistent place; that the way to produce geographical knowledge differs from that of actual knowledge, and this difference is the basis of every tourist attraction known to us. When we imagine Tau Ceti, Neptune, Masada, or Jerusalem, we turn to this tourist imagination. One of the ways to make the place come closer to its myth, so as to legitimize an act of ownership, is through what is known is SF as “terraforming,” and in Zionism—redemption of the land.
Terraforming, the project that transforms space into place suited for human beings who are not its natives, is found in many SF books. Kim Stanley Robinson’s trilogy, Red Mars, Green Mars, and Blue Mars, is a masterpiece of that genre, but there are many other examples as early as Olaf Stapledon’s 1930 Last and First Men, Poul Anderson’s story The Big Rain (1954), and James B. Blish’s Pantropy series.
The terraforming of the wilderness has a key role in Zionism and science fiction. The wilderness invents the native as the right candidate for that which has to be changed. This wilderness, often referred to in Hebrew as ancient landscape (nof kdumim), is a geography which has remained in a time capsule, belonging to the past rather than the present. Wilderness is defined as a space which guards its primordial character entirely untouched, or minimally so, by humans. The place as wilderness can function as terra nullius, but it is also perceived as a time machine, the right background which will also define the role of the native. If the wilderness is a time capsule, a real diorama of sorts, this also means that its time is not linear, but circular, and as such—it is a mythical time. This means that the population of this time capsule belongs to a different temporal order from that of the colonizer, and in the eyes of 19th-century scholars, it meant that the relation between the Western anthropologist and the anthropological subject, or the colonizer and the colonized, are relationships of people who occupy different time points in the history of civilization. When Zionism regards the Arabs as the ancestors of the diasporic Jews, it refers to this kind of different time zone, allowing a relationship based on a biological connection which would further legitimize the colonial act. It also explains the early immigrants’ fascination with the Arab, in acquiring Arab garments, food, and other significant characteristics in the metamorphosis from Jew to Hebrew. It follows that the colonizers, being descendants of the colonized, do not take something not their own, but rather inherit the land lawfully.
This shift between different time zones is also a popular topic in science fiction. We call it time travel, and the encounters of settlers on new planets with the natives almost always carry the same character as found in Zionism and other colonial projects; in both instances, the natives’ backwardness caused the place to remain or become a wilderness, so that the invasion is conceived of as an act of giving rather than taking. In Herzl’s Old New Land (AltNeuLand), Reschid Bey replies to Kingscourt, one of the travelogue’s protagonists, who asks him whether they, the Moslems, do not regard the Jews as foreign intruders to their land, saying: “You speak strangely, Christian. […] The Jews have enriched us. Why should we be angry with them?”19
In SF literature, the native is an iconic figure. He may be an enemy, but in many cases he is more like an ancient, wise, and stoic ancestor, a noble savage. Everything we imagine ourselves to have been before the Fall. When the native of the planet refuses to play the wise old man, he becomes the incarnation of evil and usually given a matching physiognomy. There is a lot of ambivalence related to this native, which is very similar in character to the colonizers’ attitude towards their colonized. The ambivalence is rooted in a consensual hallucination that knows the native to be human, yet regards him as nonhuman, and worse still—as a grotesque parody of that which is human; like the consensual hallucination that sees a place full of natives, yet acts as if the place was empty, or knows that occupation destroys local cultures, yet behaves as if it fulfills an essential need for the natives who, had they been able to fathom it, would have wished to be colonized. This perception of the native found in SF literature is reminiscent of Zionism’s approach to the local population. In both instances, the native is localized within the subcategory of the “sense of wonder,” alas not that of the sublime, but that of the grotesque.
In effect, in SF, the alien who is the native is the best topos of the grotesque, since the grotesque is committed to a mythological logic of change and mutation. The grotesque in the form of the native introduces a distortion of the classic human form, undermining the colonial order of hierarchies, and creating instability which is immanent to its nature. The grotesque is parody of the right stuff: in SF the right stuff is the human body, and in colonialism it is the white Western body. The difference between them is that in SF the grotesque is not reserved to aliens only; it recurs in the accepted body of the human, e.g. when that body must adapt to a planet with different physical conditions, as in Frederik Pohl’s Man Plus (1976), or the grotesque as a source of punishment in China Miéville’s Perdido Street Station (2000); and then, there is the whole area of androids, cyborgs and clones. In other words, the grotesque in SF is to be found in both colonizers and colonized.
If the grotesque appears as the colonized in colonialism and in SF as both colonizer and colonized, where does it appear in Zionism? Here we have an interesting twist, because in the history of visual images you won’t find the grotesque in the enemy, the Arab, when depicted by Israeli artists, but in the colonizers themselves, in the sense that if the grotesque is defined through mutation, then it is the body of the Zionist that undergoes such a process as it is transformed from a Jewish to a Hebrew figure; along the way it acquires the attributes of the natives, reinforcing the figure of the Arab as both ancestor and antithetical to the Hebrew.
This ambivalence has an additional aspect found in both Zionism (or any other colonial project) and science fiction: what I shall call an autochthonous aspect. Autochthony means the state of being aboriginal or native to a particular area. In colonialism, the autochthonous problem is solved through the idea of progress or ancestral fathers; in SF, progress is the only apologetic in the arsenal that justifies expansion. SF is careful to treat this problematic with respect. In almost every book with such a scenario, the unwritten law is that a place can not be ruled or robbed of its treasure if the original population is proved to have intelligence, which in many books leads to a debate about what exactly constitutes intelligent life, e.g. H. Beam Piper’s Little Fuzzy (1962) which developed into John Scalzi’s Fuzzy Nation in 2011.
In Zionism, the autochthonous problem is much more complicated. Eretz-Israel as the historical place of the Jewish people is, as Shlomo Sand and common sense have taught us, a rabbinic and Christian invention. It is only by the beginning of the 20th century, says Sand, that the theological Eretz-Israel crystallized as a national concept.20 The Bible takes a very clear anti-autochthonous stance and relates to the people of Israel as nomads. In so doing, it cuts any relation to the land which could be deemed pagan and idolatrous. The land is holy because it is sanctified to God. The Bible calls the Promised Land “Canaan,” that is—it recognizes the concept of territorialism, but denies an organic connection. Zionism, on the other hand, appropriates the autochthonous myth and calls it the Law of Return, an Israeli law originating in 1950 that grants Jews, those of Jewish ancestry, and their spouses the right to migrate to Israel, settle in it, and gain citizenship.
This perception distinguishes Zionism from traditional colonialism, while at the same time creating a mythical link between the New Hebrew and the place which is now associated with his nationality. It insists that this connection was never terminated, and therefore reinforces the legitimacy of the occupation.
This brings us to the last similarity between science fiction and Zionism: both are immersed in the grand narrative of progress and expansion, whose economical reasons must be integrated into the ethos which will legitimize the colonialist move. Both Zionism and SF, under the canopy of colonialism, employ the idea of frontier and pioneering by virtue of which the brutal expansion will acquire the patina of a heroic deed or story. Whether the idea of frontier is regarded as an independent parameter or an essential part of the colonial parameter, it sheds light on an additional aspect, since SF is not only a natural form of literature articulating colonial ideology, but also a literature that conveys the American spirit in the purest form as no other literature does. When John F. Kennedy wanted to convince the Senate to give NASA millions of dollars, he sold them on the idea of space as the new and last frontier. This is repeated in the announcement by the magnificent Captain Kirk voice-over at the beginning of every Star Trek episode: “Space, the final frontier,” which defines the frontier as a place of the sublime, and the entire genre of SF as a metaphor for the American dream. This ethos of the frontier always carries religious overtones. In the case of Zionism, religiosity is mobilized and appropriated even more efficiently when it is masked by a secular attitude. In this sense, a comparison between the pioneering American drive and that which enabled Zionism to realize its goals indicates that they are of the same characteristics; SF, being a true manifestation of that ethos, reflects and demonstrates what Zionism did in real space. In both instances—Zionism and the American westward expansion, and subsequently, in its expression through SF literature—it is made clear that the new place is not even a place, but a platform on which the mythical dream is projected. Of all the parameters constituting the meta-narratives of both SF and Zionism, the frontier and the notion of pioneering are the most dominant features. The frontier is never a border or a place; it is a space, like the blackness beyond the stratosphere. It is in this space that the mythographic process will occur, defining the place anew as such.
1. Jeff Prucher (ed.), Brave New Words: The Oxford Dictionary of Science Fiction (New York: Oxford UP, 2007), p. 179.
2. Peter Nicholls, “Conceptual Breakthrough,” in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, John Clute and Peter Nicholls (eds.) (New York: St. Martin’s, 1993), pp. 254-257.
3. Istvan Csicsery-Ronay, Jr., “On the Grotesque in Science Fiction,” Science Fiction Studies, vol. 29, no. 1 (March 2002), pp. 71–99.
4. See: Edmund Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1757) (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2008).
5. See: Immanuel Kant, “Second Book: Analytic of the Sublime,” in Critique of the Power of Judgment (1790), trans. Paul Guyer and Eric Matthews (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge UP, 2006), pp. 128-159.
6. Jennifer Daryl Slack and John Macgregor Wise, Culture + Technology: A Primer (New York: Peter Lang, 2007), p. 17.
7. See: David E. Nye, American Technological Sublime (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1996), esp. pp. 143-172, 173-198.
8. Jacqueline Rose, The Question of Zion (Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 2005), p. 16.
9. See: Shlomo Sand, The Invention of the Jewish People, trans. Yael Lotan (London and New York: Verso, 2010); Shlomo Sand, The Invention of the Land of Israel: From Holy Land to Homeland, trans. Geremy Forman (London and New York: Verso, 2012).
10. See: Gershom Scholem, The Messianic Idea in Judaism and Other Essays on Jewish Spirituality (New York: Schocken Books, 1995 [1971]).
11. See: Moshe Idel, Old Worlds, New Mirrors: On Jewish Mysticism and Twentieth-Century Thought (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010).
12. See: John Rieder, Colonialism and the Emergence of Science Fiction (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan UP, 2008).
13. See: Edward W. Said, Culture and Imperialism (New York: Knopf, 1993).
14. H.G. Wells, The War of the Worlds (1898) (New York: The New York Review of Books, 1960), p. 14.
15. Samuel Katz, Battleground: Fact and Fantasy in Palestine (New York: Bantam, 1973), p. 55.
16. See: Carl Freedman, Critical Theory and Science Fiction (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan UP, 2000).
17. See: W.J.T. Mitchell (ed.), Landscape and Power: Space, Place, and Landscape 2nd edition (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2002 [1994]), pp. 5-34.
18. See: Fredric Jameson, Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions (London and New York: Verso, 2005).
19. Theodor Herzl, Old New Land (AltNeuLand), trans. Lotta Levensohn (New York: Bloch Publishing, 1960), p. 81.
20. See: Sand (note 8).