ROBERT BLOCH discusses "I, Gezheh"

Cover by Gray Morrow
When first approached to write a commentary on Clifford Lawrence Meth’s story “I, Gezheh,” my first thought was, “Why me?”

Why me, indeed! Offhand, it would be difficult to imagine a more unlikely choice to critique a futuristic fable about Hasidic Jewry on another planet. I’m not qualified for the task in terms of personal experience; lack the religious background, the knowledge of Hasidic doctrines or practices. True, I did write some science fiction long ago, but my main body of work deals with either dark fantasy or horror and suspense fiction in which Judaism played little part. Norman Bates did not have a Jewish mother.

Nevertheless, I consented to read “I, Gezheh,” and am delighted that I did. This may be heresy, but I found it to be of more significance than I, Asimov.

But opinions differ. And as I read, I couldn’t help wondering what Celine would have thought if he’d seen this story.

We live in an age of evanescent celebrity, and it may be well that there are those of you who are unfamiliar with Louis Destouches who, under the pseudonym of Louis Ferdinand Celine, wrote two of the most scandalous novels between the first and second World Wars. Journey to the End of the Night and Death on the Installment Plan were scathing critiques of contemporary culture which inspired a new generation of writers and won anathema as well as acclaim. Celine’s style exerted a profound influence on the literature of his generation, for he was indeed an original.

He was also a rabid and virulent anti-Semite. In the postwar years his later output forced him into exile, condemned in absentia, and returned to France for official exoneration only shortly before his death. His hysterical invective against Jewry found little favor then or now.
Considering Celine’s convictions, it may well be that Clifford Lawrence Meth’s depiction of Lubavitcher Judaism in a science fictional future would have caused Celine to nod in agreement and approval.

But I don’t believe he’d content himself with that. He would recognize that “I, Gezheh” is far more than a satirical commentary on Hasidic sectarianism. He would note, as I do, that the implications of the story have universal applications, transcending the boundaries of bigotry in doctrine or dogma.

This same tale could be told, with equally chilling effect, about the students of a Catholic seminary of the future, Muslim fundamentalists in outer space, the tyrannies imposed by every religion with built-in sect appeal, from born-again Christians to born-again Buddhists.
And they, like the Hassidim in this story, would serve as symbols -- symbols of the arrogance of all established authority, the brutalization masked by belief. Celine found it -- and I dare say you found it, too -- not necessarily confined to the clergy and their followers. It is the essence of what Celine himself detested and wrote about in his major novels which explore the same grotesques and grostequeries in other institutions—the military, the police bureaucracy, the mercantile establishment, the law, medicine, education and other organized systems which control humanity with the aid of sanctified sadism.

I think he would have come away from this story without bias towards the subject-matter of the tale itself, and with a profound respect and admiration for the teller. Clifford Lawrence Meth has made marvelous use here of a specialized genre to deliver a message which transcends science fiction. If you have missed the true, revealing richness of its implications, then consider this an urgent reminder—a rap on the knuckles—to read it again.

(c) Robert Bloch, 1994

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