Monday 5 March 2012

Radiance Behind the Scenes

With the first section of Radiance completed, I thought I would take some time to reveal my thinking behind what I wrote, especially with regards to the kabbalistic imagery. If this is of interest, I will write more along similar lines.

And if I don't address a thought or question you have, why not let me know?

Radiance - the title came from my favourite translation of the Zohar, often called the Book of Splendour. I prefer the idea of radiance because at heart, the Zohar is about movement and flow, the dynamism in the relationship between God and the universe, as well as within Himself and within each individual person. Radiance, for me, captures this movement.

The Song of Songs - this erotic love poem is often taken by the Rabbis as the love affair between God and the Jewish people, with the Jewish people cast as the woman's voice. The Kabbalists took this metaphor a step further - each Jewish person forms a tiny portion of Malchut, the lowest feminine manifestation of God. The story of the Song of Songs is the story of the stormy love affair between Kudsha Brich Hu (Tiferet, the Holy Blessed One) and the Shechina (Malchut, the presence of God), but it remains the story of God and the Jewish people.

These verses from chapter five of Song of Songs ('I slept but my heart was awake') describe a strange scene, where the beloved is knocking but Malchut cannot bring herself to rise and open the door to let him in. This is where this scene came from - why doesn't Malchut/Asher open the door? From there I got to the idea that he was in some kind of depression brought on by the death of his father.

Asher - the name of Asher came about through a strange roundabout thought process. I was riffing on the Hebrew word עשר eser, meaning 10, for the tenth sefirah or emanation of God, and it felt like a similar word to אשר Asher, even though in Hebrew there is no etymological link

Asher also means happiness or joy, and I love the tension between the name and the character as we first see him. The Shechina is in exile as the story begins, separated from meaning, passion and love. So to Asher is in a state of depression, a near total lack of action.

Asher also connects to Asherah, mentioned in the Bible as some kind of pagan idol (Deut 16:21 for example), some scholars see her as an ancient female counterpart to the Israelite god YHWH. While I'm not into paganism, I do see the Zohar as Gershom Scholem famously described it - 'the revenge of myth'. Classic archetypes from ancient mythology can be reborn and reinterpreted for the new religious order of the kabbalah.

The Bath - I wanted the first appearance of Asher to capture the essence of a man who has hit a brick wall and feels utterly powerless - and at that moment I had an image from a Scrubs episode, in which JD's brother turns up to tell him that their father has died, but instead of consoling him, his brother spends nearly the entire episode simply sitting in the bath. That idea collided in my mind with the image of Bathsheba, (or Bat Sheva, daughter of seven, another name of Malchut) bathing on the roof. Now Asher represents both David and Bathsheba (both are manifestations of the Shechina) and I thought beginning in this way might call to mind his more feminine attributes.

The Guitar - I said already that Asher is an analogue of King David, so naturally he has to be musical. What is the modern equivalent of David's harp? It seemed that the guitar suited him best.

The Golem - as a physical creature without a soul, the golem seemed a good choice of adversary for the Malchut section of the novel, which is all about the most physical level of the universe.


  1. Very interesting! I'd definitely like to see more of this - it's like a DVD extra.

    I was never particularly into kabbalah, but I've begun tentatively to look at it, as part of a growing interest in early Hasidism in general and Rebbe Nachman of Breslov and his tales in particular. Your Scholem quote hints at how I've come to see it - as a mythological way of dealing with theological/philosophical questions.

    I'm enjoying Radiance too!

    1. Hey Daniel, thanks for the feedback.

      I do think that Rebbe Nachman's stories fit into that kind of approach - that narrative can be the best way of approaching truth, truth that perhaps is inexpressible in theological or philosophical approaches.

      Glad you're enjoying the story!