A review of Kim Goldberg’s “Neither Slumber Nor Sleep” in Urban Green Man (Edge, 2013)
By Derek Newman-Stille
A rabbi loses his position at the Beth Shalom Congregation when he becomes interested in a new supernatural phenomenon that appears in Nanaimo. Called in to investigate a series of strange events regarding the sighting of a huge Green Goddess figure and sudden surges of greenery over the urban space, the rabbi’s faith is challenged and questioned when he sees a bizarre series of events that defy his beliefs in the logical universe and that seem to reflect a pagan belief system more than they do a Jewish one. But, it is his belief in logic and the undeniable facts of the Green Goddess’ appearance in the city that cause him to eventually believe that she is appearing in the city.
He investigates the situation with logic and deduction, looking at these strange tales and gradually piecing together undeniable evidence that convinces him of the accuracy of these unusual reports – as Sherlock Holmes would say “when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth”.
Much like the bumbling police in a Sherlock Holmes tale, the RCMP in this story grasp for simple answers instead of investigating the case, blaming the sudden appearance of vinery overgrowing buildings on student pranks and acts of protest. Goldberg critiques the RCMP’s too easy assumptions in recent years that youth culture is linked to acts of rebellion, and their desire to suppress instances of protest as though they are symbols of a decaying society. Her vision of the RCMP reflects the issues of police violence against protestors who are advocating for environmental issues in Canada.
As the Green Goddess’ acts of environmental re-assurgency continue, environmental advocates join her in their pledge to “assist the Green Goddess in her mission to refoliate Nanaimo by whatever means necessary”. Although originally the police had assumed protest, eventually protestors join this environmental cause, seeing the Green Goddess’ actions of refoliation as beneficial for urban spaces.
Despite his assertion that “I am a man of both Talmud and science, neither of which places much store by pagan rituals”, the rabbi begins to see that there is not so much difference between the religious ideologies expressed in the Talmud, the principles of scientific investigation, and the likelihood that the Green Goddess represents a real change rather than an urban legend (particularly when it is reported that the Green Goddess has a series of Hebrew letters inscribed across her forehead that are the same as those that are used in evoking a golem). Moreover, he begins to wonder if the behaviours of this golem are threatening or if the world needs further acts of refoliation.
Goldberg examines the role of faith in modernity, and the interaction between notions of logic and belief. She creates a character whose observation of facts has isolated him from his community and resulted in his expulsion from his own congregation. Using the combination of environmentalism and the discourse of faith and logic, Goldberg explores the idea that modernity leaves many things unquestioned, particularly our assertion that an urban space and notions of progress have ascendency over green spaces and the significance of natural growth. By situating police powers in opposition to assumed (and then eventually real) environmental groups, she calls attention to the need to question government and media images of environmental protestors as violent people and instead suggests that we, as a culture, need protest – we need to question social messages and interrogate how our actions impact the environment.
Although, of course, not named Sherlock Holmes, the rabbinical protagonist of this story shows many similarities to the canonic character from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s tales. By leading her readers through a similar analysis of the evidence, deep detective work, and psychological insights, Goldberg evokes this figure from literary history and questions the foundations of the idea of logic, reminding her readers of the importance of looking deeper into what appears to be “evidence” rather than accepting the assumptions that are presented.
To find out more about Kim Goldberg, visit http://pigsquash.wordpress.com/ .