Slouching Towards Jerusalem

Souching Towards Jerusalem is a unique contribution to comparative literature (Irish, Israeli and Palestinian) and deals with the under-researched phenomenon of reactive nationalism (emotional rather than ideological nationalism). It is the only comparative published study of its kind involving the three literatures and reflects its author’s long-term engagement with two arenas of conflict: the Israeli-Palestinian and Northern Irish conflicts.

Slouching Towards Jerusalem surveys these through the eyes of contemporary novelists from both arenas. Maher’s selection of authors is wide and varied and includes both lesser-known and emergent authors.

Dr. Maher uses the prisms of language, land, religion, love and war, and the changing image of the enemy in his quest for insight into the realities behind the novelists’ portrayals of their situations. His conclusions are iconoclastic and challenging as befits such a unique journey into the three contrasting contemporary literatures.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction
2. Reactive Nationalism in the Light of Received Standard Nationalism
3. The Novels and the Novelists
4. Land as Language
5. The Image of the Enemy
6. Love in Time of War
7. Is Religion a Country?
8. Language as Land
9. Conclusion




   The dark-eyed bekçi nodded towards the dusty track leading up to the Turkish dig.

    ‘Her şey açık.’

Everything is open. I watched him stroll back to the shady bower near the gate to join the taxi driver who had brought me out from Konya, on the Anatolian Plateau. There was no rush. I was the only one at Çatalhöyük that morning and the dead, grateful or otherwise, weren’t going anywhere, anytime soon. They had waited 9,000 years or more for my personal visit. They could wait another five minutes.

At the top of the tepe, I entered the huge, covered site and gazed down on roofless mud walls that had once embraced hundreds of lives, thousands of years earlier.

I had often considered the latent energy left in such places. Working on the census in the back roads outside my town, years before, it was the long-deserted family homes that intrigued me. Abandoned family houses with trees growing through windows. Once kitchen gardens run wild. All sights that told me that life, in essence, was just a temporary little arrangement. It was the sort of thing you shouldn’t really have in your head at eighteen or nineteen but that you couldn’t help but think about, further down the line. Where had all that love and anger and fear and laughter gone from those old houses? From the clay houses of Çatalhöyük, for that matter? Was there some sort of emotional Geiger counter that could detect its residue in those pre-ancient (pre-ancient generally taken as recorded history, from roughly 5,000 BC, in Mesopotamia) walls? A machine that could sniff out lost (or simply mislaid) love?

To give myself a sense of the passage of time, I usually divided the interval from present to past by 20-30 years (20ish, in the case of 7,000 BC – though 15 might, realistically, have been a generation then), a generation. Then I pictured that number of people standing, one behind the other, in long lines in the town square. In the case of Çatalhöyük, that would make 9,000 /20 = 450 people – not a lot, really, between me and them.
As I stood there considering my calculations, something misgave in my heart, without warning. A chill feeling like an undertow on a tranquil sea. A break in the chain of generations, right at that point where I stood in the sequence. I had neither name nor clever clogs alphanumeric for the feeling. But I knew something was wrong, somewhere, a will-o’-the-wisp, glimmering that sets the vagal nerve ajangle. The uneasy feeling you get in a dodgy pub in a strange city or on a darkened street. A distant cry on the night, out in a barren bog – alluring, menacing, unignorable.

I slept well that night all the same, probably because of the twelve-hour, sleepless train journey up from Izmir on the coast, in a carriage opposite a group of women on a pilgrimage to the Mevlânâ shrine, in Konya. I slept well too, over the following days and weeks, until that odd presentiment was buried again under the comforting clutter of the diurnal, of doing and thinking and talking and just being. Then, a couple of years later, mid-Covid, I was diagnosed with a stage three tumour and the undertow suddenly made sense.
I had become the gap in the generations.

Now, three years later, recalling a Druze Arab nazar (the fulfilment of a vow of thanks and a thanksgiving feast) I had attended for a man who had recovered from a stroke, in the Western Galilee, I decided to go back to where I had first felt the break in the chain – in Çatalhöyük. I would go back and give thanks to the great whatever – luck, genes, God, surgeons, nature.
That was the essence of The Vow then – a vague need to go back to the source of my unease. But, of course, it’s never that simple. No vainglorious vow ever is…because, the thing is, as we all know, the journey is not really about the journey but about who we meet – including our bare selves – on that journey.

It’s not even about the destination on the ticket.