Dec 21, 2012

The postmodern technique of the most-sold Christian novel of 2012

The Harbinger begins by addressing its own problem of unbelievability.

It opens by directly dealing with the readers' likely problem of suspending disbelief for this novel. The subtitle is The Ancient Mystery that Holds the Secret of America's Future. The first page begins with that same phrase spoken as dialogue -- a bit of dialogue that could be between the author and the reader, or the author imagining that conversation, acting it out, playing both parts, his and the reader who's going to read this. And it starts by repeating that line:
'An ancient mystery that holds the secret of America's future.'
'Yes.'
'What would I think?'
'Yes, what would you think?'
'I'd think it was a plot for a movie. Is that it? Is that what you're presenting ... a movie manuscript?'
'No.'
'A plot for a novel?'
'No.'
'Then what?'
He was silent.
'Then what?' she repeated.
It is the plot for a novel, actually, though within the fiction-world of the narrative the "ancient mystery" isn't fiction, as the character named Nouriel Kaplan insists twice on page two. And as the author Jonathan Cahn has also said in multiple interviews outside the fiction-world of The Harbinger.

On a Christian, apocalypse-oriented radio program, he said "the form is a narrative" but "90 percent of it is non-fiction." On a Charismatic TV show, he repeated the message of the book without any reference to narrative or a novel or fictions of any sort, but only to the "prophetic message known as The Harbinger." The host represented the work as revelation from the Holy Spirit, a characterization Cahn didn't dispute. In an e-mail interview with a Charismatic podcast, Cahn said,
[The Harbinger] reveals things that believers have felt in their hearts but without the evidence to back it up. It reveals a biblical mystery of specific template of judgment that is now playing out in America, before our eyes, lying behind everything from 9/11 to the crash of Wall Street, biblical harbingers of judgment appearing in New York City, Washington, D.C., involving some of the highest of American leaders, the replaying of an ancient drama of judgment, even giving exact dates.
This is also all presented in the dialogue in the first few pages of the novel, meaning the author, a messianic Jewish minister from New Jersey, contends that he is presenting non-ficiton as fiction, but within the fiction, the main character is arguing that the story seems like fiction but "it's not fiction -- it's real."

It's a fascinating bit of metafictionality, I think.

A similar thing happened in Left Behind, where criticisms of the book, specifically that it was badly written and unbelievable, were written into the book. Left Behind briefly calls attention to its own status as fiction, predicts the readers' response, and makes that response a part of the narrative, thus re-framing its own problem of plausibility as the readers' struggle with belief. The problem of believing that God is directing the apparently chaotic events of history, and that the Bible is relevant to todays world and to an individuals life, is collapsed into the problem of suspending disbelief to read a novel.

The Harbinger does the same thing, but more so, and more directly. Here the very postmodern technique of self-reflexivity is used, and used aggressively, but to a very different end.

This has caused some deal of controversy among those who, actually, are open to the idea of the imminent return of Christ at Armageddon to reign for 1,000 years.

I wouldn't want to say that this is at all related to that, but that novel, The Harbinger, is the only Christian fiction to make it onto Amazon.com's list of 100 most-sold books of 2012. It comes in at number 23 for the year -- ahead of J.K. Rowling's foray into adult fiction, the Steve Jobs biography, and John Grisham's latest.

Many would likely scoff at that news, a response that's expected by the text and anticipated, written into the story. "I don't expect you to believe me yet," the main character says. "But hear me out!"