St. Riva

I find it fascinating that Riva, data pirate and anarchist revolutionary extraordinare, is the one character in Piercy's book who is referred to as a "saint." Yes, it's Nili who make that reference, so it's not like the author (either actual or implied) is designating Riva with that title. But it's fascinating to me nonetheless. "Saint," so far as I am aware, is not really a Jewish concept; it's more closely associated with th Christian tradition of sanctification, wherein a particularly holy person whose will is thought to be aligned with the will of God becomes in some sense a focal-point for divine energy. There's quite an elaborate tradition in both the Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox churches of particular saintly individuals acting as intercessors with God on behalf of faithful congregants, and although scholars speak of "Hindu saints" and "Buddhist saints" this looks more like an analogy to me than anything else.

My point is that calling Riva a saint takes her out of the Jewish tradition that animates much of the novel. This is appropriate for Riva, since she seems to have absented herself from all of that some point in her past -- she's gone out on her own, existing in some sense outside of all of the various traditions that have survived on the planet. She's outside of all of the multis, outside of the freetowns, outside of Nili's Radioactive Amazonian Utopia, even outside of the Glop and the various movements within it. She interacts with all of these, but seems beholden to none. In that way she's marvelously existential: I, the individual, exist and am a higher value than these communities, so I remove myself from them in order to be authentically true to myself.

Of course, the difference between a saint and a rugged individualist is that the saint's orientation is towards God. In Nili's designation of Riva as a saint, I think we see just the awe of someone deeply rooted in a string communal tradition for someone else seemingly able to survive all on her own. But saints are not just striking individuals; they're somehow exemplars or messengers or avatars of the divine will. If Riva's a saint, what is her God? To what is her life a testimony? Does she, in some sense, have special divine dispensation to violate the ordinary laws and constraints binding most people, in order to bring about some transformative goal?

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