Page 63 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 16

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4 9
H
a lk i n
S. J.
A
gnon
Only future ages will be able to understand Agnon’s genera-
tion and to assess its profoundly distinctive Jewish character.
When the lunacy which grips our world passes away and the pall
of terror cast over embattled Israel is lifted, the role of creative
Jewish culture in the life of our age and of Jewish tradition, and
Agnon’s role in particular, will stand out even more clearly and
forcibly. It is one of the many paradoxes of our age that,
although so desperately consumed by gnawing doubts and fears
for the future that it imagines the end of the world is at hand,
it manages nevertheless, in the tradition of the Jew since time
immemorial, to shed its fears and doubts. It proceeds to weave
out of the Messianic loom a faith, invisible yet invincible,
stronger perhaps than ever before, that the Redemption is prac-
tically at our door, proclaiming “How beautiful upon the moun-
tains are the feet of the messenger of good tidings." This irra-
tional faith defeats the rational heresy, but precisely because it is
mysterious and inscrutable while the negativism inherent in the
heresy is quite obvious, the present age fails to draw adequate
nourishment from Agnon’s essential affirmative faith and con-
fidence in life.
Agnon is by no means a naive writer. The attempt by some
critics to identify him with his literary characters is nonsense.
He is not Reb Yudel in
Haknasat Kalah
(Bridal Canopy), nor is
he a disciple of the
Oheb Yisroel
(Lover of Israel), the
tsadik
from Optah and the other Jewish
tsadikim
for whom the whole
Torah is compressed into the single pure precept, “Love thy
neighbor . . .” Like all authentic poets, Agnon is under no illu-
sion that the world always dispenses justice, nor does he believe
that in perilous times, when evil and destruction threaten to
engulf mankind, a miracle is bound suddenly to occur and restore
confidence. There are valid reasons for the abundance of tragic
moments in Agnon’s writings, not only in his secular stories like
Bidmi Yameha
(In Her Prime of Life) and
Sippur Pashut
(A
Simple Story), but also in his sacred narratives such as
Aggunot
(Deserted Wives) and
Aggadat Hasofer
(The Legend of the
Scribe), and in many others. This predilection for the tragic
adds a distinctive flavor to Agnon’s works; it liberates them from
the simple-minded sweetness of genuflecting feebly before the
Creator, in which some critics would prefer to savor the typical
Agnon.
Agnon’s popular style has been widely misunderstood. His
exterior garbs, woven from the finest of Grandmother’s colorful
threads, tend to conceal the inner individual conception of the
pathos in man’s craving for life and in his persistent effort to
surmount all obstacles that confront his quest. It is not naivete,
but faith in the essential goodness of life, that suffuses Agnon’s
writings. “For him who has God on his side,” says Agnon, “even
the bad things turn to good.” This maxim may well apply to
the writer himself. His is not a blind faith in the monition that