Page 42 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 25

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the mouth,” “where a man and a woman live together till calm
old age.” There is no catharsis of decision—he does not know
if he will get the girl or if he will not get the girl; but his
inner state changes from a grown boy to a heterosexual man, with
glimmerings of adulthood, the mode of catharsis of Donne's
“Air and Angels,” Milton’s “Lycidas,” and Yeat’s “Byzantium.”
So, at the end of
Betrothed,
it is not clear objectively what has
happened; subjectively Jacob has lost the bachelor condition,
though his meditative poignance tempers any lyrical rejoicing.
Similarly, Agnon’s dark tales have a lyrical, not an objective
suspense. At the denouement, the hero does not march down
Main Street with a six-gun after the killer, but arrives at a con-
figuration of spirit so intense words become trivial, let alone
outer action, and he is immersed in his own condition. “The
Orchestra” finishes:
A terror descended upon me, and I stood as though fixed
to the earth. My spirits grew despondent in me that in the
hour when all who sleep were sleeping, I should be awake. In
truth, not I alone was awake, but also the stars in heavens
were awake; and by the light of the stars of heaven I saw
what 1 saw. And because my spirits were lowly, my words
were hiding in my mouth.
This resembles the ending of Hopkins’ “Carrion Comfort,” “Tha t
night, that year/ Of now done darkness I wretch lay wrestling
with (my God!) my God.” At the shock of insight, further speech
is impertinent.
This lyrical mode of plotting tends to make Agnon’s mono-
dramas palatable, even attractive. Writers like Tolstoy and Proust,
whose characters move about a carefully delineated setting, do
not write monodramas at all. We know exactly where a man’s
thoughts end and the action begins. Extreme monodramas, like
those of Thomas Wolfe and Henry Miller, are often murky, fitful,
and unsatisfying, sensuous orgies of person, scene, and neigh-
borhood mingling with a battering wash of moral judgments
that run page after page. Their satisfactions are oral as much
as aesthetic, the book a megaphone as much as a shaped sculp-
ture. At their best, such fictional journals have a high intoxica-
tion; but the hero is too engulfing to be clearly visible, the minor
characters stylized into what-the-hero-reacts-to, not distinct, round-
ed persons.
Between these two extremes, the bulk of literature shares ele-
ments of monodrama and the conventional stage. Thus, the
hero, as the point-of-view, tends to be large and mythic, a char-
acter and an oceanic wash of impulse, the other characters too
seem relatively stylized, static, and enclosed. Even in
The Adven­