Page 46 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 25

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e w i s h
o o k
n n u a l
clarify. Essentially a negative term, it indicates irrationality or
disorder, but leaves unsaid on what level, metaphysics, cul-
ture, human nature, or daily life. Total absurdity is a boring
gibberish. Here we suggest that the lyrical mode is a broad,
haunting element in modern theater and fiction. By it a mood
or strand of character is pushed to its fullest expression, however
realistically or otherwise. We then enjoy the catharsis of a thought
or an emotion, not a whole person. Thus Agnon’s characters
begin with a mode of feeling, typically one of meditative soli-
tude, to which they are finally committed or utterly changed.
This strain is better called lyrical than absurd.
The lyrical strain is unmistakable in Kafka. His relationship
to Agnon is close since both men struggle for the catharsis of
contact; in Agnon it is typically arrived at, in Kafka it typically
fails. A noted contemporary who writes in the lyric strain is
Harold Pinter. Pinter’s plays, which have little in common with
Beckett, are very little clarified by calling them “The Theater
of the Absurd.” Pinter is uninterested in metaphysics, either ra-
tional or absurd; he is neither for nor against realism; he does
not fade in a larger city or civilization. Pinter rather writes in
what we would call the lyrical mode, pursuing an impulse, an
emotion, a flicker of intent in a realistic setting to its final denoue-
ment. Pinter keeps his work from seeming too dream-like by col-
loquial speech and the use of commonplace, mass-produced
objects, Agnon by the classical simplicity of his language, his
clarity of mood, and his intuitions about human nature. Agnon
is an eccentric member of a large writing family, using a lan-
guage we can understand and have rapport with. And in a fiction
world overloaded with pessimistic confessionals, journals, and
neurotic dream states, it is a grace to stumble upon a lyric tem-
perament, resembling Spenser and Keats, who writes fiction, who
is alive and part of us.