Page 47 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 25

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S . Y . A G N O N
A L I E N A T I O N A N D R E T U R N *
N a f t a l i
C. B
w e i n
n y a d e q u a t e c r i t ic a l an a ly s is a n d e v a lu a t io n o f a l i te r a r y
e n d e a v o r m u s t r e v e a l th e f o l lo w in g e s sen t ia l fea tu re s:
a) I t must bring out the common denominator between the
literary endeavor under examination and the spiritual world
existent in the particular literature to which the author con-
tributes. For any literary creation, however exceptional it may
be, however revolutionary in content and form, cannot escape
the sphere of relationships which result from time and circum-
stance. It is these very relationships which mold the spiritual
world of the particular literature, and shape the character of the
work under discussion.
b) On the other hand, it must reveal the uniqueness of the
creation under examination—that is, uniqueness from the point
of view of birth of ideas, negative or positive; from the aspect
of images, characters, plot, and landscape; and uniqueness with
regard to the structure and mold of the creation as it unfolds.
c) It should disclose the basic unity in the multi-faceted com-
positions of the artist. Every isolated creation of a certain author
receives its full meaning precisely by virtue of its relations and
connections with the author’s other works.
The ordinary reader may enjoy any literary work as a fully
self-contained production. The task of the critic, however, is
to penetrate, as it were, the work to its very breadth and depth,
and to reveal the unity-in-complexity of the author’s total work
—unity, in spite of the tension and contrast which may exist
between the various individual works. For the soul of the in-
dividual artist struggles at different times to express itself in
different ways. Yet they all tend to reveal one archetype of a
life philosophy, one single, unique, all-pervasive spirit.1 There
* From a lecture delivered at Brandeis University, January, 1967.
1 The fundamentals of this leading principle in a comparative study of the
writings of Agnon and his contemporaries on the one hand, and the writings
of modern authors in general on the other, may be seen in the instructive
critical writings of Prof. B. Kurzweil on Hebrew literature in general and on
Agnon in particular.