Page 48 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 25

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J
e w i s h
B
o o k
A
n n u a l
28
is only one Agnon, just as there is only one Bialik, one Joyce.
In the early works of Agnon, such as in
The Outcast,
the
close reader can discover the same basic philosophy of life and
man which is expressed differently in his later creations, such
as in “Tehila,” or that same sublime acceptance of tragic fate
which reverberates so profoundly in the nature of Chaim, one
of the most moving characterizations in
Guest for a Night.
These later works are sometimes viewed as the surprising and
quite different creations of another Agnon. Yet just as the critic
with insight must call to our attention the Joycean world of
Ulysses which is already inherent in his earlier works,
Portrait
of the Artist as a Young Man
and
The Dubliners,
the same should
apply in evaluating the works of Agnon.
Concerning the first principle propounded: Agnon’s artistic
creations integrate contextually and in leading motifs with
modern Hebrew literature at a stage which might be called the
stage of the “two-fold tragedy.” I t is here that the Hebrew writer
reaches the climax of his awareness of crisis and struggle with
Jewish tradition and culture. The main motifs of this stage are
expressed in the outcry arising from the polaric struggle between
a world of vision and a world of nihilism, between a world
rooted in the values of faith and feeling, and an escape to the
abyss of the personal “I,” detached, incapable of return and
identification. The scene is one of alienation and strangeness
mingled with the desire for an unachievable return. The tragedy
is created by the quality of awareness the author gives to the
heroes of the struggle: the protagonist sees his own world
crumbling, as well as the decline of the gradually disappearing
world he yearns to escape to. And over and above stands the
writer, as if looking at both worlds and whispering in pained
irony:
Just between you and me, what is broken cannot be re-
paired, but it is impossible to forget what the broken pieces
look like.
There are times when the entire struggle with its two worlds
penetrates and becomes confined to the heart of the author
himself. One world no longer confronts the other, nor one hero
the other. The author, alone, living a defective existence, sadly
recalls from its ruins a golden world of childhood. He knows
that the struggle is over, that the time has passed, that whatever
he sees is only an image of what once was but no longer is, that
he has neither a way to return nor a way to flee.2
2For further discussion on this theme, see my article, “The Conflict of
Generations in Modern Hebrew Literature,”
Conservative Juda ism ,
Vol. XIX,
2 (Winter, 1965), 79-83.