Page 49 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 25

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29
B
randw e in
—A
gnon
: A
l ienat ion
and
R
eturn
In what, then, does Agnon’s uniqueness lie?
This tragic struggle between the desire to return and the
clear awareness that the return is doomed to failure is revealed
by the creators of this stage of Hebrew literature in different
ways. Generally, we may say that this struggle unfolds in three
ways: through ethos, through eros, and through theos.
For example, all of Joseph Chaim Brenner’s creations are
centered about the struggle for moral values in a world of
absurdity, a godless world where only feelings of guilt and the
agony of punishment remain. On the other hand, all of Uri
Nissen Genessin’s works revolve about an unslakable human
thirst for breakthrough and identification by way of eros—a
striving and yearning which collapse unfulfilled precisely at the
most intense, intimate moment. The Agnon protagonist expresses
the desire to return to the world of the Jewish theos—as im-
possible, unachievable, and doomed as were the efforts and
strivings of Brenner’s and Genessin’s heroes. In revealing his
uniqueness in this struggle, Agnon evokes an ambivalently ide-
alistic world which clashes from within with the world of aliena-
tion and detachment. He observes his world from two points-
of-view: he identifies with it and admires it; yet he views it
critically and ironically. This Weltanschauung, with all its
complexities and ramifications, links into one complete artistic
continuum all the literary works of Agnon.
The Mythical World of Agnon
In its entirety Agnon’s literary endeavor reflects an overwhelm-
ing desire to return to a mythical world, to a perception of life
which imparts essence to a world dominated by the unseen fates.
Man, in Agnon’s creations, is in constant danger of becoming
a victim of chaos and alienation. At the same time, his vision
perceives a world of myth, of wholeness and unity glimmering
from afar. The author and his characters are therefore locked
in permanent struggle with the chaotic, while continuously striv-
ing to reach that world of wholeness and unity glittering in the
distance—always in the distance, from afar. The atmosphere
prevalent in Agnon’s works is, therefore, that of a mythical
world, and not of the traditional orthodox religion, a view held
by several of his critics. It is an atmosphere in which both
faith and heresy are revealed—submissiveness and rebellion, ac-
ceptance of the yoke and casting it off. In a certain respect, one
may find similarities between the literary world of Agnon and
that of Proust. Proust was constantly seeking for remembrances
of time past. Agnon and his characters are in a constant pursuit
of the unified oneness in a world past. Such striving, in which