Page 57 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 25

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B
randw e in
—A
g no n
: A
l ienat ion
and
R
eturn
37
Here, then, is the difference between
The Bridal Canopy
and
Benjamin the Third,
between Jewish existence in the world
of Reb Yudel and in the world of Benjamin. Reb Zechariah the
Preacher says in
The Bridal Canopy
: “T ha t’s why God created
man with two eyes—with one eye he should see the greatness of
the Holy One, Blessed be He, and with the other his own lowly
state.” It is in this pattern that Agnon has delineated his char-
acters. With one eye he views them as giants planted firmly in
their world, and with the other he sees his own cleverness. A
second look depicts them as somewhat grotesque, but a last glance
at himself reveals that he is the alienated outsider, never to
return.
The Quest for Lost Unity
The motif of escape from alienation and the quest for lost
unity is essential and fundamental in all of Agnon’s writings;
in his major works such as
A Simple Tale, Guest for a Night,
as well as in his short stories such a “A Change of Face,” “The
Betrothed,” or “Edo and Enam.” This motif is woven into
various plots and revealed against various backgrounds and dif-
ferent worlds, but its meaning and essence are always one—the
world glimmering from afar, and the alienation and isolation
near and about.
The heroes of “Edo and Enam” wander about from place to
place, seeking a place. The author himself runs after and with
them. They find neither rest nor satisfaction in the reality of
their lives, and so they flee to the world of ancient, unrevealed
myth, to the archaic language of Edo, the aboriginal magic of
the hymns of Enam, and the primitive erotic vitality of Gemulah.
These mysterious lures are sought after by Dr. Ginat in the
guise of a dedicated scholar, and by Gamzu, who transports his
beloved across distances of time and space and devotes himself
to her with mystical yearning. The conclusion—failure and
collapse. In this story, Agnon creates a world illuminated by the
magical light of myth but, because they lack roots in their own
world of reality, those attempting to escape to it, can never
reach it; and he who dares approach too closely loses even his
own little island of alienation.
In our last example, Tony, the heroine of “A Change of
Face,” leaves the Jewish court, the divorce in her hands. Her
husband, Hartman, follows her out. Instead of going their sepa-
rate ways, they stroll off together. It is only now, after the
divorce, that they really talk to one another. It is only now
that they discover each other. I t would seem that the divorce
was a mistake—no one really wanted or needed it. But no! It