Page 58 - 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
3 8
was not a mistake. At the most crucial moment, at the threshold
of the hotel room, the hotel keeper appears and unwittingly
decrees the inevitable fate: “The room is for the lady. And for
you, mister, we will find another place to sleep.” What is broken
cannot be repaired. Escape leads nowhere.
In the final analysis, Agnon is a modern writer whose restless
soul escapes from itself to the warm shelter of earlier generations,
seeking refuge in the contrast. In his latest stories this escape
becomes more frantic and reveals not only the shattered existence
he is fleeing, but also the tottering state of the world he is trying
to escape to.
The work of Agnon, which encompasses a period of close to
two hundred years of Jewish history, molds a phenomenal gallery
of human types: from the pious Chosid to the struggling pioneer,
from the uprooted young Jew wandering across Europe to the
German Jewish professor in Jerusalem seeking consolation in
a forbidden love, from the skeptic of the
shtetl
to the scholar
of antiquities. No Hebrew writer before him has ever created
a panorama so vast in scope, so rich in human types. The style
of his writing, like the vastness of his background and the wealth
of characters, contains all layers of the Hebrew language, from
the language of the Bible to the slang of modern Israel. Equally
colorful and variegated are the many forms and structures of
his literary creation: from the poetry of his epic to the large
social novel, from the folk legend and realistic tale to the modern
lyrical story of stream of consciousness.
The close and attentive reader of Agnon will discover the
three principles expounded above.
a) Agnon is a modern, secular writer, struggling with subjects
of the religious world, struggling to identify himself with this
world, but remaining outside.
b) Agnon continues the line of the two-fold tragedy of modern
secular Hebrew literature.
c) Basic motifs such as the one we have discussed, alienation
and return, or the search for unity in a world lost, 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.