Page 72 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 27

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e w i s h
o o k
n n u a l
modern writers and critics have forgotten the difference between
entertaining people and exciting them. They imagine that every
thing that excites is art. It is a lie. It is true that art has man
elements of shock. We are shaken by a work of art, but not every
thing that shakes us is art. The term ‘excitement’ has becom
a synonym for art. It is a misleading word in literature. T o excit
the nerves one does not need talent. In escaping from the old
innocent cliches many modern writers have fallen into new an
dangerous cliches that do tremendous harm to the art of ou
It is one of the complaints of Bashevis’s Yiddish critics tha
his work contains much that is deliberately ugly. “Bashevis i
gifted with a great talent,” writes Dr. Shlomo Simon in th
Freie Arbeter Shtimme.
He objects that Bashevis uses his talen
to present a picture of Jews in the old home in Poland sunk i
lust and saturnalia. “ I want to speak,” he says, “ of one story
‘The Destruction of Kreslav.’ Bashevis doesn’ t tell us o f th
destruction of a Jewish town by Hitler. He tells us about a Jewis
town which was a place of wickedness, a true Sodom, which
young Jew, a victim of the town’s wickedness, burned down an
destroyed.” Dr. Simon calls it a wicked libel to present life i
a typical Jewish township as Bashevis does.
Bashevis at Home in Jewish Lif
Bashevis did not come from outside. He grew up in Polis
Jewish life. Unlike some of the contemporary American-Jewis
and Anglo-Jewish writers who flout their ignorance of Jewis
life and ways, he is at home in it, knows it through and through
and as he says, he believes “ in many of the things in which ou
parents believed.” His themes and his way of dealing with hi
themes come from within, are part of the common heritage o
the Yiddish literature of which he is an important practitione
Constantly, reading one of Bashevis’s stories in which his passio
for sexuality has not forced itself to the surface, stories like “A
Aged Man,” “A Piece of Advice,” “ Three Stories,” “ Mishnayot,
I have said to myself: “ Peretz. Out of Peretz. A lineal descenda
o f the Peretz story.” Without Peretz, without his influence B
shevis could never have written these stories. I am not so su
about his “Gimpel the Fool” (I like “ Simpleton” better as near
Bashevis’s word
which is the translation in the Passov
“ Tam, what does the simple son say?”).
But Irvi
Howe and Eliezer Greenberg in
A Treasury of Yiddish Stori
are sure that this story “ on the theme of the sainted fool has
obvious kinship with Peretz’s ‘Bontche Shveig.’ ”