Page 54 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 41

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JOSEPH LOWIN
Steiner’s Helicopters
1
A
NOVEL,
in the formulation o f n ine teen th-cen tury French writer
Stendhal, is like a m irro r moving along a highway: One m inu te it
reflects the azure skies; the next m inute it reflects the mud and
pudd les o f the road .2 In the n ine teen th century, the novels o f
such as Balzac, Dickens, and Dostoyevsky m ight easily be located
within that definition.
How faithfully does George Steiner’s novel,
The Portage to San
Cristobal of A.H.,
serve as a m irro r tha t reflects the mud pudd le
tha t was the Holocaust? A partial answer can be found in a close
analysis o f the two pillars on which the novel and the play which
derives from it rest: T he litany o f Holocaust atrocities recited by
Emmanuel Lieber and the tirade against the Jews recited by A.H.
A fu r th e r analysis o f the theatrical framework o f the d ram a
played out in
The Portage
will provide an insight into S teiner’s
effo rt at represen ting not only complex reality bu t a vision o f the
world.
Emmanuel Lieber is no t only a Nazi hun te r , he is also a theo re ­
tician o f the post-Holocaust period. He believes tha t to give a true
accounting o f the evil o f the Holocaust, all o th e r activity — time
itself — must stop. In o rd e r to rep resen t the Holocaust faithfully
it is no t enough to say “six million”: It is necessary to say “one” six
million times. To accomplish this task, Lieber, like the biblical
warrior Joshua , asks tha t the sun stand still. “I f each and every
one o f us were to rise before morn ing and speak ou t ten names
1 This essay is a revised version of a lecture presented at a symposium, “After
Auschwitz: Art and Silence,” sponsored by the Hartford Stage Company. The
symposium was presented in conjunction with the Hartford Stage’s produc­
tion o f Christopher Hampton’s theatrical adaptation o f George Steiner’s
The
Portage to San Cristobal of A.H.,
New York: Simon and Schuster, 1981. (A
portion of the book appeared in the
Kenyon Review
in 1979.)
2 The idea o f the novel as mobile mirror can be found in both the epigraphs and
body o f Stendhal’s
The Red and the Black
(1830).
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