Page 55 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 41

Basic HTML Version

LOWIN / STEINERS’S HELICOPTERS
49
tha t day . . . we should never finish the task, not if we spoke the
nigh t th rough , not till the close o f time.”
For Lieber, the only way to account fo r history is for history to
stop. Lieber, a disembodied voice speaking over an imperfect
transm itter, in unfinished sentences, succeeds in giving a vivid
impression
o f the ho rro rs o f the Holocaust. By the very d ron ing o f
his voice, he succeeds in painting, not the Holocaust itself, bu t the
effect the Holocaust has produced .3
A lthough Lieber believes tha t one cannot possibly adequately
rep resen t the Holocaust — because we have neither world
enough , nor time — he succeeds admirably in doing so. Lieber is
no t merely a theoretician o f the represen tation o f the Holocaust.
He is also an artist. Fu rthe r, Lieber is not merely an artist. Lieber’s
code name is Ajalon, where, according to the Book o f Joshua ,
time stopped in o rd e r to perm it the Israelites to wreak judgm en t
on the ir foes. Lieber sends ou t the g roup o f Israelis code-named
Nimrod, after the mighty hun ter, to track down the “one ou t o f
Hell” called A.H. T he Holocaust was real. Simon Wiesenthal,
Nazi hun te r, is real. The Israelis are real. And even though the
image in the m irro r is an impressionistic one, Lieber’s m irro r
reflects reality faithfully.
DISTORTED PICTURE
It is in Steiner’s use o f the allegory o f Hell for the Brazilian j u n ­
gle tha t we begin to get an inkling o f his distortion o f the reflec­
tion in the m irror. Dante descends into Hell in o rde r to be worthy
o f reaching Jerusalem . Steiner’s characters plunge into a distor­
tion o f Dante’s Hell, in o rd e r to bring the sinner out, to “portage”
him to San Cristobal, to the real Jerusalem and man’sjustice. The
irony o f the play is tha t they never get back to the real world. They
never reach San Cristobal.
It is crucial to point ou t tha t the novel fails to carry out its title.
T he title o f the novel is a fiction. When A.H. gains enough
3 Alvin H. Rosenfeld, “Steiner’s Hitler,”
Salmagundi,
52-53(1981): 169, believes
that Lieber’s litany may well be a classic text o f the Holocaust. He states: “In the
entire corpus o f Holocaust literature, one would be hard put to identify a
passage of poetry or prose that surpasses the strength o f Lieber’s speech in the
sixth chapter o f this novel. . . It is no exaggeration to say that had Steiner writ­
ten nothing else, the power of Lieber’s words would by themselves insure
The
Portage
a permanent place in the literature of the Holocaust. . . . ”