Page 59 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 41

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thinking: The notion o f the “fantastic” in literature and o f the
rela ted notions o f the “marvelous” and the “merely supe rn a tu ­
ral.”11 Imagine tha t you are sitting in your office at the university
with your back to an open door. A pu tr id odo r o f ro tten eggs
begins to permeate the hallway, as you perceive out o f the corner
o f your eye, passing by the doorway, a sinister-looking fellow with
what appear to be horns on his head and a long forked tail. T h e re
are two possible explanations for this scenario: 1. It is Satan him ­
self. 2. It is the notoriously unkemp t conduc tor o f the university’s
symphony orchestra — disheveled hair pointing in all directions,
the flaps o f his tails flying wildly in the air — as he hurries from his
wife’s chemistry lab (the odo r o f decay was “really” that o f hyd ro ­
gen sulfide) to the symphony hall. I f the na r ra to r o f this scenario
intends us to believe tha t the figure passing by is indeed Satan,
then we are in the world o f the merely supe rna tu ra l — “merely”
because anyone can compel belief in the superna tural. If,
however, the creator o f the fiction wishes to convey the idea that
what you though t was a superna tu ra l occurrence can be
explained rationally, then we are in the world o f the marvelous.
T he creator will make this transition from the merely supe rna tu ­
ral to the marvelous by planting the seed o f doub t in your mind,
causing you to hesitate for a more-or-less b r ief moment before
coming to a conclusion. T ha t moment o f doubt, between the
merely superna tural and the marvelous, is the domain o f the fan­
tastic. T he fantastic is not so much a literary genre as it is a
moment,
an interval between two perceptions o f reality.
It is Lieber himself who believes tha t in o rd e r to rep resen t the
full scope o f the Holocaust it is necessary to suspend time, to cre­
ate an interval. T he scenes o f the novel / play which take place in
Oxford , Moscow, Koln, Paris, and Washington, D.C., are
designed to sow the seed o f doubt, to make you hesitate: Could
H itler really be alive? Is it Satan or a mad musician? T he novel
does not take place in 1945. Nor does it take place in 1983. The
time o f the novel is an interval between these two worlds.
T he novel is both epilogue and prologue. It is a text tha t comes
af te r Auschwitz. For after Auschwitz the re can be no silence. The
event to which the work o f ar t is prologue will be determ ined in
pa r t by ou r discussion o f Auschwitz and o f the novel.
11 A seminal study on the fantastic in literature can be found in Tzvetan
Todorov,
Introduction a la litterature fantastique,
Paris: Seuil, 1970.