Page 87 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 42

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JOSEPH LOWIN
Cynthia Ozick1's Mimesis
IN
A
1976 essay in Commentary Magazine,1 Ruth R. Wisse,
describing what she perceives as a turning point in American
Jewish writing, identifies Cynthia Ozick as the leader o f a move­
ment of writers who are self-consciously defining themselves as
Jews and who are attempting to express their artistic vision in
Jewish terms.
While Wisse does not, o f course, include Philip Roth in this
movement, she does suggest that “it is Philip Roth, and not Cyn­
thia Ozick who can best afford to write about Jewish reality.”
Roth’s suburb is more “real” than Ozick’s
shtetl.
For those, like
Ozick, who wish “to weave new brilliant cloth from the ancient
threads of Judaism, the sociological reality o f the present-day
American Jewish community would seem to present an almost in­
surmountable obstacle” (p. 45).
The present essay is an attempt to demonstrate that — in her
1983 novel
The Cannibal Galaxy
2 and in the 1980 novella “The
Laughter o f Akiva,”3 from which the novel derives — Ozick has
succeeded in overcoming the “almost insurmountable obstacle.”
Taking Judaism seriously as a cultural alternative, Ozick has writ­
ten not only what Wisse has called Act II of the drama known as
“American Jewish Fiction,” but Act III as well. Ozick has now
taken on American Jewish reality. Her second revolution is made
all the more dazzling by the fact that she has woven her tapestry
using what some, at least, will recognize as traditionally Jewish
narrative techniques.
The “some” will include those who accept Erich Auerbach’s
conclusions in Chapter 1 o f
Mimesis
,4 his seminal study on the
1 Ruth R. Wisse. “American Jewish Writing, Act II,"
Commentary
61, 6 (1976):
40-45.
2 New York: Knopf, 1983. 162 pp.
3
The New Yorker,
November 10, 1980, pp. 50-173.
4 Erich Auerbach.
Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature
(1953). New York: Doubleday, 1957.
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