Page 89 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 42

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LOWIN / CYNTH IA OZICK’S MIMESIS
81
mysterious and often contains a secret second meaning, a back­
ground that calls for and even demands interpretation.
Indeed, a leitmotiv o f the novel is a phrase that seems to reap ­
pear with urgen t frequency. It is a description of the world —
not, as the Psalmist and later
paytan
Shlomo Alkabez have it: as “a
vale o f tears”— but as a “vale o f interpretation.” Let us not forget
that as early as 1970, in her essay “America: Toward Yavneh,”
where she called for the adoption of American English as the new
Jewish language, Cynthia Ozick made the following prediction
concerning the direction the literature produced by the “New
Yiddish” would take:
The liturgical literature produced by New Yiddish may in­
clude a religious consciousness, but it will not generally be
religious in any explicit sense; it will without question
pas­
sionately wallow in the human reality; it will be touched by the Cov­
enant. The human reality will ring through its novels and poems,
though fo r a long time it will not be ripe enough fo r poetry; its first
achievement will be mainly novels
.5 (My emphasis.)
Ruth Wisse was not the only one to remark that fantasy, the
depiction o f
another
world, was central to Ozick’s early literary in­
spiration. Harold Fisch, “introducing” Cynthia Ozick in a 1974
article,6 makes a similar point. “Cynthia Ozick’s fiction is marked
by a fertile strain of fantasy which gives her a radical freedom in
dealing with contemporary problems. She also maintains a firm
grasp of ideas even while exuberantly exercising her gift o f fan­
tasy” (p. 29). He, too, notes, by the way, that the work of Cynthia
Ozick represents a new phase in American Jewish writing.
In an interview with Eve Ottenberg published in the
New York
Times Magazine,1
Ozick maintains that she herself is “hostile to the
whole mystical enterprise. I’m a rationalist and I ’m a skeptic.”She
does concede, however, almost in the same breath, that “there’s
something in me that is fascinated by this surrender to the mys­
tical blur between the creator and the created.” Ozick’s conclu­
sion on this matter is illuminating for most of her fiction. “It’s re­
ally a fictional theme for me,” she says. “I reject it intellectually
and emotionally. But it’s where the stories come from .”
5
Judaism
19 (1970): 280. Reprinted as “Toward a New Yiddish,” in Cynthia
Ozick,
Art
Ardor.
New York: Knopf, 1983, pp. 154-177.
6 Harold Fisch. “Introducing Cynthia Ozick,”
Response
22 (1974): 27-34.
7 April 10, 1983.