Page 95 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 42

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LOWIN / CYNTHIA OZICK’S MIMESIS
87
tation of Pedagogy.
These titles, these images lend themselves to,
indeed call for, interpretation.
Joseph Brill devotes himself to interpreting Hester Lilt, and
after a series of near-comic pratfalls, succeeds in decoding her
metaphors, theories and images. He learns that nothing she has
said is without significance, even her silence, even her babble.
Hester Lilt has taught Joseph that there is no language without
effect, that, in the vale o f interpretation, the “purity” of babble is
inconceivable. I f there is no language without consequence, how
much more consequential are an au tho r’s formal writings. The
question remains: Is Hester Lilt’s writing Jewish? Since she does
not engage in mimesis, it’s not easy to tell. For Joseph Brill, the
literary analyst, “It was difficult to say whether it had ‘religious
overtones’; sometimes it seemed to; sometimes n o t . . . it came to
him, turning and turning those rare pages that she might have
been a poet; but she had relinquished everything lyrical, every­
thing expressive. . . . She dealt in scrutiny and commentary” (p.
54). The reason for Joseph Brill’s confusion, therefore, is that
Hester Lilt is not a writer of fiction; background is extraneous to
her. She does, however, comment on fiction. She interprets Jew­
ish fiction — midrash — and in doing so, rewrites it.
To understand how Jewish Hester Lilt is (in Auerbach’s terms),
one need only compare her with one of the other female charac­
ters o f the novel, Iris, the young woman whom Brill, in his de ter­
mination finally to be normal, marries in his old age. It is neither
insignificant nor coincidental that — in the vale o f interpretation
where the purity of babble is inconceivable — Iris is a Greek
name, the name o f a Greek goddess. It is also not without interest
that Iripomonoeia is the name o f the dryad who entices the Pa­
gan Rabbi o f Ozick’s most famous short story. This fact freights
the present text with a new sort of background. Before Iris moves
in with her new husband, on the grounds of the Jewish day
school, she had been living with a family of Greeks. She herself is
a pure Greek vessel. Neither background nor history interests
her.
(Pm
not in history,” she asserts (p. 116).) Iris is not interested
in her husband’s background either and cannot even begin to
guess that the meaning of Joseph’s life derives from the very fact
that he is “fraught with background.”