Page 97 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 42

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Naphtali had changed his mind about becoming a teacher;
he though t o f empires. He though t he would found
companies, induce them to accrete, and then forcibly amal­
gamate them: he would work day and night, grow very rich,
and be tapped by the President for, say, Secretary o f T rans­
p o r ta t io n . He would re su sc ita te c ro ss -coun try land
mobility, commanding untried alliances among buses and
trains; he would air out the crackling grease o f the bus-stop
cafeterias that lay across the breast of the nation; he would
wash the windows o f the dozing trains; in the cities he would
plant twin silver tracks in black urban asphalt, and bring
streetcars to life again. How pleased the President would
be! (p. 159)
Those who have read Ozick’s Puttermesser stories9will recognize
that here, too, Ozick is rewriting herself. And yet, for Ozick,
Naphtali’s visions do not constitute a vindication of Joseph Brill’s
life the way Beulah Lilt’s visions seem to do for Hester Lilt’s.
The reason is clear. In this work, the only real achievement is in
the realm of art, where a new language can be created and where
true originality is possible. This is of course the meaning o f the
scene in which Brill takes his son Naphtali to New York to view an
exhibit of Beulah Lilt’s paintings. The revelation Brill has o f true
genius is akin to a “discovery scene” in Greek literature. (Cf. the
discovery o f Odysseus.) Like Eurycleia, he finally understands.
“He understood she was acclaimed. He understood more: the
forms, the colors, the glow, the defined darkness, above all the
form of things — all these were thought to be a kind of language.
She spoke. The world took her for an astonishment. She was the
daughter of her mother” (p. 156).
The Cannibal Galaxy
were a Greek text, the revelation of
Beulah Lilt’s genius might be considered a tragic denouement
for Joseph Brill; his whole life might have been for naught. But
The Cannibal Galaxy
is a Jewish text, a Jewish representation of
reality. In tragedy, one has the feeling that time is runn ing out
9 In
Levitation: Five Fictions.
New York: Knopf, 1982; New York: Dutton/
Obelisk, 1983 (paper).