Page 66 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 45

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
town. But the force given to those episodes which reflect the folk-
imagination lies in their being interwoven with what is an essen­
tially realistic account of the story of a community.13 The use of
such folkloristic elements is only one example of the ways in
which the author remolded the past of his town, coloring it with
his own style and idiom. Far from an historical reconstruction of
the past of his town, Agnon’s is a literary and imaginative recrea­
tion of that past very much in the impress of the author’s own
spirit.
Within these stories, for example, the reader will occasionally
notice instances of terror-evoking dreams much in the style of
Agnon’s
Book of Deeds
14 in which the characteristics of the dream
and often of the nightmare fully invade the world of waken expe­
rience. A hazzan’s nightmare in which his fringes and prayer-
shawl flee from him while he is chanting15 suggests a basic and
appalling disorder in his relationship to the sacred. The gro­
tesque is no stranger to Agnon’s stories of Bucacz.
Also in the presentation of realistic happening, the author
clearly aimed to paint deeds and personalities with strokes
evoking appallment and bewilderment. It is essentially in this
respect that the town’s past serves as raw material which the
author colors with his own particular artistic qualities. Unlike an
earlier writer, Micha Josef Berdyczewsky,16 however, who pre­
sented the shtetl in terms of the appalling sin concealed behind
the surface of order and placidity, Agnon attained to the height
of radical bewilderment in the portrayal of the appalling
mitzvah,
in evoking a response of amazement to a thoroughly positive and
altruistic deed or to a saintly personality embodying the ideal
ethos of the spiritual world of Eastern European Jewry. Agnon
has demonstrated that a deed grounded in wholeness and in a
purity of motivation, a total lack of concern for self, can be at least
as startling as the discovery of sin. He has sculptured, in some of
13 Hillel Barzel (
Haim Nahman Bialik, Shmuel YosefAgnon
mehkar uferush,
Tel-
Aviv, 1986, p. 314) makes a similar observation as he sees in historical, realistic
fact a framework for the imaginative elements which constitute the literary
value of the collection.
14
Sefer ha-ma’asim,
included in
Samukh venireh, Kol sippurav shel Shmuel Yosef
Agnon,
vol. VI, pp. 103-249.
15 “Ha-Hazzanim,”
Ir umelo’ah,
p. 118.
16 1865-1921.