Page 115 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 46

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ABERBACH / AGNON AND THE NEED FOR TRADITION
107
so fa r as he is capab le o f self-assertion , he is d isillusioned by
th e g r a n d fa th e r - f ig u re an d what he rep re sen ts and , indeed ,
he rejects any au th o r i ty which tries to shape him fo r its own
ends . Fo r this reason , trad i t io n in A g n o n ’s world , while re ta in ­
ing its g en u in e h ea lth an d beau ty , is also a mask o f agg ression
an d th e avo idance o f co n f ro n ta t io n . T h e n a r r a to r ’s suscep tib il­
ity to b re akdow n largely accoun ts fo r his tendency to escape
from em o tion and , to some ex ten t , to stifle an d aesthe tize the
ch a rac te rs which he describes. H e c an n o t b ea r very m uch r e ­
ality.
Neverthe less , a m ea su re o f em o tiona l falsity, d e tachm en t , and
dislocation is th e essence o f m uch a r t. T .S. E liot’s observations
on poe try in “T ra d i t io n an d th e Ind iv idua l T a le n t” a re t ru e
o f A g n o n ’s p rose:
Poetry is not a turning loose o f emotion, but an escape from
emotion; it is not the expression o f personality, but an escape
from personality. But, o f course, only those who have personality
and emotions know what it means to escape from these things.29
In view o f the pow e rfu l em o tiona l needs which in A g n o n ’s
works clearly lie b eh in d the que s t fo r the wholeness o f trad ition ,
it is as u n fa i r to dismiss his trad itiona lism as a pose as it would
be to a rg u e th a t E liot’s Anglo-Catholicism was insincere .
A gnon is p reo ccup ied with cha rac te rs m ade weak, vu lnerab le ,
and false, p r im a rily by imbalances and d iso rd e rs w ithin th e fam ­
ily, b u t also by th e clash be tw een the old world an d the new.
In his stories, th e crisis o f faith b rings to ligh t fears and conflicts
o r ig in a ting in family d ifficulties. At the same time, family t ro u b ­
les a re a tou ch s ton e o f th e b reakdow n o f trad ition . T h e r e is
a subtle, yet savage, war between au th o r i ty an d ana rchy , con ­
science an d libido, be tw een subm ission an d creativity, trad ition
and m ode rn ism . W ha t rem a in s may be seen as an uneasy truce ,
a m eans, largely invo lun ta ry , o f sho r ing u p fragm en ts o f the
past aga ins t ru in , o f ad ap t in g to a world gone a bit mad .
29.
Selected Prose o f T.S. Eliot,
ed. F. Kermode, Faber & Faber: London, 1975,
p. 43.