Page 104 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 47

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
fictional counterlife. Roth seems to be warning that the
counterlife is not so much to be lived as to be tried on. For
the counterlife is only something you dream about. It is fiction;
it lies in the realm of the fantastic; or perhaps it is an idyll
that can be found in the pastoral. No matter where redemption
is imagined, it is finally just imagined.
For Jews, however, the problematics of redemption are com­
pounded by their preoccupation with the past. In one of his
most pithy pronouncements — almost a proverb — Roth has
asserted that Jews “are to history what Eskimos are to snow.”
(TC, p. 327) Nathan Zuckerman, for his part, however, does
not seem willing to accommodate to the notion that Jews who
grew up in America during the 1940s and 1950s can stretch
their collective memory back to biblical times. “The fact remains
that in our family the collective memory doesn’t go back to the
golden calf and the burning bush but to ‘Duffy’s Tavern’ and
‘Can You Top This?’Maybe the Jews begin with Judea but Hen­
ry doesn’t and he never will.” (TC, p. 133) Ironically, his
brother’s denial of Henry’s collective memory deprives him —
willy-nilly — of his status as a Jew.
PRICE OF REDEMPTION
A problem posed by the redemptive mentality is that it in­
volves by its very nature a rupture. On the one hand the creation
of the State of Israel can be seen — especially by approving
anti-Semites — as an effort by the Jews to break with their past.
Jimmy Ben-Joseph, in a madcap parody of George Steiner, the
Jewish ph ilosopher who has a ttr ibu ted anti-Semitism to
Judaism’s role as conscience to the world, has come to the con­
clusion that “we must put persecution behind us forever. . . .
Jews without a Holocaust,” says Jimmy, “will be Jews without
enemies. Jews who are not judges will be Jews who are not
judged .” (TC, pp. 165-67) Jimmy, mad Jew that he is, wants
the Jews to divorce themselves from history, to “forget remem­
bering.” But not unlike
Yad Vashem,
the Israeli shrine to Jewish
memory, the Jewish writer of serious literature cannot fulfill
his or her purpose without redemptive memory.
In fact, in Roth’s novels, literature is compared to Israel be­
cause both are redemptive. “The pride inspired in my parents
by the establishment in 1948 of a homeland in Palestine . . .