Page 140 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 48

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Transmission of Reality in the
Fiction of Yaakov Shabtai
t h e
t i t l e
o f
Shabtai’s posthumous novel,
S o f d a v a r
(1984), lit­
erally translated “The End o f the Matter,” although appearing
in English under the title
P a s t Perfect
(New York, Viking, 1987),
has been understood as standing for the thrust o f Shabtai’s fic­
tion as a whole. This title does o f course allude to Ecclesiastes
(12:13): “The end o f the matter; all has been heard. Fear God
and keep His commandments; for this is the whole o f man”
(RSV). And as this quotation derives from Ecclesiastes, that bib­
lical book is taken to represent Shabtai’s feeling, i.e. that life
is ultimately pointless and that there is little purpose in accu­
mulating wisdom or experience, or indeed in living.
This understanding o f the novel is argued by Natan Zach,1
who quotes another verse from the biblical book, in support,
this time 2:14: “The wise man has eyes in his head, but the
fool walks in darkness; and yet I perceived that one fate comes
to all o f them .” Such a message is nihilistic and despairing, but
it is contradicted both by the tenor o f Shabtai’s chosen title and
indeed by the conclusion o f the biblical book itself. Indeed , it
has been argued that the verse from which the phrase is taken
is a redactor’s postscript, which will leave the reader in no doubt
as to his ultimate obligation, and thus justify canonical status
for an otherwise negative and secular work.
To locate Shabtai’s message by reference to his title may itself
be a “weariness o f the flesh.” Such matters are necessarily in­
conclusive. The phrase “end o f the matter” is ambiguous, in­
dicating either a positive or a negative stance, pointing to on e ’s
1. N. Zach.
Kavey avir.
(Jerusalem: Keter, 1983), p. 62.