Page 142 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 48

Basic HTML Version

134
JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
USE OF MYTH
Already in his volume o f collected stories,4 Shabtai had set
out the terms o f his myth, partly through the story o f the death
o f his grandmother.5 There, the grandmother is not just an
individual, but a representative figure who “took with her the
extra soul6 o f our household and family life.” T h e elegiac, so­
norous rhythm o f the story seals the end o f an era for the nar­
rator with its plot. We have a picture o f a totally good woman,
harmonious within herself and at peace with the world, who
accepts her fate uncomplainingly
. . without bitterness, know­
ingly and with perfect trust.” As with the later novel,7 the out­
come is announced at the outset, and, as is also the case with
the novel, that outcome is death.8 The sense o f the novel’s title,
literally translated, is “protocol,” i.e. an account o f the matter
objectively conveyed. And that is the purport o f the story too
— to present an account o f the passing o f the narrator’s grand­
mother.
But, as in all literary presentations, the account is not neutral.
On the contrary, it is highly charged with the emotional “in­
vestment”9 o f the narrator. Just as the elegiac tone o f the nar­
rative modifies the reader’s response, so does the turn o f events.
We not only know that the grandmother is to die (this from
the title and the opening), but also that she is to die “slowly,”
disappearing beyond the horizon, like the receding appearance
o f the coastline to seafarers embarking on a journey. This image
does indeed operate on an extra-metaphorical level too, as the
land is not only the point o f departure but also a point o f cer­
tainty that enables the traveller to establish his bearings.
Now, with the grandmother’s death, life changes dramatically.
The grandmother represented the past and a whole lifestyle
embodied in that past. The dietary laws had been observed for
4.
Ha-Dod Peretz mamri.
(Tel-Aviv: Siman Keriah, 1972, 1985).
5. Ibid., pp. 165-172.
6. The term
neshamah yeterah
is normally applied to the dimension o f extra
spirituality derived from the Sabbath. Here, it indicates the particular life
contribution that the grandmother has made to family life.
7.
Zikhron devarim
(Tel-Aviv, Siman Keriah, 1977). Published in English trans­
lation as
Past Continuous
(Philadelphia, JPS, 1985).
8. The story’s title “histalkut” means “decease.”
9. The word is used here as representing the Freudian concept “Besetzung,”
translated by James Strachey as “cathexis.”