Page 42 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 48

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
haunting presence akin to the legendary
dybbuk
of Jewish tra­
dition. This figure from Jewish folklore, best known from
Ansky’s play
The Dybbuk,
is also connected with the mystical idea
of repair of the soul,
tikkun.
Each person in this world is destined
to play some part in the Divine plan of redemption of holy
sparks from defilement; since the task is usually unknown, each
person is enjoined to strive toward spiritual perfection in order
to achieve individual and universal
tikkun.
The cleavage to the
human soul of an evil spirit is the Judaic equivalent of demonic
possession and may have a factual background in cases of psy­
chic disturbance, including schizophrenia.13 The exorcism of
the
dybbuk
is at the same time an attempt to grapple with the
past, with the unprecedented revelation of evil in the Holocaust,
and a struggle for creative freedom, to be exorcized and to
have the wounds of schizophrenia healed. Paradoxically, as
Edmund Wilson once argued in his analysis of Gide’s version
of Philoctetes, the artist needs to feed on those wounds in order
for the artistic self to create: “genius and disease, like strength
and mutilation, may be inextricably bound up together”.14
The
dybbuk
which appears in Romain Gary’s
The Dance of
Genghis Cohn
(1968) is a Warsaw comedian who had the last
laugh on an SS officer, Schatz, in command of an execution
squad and who returns to haunt him after the war. Now Schatz
is a police commander in charge of an investigation into mys­
terious murders that have taken place in the depths of the idyllic
German woods: twenty-two men have been lured to their deaths
with their pants down and bliss on their faces. In this erotic
Lorelei, Death, the macabre gardener, acts the pimp to Euro­
pean civilization, embodied by Lily, the runaway wife of Baron
von Pritwitz, who is searching for the Absolute but who does
not find the perfect lover. This original reworking of myth and
poetry is in itself a scathing comment on the values of European
so-called civilization and Genghis Cohn uses the comic plot to
castigate the entire modern world with self-deprecatory Lennie
Bruce-type humor. Yet the Jewish
dybbuk
finds it difficult to
13. See Gershom Scholem,
Kabbalah
(New York: Quadrangle, 1974), pp.
349-350. On literary antecedents and parallels o f the dybbuk in English
and Hebrew literature see Harold Fisch,
A Remembered Future
(Bloomington:
Indiana University Press, 1984), pp. 38-60.
14. Edmund Wilson,
The Wound and the Bow
(New York: Methuen, 1961), p.
259.