Page 44 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 48

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
on the cheap artifacts of the North American drug-and-sex cult
(a kind of conspicuous consumption of sex and steaks). He is
the Diaspora Jew in Israel envious of the military or sexual glory
of others, the rapist of Yehuda Amihai’s babysitter aware that
the enticement of flesh has corrupted his spiritual identification
with Judaism, that for him the milk and honey has melted into
the golden calf. Literary identity is entwined with unwilled des­
tiny and self-hate.
Sinclair broods over his own fate when he makes jokes at
his own expense. The narrator of “The Luftmensh” is a ghost
writer compelled to write the biography of a Yiddish author
Stentsl. Stentsl speaks for the destroyed East European heritage
which haunts Sinclair’s literary persona and he speaks for the
post-Holocaust generation when he declaims Hal per Leivick’s
poem “I Should Have Died With You” to express his guilt at
surviving, at being Abel without a blue mark beneath his sleeve.
Cain and Abel seem pretty much mixed up here, especially
when the action shifts to the American South with its history
of black slavery; now the anti-Jewish lyrics of the new revolu­
tionary jazz have replaced the Israelites of the Negro spirituals.
But being Abel, the Diaspora Jew can judge the world and re­
venge himself on schoolboy and football-crowd anti-Semitism.
Indeed, his violent, yet neurotic imagination thrives on it and
he cherishes his martyrdom, afraid (in the parable “The Ev­
olution of the Jews”) that the new Israeli breed of Jew will not
be the sensitive, humane, victimized, intellectual scapegoat Abel.
The story of Cain and Abel voices a self-recrimination for
having missed the train, for not being
there,
in the transport
to the concentration camp. In the poem by Dan Pagis “Written
in Pencil in the Sealed Railway-Car” the Jewish mother Eve
leaves a cryptic message for Cain; here the child of the Hol­
ocaust imagines he is Abel but also knows he is brother to Cain.
The survivors of the camps or the refugees from Hitler’s Ger­
many were usually grateful for survival, though occasionally
troubled by pangs of remorse, whether for not being with those
who perished or for having survived in place of one who per­
ished. Sinclair voices a strange kind of guilt felt by the postwar
generation who matured in the sixties, the decade of hippies
and civil rights marchers, promiscuity and psychedelic trips.
They accuse an amoral world of complacency, but they live in
that world and are themselves tempted by its amorality. The