Page 57 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 48

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GREENSTEIN/JEW ISH PEGASUS
49
morn ing a swastika appears on the professor’s door, and only
a few pigeons come to feed. “They pecked at the food hesitantly,
glancing a round as if afraid to be caught defying some avian
ban. T h e smell o f char and ro t came up from the gu tter, the
acrid stench o f imminent destruc tion .” Singer, too, plays o ff
the heaviness o f the Aryan against the lightness o f the avian.
K A F K A ’S PAR A B LE
Kafka continues this dialectic o f legs and wings, ea rth and
air. One set o f legs was insufficient for a dual identity in a
belated and beleaguered race, so the Jews metamorphosed into
Kafka’s quadrupeds: “their hind legs were bogged down in their
fa the r’s Judaism and their fron t legs could find no new ground .
T h e resulting despair was their inspiration.”
Nostalgie de la boue,
perhaps, bu t Kafka (whose name means “jackdaw”) performs
a similar reversal o f inspiration and desperation in the air when
he writes, “A cage went in search o f a b ird ,” o r in a more ex­
tensive linguistic trap: “T h e crows maintain that a single crow
could destroy the heavens. Doubtless that is so, but it proves
nothing against the heavens, for the heavens signify simply: the
impossibility o f crows.” T h e chilling logic o f these statements
turns circular in a bird-like, wheeling pa ttern o f flight. The
reade r quests after kabbalistic meaning which always evades
him: substitute Jews o r meaning for crows, and Kafka for the
single crow, and you arrive at the impossibility o f meaning. Like
all o f Kafka’s parables, his vision o f Pegasus remains inexpli­
cable, signifying the impossibility of heavens when birds o f p a r­
adise have gone into exile. What need o f roots when wings are
readily available to the modern Jewish imagination. This fantasy
o f flight combined with a realism o f limbs aptly figures the
d iaspo r ic cond it ion , an d p re f ig u re s the magic o f p o s t­
modernism.
Birds traverse the Atlantic and arrive in B ernard Malamud’s
America as “The Jewb ird .” His short story opens
in medias res
with a suddenness that contrasts with an unspoken history o r
Jewish background. “The window was open so the skinny bird
flew in.” This matter-of-fact opening statement with its causal
and casual approach belies the fantasy o f Malamud’s modern
fable. “Flappity-flap with its frazzled black wings. T h a t’s how
it goes. I t ’s open you’re in. Closed, you’re ou t and tha t’s your