Page 109 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 49

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W 1NEMAN /AGNON AND RABBI NAHMAN
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THEME OF ALIENATION
Agnon’s
ha-Nidah
bears overtones which might tend to sug­
gest, on a b roade r level, the inner exile within the self, the na­
tu re o f existence itself making o f the hum an person essentially
a strange r in the world. T hough placed in a time and setting
similar to tha t o f Rabbi N ahm an ’s “Tale o f the Rabbi’s Son,”
Agnon’s retelling o f that tale — if one views the relationship
in tha t light — makes o f Gershom also a symbol o f alienation
as experienced in the twentieth-century consciousness.13
In comparing a num ber o f stories by Agnon and Kafka which
have similar o r parallel thematics and motifs, Barzel points to
an essential contrast between the two writers: whereas the stories
by Kafka conclude on the note o f a dilemma lacking resolution,
Agnon at least at times provides a way ou t o f the absurd di­
lemma. For ou r purposes, we might state that Agnon, in those
o f his stories which invite such comparison, moved back and
forth between the pole o f Kafka, the relentless absurdity o f the
labyrinth, and that o f Rabbi Nahman where the same kind o f
deepen ing thicket gives way to an exit even when not rationally
explained. This complex o f traits including the appa ren t im­
possibility, the labyrinth-like character o f the spiritual quest, the
longing and the frustration together with the unexplainable res­
olution is m irro red in the dream-episode from the novel,
Temol
Shilshom,
quoted above.
Referring to the specific poetic quality o f the very last o f Rabbi
Nahm an ’s stories, Gershom Scholem wrote, “I f the ‘Story o f
the Seven Beggars’ had not already been told by Rabbi Nahman,
it could have become an Agnon story and would have taken
on a perfectly Kafkaesque au ra .”;14 And the comparison be­
tween Nahman and Agnon is continued in a surprising vein
by Pinhas Sadeh in his afterword to his anthology o f Rabbi
Nahman. T h e re Sadeh criticizes B renne r’s inability to app re ­
ciate Nahm an ’s stories and utterances, for had he done so, he
would not have in fe rred that Agnon’s words were preferable
13. See Band,
Nostalgia and Nightmare,
pp. 96-99, for a discussion which includes
a summary o f the story’s plot, and A. Wineman,
Aggadah ve ’Omanut
Iyyunim bi-Tsirat Agnon
(Jerusalem: 1982), pp. 81-86, for a fuller discussion
o f the story and its sources.
14. “S.Y. Agnon — The Last Hebrew Classic?,” in
On Jews and Judaism in Crisis,
Selected Essays
(New York: 1976), p. 109.