Page 131 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 49

Basic HTML Version

BUTOVSKY / IRVING LAYTON: THE INVENTION OF THE SELF
123
ative — traits which Layton claims as h e r legacy to his idiosyn­
cratic stance and bearing.
In the fa the r’s quiessence and the m o the r’s assertiveness
Layton had the basic polarities for his “family romance,” his
personal myth o f origin. In paren tal conflict he located the p ri­
mal antinomies tha t formed the basis o f his character and from
which he derived the dialectical structure o f though t and feeling
tha t is manifest in all his writing. T h e terms o f the configuration
may vary: feeling/form ; carnal/sp iritua l; self/world; Jew /
Christian o r Idd/Xian; academic/poet; critic/writer; life/death;
appe tite /res tra in t; con temp lation /imm ersion ; communism /
democracy; compassion/cruelty; ugliness/beauty; — bu t reg a rd ­
less o f specific subject, it was in the antithetical coupling o f op ­
posites that he perceived the na tu re o f reality, and the ju x ta ­
position o f contraries became his chief means for exploring its
infinite variety.
ATT ITUDE TO JUDA ISM
This paradigm also informs Layton’s attitude to his Jewish
identity which is predicated on the distinction between Judaism
and being Jewish, on a strict demarcation between the religious
and the socio-cultural components o f Jewish life. He early re ­
jected the religious rituals and daily practices o f Judaism as too
narrow and irrelevant for modern usage. In his memoir
Waiting
For The Messiah
(1985), he refers to the religious dimension o f
Judaism as a “legacy o f my fa the r’s superstition and the foolish
rigidities that went along with it.” Elsewhere he softens this view
by enlarging on the praiseworthy, contemplative devotion
evidenced by his father. But the emphatic dismissal o f his fa­
th e r’s ritual practices as mere “superstition” and “rigidities” is
a candid account o f his youthful attitude, recalling for us some­
thing o f his desire to dispense with his fa the r’s archaisms in
o rd e r tha t he might align himself with the new social and po­
litical forces then manifest th roughou t the imm igrant commu­
nity.
This process o f transference from one belief system to an ­
o the r was doubtless affected by the economic upheaval o f the
Great Depression and the specific political circumstances con­
fron ting Jews in Canada and , particularly, Quebec. During the
30s the raw imm igrant community watched with mounting dis-