Page 135 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 49

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BUTOVSKY / IRVING LAYTON: THE INVENT ION OF THE SELF
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revifying sun which would restore the lost vitality — a fecund
nature and a passionate Christ:
Come soon, 0 bright Tudor sun!
I do not like this monastic whiteness o f winter
I t is a Christ drained o f a ll blood.
The life-denying frozen landscape is imaged as the bloodless
body: winter is na ture’s blight symmetrical with the monk’s de­
spoliation o f Christ. This central juxtaposition is embedded in
Jewish memory which reads the signification of the ice-bound
landscape as the work o f fearful, Christian zealots.
Taken together, Layton’s poems based on a Jewish subject
matter, whether written in a spirit of social criticism or intro­
spection, are less frequent in the first twenty years of his pub­
lishing history than his other topical or philosophic concerns.
The same can be noted in his critical or social commentary.
In a period which comprised the two major events in modern
Jewish history — the Holocaust and the establishment of a sov­
ereign Jewish state — Layton’s voice is only intermittently heard.
His attention was elsewhere, devoted to the subjects which pre­
occupied him in the first stage of his career: the dialectical na­
ture of reality; the definition of an indigenous Canadian literary
identity in the post-colonial world; the open recognition o f our
sexual natures.
NEW STANCE
But since 1967 a significant change can be noted in his re­
lationship to Jews and Judaism, signalling an open identification
with Jewish national circumstance: politically, in support o f be­
leaguered Israel, and morally, in his condemnation o f Chris­
tianity as the fomentor of anti-Semitism which culminated in
the Holocaust. In his characteristically resolute fashion, Layton
reacted dramatically to Israel’s threatened position in the days
leading up to the Six-Day War. Struck by the indifference of
the great powers before the loudly-trumpeted invasion plans
by Israel’s surrounding enemies, he saw the imminent destruc­
tion of the Jewish state as a continuation of the genocidal sen­
timents of Christian Europe. Little wonder then that with the
unexpected victory came an outpouring of pride in the Israeli
military power which had assured the State’s existence against