Page 134 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 50

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
novel reaches the tragic dimensions not of Camus’s
The Plague
but of his other masterpiece,
The Stranger.
A MIDRASH ON THE STRANGER
Grossman’s novel may be read as a rewriting of, a midrash
on,
The Stranger,
a novel situated in Algeria during the French
colonial period, in which the central character, Meursault, pulls
the trigger on an Arab who is threatening him with a knife.
Meursault has not shot in self-defense — he fires three shots
— not out of hatred, but rather to assuage some inner, meta­
physical pain. In the crucial Chapter 20 of Grossman’s novel,
discussed previously, we are told that Katzman had acted sim­
ilarly in the action at Kalkilya. Katzman is asked to explain his
actions by no less a figure in Israeli history than Moshe Dayan:
The man with the patch over his eye, with the doll face and
the hollow voice, asked Katzman why he’d gone on shelling so
long. . . . Throughout the violent shelling, he said, he had been
trying to assuage the pain inside him, the pain that was still inside
him now. . . . “This war. All the destruction. The killing. I
couldn’t stand it anymore.. . . ” Katzman shook himself and wrote
on the page before him: “Dayan interrogated me about the shell­
ing with the greatest interest. I told him it gave me relief, because
it was an act o f protest.”
(SOL,
p. 255)
How exactly is this aggressive behavior an act of protest? How
is it not to be condemned? The difference between Katzman
on the one hand and Uri and Khilmi on the other is that by
the time we have reached the present of the novel Katzman
has transcended protest. He has come to the conclusion that
the most dangerous of fictions is the belief in absolute justice.
Reflecting on Khilmi’s abduction of Uri as an act of protest,
aided by Uri, who agrees to become a sacrificial lamb as his
act of protest, Katzman muses: “Uri and the old man are fight­
ing back. I know it. They’re fighting back against me. They’re
talking absolute values. Either the army withdraws from all the
territories, or else — Uri dies. They’re demanding justice. Ju s ­
tice pure and simple”
(SOL,
p. 190). But Katzman has learned
that absolute justice, like all ideologies, is dangerous. He uses
the metaphor of Don Quixote’s windmills. “The really insidious