Page 17 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 50

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FISCH / ANGLO-AMERICAN JEWISH WRITING: THE SHIFTING CENTER
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totally emancipated because they are still attached to the Ghetto
by an invisible umbilical cord.
For a graphic example, and one which may stand as a pro­
totype for the kind of writing which I am seeking to define,
we may take one of Israel ZangwilFs
Ghetto Tragedies
(1899).
The story in question is entitled “Diary of a Meshumad.” In
it, he gives us the reflections of an assimilated Jew (indeed one
already converted to Christianity), who is trying to bury his Jew­
ish past, whilst at the same time, he is secretly trying to relive
it. Here are two contradictory entries in the diary:
The thought o f the men, o f their gaberdines and their pious
ringlets, o f their studious dronings and their devout quiverings
and wailings, o f the women with their coarse figures and their
unsightly wigs: the remembrance o f their vulgar dialect, and their
shuffling ways, and their accommodating morality, filled me with
repulsion . . . my heart faints within me for the simple, sublime
faith o f my people. Behind all the tangled network o f ceremony
and ritual, the larger mind o f the man who has lived and loved
sees the outlines o f a creed grand in its simplicity, sublime in
its persistence. The spirit has clothed itself with flesh, as it must
do for human eyes to gaze on it and live with it.
The “meshumad” is really two people — one is the Jew still
identified with his people, whose heart faints within him in long­
ing for the spiritual nourishment by which his ancestors were
sustained; the other is the alien, looking from outside with dis­
gust at everything Jewish. It is, of course, not merely the vision
of Judaism which is split; the identity of the meshumad is frac­
tured. He oscillates between hysterical self-hatred and unbound­
ed pride in his origins.
JEWISH ARCHETYPE
The duality of which we speak is, as a matter of fact, not an
exclusive characteristic of Jewish writing, but may be regarded
as the Jewish version of a major 19th century literary archetype,
that of the “Double.” R.L. Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
is, perhaps, the most celebrated example. But there are a host
of other texts bearing witness to this same phenomenon, ranging
from Dostoyevsky’s
Notes from Underground
and
The Double,
Oscar
Wilde’s
The Picture ofDorian Gray,
to Dickens’s
The Mystery of Edwin
Drood
and Conrad’s
The Secret Sharer.
In all these instances, and