Page 23 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 50

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FISCH/ANGLO-AMERICAN JEWISH WRITING: THE SHIFTING CENTER
15
wider world where such Jewish particularist concerns can be
temporarily avoided. Hence the silence.
But not all modern writers are silent about Israel; we may
note two or three particularly interesting attempts to confront
the subject of Israel in contemporary Jewish fiction. In these
instances the “dybbuk” is brought out of its oedipal covert and
identified. I start again with Bellow. There is one novel in which
Israel is not quite so peripheral a concern as elsewhere. It is
Mr. Sammler’s Planet
(1969). Mr. Sammler is a figure of some
complexity with more ambivalence than the relatively simple
figures imagined by Isaac Bashevis Singer or Zangwill. One fo­
cus of ambivalence involves the question of violence. Violence
is, of course, endemic to the life of the great American cities,
but the liberal Jewish imagination distances itself from such vi­
olence. “Violence is for the
goy”
Herzog had said. It is foreign
to Jewish sympathies and to the place that Jews occupy in Amer­
ican society and culture as the representatives of an ethic of
civil rights and non-violence.
UPSURGE OF VIOLENCE
Sammler confronts violence at several levels and in several
different contexts. It simultaneously fascinates and shocks him.
There is the violence on the streets, represented by the Black
pickpocket with whom the novel opens and who is intermittently
recalled throughout the story. There are Sammler’s own mem­
ories as a partisan in the Zamosc forest when he had deliber­
ately, and with intense pleasure, shot to death a German soldier
whom he had first disarmed. But his major confrontation with
violence is in Israel where he goes as a newspaper correspondent
in the closing stages of the Six Day War. He gazes at the remains
of the Egyptian dead in the Sinai desert and at the traces left
by napalm bombing. Violence is clearly not just for the
goy.
The latter-day European liberal may try to reject it, but it is
a fact of life to be confronted in one’s own self-consciousness
as well as in the new and disturbing image of the Jew emanating
from Israel.
The imagery of violence and its association with Israel is fi­
nally evoked in a climactic scene in which the aging Sammler
calls upon his Israeli son-in-law, Eisen, to intervene in saving
a friend and student of his, Lionel Feffer, who is being attacked