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Between Exile and Return

S. Y. Agnon and the Drama of Writing

Anne Golomb Hoffman

Publication Year: 1991

This innovative study of the modern Hebrew writer, S. Y. Agnon, offers new insight into his literary transformations of Jewish themes and sources. With particular attention to Kafka, Hoffman situates Agnon in the context of twentieth-century literature and examines such central issues in Agnon’s art as the relationship of the literary text to traditions of sacred writings, the place of the book in culture, and the relationship of writing to the body.

Published by: State University of New York Press

Series: SUNY series in Modern Jewish Literature and Culture

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. iii-v


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pp. vii

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pp. ix

My parents, Rita Pick and Maurice Golomb, led me first to European literature and to Hebrew; my interests reflect some of the patterns of their lives. Thanks go to David Patterson and Isaac Barzilay, with whom I first read and began to write about Agnon. In recent years, I have welcomed the critiques and collegiality of Gershon Shaked. This project has brought with it the friendship of Emuna...

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1. Introduction: "Like a Man Who Is Exiled From the Palace of His Father"

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pp. 1-20

Each of these terms-"modern," "Jewish," "writer"-provides structure to this inquiry. S. Y. Agnon, the subject of my study, ranks with the major modernists of this century, but differs from his European peers in his intense engagement in a universe of sacred language. The modernism of the early part of this century consisted of a revolt against inherited norms and conventions, along with a self-conscious...

Part I: Comparative Agnon

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2. Scribal Fictions: Franz Kafka and S. Y Agnon

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pp. 23-39

The issue of the relationship of Franz Kafka to s. Y. Agnon has prompted lively critical debates.¹ Questions of influence aside, however, these two twentieth-century writers can be read usefully, one against the other, for their concern with writing and textuality. In the short fiction of Kafka and Agnon, the center of energy shifts from a represented world to problems of perception and interpretation that...

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3. Dramas of Signification: Edmond Jabes, S. Y. Agnon, Franz Kafka

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pp. 41-54

I turn now to a reading of S. Y. Agnon in relation to Edmond Jabés and Franz Kafka. Each of these three writers elicits the reader's participation in structures of communication that are thrown into question, subjecting the reader to a dislocation in language. The texts we shall consider show processes of communication to be thwarted, questionable or incomplete, so that struggles to produce an...

Part II: Of Writing and the Writer

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4. Autochthon of the Book

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pp. 57-75

Autochthon: sprung from the land itself. Autochthon of the Book: a product of the text. Edmond Jabes and S. Y. Agnon, "autochthons of the Book" in Jacques Derrida's phrase, take their identity as writers from the rootedness of the Jews, displaced people, in the Book. Derrida [1978] uses the phrase in an essay on Jabes to suggest a likeness of writer and Jew in the condition of exile. Each is the...

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5. Housing the Past in A Guest for the Night

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pp. 77-103

Published initially in 1939, Oreah natah lalun (A Guest for the Night) chronicles the efforts of its first person narrator, a writer, to return to his east European birthplace and repair damages that can be attributed variously to his own youthful rebelliousness, the falling off of faith in the community, and not least of all, the ravages of war. The explicit project of this novel is restoration, on the level of the...

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6. Inclusion and Exclusion: Three Stories

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pp. 105-122

Invoking Hebrew as the language out of which the world was formed, Agnon draws on a myth of language in which word is deed. This sense of the originary character of sacred language is deeply rooted in mystical and rabbinic sources. Genesis Rabbah 1:2, for example, relates that God looked into the Torah for the blueprint of creation, an approach to language and text that indicates "a belief in...

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Part III: Anatomies of Culture

We turn now to two novels, each of which engages in a narrative decomposition of some major cultural myths, whose construction is covered over in culture. Tmol shilshom (Only Yesterday) is shaped by the circumstances and ideologies of Zionism and the Second Aliyah, the wave of immigration from eastern Europe in the early years of this century. I consider this novel in the comparative context of the...

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7. Inscription and Madness in Only Yesterday

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pp. 125-148

In the wake of Freud's explorations of the decisive impact of the Oedipus complex in the formation of personality, it is not surprising that narrative theorists have turned to the "symbolic triad of the family" [Macksey 1983, 1008] as a fruitful starting point for studying the novel as genre. 1 The importance of the "paternal metaphor" or the "name of the Father" to the formation of the subject has given rise to...

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8. The Wound and the Book: Gender, Writing and Culture in Shira

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pp. 149-176

Nazism carried to an extreme a pernicious myth in its designation of the Jew as the diseased other, counterpart to the racially pure Aryan. In service of a fiction of national identity, Nazism attempted a construction of the world according to its own vision. This construction rests on a relation to the Jew as the dark underside of the myth, the other from which the mythic image presumably dissociates itself,...

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9. "A Sanctioned Babel": Toward a Conclusion

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pp. 177-183

On the way to a conclusion, I invoke complementary texts of S. Y. Agnon and Gershom Scholem, contained in a gift-text, Die Gabe as it was called, that was organized by Martin Buber and presented to the seriously ill Franz Rosenzweig on his fortieth birthday in 1926. This collection is a rich compilation of offerings that testify to the political and intellectual currents of the time, as well as to the life of...


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pp. 185-207


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pp. 209-224

Index [Includes Back Cover]

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pp. 225-236

E-ISBN-13: 9781438406855
E-ISBN-10: 1438406851
Print-ISBN-13: 9780791405406
Print-ISBN-10: 0791405400

Page Count: 236
Publication Year: 1991

Series Title: SUNY series in Modern Jewish Literature and Culture