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  • Arbinka, Shtucks and Co.— The Makings of Kishon’s Social Satire
  • Gidi Nevo (bio)

He has a hard time, Kishon's protagonist—for the most part Kishon himself, or more accurately, his literary double—a non-mechanical reproduction of the biographical narrator into the kingdom of the fictional. The tap leaks, water seeps out of the cellar, the child's pacifier has got lost, the washing machine is dancing on its legs, the air conditioner makes an unholy row, so does the alarm, a fly alights again and again upon the narrator's left ear, ants invade the kitchen, Gad Winternitz's mother telephones in the middle of Colombo on television, his spectacles have disappeared, the phone goes again precisely when he is soaping his back in the shower, the waiter's eye is not catchable, the soup is too hot (unlike the tea, which is too cold), the plastic milk bags drip. It would seem that if those are your troubles, if these are the burdens that embitter your life, then, no doubt, you are living in a Leibnitzian world, which is—as is well known—the best of all possible worlds.

But the satire of Kishon, in its diversity of forkings and branchings, and in its activity as a cognitive and ideological tool, uncovers a multitude of deep-seated problems which accumulate to form a critical mass ultimately threatening, even endangering the very existence of the satirist's society.

All satire, behind the veil of poison-tipped or humorous arrows that it emits, delineates the contours of the Utopia whose values and principles determine the target of the attack and its force. That is to say, the Utopia is an extrapolation constructed by the reader. It is in effect somewhat like a photographic negative or, more accurately, a jigsaw puzzle constituted by the cumulative and repetitive layering of the dozens, even hundreds, of individual negatives derived from the various sketches.

What then is the Utopia discernible through Kishon's satire and how does the satire operate as its agent?1 [End Page 129]

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Figure 1.

Ephraim Kishon
Courtesy of the Institute for the Translation of Hebrew Literature

Economic Man

The prototypical conception that, I suggest, lies at the root of Kishon's Utopia is that of Economic man, in league with an economic society, that is to say the society which is designed to ensure and to fortify the interests of economic man.2 The Utopian economic man is a responsible, enterprising citizen who makes an honest living for himself and his family. His adult life is dominated by the value of work, and portioned into stages: study, apprenticeship, specialization (stages which demands investment of time and money) and finally the harvesting of dividends from the previous investment. He functions socially in accordance with his training and capabilities, receiving a fair reward which is expected to increase in the course of time as his productivity, his efficiency and his contribution to society grow. Economic man oscillates constantly between the poles of conspicuous consumption, lawless and untrammeled, whether of purchased goods or pleasures, and tight-fisted miserliness with regard both to spending and to consuming. While the dangers of overspending are obvious—the rapid diminution of resources (time, capital, property) for the maintenance of a secure and independent standard of living, the dangers of underspending, of an over-cautious level of consumption are a mortal threat to the economic system itself which requires a certain level of consumption [End Page 130] as a fuel to keep its turning wheels in motion, and to prevent it from catastrophically slowing down and finally grinding to a halt.

It is in light of the notion of economic man and the economic society, or regime, deriving from that notion, that Kishon's satire is constructed: it is a manifold and variegated series of attacks on behaviors and procedures perceived as deviating from the Utopian model or actually constituting an inversion of it. Within the series, it is possible to distinguish groups or clusters whose constituent sketches make up, to a greater or lesser extent, variations upon a single theme. Through the whole series it is difficult...


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pp. 129-146
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