Agnon, S. Y. (Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)
S. Y. Agnon 1888—1970
(Born Shmuel Yosef Czaczkes) Austro-Hungarian-Israeli novelist, short story writer, and poet.
The following entry provides criticism on Agnon's works from 1975 through 2003.
Agnon was known for his ironic and lyrical fiction, based largely on Hebrew folklore and tradition.
Agnon was born Shmuel Yosef Czaczkes in Buczacz, Galicia (then Austria-Hungary, now Poland) 17 July, 1888. His father, a rabbi, taught him the Talmud and Hasidic literature, along with secular Hebrew and Yiddish writings, while his mother recited German stories. His love for literature led him to publish stories in Hebrew and Yiddish while still a teenager. In 1908 he settled in Palestine, but was rejected both by the Russian-Jewish population and the new settlers who prized manual labor above intellectual rigor. Agnon took his pen name, which later became his legal name, from the title of his first published story, “Agunot,” which was published in Jaffa, Israel, in 1909. “Agnon” is based on a Hebrew word meaning abandoned or forsaken. In 1912 he settled in Germany, finding a more comfortable life there for around twelve years and forming friendships with well-known Zionists. In 1919 he married Esther Marx, with whom he had two children. Agnon became well known among German Jews and achieved literary success when his Hebrew works were translated into German. He also built a notable collection of ancient Hebrew manuscripts and was devastated in 1924 when a fire in his home destroyed them, along with his personal manuscripts. Agnon then returned to Palestine, settling in Jerusalem. In 1929 his personal library was again destroyed by fire when Arabs rioted in the city. Agnon won the Israel Prize in 1954 and the Nobel Prize in 1966. He died in 1970.
Agnon was virtually unknown to Western readers until his works began to be translated from Hebrew into English after he won the Nobel Prize in 1966. Unlike many other modernist Jewish writers of his era, he emphasized original folk sources and dwelled on the lessons of the Torah. His earlier short stories and novellas concerned Jewish life in Eastern Europe, but after his immigration in 1924 until his death, he wrote almost exclusively about life in Palestine. Agnon's work has been compared to that of Cervantes and Kafka in its air of mystery and its imaginative power. His short stories are remarkably diverse, some magical fables, some accounts of modern-day alienation and exile. Others attempt to deal with the ways Judaism has survived throughout history in periods of political turmoil. His first successful work was a novella, Ve-Hayah he-'Akov le-Mishor (1912; And the Crooked Shall Be Made Straight). After the manuscript for his first novel was destroyed in a fire, he produced Hakhnasath Kallah (1931; The Bridal Canopy), a novel set in the eighteenth century about a Jewish man who travels about seeking dowries for his daughters. While continuing to write short fiction, he published the novel Sipur Pashut (1935; A Simple Story), an account of the development of a psychosis and its ultimate cure. Ore'ah Nata Lalun (A Guest for the Night) appeared in 1937 and in 1945, Tmol Shilshom (Only Yesterday). The former novel, a comment on the waning spirit of European Judaism, was written just before World War II; the latter is a picaresque and imaginative story set in Jerusalem, told from the point of view of a dog whose astute social and political commentary exceeds that of most his human counterparts. Bi-levav Yamim (1948; In the Heart of the Seas: A Story of a Journey to the Land of Israel), which follows a group of Jews in their journey from Galicia to Palestine, was followed by Edo ve-Enam (1950; Edo and Enam), a tale of the supernatural. Shirah (Shira), posthumously published in 1971, is a story of a bourgeois German exile in 1930’s Palestine who seeks an escape from the conformity of his life. Several editions of Agnon's short stories and a collection of his poetry also were published after his death.
Critical discussion of Agnon’s work has truly been what one commentator called an “industry.” Agnon's multifaceted writings, concurrent with the growth of Hebrew as an accepted language in American and British universities, have also substantially increased interest in literature in modern Hebrew. The wealth of Hebrew and German criticism during Agnon's earlier career presaged a still-growing American and British critical following, encouraged by scholarly journals such as the Hebrew Annual Review, Judaism, and Prooftexts. Early English-language Agnon critics, such as Arnold Band, used New Critical and comparative literature approaches or discussed the dilemmas of relating modern Jewish culture to the past. From the late 1970s through the early 2000s, critical approaches to Agnon came in what eminent Agnon scholar Alan Mintz called “a polyphony of voices,” following the general trends of scholarly inquiry. Gershon Shaked and other critics emphasized the rich intertextuality of Agnon's fiction, which has provided a rich vein for further critical analysis. A variety of approaches to Agnon's work, including poststructuralism, psychoanalysis, deconstruction, postcolonialist theory, reader-response criticism, and feminist criticism, have developed among Agnon scholars. The close text-centeredness most Agnon critics embrace, Mintz says, suggests “the hovering spirit of classical Jewish learning.”
Ve-Hayah he-'Akov le-Mishor (novella) 1911-12
Das Buch von den Polnischen Juden [editor, with Ahron Eliasberg] (folk tales) 1916
Giv ‘at ha-Hol (short stories) 1920
Be-Sod Yesharim (short stories) 1921
“Me-Hamat ha-Metsik” (short story) 1921
'Al Kapot ha-Man'ul (short stories) 1922
Bidmi yameha [In the Prime of Her Life] (novella) 1923
Ma'aseh he-meshulah meerets ha-Kedosha (short stories) 1924-25
Polin: Sipure agadot (short stories) 1924-25
“Ma'aseh rabi Gadiel ha-Tinok” (short story) 1925
Al Olam [Forever More] (novel) 1926
“Ha-Nidah” (short story) 1926
Sipur ha-Shanim ha-Tovot [Ma'aseh ha'Rav Veha-Orah] (short stories) 1927
Agadat hasofer (short stories) 1929
Laylot (short stories) 1930-31
*Hakhnasath Kallah [The Bridal Canopy] (novel) 1931
*Me-Az ume-Ata (short stories) 1931
*Sippurei Ahayim (novel) 1931
Sefer HaMa'asim [The Book of Deeds] (short stories) 1932
*Be-Shuva u-ve-Natat (short stories) 1935
*Sipur Pashut [A...
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SOURCE: Knieger, Bernard. “Shmuel Yosef Agnon's ‘The Face and the Image’.” Studies in Short Fiction 12, no. 2 (1975): 184-85.
[In the following review of an Agnon short story, Knieger calls attention to the Hebrew meaning of the phrase “face-to-face,” concluding that the narrator is facing his own isolation from traditional faith.]
One of the Agnon stories in Twenty-One Stories (New York: Schocken, 1970) is “The Face and the Image.” But this title is a metaphorical translation of the Hebrew Ha-panim la-panim, which literally translates into “The Face to the Face.” The editor Nahum N. Glatzer in his “Editorial Postscript” writes (on page 283) that the “Hebrew title of the story is taken from Proverbs 27:19, which the standard translations render as, ‘As in the water face answereth to face, so the heart of man to man.’” But what is the relevance of this proverb to the story? Presumably the reference exists to establish an ironic contrast: the proverb asserts that man comforts man, but the narrator of the Agnon story is an isolated individual.
As is characteristic of many titles, the title Ha-panim la-panim provides crucial guidance to the central meaning of the story. But we do not realize the full nature of this guidance unless we recognize that this phrase not only appears in Proverbs; more crucially, it appears in a variant...
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SOURCE: Aschkenasy, Nehama. “Biblical Substructures in the Tragic Form: Hardy, The Mayor of Casterbridge; Agnon, And the Crooked Shall Be Made Straight.” Modern Language Studies 13, no. 1 (winter 1983): 101-10.
[In the following essay, Aschkenasy compares biblical references in The Mayor of Casterbridge and And the Crooked Shall Be Made Straight, concluding that Agnon's use of the biblical dimension is more subtle than Hardy's.]
Bringing together Hardy's The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886)1 and Agnon's And the Crooked Shall Be Made Straight (1912),2 a novella not yet translated into English, may seem an arbitrary yoking of different social milieus, cultural frames of reference, and verbal associations. But the apparent gap between Hardy and Agnon, and especially between these two particular works, is reduced considerably once we become aware of striking similarities in a number of artistic motifs and dramatic coincidences, as well as in the central tragic vision. Though both stories first appeared in serialized forms, they manifest an unmistakably Aristotelian “unity of action” in their unremitting focus on the decline and fall of their respective protagonists. In both stories, an initial act of “shame and horror,” to use Dorothea Krook's tragic formula,3 triggers a series of dramatic coincidences that, abetted by forces...
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SOURCE: Green, Jeffrey M. “Inside Agnon.” Modern Hebrew Literature 9, nos. 3-4 (spring-summer 1984): 80-4.
[In the following review of Estherlein, a compilation of Agnon's letters to his wife from 1924-1931, Green states that Agnon reveals few literary secrets but offers insights into his thinking about other matters.]
For those of us whom he captivates, Agnon is incomparable. While they might seem to be limited to a narrow realm of experience and interests, his writings have an emotional range extending from the depths of tragedy to the most caustic of wit. His works include Hassidic legends, astonishing surrealistic dreams, allegory-like fantasies as well as realism, and they always remain enigmatic. A basic reason for this is that Agnon's narrators, whether omniscient or personalized, tend to be unreliable. They do not tell all they know, nor do they have a well-defined opinion about what they are telling. For that reason it is difficult to say just where the Apparent Author stands. Those features of Agnon's works are what give them such a modern cast, even though he often deals with pre-modern life.
The unreliability of Agnon's narrators is apparently connected to a feature of his public personality in life. A major problem for any writer is what to do with his real self, how to use it without compromising it, how to put it into his works without depleting it, and how to...
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SOURCE: Fuchs, Esther. “Wherefrom Did Gediton Enter Gumlidata? Realism and Comic Subversiveness in ‘Forevermore’.” Modern Language Studies 15, no. 4 (fall 1985): 64-79.
[In the following essay, Fuchs deconstructs an Agnon story emphasizing the central irony, which she claims other critics have neglected.]
S. Y. Agnon's story “Ad Olam” (“Forevermore”) has stirred much critical controversy over its ideological meaning. Meshulam Tochner sees the story as a polemic against modern Biblical criticism and modern Hebrew literature.1 Eddy Zemach claims that the story argues against secular Judaism.2 Hillel Barzel maintains that the story demonstrates the transience of secular political statehood by displaying the way in which “one secular civilization is destroyed by another.”3 Despite the considerable differences between these interpretations they all agree that the story is a vehicle for an ideological message, and that the “overt text” is of secondary importance. The allegorical method of interpretation underlying these analyses focuses on the intention of the author and the meaning of the story but ignores the form of the story, e.g., the way in which the hero is characterized and the structure of the plot.
Since in narrative fiction, or for that matter, in any work of art form and...
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SOURCE: Mazor, Yair. “S. Y. Agnon's Art of Composition: The Befuddling Turn of the Compositional Screw.” Hebrew Annual Review 10 (1986): 197-208.
[In the following essay, Mazor examines the paradoxical nature of the composition of two Agnon stories.]
“Do forgive me. Perhaps I cast a shade upon Agnon … but I came here to speak about agony and about love and about pain in Agnon that Qohelet who put on various appealing disguises. And because of loving him so dearly, I spoke about him this way and not another.”
(Amos Oz, Under This Blazing Sun)1
A remarkably intriguing aspect in S. Y. Agnon's art of composition2 is that in a considerable number of his works, the reader is confronted by a strikingly confusing organization. As the story's plot seems to reach its climax and move toward its denouement, and all the conflicts of the fictional world face resolution, an unexpected, intrusive plot development is presented, which disrupts the natural concluding momentum of the piece and forces seemingly arbitrary continuation. The confused reader is forced to surmise that the writer (or implied author, following Booth, 1961) has clumsily violated his own aesthetics by inserting unrelated material into his story and consequently upset the story's composition, undermined its...
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SOURCE: Shaked, Gershon. “Midrash and Narrative: Agnon's ‘Agunot.’” In Midrash and Literature, edited by Geoffrey H. Hartman and Sanford Budick; chapter translated by Lois Bar-Yaacov, pp. 285-303. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1986.
[In the following chapter from a collection of essays discussing literary manifestations of Midrash, an ancient biblical form of exegesis, Shaked demonstrates how Agnon's early story “Agunot” uses forms of intertextuality borrowed from old Hebrew traditions.]
From love of our language and adoration of holiness I abase myself before the words of the Torah, and starve myself by abstaining from the words of the Sages, keeping these words within me so that they may be fitted altogether upon my lips. If the Temple still stood, I should take my place on the dais with my fellow poets and daily repeat the song which the Levites used to chant in the Holy Temple. Now, when the Temple is still in ruins, and we have neither priests at their holy work nor Levites chanting and singing, I occupy myself with the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings, the Mishnah, the Halakhah and the Haggadot, Toseftot, Dikdukei Torah, and Dikdukei Soferim. When I look into their words and see that from all our goodly treasures which we had in ancient days nothing is left us but a scanty record, I am filled with sorrow, and this same sorrow...
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SOURCE: Band, Arnold. “The Kafka-Agnon Polarities.” In The Dove and the Mole: Kafka's Journey into Darkness and Creativity, edited by Moshe Lazar and Ronald Gottesman, pp. 151-60. Malibu, Calif.: Undena, 1987.
[In the following chapter from a book of essays on Franz Kafka, Band reviews previous criticism comparing Kafka's and Agnon's writings, arguing that many of the alleged similarities in the works of the two writers have been overemphasized.]
The comparison of Kafka with other writers of the modern period has become such a beaten path in Kafkakunde that one often shudders upon encountering another “Kafka and …” study. Despite this academic ennui, we should, nevertheless, discriminate between comparisons that are gratuitous and those that are grounded and illuminating. In referring to the Kafka-Agnon polarities, I am attempting to avoid the tedious “Kafka and …” formula while calling attention to an area of research virtually unknown in Kafkaist circles since it is mainly written in Hebrew, but is, nevertheless, potentially rewarding.
The attribution of a certain strain in Agnon's writing to the influence of Franz Kafka first appeared in the early 1930's. In 1932, Agnon, who had recently solidified his reputation as a modern version of the traditional Jewish teller of pious tales in a four-volume Berlin edition of his collected works, published a startling new cluster...
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SOURCE: Ozick, Cynthia. “Agnon's Antagonisms.” Commentary 86 (December 1988): 43-8.
[In the following essay, Ozick uses Agnon's novella Edo and Enam to reflect on the ambiguities of translation and on the oppositions between ideas of safety and destruction, redemption and illusion, and exile and return.]
Shmuel Yosef Agnon, the 1966 Nobel winner for literature, was born one hundred years ago, in Galicia, Poland, and died in Jerusalem in 1970. Not long after his death, I wrote a story about Agnon, a kind of parable that meant to toy with the overweening scramble of writers for reputation and the halo of renown. It was called “Usurpation” and never mentioned Agnon by name. Instead, I pretended he was still alive, not yet a laureate: “It happens that there lives in Jerusalem a writer who one day will win the most immense literary prize on the planet.” I referred to this writer as “the old man,” or else as “the old writer of Jerusalem”—but all the while it was Agnon I not-so-secretly had in mind; and I even included in my story, as a solid and unmistakable clue, one of his shorter fables: about why the messiah tarries.
To tell the truth, this midrashic brevity (God knows where I came upon it) was the only work of Agnon's I had ever read. Nothing could have tempted me to look more extensively into Agnon, not even the invention of a story about him: though I was...
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SOURCE: Ben-Dov, Nitza. “Discriminated Occasions and Discrete Conflicts in Agnon's A Simple Story.” Prooftexts 9, no. 3 (September 1989): 213-27.
[In the following essay, Ben-Dov discusses the “assertive mother” theme in A Simple Story and describes Agnon's use of repetition or variation of motifs to highlight the rivalry between two women for one man's attention.]
The powerful influence of Agnon's Jewish mothers on their sons has long been observed by his critics. Yet the psychology of the mother herself—her motives, thoughts, words, and actions—has not been explored. A Simple Story, the novel that is Agnon's masterpiece of psychological realism,1 offers an excellent opportunity to delve into the mother's mind. Unlike Jacob Rechnitz's mother in “Betrothed” and Yitzhak Kumer's in Just Yesterday, Hirshl's mother belongs to the fictive present of the novel. Rechnitz and Kumer's mothers, though they doubtless have a pervasive and devastating influence on their sons' lives, especially upon their later relationships with women, belong only to the suggestive biographical background of the work. However, Hirshl's mother Tsirl is not only an authoritative figure who is responsible for her son's character and predicament—a recurrent theme in Agnon's works—but she has a psychological depth of her own.
Although the protracted conflict...
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SOURCE: Mintz, Alan L. “Agnon without End.” Commentary 89, no. 2 (February 1990): 57-9.
[In the following review of the English translation of Shira, Mintz states that the novel portrays the end of the liberal German-Jewish world view.]
The translation for the first time of a major work by S. Y. Agnon (1888-1970), the greatest writer in modern Hebrew, is sufficient cause for celebration; the fact that this work is a novel makes the event that much more interesting, but also more equivocal.
Agnon, who was born and brought up in Eastern Europe and moved to Palestine for the first time in 1907, most naturally displayed his narrative genius—and gained his early fame—in short fictions which made ironic use of two traditional Hebrew forms, the midrashic vignette and the hasidic tale. When it came to writing novels, Agnon similarly constructed them by stringing together cycles of related stories. This resulted in sprawling, epic works which, despite their thematic intricacy and symbolic power, were always in danger of breaking down and breaking apart.
Agnon's transactions with the novel as a form encountered other difficulties as well. As the quintessential literary expression of the secular middle classes, novels required close attention to a particular set of themes: domestic relations, individual ambition, and, classically, adultery. This presented an...
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SOURCE: Hoffman, Anne Golomb. “Introduction to Between Exile and Return: S. Y. Agnon and the Drama of Writing, edited by Sarah Blacher Cohen, pp. 1-20. Albany: State University Press of New York, 1991.
[In the following excerpt from the introduction to her full-length semiotic study of Agnon's writings, Hoffman reviews her complex textual approach, encompassing psychoanalysis, traditional Hebrew criticism, and poststructuralist literary theory. (Hoffman's book contains a complete bibliography of primary and secondary sources.)]
S. Y. AGNON: MODERN JEWISH WRITER
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 search for new forms of expression. The literary experiments of Shmuel Yosef Agnon are the more striking within this context, insofar as they appropriate and transform elements of the ongoing religious and cultural traditions of Judaism.
Agnon's is a restless writing that resists easy classification. He has been read by some as a pious storyteller, by others as a modern ironist. He is...
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SOURCE: Sokoloff, Naomi B. “Expressing and Repressing the Female Voice in S. Y. Agnon's In the Prime of Her Life.” In Women of the Word: Jewish Women and Jewish Writing, edited by Judith R. Baskin, pp. 216-35. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1994.
[In the following essay, Sokoloff applies a feminist critique to an Agnon novella, which she says associates the tradition and uncertain future of the Hebrew language with its repressed and unfulfilled female characters.]
While the last fifteen years have witnessed an upsurge of interest in feminist critical thought and literary interpretation, few attempts have been made to explore the implications of gender as a thematic concern in modern Hebrew texts.1 Yet Hebrew warrants special feminist examination because of its exceptional history as a holy tongue that for many centuries was studied almost exclusively by men. It was only the major cultural upheavals and transformations of the Jewish Enlightenment and Zionism—sources, as well, of the Hebrew linguistic and literary renaissance of the last two centuries—that led to significant changes in women's social and intellectual roles. The inevitable tensions between a male-dominated tradition and modern cultural change have left their mark on literary representations of women in Hebrew writing by men, even as they have fostered a singular set of obstacles and stimuli for the creation...
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SOURCE: Appelfeld, Aharon. “Between Shelter and Home.” Modern Hebrew Literature 14 (spring-summer 1995): 9-11.
[In the following essay, Appelfeld disputes other critics who say that Agnon exemplifies the “sacred” in Judaism vs. the “profane” of secularism, asserting that Agnon had a more holistic approach which combined both tradition and change.]
It has become commonplace to describe Agnon's writings as representing the tension between the sacred and the profane, or as the critics put it, between the traditional and the secular. In other words, between the polar opposites that were deeply rooted in the souls of the writer and his contemporaries. This interpretation of his work was first proposed more than half a century ago, and was spread enthusiastically by Baruch Kurzweil: Agnon of the traditional-patristic world, versus the secularized, sceptical Agnon, striving to bridge the unbridgeable.
This interpretation appeared to be grounded in Agnon's writings. It seemed especially evident in Only Yesterday: Jerusalem versus Jaffa; Sonia, the queen of the sea and the workaday life, versus Shifra, whose life runs down in stifling rooms; the dark fanatical alleys of Jerusalem, as opposed to the open sea and the pioneers of Jaffa and the settlements—while the protagonist Yitzhak dreams and struggles to find himself in these two worlds. It seems to be a strong, almost...
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SOURCE: Bernheim, Mark. Review of A Book That Was Lost and Other Stories, by S. Y. Agnon. Studies in Short Fiction 34, no. 3 (summer 1997): 397-99.
[In the following review, Bernheim offers a mostly positive assessment of a new edition of Agnon short stories.]
In modern Jewish literature, S. Y. Agnon has long occupied a particular place. Undeniably the great Hebrew language craftsman of the century, this 1966 Nobel Laureate has been relatively inaccessible in the English-speaking world. Two other Nobel winners—I. B. Singer and Saul Bellow—are far more widely read and viewed as the voice of Yiddish literature on the one hand and explorer of besieged cultural values on the other. But Agnon, born Shmuel Yosef Czaczkes in 1888 in Galician Buczacz, then part of Austria-Hungary, and dead in 1970, may find his awaited audience in English more easily thanks to this handsome 1995 anthology bringing us twenty-five of his stories, many not previously translated, gathered from Agnon's long and varied lives in Poland, Palestine, Germany, and Israel.
Much credit should go to Professors Alan Mintz and Anne Golomb Hoffman; these Agnon scholars give us not an ordinary “Selected Stories of …” but rather an engrossing tool for gaining serious understanding of Agnon's scope and achievement. The book divides into seven principal parts, plus a thorough Glossary of Terms used from Hebrew,...
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SOURCE: Riggan, William. Introduction: “Hebrew Literature in the 1990s,” World Literature Today 72, no. 3 (1998): 479-84.
[In the following excerpt from an essay on contemporary Hebrew literature, Riggan calls Agnon the best of the “conservatives” who appreciated the nuances of the Hebrew language tradition.]
To read the creative and critical texts gathered here in this special issue of World Literature Today commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the State of Israel is to witness, by and large, precisely such a turn from the collective to the personal, from state-building to the construction and protection of one's own private, personal space, from questions writ large about the history and nature of Jewry to concern with one's individual love life or education or domestic dilemmas or damaged psyche and soul. …
The fundamental importance of Hebrew as a sociocultural medium is self-evident. First, it is the bond of the individual with Jewish history, cerebration, and values that cannot be duplicated by any other medium. Second, it is the bond uniting the potpourri of Israelis, regardless of religion, country of origin, political posture, educational level, et cetera. The vexing question, however, is the degree to which Hebrew can be altered, transformed, and inundated with foreignisms and yet retain its ability to bond a Hebrew-speaker or...
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SOURCE: Almog, Shulamit. “Literature, Politics, and the Law: On Blacksmiths, Tailors, and the Demolition of Houses.” Interdisciplinary Literary Studies 1, no. 1 (fall 1999): 37-52.
[In the following essay, Almog draws linguistic comparisons between a story by Agnon and the transcript of an actual legal case in modern-day Israel, concluding that the literary text reveals more of the true nature of human conflict.]
In 1962, Haim H. Cohn, at the time the Attorney General of the State of Israel, approached Shmuel Yosef Agnon and asked him to contribute to a collection of articles being prepared to commemorate the seventy-fifth birthday of Pinhas Rosen, then Minister of Justice. Agnon, who had not as yet been awarded the Nobel Prize but was nevertheless the most widely acclaimed living author in Israel, agreed, and the same year contributed a collation consisting of seventeen short stories, entitled A Small Book of Tales.1 One of the stories in this collation is “The Kilikov Trial or a Life for a Life,” which is quoted here almost in full.2
I have still not concluded all my praise for Kilikov, for not for its worldly qualities alone is Kilikov to be extolled, but it is to be praised for the judicial decisions of its judges. What are the decisions of its judges? It is told that once, during the...
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SOURCE: Roskies, David G. ”Essay on ‘The Sense of Smell’.” In Reading Hebrew Literature, edited by Alan Mintz, pp. 118-25. Hanover, N.H.: Brandeis University Press, 2003.
[In the following essay from a collection which offers several commentaries about specific works of Hebrew literature, Roskies discusses the complexities of an Agnon short story, “The Sense of Smell.”]
Despite its brevity, Agnon's “The Sense of Smell” combines disparate elements that are not easily reconciled. The story's homiletic structure, storybook headings, archaic style, and anecdotal plot, and its coincidental encounters, dream sequence, and moment of mystical reverie bespeak a world of all-too-perfect harmony. Yet the narrative is riddled with riddles. Is the writer/protagonist a pious raconteur or a misanthrope? Does not the closed and self-referential world of Torah study, with its obsessive search for authority, clash with the solipsism of the artist, who lives in the subjective realm of the senses? The sukkah, furthermore, is both lowly and sublime; the “sense of smell” of the story's title implies a sensibility at once neotraditional and radically innovative. Having lavished so much attention upon the wording of a single phrase chosen, almost erased, and ultimately validated, what is Agnon trying to say about the relationship between writing as a craft and writing as a religious calling?...
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Goldberg, Isaac. “Shmuel Yosef Agnon: Israel's Nobel Laureate.” AB Bookman's Weekly 87 (April 1 1991): 1267.
Brief overview of Agnon's life and work.
Lutske, Harvey. “S. Y. Agnon.” In History in Their Hands: A Book of Jewish Autographs, pp. 173-74. Northvale, N.J.: Jason Aronson Inc., 1996.
Brief sketch about Agnon.
Aberbach, David. At the Handles of the Lock: Themes in the Fiction of S. Y. Agnon. New York: Oxford University Press, 1984, 221 p.
A study of themes in Agnon's fiction, emphasizing the blurring of distinctions among author, narrator, and character.
Almog, Shulamit. “Literary Legal Utopias—Alexander's Visit to Kasiah and Law at the End of Days.” Utopian Studies 12, no. 2 (2001): 164-173.
Comparison between an ancient legend about Alexander the Great and a short story by Agnon, indicating that the idea of a utopia is not inherently lawless.
Alter, Robert. “On S. Y. Agnon.” Commentary 56 (fall, 1989): 619-30.
Discusses Agnon's unfinished novel, Shira, as a commentary on the role of art in relation to reality.
Bar-Adon, Aaron. “S. Y. Agnon and the Revival of Modern Hebrew.” Texas Studies in...
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