Friday, May 17, 2024

39 Books: 2008

On January 19 of this year, I received a traumatic brain injury that for 16 years has limited my capacity to read. It was also the year I read two novels in which the legacy of violence presses on the form they take. Horacio Castellanos Moya's Senselessness spirals in Bernhardian sentences as the narrator responds in distress to having read testimonies of survivors of massacres in an unnamed central American country, while S. Yizhar's Khirbet Khizeh published in 1949, is a headlong account by an Israeli soldier taking part in the forced expulsion of Palestinians from their village. It helped me that both were short.

"True, it all happened a long time ago," it opens, "but it has haunted me ever since." The trouble with ghosts is that time has little meaning, so the narrator is unsure where to begin. He goes through the options only then to sweep doubts aside with Biblical expedience: "And so it happened...". David Shulman's Afterword provides examples of the original Hebrew's allusions to Biblical language and also reports that the novel was part of the Israeli high school curriculum from 1964, and was still an option in 2007. It was also dramatised for Israeli television and created a stir. Both make one wonder what the political value there is in a work that while, as Shulman says, "cuts right through the nationalist myth that ... blames everything unpalatable on the ever-available enemy" nevertheless has no effect on succeeding generations pursuing with remorseless violence the same policies of repression and ethnic cleansing.

The apparent futility of novels no matter how powerful or popular to alter the course of history reminds me of the successful Jewish writer in one of Aharon Appelfeld's novels set in 1930s Austria who, horrified at the racist mania of the culture, abandons his family and races off to Vienna to seek support for a new literary journal to engage with and counter the prevailing discourse. The futility is seen in retrospect of course, and we hear nothing of him again. Appelfeld is acute in his depiction of the delusions that take hold of people in the face of larger historical forces. The value of Appelfeld's depiction might then be counted in awareness of such delusions, which will no doubt share the same fate.

Not knowing where to begin a story offers evidence of the dissipation of time experienced in writing and reading novels, and thereby its remove from the ongoing world. That is, if we understand the novel as a by-product of the Enlightenment, of its disenchantment of the world, that nevertheless retains in its presence the residue of a relation to the eternal, to the outside of time, maybe even to the divine, and in doing so maintains an apocalyptic interruption of the everyday even and perhaps especially as the novel seeks to present it.

In When now? I discussed the issue of narrative temporality.

No comments:

Post a Comment


Please email me at steve dot mitchelmore at gmail dot com.

Blog Archive

Contact steve dot mitchelmore at Powered by Blogger.