Post­ed by Nao­mi Firestone-Teeter

If you’re a Jew­ish Book World sub­scriber and enjoyed our 26:3 (Fall 2008) fea­ture on S.Y. Agnon, one of the fore­most Hebrew writ­ers of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry, you may enjoy a new title on Agnon that’s being pub­lished this month by Syra­cuse Uni­ver­si­ty Press: Lan­guage, Absence, Play Judaism and Super­struc­tural­ism in the Poet­ics of S. Y. Agnon (Yaniv Hag­bi). In the title Hag­bi explores Agnon’s the­o­log­i­cal and philo­soph­i­cal atti­tudes toward lan­guage, atti­tudes that to a large extent shaped his poet­ics and aes­thet­ic val­ues. For more infor­ma­tion on the title, please click here.

An excerpt from Bar­bara Andrews’ arti­cle on Agnon from JBW:

His writ­ings are rem­i­nis­cent of a lit­er­ary Cha­gall. They por­tray a life in a world that no longer exists but yet exists in a dream-like state, nei­ther real nor imag­i­nary, but some­where in between.

Agnon’s name is an illu­sion as well, being born Shmuel Yosef Cza­czkes in 1888 in the East­ern Gali­cian town of Bucza­cz, which at the time was part of the Aus­tro Hun­gar­i­an Empire. He was edu­cat­ed in the world of Hasidic tra­di­tions by his father and pri­vate tutors, learn­ing the Tal­mud and its Aggadic sto­ries that were to have a strong influ­ence in his writ­ings. Young Shmuel was also influ­enced by his mother’s fam­i­ly, which was steeped in the learn­ings of the Mit­nagdim, as well as Ger­man sto­ries and fables his moth­er taught him. Lat­er, as a young man liv­ing in Ger­many, he would read wide­ly in Ger­man and French lit­er­a­ture. While he would dis­avow that these lat­er read­ings had influ­ence upon his work, it is often said that his writ­ings bear some resem­blance to mod­ern Ger­man lit­er­a­ture. Agnon him­self would say that his writ­ings were most influ­enced by Sacred Scrip­tures, Torah, as well as the Mish­nah and Talmud.

He renamed him­self Agnon around 1908 as his writ­ing became more pro­lif­ic, and took his sur­name from the Hebrew word agu­nah. Agu­nah means a woman who is not free to mar­ry because her hus­band has refused her a divorce by either leav­ing or aban­don­ing her. Much has been made of why Agnon chose this par­tic­u­lar name for him­self and one won­ders if it is not an allu­sion to the deser­tion of Israel by God. The metaphor as por­trayed in the Torah per­tains to when Israel has strayed and God laments Her way­ward­ness. In His lament, God turns His face from Israel, leav­ing her aban­doned and belong­ing to no one.

If you are inter­est­ed in pur­chas­ing the back issue ($12.50), which con­tains the com­plete arti­cle, as well as an inter­view with Etgar Keret, an inter­view with poet Shirley Kauf­man, part II of Peo­ple of the (Com­ic) Book,” book club rec­om­men­da­tions, and dozens of reviews, please con­tact the JBC at jbc@​jewishbooks.​org.

Bar­bara Andrews holds a Mas­ters in Jew­ish Stud­ies from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go, has been an adult Jew­ish edu­ca­tion instruc­tor, and works in the cor­po­rate world as a pro­fes­sion­al adult educator.