On Lea Goldberg & S. Y. Agnon
THE EARLY weeks of 1970 saw the passing of two remarkable Hebrew writers, one, S. Y. Agnon, who had achieved wide international recognition, the other, Lea Goldberg, scarcely known outside Israel. Although in this case one might invoke with real justice the eulogistic formula that their deaths mean the “passing of an era,” they are such incommensurate figures in every respect that they represent the end of two different eras, two vastly disparate cultural experiences. Agnon was the last great Hebrew writer steeped in the religious ambience of East European Jewish life, from which he drew the elements of a distinctive artistic vocabulary, subtly illuminating that ambience in his fiction, making its erosion from within and its demolition from without the imaginative ground of reference for a large, troubled vision of impaired spiritual existence in the modern world. Lea Goldberg, on the other hand, a gifted poet, translator, and scholar-critic, grew up in a secularized European Hebrew milieu, her relation to modern culture was far more cosmopolitan, and Agnon’s anguished problematic of tradition and modern experience remained outside her universe of discourse. The two writers, moreover, are clearly incommensurate in regard to stature as well. Agnon, with his varied and compellingly original literary production, is the undisputed major figure of modern Hebrew fiction, the only Hebrew novelist who can be justly claimed as a modern master. Lea Goldberg, alongside Agnon, would have to be described as “minor,” though an attentive reading of her work may suggest the inadequacy of that term, with its common, regrettable implication of casual dismissal.
About the Author