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Elijah Visible.

The question of whether it is possible to create art out of the Holocaust has been argued passionately by esthetes and philosophers, and no one of course has come up with an answer. Still, there is no doubt that the very fact of such human evil has informed the consciousness of the second half of the twentieth century and has had definite consequences in the minds and passions of artists.

Within one of the stories in Elijah Visible Thane Rosenbaum quotes Theodor Adorno's "After Auschwitz there is no more poetry," a statement that begs to be read in all its ambiguity. Yet the author's own passionate obsession with creating art out of the Holocaust in these short stories is undeniable. And it is this fixation that renders the art questionable, not because of the esthetics of transforming the Holocaust into art, but due to a poverty of creative invention. In a collection of nine stories it is disheartening for the reader to understand at the outset of each that ultimately the denouement will be the effect of the Holocaust on the recurrent protagonist, Adam Posner, child of survivors.

At the same time, even as Rosenbaum sets up the expected, he can also charm, especially in the beginning of several stories. In "The Rabbi Double-Faults" the author creates a comically wicked and trenchant portrait of the tanned, womanizing Miami rabbi, Sheldon Vered. His jabs at the contemporary way of worship with references to popular culture are often satirically on the mark, as in the lines: "Despite questionable monastic credentials, the rabbi pontificated on all the subjects of the day: world affairs, cultural life, movies, art - and of course what mattered most to him and a large segment of his congregation - the destiny of the Miami Dolphins." Ultimately, however, Rosenbaum rescues this rabbi by attributing his lack of faith and rampant cynicism to the secret no one has glimpsed until a revealing moment on the tennis court, where he is playing doubles with his long-lost twin brother, a rabbi from Israel. Sheldon's brace falls off, and there, emblazoned on his arm, are the numbers. Accompanying this very expected revelation, there is the clank of awkward and unclear prose: "Behind him, the green-mesh canvas that bordered the fence, absorbing the light, enveloping us as though the court was the home of an Orthodox ritual bath."

Still, there are lessons here too, for Adam and for the reader. In "An Act of Defiance" a visit from his never-before-encountered elderly uncle Haskell pits Adam's preconceptions about a frail Holocaust survivor against the vivid reality of a lusty man who wants to squeeze the most from life. In a conversation with Adam, Haskell says, "From death I have escaped. I have no more interest in what it holds for me. I celebrate life instead. Even at my age, life is filled with women, and drink, and dance." And to Adam's query, "As a way to forget?" he says, "Not to forget; to remember - to be of this world. I can't forget what happened to me, our family, our people. But I will not shut myself from the world either." This is explicit instruction for Adam, who has become, through his own once-removed Holocaust experience, an emotional shut-in. Unfortunately, in the end the reader does not care as deeply as the author might want about Adam and his demons.

Rita D. Jacobs Montclair State University
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Copyright 1997 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Jacobs, Rita D.
Publication:World Literature Today
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 1997
Words:568
Previous Article:Mason and Dixon.
Next Article:Plays 3.
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