From the Editor
By way of a prelude to the special issue on “Narrative as a Way of Thinking” scheduled for June 2006, the articles in the current issue of Partial Answers deal with a variety of the uses of narrative.
Shahar Bram’s paper discusses the narrative element of the genre of the “long poem,” where the length of the text is not a quantitative but rather a qualitative feature: the challenge that such poems present to our attempts of seeing them as a unified whole is a partial compensation for the sense of wholeness that has been lost along with the oral epic tradition but which, ever since that tradition yielded to the written one, has been projected onto a utopian sense of future unity.
Michael Weisskopf’s “Leon Trotsky’s Family Romance” analyzes Trotsky’s refashioning of his social identity and adjusting it to his ideological values in his autobiographical narrative: a descendant of a middle-class family, he retrospectively recasts himself as an adoptive son of the proletariat and eventually one of the fathers of what he saw as a proletarian revolution. By contrast, the narrative of Aharon Appelfeld, discussed in Bernard Harrison’s paper, seeks not to refashion but to imaginatively reconstruct a world that has been largely obliterated by the Nazis. The paper also explains the ethical significance and value of Appelfeld’s writing “Holocaust fiction” that is a no less reliable form of memorialization than factual testimony.
Irena Kohn’s paper discusses an extraordinary artefact/document created in the Lodz Ghetto during one of the worst years of the Holocaust and miraculously preserved: the album The Legend of the Prince. Combining verse and paintings, this artefact ostensibly serves as a tribute to the Jewish Ghetto authorities and as praise for the professional training of the children. Through an analysis of the moments of instability and self-contradiction in this material, as well as its subtle allusions to Alice in Wonderland and the tale of the Pied Piper of Hamelin, Kohn decodes the album’s hidden story of the September 1942 massive deportation of children under the age of ten (and with them the old and the sick) from the relative safety of the Ghetto to an extermination camp.
A different kind of coding is discussed in the paper by Orna Raz on Barbara Pym’s novels set in the early post-war decades. Written in a period of renewed persecution of homosexuals in Great Britain, these novels treat male sexuality ambiguously, combining a critical representation of both new and old culture-bound stereotyping with a strong sense of individual identity beyond cultural affiliation. The paper supplies much of the cultural codes (not readily available to the present-day reader) that the novelist shared with her target audience in what is now regarded as a period that demands renewed scholarly attention.
Other moral/ideological problems of the decades following World War II emerge in Amit Marcus’s paper on Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day, but the main focus of this paper is the contribution of Ishiguro’s narrative to the study of self-deception in moral philosophy. Engaging both literature and philosophy in the investigation of this subject, the paper doubles as an example of a possible methodological approach to the treatment of narrative as a way of thinking.
Coming nearly full circle, the article by Efraim Sicher and Natalia Skradol discusses the ways in which not utopia but dystopia is read, and written or filmed, after the large-scale crimes that surpass the gloomiest cacotopian nightmares.
In order not to end on the note of cultural pathologies, this issue concludes with Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht’s discussion of Jorge Luis Borges’s poetry which anticipates the current turn in the humanities, from hermeneutics to the study and cultivation of the sense of the presence of the world and of art -- visual, verbal, or other. One of the channels of this turn, Gumbrecht’s 2004 book The Production of Presence, to which this article is a sequel, discusses the oscillation between the effects of meaning and the effects of presence in the reception of a work, an oscillation that does not accommodate a stable structuring of audience response. The combination of hermeneutical processing with aesthetic response elicited by this oscillation also has ethical facets, likewise difficult to stabilize.
In this issue we print miniature color replicas (graciously provided by Yad Vashem, The Israeli Holocaust-Remembrance Authority) of the paintings in the album whose significance is analyzed by I. Kohn: the paintings constitute the kind of presence to which we should not fear to respond aesthetically as well as ethically, seeing in it a trace of the creative energies that have been starved or violently snuffed out in the Holocaust. Contrary to Bulgakov’s famous aphorism, manuscripts do burn; facing those which have escaped the fire is not only an ethical responsibility but also a privilege.