Agnon, Joyce, Woolf and Kafka

S. Y. AgnonS. Y. Agnon

I am reading a biography of S. Y. Agnon by Harold Fisch. He writes:

In Joyce or Virginia Woolf we are accustomed to what is sometimes called the interior monologue. Characters reflect inwardly, drawing on past experience; it is a relatively unstrenuous form of reflection. In Agnon we have something more dramatic, viz. the interior dialogue. His meditating characters argue back and forth, debating inwardly, using the method of question and answer which the Jewish reader recognizes as the technique of talmudic discussion. Should the Guest have a new coat made?

He is also compared to Proust, to Thomas Mann, to Edgar Allan Poe, to Joseph Conrad and to Kafka. On Kafka and Agnon:

The symbolic and everyday worlds are yoked together by violence in a way only found elsewhere in Kafka, though Agnon differs from Kafka in his greater degree of faithfulness both to the dream and to everyday observation…[Agnon writes] an allegorical tale like so many of Kafka’s tales…Such a tale is thus and image of contemporary existence in the historical present. And here is where Agnon differs from Kafka. “A Whole Loaf” is a naturalistic account of a Saturday night in Jerusalem in the twenties. We see the Arabs in their fezzes, the orthodox Jews in their fur hats (streimels); there is traffic, there are cafes and hotels; you see the different types coming out to take the air after a burning day of hot desert wind (hamsin).

Felisol has been writing about James Joyce and Ulysses. Mrs. S. has a guest poster tell us that Agnon is buried among distinguished company.

Do you have any literary stream of consciousness ideas to share?

For more on Agnon, read about a short story from A Book That Was Lost.

10 thoughts on “Agnon, Joyce, Woolf and Kafka

  • using the method of question and answer which the Jewish reader recognizes as the technique of talmudic discussion
    I believe that there’s much about Agnon’s writing that only someone who’s familiar with traditional Jewish sources (e.g., Tanach, Chazal, etc.) can “recognize“.

    Thanks for the link!

    • One day I’m going to be brave and order a copy of his stories in Hebrew. Then the phrases will be even more obvious.

      You can read his works at different levels… for the plot or for the intricate themes.

  • As you may remember I ordered this book (A Book That Was Lost) some time ago but have only read one short story so far, The Doctor’s Divorce, which I liked.
    I have always found it hard to get into short stories. Besides the other authors you mention are all authors I find difficult, except if I read them in French.
    I received The Cookbook Collector this morning and am looking forward to reading it.

    • I recommend the one about bread – it seems to be called A Whole Loaf according to this book. The narrator decides to go out for supper on a Saturday night, and all sorts of things happen and he never gets food.

      Of all those authors, I find James Joyce the most difficult. But then, I’ve never attempted Proust.

  • You probably know that Agnon is widely believed to be the author of the Prayer for the State of Israel. You may not know that he is, I believe, one of only two frum Jews to win a Nobel Prize (the other being Yisrael/Robert Aumann, who won it for economics a few years ago). Many, many, many Jews have won Nobel Prizes, but only these two were frum, which I find a little sad.

      • Thanks both, for adding to the discussion about Agnon!

        I wasn’t even sure how frum Agnon was.

        FYI, Robert Aumann is related to a family here in Highland Park. They were very proud when he won the prize.

  • There are interesting discussions going on, here.

    I like Agnon, find his books to be filled with wonder, allegory, symbolism and tradition, which appeal to me.

    I enjoy Kafka, even in his most depressing mode, I find something to come away with within the pages.

    Proust is a favorite author of mine, and I enjoy his magnificent word paintings, that fill all of my senses. I also like Andre Makine, for the same reasons.

    • Lorri, I’m glad you read and commented on this post. OK, I will take out something by Proust from the library and see how that goes…

      I have long been a fan of Kafka, and since I’ve been reading Agnon, an even bigger fan of Agnon.

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