Monday, February 8, 2010

As a Driven Leaf - Comparing Traditions

The last post on Milton Steinberg's As a Driven Leaf described his protagonist's Cartesian quest for certainty. Years later, well into his grand project, Elisha compares the Greek classics with Hebrew Scripture:
And yet for all its blitheness, the verse of the Greeks saddened him too. There was in it, he came to feel, stark fear, artfully concealed. It had about it an aura of yearning and regret. Beneath its gaiety, melancholy stirred, the more desperate because unspoken. And with time he came to understand the great hopelessness that breathed through these polished cadences. The poet loved life so ardently because in the end he despised it for its meaninglessness and futility. . . . Inevitably, contrasts suggested themselves between this literature and that Scripture to which so many years of Elisha's life had been dedicated. It was a sternly earnest book, that of the Jews, and yet animated for all its dour austerity by a confident serenity which the Greeks seemed never to experience. For, given its presuppositions, all things were good by virtue of the God who pervaded them. There was for men no burning urgency in the quest for the fugitive experience. Love and laughter were but transient manifestations of the joy-drenched essence of all things. Wistfully Elisha admitted that, so regarded, the world he had elected was less happy and buoyant and . . . less merciful than that which he had rejected. (354)

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