Monday, May 21, 2007
A Portrait in Every Way True to Nature
I have resolved on an enterprise which has no precedent, and which, once complete, will have no imitator. My purpose is to display to my kind a portrait in every way true to nature, and the man I shall portray will be myself. Simply myself.
If I have written much of it in the third person, well, that is because such an obsessive account of my intrusion into this valley of suffering forces one, like Dorian Gray, to confront his own "devilish, furtive, ingrown" self-portrait. The pronoun he gives a blessed bit of distance between myself and a too fresh ordeal in which the use of I would be rather like picking off a scab only to find that the wound had not completely healed.
In the career of the most unliterary of writers, in the sense that literary ambition had never entered the world of his imagination, the coming into existence of the first book is quite an inexplicable event. In my own case I cannot trace it back to any mental or psychological cause which one could point out and hold to. The greatest of my gifts being a consummate capacity for doing nothing, I cannot even point to boredom as a rational stimulus for taking up a pen.
What kind of person am I? What is so special about me?
I am an assimilated Jew, content to be assimilated, relieved to be religiously unobservant. I don't know any Hebrew, or have forgotten the little I once learned.
Speaking personally, I find that the American experience of being an assimilated grandchild of Orthodox immigrants has tended to make me an ill-informed, nonbelieving, non-observant Orthodox Jew, haunted by nostalgia for the peculiar music of the synagogue, for the Judaism I do not practice. And this adds still another puzzling iridescence to my Jewishness and to the tantalizing opportunities of my writer's divided self.
Since these pages, if they survive me, may be the last testament of my brief and insignificant passage through the world, let me scrawl out the main facts:
I come from an unbroken line of infidel Jews. My father was a Voltairian. My mother was pious, but one day my father took me out for a walk, a walk in a little neighboring wood, I can remember it perfectly, and explained to me that there was no way we could know that there is a God; that it didn't do any good to trouble one's head about such; but to live and do one's duty among one's fellow man.
I know my own heart and understand my fellow man. But I am made unlike any one I have ever met; I will even venture to say that I am like no one in the whole world. I may be no better, but at least I am different. Whether Nature did well or ill in breaking the mould in which she formed me, is a question which can only be resolved after reading my writings.