From Exile to Redemption: The Fiction of Isaac Bashevis Singer

From Exile to Redemption: The Fiction of Isaac Bashevis Singer

From Exile to Redemption: The Fiction of Isaac Bashevis Singer

From Exile to Redemption: The Fiction of Isaac Bashevis Singer

Synopsis

According to Farrell Lee, a Singer story often takes the form of a meditation, with the dilemma of life and death the frequent core of that meditation. The protagonist seeks a source of meaning that might give significance to life; the human predicament is to be exiled from that source of meaning. More than other contemporary writers, Singer uses biblical images to confront questions of meaning, with the Kabbalah serving as subtext for much of his work. Singer secularizes religious material, equating the biblical image of a God who hides his face and the modern image of a cosmos empty of transcendent meaning. Singer is distinguished from other contemporary writers because in the midst of his images of secular and biblical despair shines a ray of hope. He sees value in seeking answers, noting that to find answers to the essential questions one must be redeemed from exile.

Excerpt

Isaac Bashevis Singer's short story "Old Love" concludes as Harry Bendiner, eighty-two year old millionaire, survivor of three wives and two children, dreams of meditating in a solitary British Columbian tent with the daughter of a dead love "on why a man is born and why he must die" (Passions 42). In one way or another, each of Singer's stories is a variation on this essential meditation, and the exiled meditant is the prototypical Singer character. The questions posed by the meditant and the exile he endures are intimately connected, for while the questions concern a search for a source of meaning which might give significance to human life and which might explain the mystery of mortality, the exile can be defined as the separation of humankind from that source of meaning. Ultimately, to find answers to one's questions is to be redeemed from one's exile.

In The Myth of Sisyphus, Camus defined that modern phenomenon, absurdity, in terms of exile. He tells us that we confront our exile in a universe which does not yield up answers to our question of "why?" He writes:

A world that can be explained even with bad reasons is a familiar world. But, on the other hand, in a universe suddenly divested of illusions and lights, man feels an alien, a stranger. His exile is without remedy since he is deprived of the memory of a lost home or the hope of a promised land. This divorce between man and his life, the actor and his setting, is properly the feeling of absurdity. (Absurd Reasoning 5) . . .

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