The Achievement of Isaac Bashevis Singer

By Marcia Allentuck | Go to book overview

Introduction

For at least a decade now, critical respect for the sustained intensity of Isaac Bashevis Singer's literary imagination and its fictive embodiments has grown virtually by geometric progression. Blakean in his precise, sensuous renderings of the literal and the visible, while "showing forth" the energies of the transcendental and the invisible, Singer negotiates swiftly and glitteringly, with deceptive and harrowing simplicity, among the moral climates of the divine, the human, and the demonic. Whether set in the East European Jewish shtetls now irretrievably lost through German genocide, or in declining side streets off New York's Central Park West -- to name but a few of his expressive ambiences -- his works levitate beyond the local facts of manners, rituals, and beliefs. With the consummate skill born of the authority and the power of his revelations, he arrests and ignites modern sensibilities: his name is now one to conjure with. Singer's thrust as a writer is rich but unprogrammatic. His enigmatic treatments of the tilted paradoxes and grotesqueries inherent in the conflicts between divine promise and experiential reality, redemption and history, religion and secularism, tradition and modernism, eroticism and self-discipline -- such Singer-haunted dualities can be multiplied without end -- speak to our human condition. Singer has learned to live by means

-xiii-

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