Holocaust, Storytelling, Memory, Identity: David Grossman in California; See Under: LOVE: A Personal View
Grossman, David, Judaism: A Quarterly Journal of Jewish Life and Thought
Keynote Address for the San Francisco Symposium "The Future o the Holocaust; Story-Telling, Memory, Identity," Sunday, February 25, 2001, and 'Reading Holocaust Literature: David Grossman and Contemporary Writing, "Friday, February 23,2001, Kresge College, University of California, Santa Cruz
TO BEGIN WITH, LET ME TELL YOU WHAT WILL NOT BE
in my lecture: it will not contain an analysis of Shoah literature, nor literature, written in Israel after the Shoah, nor a discussion of questions concerning the problem of evil in literature. Rather, it will contain personal remarks about this book, See Under: LOVE.
And I need to say this: You have at least one advantage over me-you, apparently, have read the book recently, for this symposium, while I haven't read it at all since I wrote it fifteen years ago.
Every few years I occasionally leaf through it; there are also a few pages in the book that I read aloud at public events. But to read the entire book, cover to cover, is still hard for me (and, by the way, it turns out that this is also difficult for most readers, but perhaps for different reasons).
That's not to say that the book no longer lives in me, but it lives more as a memory of its writing, and as a memory of what brought me to write it. More than anything, it lives in me by virtue of what it crystallized within me, by things that it named within me, which are still part of my life today.
As I prepared for this conference, I decided that I would not even try to re-read the book but instead that I would make a brief list of some of the most important things that occur to me when I think about it. This is a strange list, held together by association. I will give you pieces of a puzzle--but even if you assemble them, you won't get the full picture. Perhaps the truest picture would consist of the empty spaces, the gaps between the parts.
How Did the Book Get its Start?
See Under: LOVE began with Bruno Schulz. Let me tell you howl came to read the stories of Schulz. This happened after I published my first novel, The Smile of the Lamb.
You know what it's like when a new writer arrives in town: it's as if a new child was born into a family. He comes from the unknown, and the family has a great need to possess him, to transform that situation, to define, catalog, and decipher him. And then, looking at him, they say: his nose is like David Yankel's, the mouth is exactly like Aunt Bluma's!
So too with a newborn book. Everyone tells you what influenced you, who you learned from, or just stole from. And let me add, parenthetically, that more than once the learned critics pronounced what had influenced me, and what I had borrowed. When, for the first time, I went and read those books and writers, I discovered that in fact they were right.
And then one day a man named Daniel Shilit, a "new immigrant" from Poland who'd been in Israel many years, phoned me. He had read my book and said to me, "you have obviously been very influenced by Bruno Schulz."
I was a young, polite writer, and I didn't want to argue with him. But until that moment, I had not even heard the name Bruno Schulz. Nevertheless, modestly and politely, I told him that apparently he was right, and thought to myself that I should try to get his book. And that same evening at a friend's house I found a copy of the book, borrowed it, and read it. I read the whole book, without knowing anything about its writer. I read it as one reads a letter from a lost brother. I read it with the rapt attention known to every lover-that these words were for me alone, and that only I could truly understand them.
And then I got to the end of the book and read the epilogue written by Yoram Bronowski, and there I learned, for the first time, the story of the death of Schulz. You probably know the story. Perhaps it's only a legend-in past years I've heard at least three different versions of the story of the death of Schulz-but even if it's only a legend, it touches us in a deep and authentic place. …