Wednesday, May 6, 2009

It is said that the golem lives everywhere and in all times - the golems of H. Leivick and Dovid Frishman

Writers use the golem story for all sorts of purposes. He's a blank slate, created from nothing, so the author can inscribe anything he wants on the golem.

In H. Leivick's verse play The Golem (1922), the poor golem is a sort of existentialist, tormented by his inability to understand his purpose, even though he is specifically created to save the Jews of Prague from the blood libel. But that is not what he means, exactly:

"You don't see who I am? I'll be another.
Beware of looking at my face, my features.
I am condemned to lie here on the ground.
I do not want to lie here any longer.
I am repelled, disgusted by my flesh,
Revolted by my glassy, bulging eyes,
By my own muteness, by my dark sign language...
The moment has come. See, I repel
Myself as I would repel any worm..."

The whole play is like this. I can guess how it would work on stage - abstract sets, flashing lights and sudden plunges into darkness, bizarre electronic music. Tough stuff.

In the long climactic scene, in which the golem is sent on his mission (destroying the false evidence of the blood libel), he experiences some kind of Walpurgisnacht, as in Goethe's Faust. The golem is taunted by CAVE SPIRITS and debates an INVISIBLE FORCE. The final crisis is shared with the YOUNG BEGGAR, who represents idealism or something, and Christ, I mean MAN WITH BIG CROSS. I was not expecting him, but I didn't expect Byron to show up in Faust, Part II either, yet there he was.

In Leivick's play, the golem is psychologically damaged by his heroic feat, so his deactivation, a standard part of the golem story, is perhaps merciful. Dovid Frishman* lets the golem stick around in his 1922 story. Just barely - he nearly drowns, but is rescued, and now "[i]t is said that the golem lives everywhere and in all times."

Frishman's golem story reminds me of Frankenstein, assuming that Victor had not behaved so strangely after he created his monster. Rabbi Leyb creates the golem to be the perfect student. Bu the golem cannot resist the rabbi's granddaughter Eve, who possesses a different kind of knowledge:

"Eve was holding and wiping a huge sacred tome. She stood there absorbed for a minute. Good Lord! Why so many books? Why does a person need them? Eve stood there, pensive. Her granddad was simply crazy! He had taken a long, blossoming life of seventy years and inundated it in such nonsense. Why, for one long minute, the dear, radiant world with the golden sun was a thousand times dearer and smarter than all these tomes put together."

Eve doesn't win the argument, but neither does the rabbi. The mind-body dualism is never resolved, even after the golem tries to solve his dilemma by, I love this part, writing his memoirs.

Many golems for many purposes.

The Leivick play and Frishman story are in Neugroschel's anthology The Golem. That brick golem is from the streets of Prague; the charming plump one is from one of many Prague paintings by the artist Natalia Povalyaeva.

* Who is Dovid Frishman? Who knows? His collected works, mostly in Hebrew, runs to six volumes, but this story is the only thing I can find in English. It's good; maybe there's more.

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