“If an institution is to be an institution, it must to some extent break with the past, keep the memory of the past, while inaugurating something absolutely new” (Caputo 6). In this quote from Jacques Derrida’s 1994 conversation Deconstruction in a Nutshell, Derrida’s submits that the use of deconstruction within literature should facilitate fluidity between the past and contemporary literature. This negotiation with time appears active in the 1996 novel Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels as the two mingling narratives of two men explore two involuntary poetic paths.
It may seem absurd to explain the direction of two human lives as involuntary, but the definition behind this word, “done without will or conscious control” (Oxford), effectively represents both main characters state of being that is remarkably parallel with complex emotional and historical drama. To get started, we will begin the exploration of Fugitive Pieces with an interpretation of past events that shape the current ontology of the main characters, Jakob and Ben.
A childhood violently torn apart by German soldiers, should best describe Jakob’s existence. Witnessing his parent’s death and he kidnapping of his sister, Bella, Jakob manifests a lifelong preoccupation with his past. Particularly, the possession of Bella’s disappearance overshadows Jakob’s survival from the Holocaust and it is this structure of relation which marks his development from child to adult. Surviving the Holocaust and Bella’s whereabouts is a set of boundaries that Jakob eloquently speaks about in the narrative, but fails to find peace with.
Moving onto to Ben, he faces the reality that his mother and father were survivors of a German concentration camp before his birth. As a Canadian professor, Ben exhibits expertise in the istinct subjects of history and weather, but when it comes to knowledge of his parent’s imprisonment, he is virtually clueless. As Ben probes into his parent’s life inside the Nazi ghetto camp he simultaneously lives his life at the side his parent’s post- Holocaust existence. It is this framework of association that haunts Ben and he copes with it existence with a midrash impulse (Osborne).
The novel’s journeys of both men in Fugitive Pieces is worded magically, but the most brilliant structure of the story is Michael’s portrayal of Jakob and Ben’s ontology that s haunted by the Holocaust. After the destruction of his family, Jakob’s responsiveness and understanding of law come into play essentially creating a “split subject” (Eagleton 136), in Fugitive Pieces. “It is the structure of relations by which we come to be the men and women that we are” (Eagleton 135). This quote from Eagleton’s Psychoanalysis explains the central notion of Freud’s theory in the area of the Oedipus complex.
This stage of a human development takes place around age four as a child wants the parent’s with the same sex as them excluded from the parent relationship. As the child breaks this infant to mother coupling, a shifts directs the child’s existence into a member of a social structure with laws. With the child’s mind torn between the conscious and unconscious desires, repression takes this opportunity of uncertainty as an invitation to find creative roles that may fulfill a child’s guilty desires.
It is at this point that Jakob’s consciousness of law work through the “split subject” (Eagleton 136). The Freudian “split subject” (Eagleton 136), transitional period appears mobile in Fugitive Pieces as Jakob’s recall of Bella alters with age. Before the family tragedy, Jakob shares his mother’s admiration of Bella as a beautiful girl who resembles a work of art. After the death of his mother and kidnapping of Bella, Jakob begins to break from his pairing with his mother as he independently assumes that Bella is dead.
We can see Jakob’s regression taking hold of his dreams to help the mind process this difficult reality, “At night I choked against Bella’s round face, a doll’s face, immobile, inanimate, her hair floating behind her” (Michaels 44). Jakob mentions that this disturbing dream haunt his mind as a child, ut it isn’t until Jakob moves out of childhood into adulthood that we see the most significant transformation of the “split subject” (Eagleton 136), at work in regard to Jakob’s memories of Bella, “What did they make of Bella’s hair as they cut it-did they feel humiliated as they fingered its magnificence, as they hung it on the line to dry? (Michaels 106).
According to Eagleton’s summary of the “split subject” (Eagleton 136), this theory by Freud appears alive and well in Fugitive Pieces as Jakob’s recollection of Bella morphs from reactionary brother to reflective man in the area of Bella’s whereabouts. Moving away from Jakob for a bit, let’s look at the notion of midrash interpretation in literature. “The midrashic mode allows artists to respond to silences-cultural, religious, historical, literary-to reveal the contemporary meaning contained within them, but intentionally buried and blurred” (Osborne 2).
This quote from Monica Osborne’s essay, “Tikkun Magazine: Midrash and Postmodernity,” discusses a new form of critical thinking about literature. Osborne suggests that readers should initiate a narrative from inside the text and stay open to the guidance implied therein. This approach or midrashic impulse (Osborne), xtends an original perspective about a topic and invites audience participation in patching narrative gaps in responses. Embracing this unique mindset assists in the delivery of appalling subject matter, like the Holocaust, allowing a historical examination of the meaning behind the wrongdoing and moral repercussions.
According to Osborne, midrashic thinking essentially brings consciousness of human devastation through the medium of the narrative. Ben seems to take on a midrash approach in Fugitive Pieces when he carefully considers his parent’s live outside the German concentration camp. With only a tiny bit of knowledge about his parent’s life before his birth, Jakob bears witness to his parents silence about their German imprisonment with great compassion, “There was no pleasure, for my father, associated with food.
It was years before I realized this wasn’t merely a psychological difficulty, but a moral one” (Michaels 214). Ben puts forward that his father’s freedom is spoiled due to the German’s methods for dealing with the Jewish community and this belief also is true for Jakob’s mother. Her eccentric behavior regarding food is similar to his fathers as he appears to savor bread because God created it (Michaels 229). The midrashic storytelling appears to work as a tool for Jakob to gain a sense of his parent’s history while attempting, “.. o rescue humanity from inhumane acts that are incomprehensible and yet require explanations” (Osborne 5).
Midrash examination in Fugitive Pieces is a useful tool for Jakob to use when trying to face the morally deplorable events of his parent’s life, but Jakob needs to understand why his parents are so unwilling to speak about their past in the first place. “Returning to the past is never that pleasant.. undamentally” (The Last), is Benjamin Murmelstein opening feeling in the 1994 documentary The Last of the Unjust directed by Claude Lanzmann.
As a high ranking Jewish officer at Theresienstadt’s Nazi concentration camp, Murmelstein testifies to the film audience about the murder, manipulation and maintenance he witnessed in an imprisoned society overrun by political propaganda. In his estimation, camp prisoners were comparable to the living dead and that “man is working like an automation” (The Last), because the mind has lost touch with reality and subsistence. If a detainee is liberated, the ordinary orld is suddenly foreign making integration difficult to achieve.
The new world structure collides with lost souls from the captive society that no longer find meaning outside of the death camp; there is no will to start life all over again encouraging clashes with everyone. As Murmelstein speculates about his own life, he concludes that this psychosis can only be released with death. This radicle absolution is necessary because documentation about the ghetto camps embellished society was destroyed by German soldiers after the hybrid operation closed, according to Theresienstadt.
By the film end, Murmelstein recalls his version of life at the concentration camp effortlessly and simultaneously outlines that any Jew not killed by German soldiers are physically free, but emotionally dead. Murmelstein’s truth about the emotional damage of the Jewish people post-Holocaust appears in Fugitive Pieces in the ghostly underbelly of Jakob and Ben’s ontology. As Fugitive Pieces progresses with emotional narrative, the present day activities of Jakob and Ben become secondary to the difficult circumstances of their post-Holocaust worlds.
To survive was to escape fate. But if you escape your fate, whose life do you then step into” (Michaels 48). This quote by Jakob in Fugitive Pieces demonstrates the past tragedy of his family has damaged his freedom with a sense of emotional loss, just as Murmelstein confirms is a result of post-Holocaust trauma. If we look at Ben, he appears to grapple with the idea that his parent’s freedom is somehow unrepairable, “My mother stands behind my father and his head leans against her.
As he eats, she strokes his hair. Like a miraculous circuit, each draws strength from the other” (Michaels 294). Murmelstein testifies in The Last of the Unjust about the devastating decisions and actions of German’s at the Theresienstadt’s Nazi concentration camp because he is ready to disclose to the audience that Jewish people who survived the Holocaust presently resemble the living dead; Jakob and Ben appear to argue in Fugitive Pieces that this theory is true.
A good argument is underway that Jakob and Ben’s ontology is haunted by the actions of the German government against Jews, but now let’s move toward the PARDES in mitzvoth and why this thinking is important when reading Fugitive Pieces. “The primary feature of midrash for the rabbis is that it fulfills the rimary function of interpretation, which is to “release” the meaning of the scriptural words” (Goodhart 44).
This quote from “Back to the Garden Jewish Hermeneutics, Biblical Reading, PARDES, and the Four-Fold Way” explains how the written scripture of Torah is used in Jewish studies for interpretation. Sandor Goodhart comprehensively outlines in this essay that the mitzvoth is under rule of the anti-idolatry in four areas: 1) Peshat-which presents what is said; 2) Remez-which defines the meaning of what is said, 3) Derash-which considers the morals of said; and 4) Sod-which predicts the repercussions of said.
According to Goodhart, “Because he have always read through Plato, always read as representationally and assumed a structural logic of analogy” (Goodhart 47), introducing the Hebraic hermeneutic practices in literature will allow the audience to reading progressively through the thinking process. A fresh sense of reason and clarity is found in Fugitive Pieces when the four dimensions of PaRDeS mitzvoth are used.
When the four folds of Judaism are applied to Fugitive Pieces, many of the off-balanced poetic quotes from the novel suddenly appear as existential. Michaels’s open’s the novel in Midrash style with the following declaration, “Time is a blind guide” (Michaels 5). The author wastes no time in publically staging a “site of instruction” (Goodhart 58), about how the human state of living is shaping the universe. This performative style in the novel appears to facilitate the four approaches of PaRDes to return the reader to realism of the Holocaust.
Every moment is two moments” (Michaels 140), on the surface this quote may connect Alex with memories of Bella, but if we read with the intent of returning to human existence of the text, we may conclude that there are long-term consequences when choosing between right and wrong. Keep in mind that these conclusions about the quotes are simply my coherence of text using PaRDes or the “blueprint of the world” (Goodhart 51); your internal reading should deliver another conclusion because Pardes welcomes all interpretations.
Applying a fresh four approach or PaRDes to Fugitive Pieces transforms uneven novel quotes, for me, into interpretations about the nature of human existence. The lifelong journeys of two main characters are worded magically by Michaels in the 1996 novel Fugitive Pieces, but the most brilliant structure of this novel is Jakob and Ben’s parallel ontological haunting that is a direct result of the Holocaust. “I think that the life of an institution implies that we are able to criticize, to transform, to open the institution to its own future” (Caputo 6).
In this quote from Derrida’s 1994 conversation Deconstruction in a Nutshell, the expansion of philosophy studies in society is under discussion, but this notion of looking inside an institution appears appropriate when examining Fugitive Pieces. This novel is negotiation between the past and present literature in an attempt to interpret two mingling narratives of two men explore two involuntary poetic paths. The novel’s presentation of Jakob and Ben’s evolving existences ties in post-Holocaust repercussion on the human existence that can transfer to other family members.
As we explore Jakob’s “split-self” (Eagleton 136), in his memories of Bella or Ben’s midrashic mode (Osborne 2), with his parents, we come to realize with the help from Murmelstein, that there are after effects post-Holocaust. Jewish people liberated from concentration camps or who survived murder are physically free, but emotionally dead. To understand why it is important to look at this horrific event from history today, we explain the four dimensions of PaRDeS, in an attempt to shift Western Plato minds toward Judaic traditional thinking about literature.
In the end, Fugitive Pieces comes across as a performative piece of art that follows the ontological haunting of Jakob and Ben. It successfully gives a voice to the rabbinic style of Jewish understanding when interpreting the life changing after effects of the Holocaust. When literary criticism is combine with the narrative interpretation of PaRDes and midrash interpretation, Fugitive Pieces evolves from a story about two main characters to a history lesson about the delicate nature of the human existence.