Longing and Love
By Inbar Raveh | 03/03/2011
In Moods, the author seeks to seize the delicate moments of human existence and to give them meaning. As in a poem, the details are important in this novel because, the shorter the text, the greater the attention that must be paid to the details. Two moods, two states of consciousness glow within this seductive literary creation
The Yorck Project:
Moods [Matzavei Ruach] by Yoel Hoffmann, Keter, 2010
Moods carries on the unique Hoffmannesque tradition of a continuum of short texts. There is no single plot in the novel but there is rather a collection of passages divided by numbers and appearing on the left side of each two-page spread. Some are narrative passages, while others are meditative sections on the way of the world and on human beings. “Brevity is talent's brother,” says the greatest master of the short story, Anton Chekhov. Yoel Hoffmann's immense talent is undoubtedly linked to the kind of contraction that he creates: an exhaustive, but compressed expression of thought and imagination that fuels an entire cultural and artistic world. Readers who have never before encountered Hoffmann's special writing style will find it difficult to understand what they have before them because the text defies any familiar convention or any external generic demands.
In Moods, the author seeks to seize the delicate moments of human existence and to give them meaning. As in a poem, the details are important in this novel because, the shorter the text, the greater the attention that must be paid to the details. Two moods, two states of consciousness glow within this seductive literary creation. Longing and love.
The book is packed with different examples of longing, longing that “is difficult to resist.” A passing moment, a chance meeting with an unforgettable person: “Old telephones linger long in one's memory. The voice coming from the receiver frightened us because we could not understand where the face was. Now you can see very distance faces in the telephone. But the sadness is infinitely greater because you can now see the other person's face. If we could only return Aunt Edith, we would do so, even back to the time when she was in a wheelchair. She would have been astounded by the Azrieli building” (p. 34). Put prosaically, it can be said that, without even one percent of fat, the Hoffmannesque text preserves the complexity of the physical state of longing that is connected to distance in time or space. Longing for a period that is no more, for its concrete physical characteristics that are at the same time symbolic, expresses the infinite yearning for the unification of eras, for the unification of the living with the dead, and paints an imaginative picture of meetings between different eras and between the living and the dead, meetings that could never actually occur in reality. The objects of longing that appear throughout the book are diverse: longings for a childhood spent in Ramat Gan in the 1940s, for old loves, for places, for a grocery-store owner, for relatives who have passed away, and so forth.
Longing stems from loss, and Hoffmann touches on that point in his unique incisive, hypnotic manner: “We heard that physicists were searching for a tiny missing particle and that they therefore constructed a huge tunnel in Switzerland. We ourselves sometimes lose a breadcrumb but, generally speaking, we find it under the table. My stepmother Francesca once lost an artificial pearl and later found it among the bedclothes. Happy are those who have lost only a tiny particle. Sometimes we lose half of our world, or even two-thirds, and the remaining part is yellow and black like Europe's streets in the 19th century when the streetlamps were illuminated by natural gas” (p. 47). The links created between the splinters of reality – scientific, personal-biographical, historical reality – are among the most fascinating elements in Hoffmannesque poetics. The search for the sixth quark, for the breadcrumb, for the artificial pearl that his stepmother lost, or for the lost half of the author's world, constitutes an expression of the emotional movement called longing, which seeks to find some missing piece of one's life experience. Pain bubbles up from longing and is joined by a delicate irony concerning the difference between those who search for a tiny particle and those who search for the two-thirds of the world that they have lost. The impersonal pronoun “we” intensifies the bittersweet taste of the things that the author says about himself in the most personal manner imaginable.
Elsewhere in the book, Hoffmann wonders whether the natural world also has longings (p. 54) and, in his imagination, he turns this emotion into something that is all-embracing.
For pain, absence and loss, all of which create and fuel longing, there is a partial remedy in the form of touching and love: “This is the solution to the Zen riddle concerning the sound of one hand clapping and is also the solution to the human suffering that Sigmund Freud discusses. In other words, someone should touch someone else, and so on” (p. 95). This is the great wisdom of an author who says the things that we all know and which are almost trivial and who turns them into something new that penetrates our consciousness like a stunning blow to the jaw.
There are many references in the book to the longing for a mother embracing and comforting her child: “Just imagine that you could hug yourselves in that manner and that you could pass from one place to another like large infants carrying themselves. We would then console ourselves just as mothers do when they gently rock their infant, singing a lullaby” (p. 119). The humor is the special, subtle place where the doubtfulness of this human option is revealed: “True, we could no longer be thought of as ‘two-legged creatures.' Perhaps our legs would atrophy. The ravens would doubtless regard us with astonishment. Perhaps we would be defined in the dictionaries as clumsy birds (that are missing wings and missing feathers and) which slowly hover as they carry themselves in their own two hands high above the ground. But we would not be absent” (ibid.).