(originally posted on OneShul’s IndieYeshiva)
I am just starting to get the hang of reading science fiction. I like to live a very fact based life and find that only some of this genre is appealing. I can not quite grasp the world of fantasy. I bring this up because of two reasons. First Patrick and Michael are awful keen on Star Wars. Second they off handily joked about needing to find or write the great Jewish science fiction book. Thus I sought more information. In this quest of sorts, I found this as my first story, “The Last Demon” by Isaac Bashevis Singer. He was a Jewish American author noted for his short stories. He was one of the leading figures in the Yiddish literary movement, and received the Nobel Prize in literature in 1978.
Let me tell you a bit about the situation the main character, a Demon, ends up in. He was summoned from a larger town to the smallest of villages. His job was to propagate sin. Here is my favorite aspect of this work, Singer begins playing with conventions of language. The Demon says, “Don’t ask me how I managed to get to this smallest letter in the smallest of all prayer books.” This excites me as I often study philosophy of and meaning of word usage. This is an all important part of what makes Judaism a lasting religion, it has become, open to all sorts of new ideas, and a remained a remembrance of the past.
The Demon works on the most pious men in the village to no avail. His imp cohort tries to explain the situation of the change in world order that has occurred thru behavior. The Demon only comes up with questions, “What’s happened? The Holy Spirit grows stronger?” He says in order to make a long story short he has failed his mission and must remain in this tiny pious village. He describes his fate, that he must remain, calling it an “Eternity plus a Wednesday.” What a way to order words to grapple the thought of something more vast then even the imagined, beyond forever.
As The Demon sits, the last of the demons, he reads a Yiddish storybook he found. He says its style is our manner, “blasphemy rolled in piety.” Never the less he says the letters are Jewish, the alphabet they “could not squander”, and he sucks and feeds on each letter. He counts the words. He makes rhymes. And he is tortured in his need to “interpret and reinterpret each dot”. In clinging to meaning, to ever nuance, he is sustained. He is keenly aware of the power of expression. Thus I agree with his emotions when he says, “when the last letter is no more, I’d rather not bring to my lips”.
“The Last Demon” in The Collected Stories of Isaac Bashevis Singer can be found: