One Paragraph, A Whole New Experience
“Lost Books” is a weekly series highlighting forgotten books through the prism of Tablet Magazine’s and Nextbook.org’s archives. So blow the dust off the cover, and begin!
In the summer of 1996, a struggling graduate student of Hebrew literature found Yaakov Shabtai. More specifically, he found the Israeli writer’s 1977 novel, Past Continuous, a challenging work written, quite literally, as a single paragraph. The complex, non-linear novel weaves through a series of intersecting moments with exhaustively detailed description. According to Todd Hasak-Lowy, who credits the book with the discovery of his own voice as a writer, Shabtai teaches the reader how to understand Past Continuous while in the midst of it. Its experimental form and its approach to time and space, Hasak-Lowy posited, reflect the political climate in Israel and voice a “post-Zionist view of Israeli society” while not dealing explicitly with politics.
Writing in 2008, the great Israeli novelist David Grossman echoed Hasak-Lowy’s praise of this remarkable paragraph. “I remember what I experienced when I felt I was under the rays of a vast and inspiring literary power—when I read Kafka’s Metamorphosis, for example, or Yaakov Shabtai’s Past Continuous, or Thomas Mann’s Joseph and His Brothers,” he wrote. “I have no doubt that some part of me, perhaps my innermost core, seemed to be in the realm of a dream. There was a similar intrinsic logic, and a direct dialogue conducted with the deepest and most veiled contents of my soul, almost without the mediation of consciousness.”
Shabtai, born in Tel Aviv in 1934, began writing late in his life. He is perhaps best known for Uncle Peretz Takes Off, a collection of short stories that included “Zikhron Devarim,” then translated more literally as “Memory of Things,” which would become the novel Past Continuous. Shabtai died of a heart attack in 1981, at the age of 47, and the posthumously published Past Perfect was his second, and final, novel.
Read The Paragraph That Changed My Life, by Todd Hasak-Lowy
Plus, U.S. ambassador shows solidarity with Syrian protests, and more in the news
Daily rate: $2
Monthly rate: $18
Yearly rate: $180
WAIT, WHY DO I HAVE TO PAY TO COMMENT?
Tablet is committed to bringing you the best, smartest, most enlightening and entertaining reporting and writing on Jewish life, all free of charge. We take pride in our community of readers, and are thrilled that you choose to engage with us in a way that is both thoughtful and thought-provoking. But the Internet, for all of its wonders, poses challenges to civilized and constructive discussion, allowing vocal—and, often, anonymous—minorities to drag it down with invective (and worse). Starting today, then, we are asking people who'd like to post comments on the site to pay a nominal fee—less a paywall than a gesture of your own commitment to the cause of great conversation. All proceeds go to helping us bring you the ambitious journalism that brought you here in the first place.
I NEED TO BE HEARD! BUT I DONT WANT TO PAY.
Readers can still interact with us free of charge via Facebook, Twitter, and our other social media channels, or write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Each week, we’ll select the best letters and publish them in a new letters to the editor feature on the Scroll.
We hope this new largely symbolic measure will help us create a more pleasant and cultivated environment for all of our readers, and, as always, we thank you deeply for your support.