Poetic Trespass: Writing between Hebrew and Arabic in Israel/Palestine
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A Palestinian-Israeli poet declares a new state whose language, "Homelandic," is a combination of Arabic and Hebrew. A Jewish-Israeli author imagines a "language plague" that infects young Hebrew speakers with old world accents, and sends the narrator in search of his Arabic heritage. In Poetic Trespass, Lital Levy brings together such startling visions to offer the first in-depth study of the relationship between Hebrew and Arabic in the literature and culture of Israel/Palestine. More than that, she presents a captivating portrait of the literary imagination's power to transgress political boundaries and transform ideas about language and belonging.
Blending history and literature, Poetic Trespass traces the interwoven life of Arabic and Hebrew in Israel/Palestine from the turn of the twentieth century to the present, exposing the two languages' intimate entanglements in contemporary works of prose, poetry, film, and visual art by both Palestinian and Jewish citizens of Israel. In a context where intense political and social pressures work to identify Jews with Hebrew and Palestinians with Arabic, Levy finds writers who have boldly crossed over this divide to create literature in the language of their "other," as well as writers who bring the two languages into dialogue to rewrite them from within.
Exploring such acts of poetic trespass, Levy introduces new readings of canonical and lesser-known authors, including Emile Habiby, Hayyim Nahman Bialik, Anton Shammas, Saul Tchernichowsky, Samir Naqqash, Ronit Matalon, Salman Masalha, A. B. Yehoshua, and Almog Behar. By revealing uncommon visions of what it means to write in Arabic and Hebrew, Poetic Trespass will change the way we understand literature and culture in the shadow of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
contenders: Will the “real father” of Modern Hebrew literature please stand up? Why would a poem celebrating Bialik as the “savior” and “rejuvenator” of Hebrew emphasize the beautiful maiden’s Arab roots—a nd shift the spotlight away from Bialik, its panegyric subject, back to two medieval Sephardi poets lurking in the wings? What is at stake in this poetic conundrum is the cultural identity of Hebrew literature at that historic juncture. The answer rests both upon the enormity of Bialik’s
reminiscences of Bialik vehemently denying any connection to the infamous statement, and finally by attributing the statement to someone else. To convey Bialik’s depth of admiration for the Sephardim, Avineri employs patronizing language (“Bialik’s words about the weakness that had visited itself upon the Sephardi community in the present [were] said in a loving spirit and as an impetus for reform”) as well as Orientalist assertions (“Bialik didn’t deprive himself from enjoying the beauty of the
in Israel, and as an Arab Jew in a polarized Middle East. In short, while bearing in mind the disparities between Palestinians and Jews in Israel, both Naqqash and Habiby occupy anomalous positions 17 Jarrar characterizes the reaction as a “storm of protests” among Arab intellectuals that “overwhelmed the Arabic press” and lasted until Habiby’s death in 1996 (“A Narration of ‘Deterritorialization,’ ” 16 and 25n9). The prize was controversial in Israel as well; see note 78 below. 18 As a result,
Masalha, ‘Araidi, and Shammas straddle a fence overlooking both this tradition and the Israeli poetic tradition, whose roots are entwined with Jewish nationalism in its various manifestations, including Revisionist Zionism (as exemplified by Uri Tsvi Greenberg). Modern Hebrew in the early to mid-t wentieth century often positioned the lyrical self within the collective national memory and identity, creating a language of reference that assumed a common experience of poet and reader. For
Class?, esp. 161–173. Palestinian M idrash | 155 ‘self-consuming’ ” or create a minor literature within the interpretive community.51 Furthermore, as Gerard Genette argues, knowledge of the author’s identity and biography functions as a paratext influencing our reading, particularly when the text relates to events in the author’s life.52 Indeed, the strategic intertextuality evinced by Shammas, ‘Araidi, and Masalha depends directly on the reader’s recognition not only of the intertext, but