Academic journal article Hebrew Studies Journal

Love, Suddenly: Etgar Keret Invents Hebrew Romance

Academic journal article Hebrew Studies Journal

Love, Suddenly: Etgar Keret Invents Hebrew Romance

Article excerpt

This article looks at the emergence of romance as a viable literary device in Hebrew literature in the 1990s, especially in the works of young writers who used the privacy of romantic coupling as an escape from the more national thematics of previous literary generations. Historically, modern Hebrew works paid little attention to romance, certainly in comparison to the ubiquity of romantic love in other contemporary, nineteenth century European literatures. In Hebrew literature, romance played a secondary role that was usually subordinated to communal, Jewish and later Zionist concerns. During the 1980s, however, especially after the first Intifada in 1987, this dynamic began to change. The article examines this change in the works of Etgar Keret as a representative voice of a new Israeli cultural generation.

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One of the illustrative ways Hebrew literary critics characterized and distinguished literary generations from one another during the past century has been to focus on the common use and function of the narrative voice as an expression of the age. (1) Thus, the anguished and introverted voice of the lonely first-person singular narrator in many works of the Hebrew revival came to symbolize the hesitant and precarious beginnings of a new Hebrew culture in the land of Israel at the beginning of the twentieth century. Similarly, the first person plural of the following literary generation, the 1948 generation, came to symbolize the next stage in the Hebrew cultural revolution and its success in establishing a cohesive national culture whose members strongly identified with it at the expense of more personal concerns. The turn to a plurality of first person narratives in the 1960s, during the State Generation, marked a break from the group culture of the first native, Israeli generation and a rebellion against it. By looking closely at works by Etgar Keret, this essay suggests the emergence of yet another narrative voice or literary grouping in Israel in the early 1990s: the "first-person dual" or the romantic voice. Although the first-person dual, "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]," does not exist as a grammatical category in Hebrew, the sense of a pronominal narrative voice in many works by Keret and his contemporaries is neither that of an individual "I" or a communal "we," but that of the romantic couple.

Characterized by terse narratives that usually unfold in urban settings, the new romantic writers abandon the grand Zionist narrative of the past in favor of stories that are both smaller and larger in scope--the preoccupation with romantic love as the ultimate fulfillment of the human condition. Unlike previous generations, many works by contemporary romantic writers like Etgar Keret, Uzi Weil, Gadi Taub, Gafi Amir, and others, appear largely unconcerned with Jewish identity, Jewish nationality, or Jewish history. Moreover, the move these authors make away from the particular and the local toward more universal literary themes, and especially the construction of the romantic experience within a capitalist framework, is distinctly marked by the abandonment of the tension between individual and community, that has stood at the center of modern Hebrew literature since its inception. Instead, these writers attempt to seclude themselves within the protective confines of the lovers' nest rather than in relation to a community.

The emergence of romance in Hebrew literature is noteworthy and intriguing because, historically, modern Hebrew works paid romance scant attention, certainly in comparison to its ubiquity in European literature. After all, the development of modern literature in Europe--the novel in particular--is directly linked to romantic love as an individualizing force--a mode of rebellion, liberation, and fulfillment in an increasingly bourgeois, capitalist, and secular world. The very name for the novel, roman, in many European languages makes clear the extent to which the literary form itself centered on relations between the sexes. …

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