Academic journal article The Australian Journal of Jewish Studies

Conjuring Egypt in Israeli Literature: Yitzhak Gormezano Goren's Blanche

Academic journal article The Australian Journal of Jewish Studies

Conjuring Egypt in Israeli Literature: Yitzhak Gormezano Goren's Blanche

Article excerpt


In the last two decades, Israeli literature has undergone radical shifts in postures and attitudes, evolutions that mark an abrupt reorientation of the old Zionist narrative structures. Such changes contained the kernel of a new phase in the ideological and aesthetic hues of the canon. (1) Consequently, a an array of minority discourses came to the fore, including most noticeably ethnic Sephardi (interchangeably known as Mizrahi) Hebrew literature that sowed the seeds of a broader cultural and literary phenomenon whose scope cannot be taken lightly or dismissed.

Indeed, it has become evident that these alternative channels of writings to have surfaced, boast a thematic range that is unrelated to the commanding matrix of those Hebrew fictionists who in the wake of Israeli statehood in the 1950s imposed their collective impulse on the national scene. (2) Hence, in the ensuing process of this keynote transformation the Zionist master narrative has been profoundly undermined, replaced by a variety of new genres and styles with their own unique locales and characters, seemingly outliving its relevance to the state's spiritual and literary climate.

But there is more. In the manner of wider sociological trends, Israeli fiction has turned away from the state generation's predominant message of ideals and ideology, away from the parochial motif of the struggle between the individual and the state. After half a century, important new voices and variants are being heard, voices that do not sit comfortably within the exclusive domain of the modernist Zionist version and are not influenced by traditional canonical modes of expression and concerns (Ben and Furstenberg). In many ways, the disassociation from the customary prisms of the literary establishment has triggered a dialectic pattern whose undercurrents are formatively shaking up the traditional Israeli identity developed by the diegesis of the mainstream writers.

Essentially, Sephardi novels not only refuse to derive their stylistic configurations from any literary tradition and therefore adhere to its hegemony, but also in many instances oppose its symbolically charged aspects, internal notions and philosophical undertakings. In short, these fictions seek to declaim, sometimes militantly, that Israeli identity should be constructed upon ideas and themes that are not bound to the spirit that guided the first generation of writers.

Casting our glance purposefully, but not apologetically, at the sphere of Sephardi literature and the accompanying critical corpus of Hebrew letters, one is struck with the saddening epiphany that in comparison to the voluminous publications on the Zionist narrative, research in this field is noticeably impoverished. One reason is that for several decades, Modern Hebrew literature was enveloped by an eastern European perspective, a perspective that constantly shunted to the sidelines the rich and variegated experience of Oriental Jews and their attendant Mizrahi artistic expression (Alcalay 1993; Alcalay 1996). Consequently, the Israeli and non-Hebrew reading public were presented with a rather narrow and ethnocentric view of Israeli literature, filtered and refracted through Ashkenazi lenses.

Thus, literary works that for many years were overshadowed and relegated to the margins are now on display front and centre in the Israeli literary orbit, front and centre, rejecting the nationalistic fervour of yesteryear and seeking to overturn earlier oppressive stances. Indeed, Israeli fiction of the last twenty years or so has re-defined and re-sculpted the reserve of collective memory, methodically controverting standard forms of thinking that have perpetually fashioned stereotypical images of minorities. The strategy of de-stabilising the senses of the historical-literary oligarchy is cognate with the aim of the "other" to dilute and attack the dominant discourses on behalf of those positioned on the edges of mainstream form-for our specific purposes, the tribal/ethnic story. …

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