Academic journal article The Comparatist

Language, Body, Dystopia: The Passion for the Real in Orly Castel-Bloom's Dolly City

Academic journal article The Comparatist

Language, Body, Dystopia: The Passion for the Real in Orly Castel-Bloom's Dolly City

Article excerpt

Orly Castel-Bloom's well-known novel Dolly City, first published in 1993, is a story of an abusive mother named Dolly. Told in first person and set in a future dystopian Israel, the novel concentrates on Dolly's violent anxiety regarding the health of her adopted son. She worries that he might be suffering from various medical conditions ranging from cancer to missing an internal organ. Her response is repeatedly to "open him up" and needlessly operate on him. (1) A typical passage describes her actions thus:

   I succumbed to the chronic doubt from which I suffer. I wanted to
   check and see with my own eyes that everything was really in order,
   and then to check up on my checkup, and then to make sure that
   there hadn't been any slipups in the re-examinations, and so on and
   so forth.

      I gave the child anesthetic, I put him to sleep, and I did it. I
   slipped my hands into white gloves and began slicing into his
   thorax. His internal organs were revealed to my searching gaze, his
   heart, his lungs. Once I'd opened him up, I poked around in there
   too. Then I opened up his stomach, I held an organ roll call, I
   demanded to know if they were all present and correct. (31) (2)

Such passages repeat themselves incessantly, marking the basic emotional tone of the novel. Dolly is more than just an excessively anxious and abusive mother. She is prone not only to fits of violent anxiety regarding her son, but often suffers from murderous rage and a flat affect coupled with extreme promiscuity. It is to Dolly as a character and as a narrator that most readers responded when reading the novel, often couching basic emotional reactions in intellectual or ideological terms. The initial reception of the book was varied; some saw it as expressing the linguistic and even moral deterioration of Israeli literature, while others prized the book as a breakthrough in Hebrew fiction. (3) Two leading Hebrew literary critiques by Dan Miron and Gershon Shaked claimed Castel-Bloom as the most original of a new generation of writers, urban and non-i deological; her writing resists and scorns social norms and public taste (see Miron; and Shaked 76). Following the strongly evaluative response that the book stirred up in reviews, the academic critical reception which followed has chosen to interpret it through the conceptual lenses of Post-modernism and Post-Zionism. Post-Modernist interpretations concentrate on the free play of language (signifier) used in the novel, on the lack of coherent reality, the mixture of high and low linguistic styles, and on the lack of depth or real affect. (4) Post-Zionist interpretations have either characterized the novel as disengaging from the national meta-narrative or as an explicit critique of Zionist claims. (5) Some interpretations saw the novel as a parody, a grotesque exaggeration of Jewish/Zionist mothering, an impossible endeavor composed of anxious sheltering, and preparing the child to be a soldier (Shiffman; Mendelson-Maoz).

While there is some truth to these interpretations, they evade and assimilate this emotionally difficult text into a familiar grand narrative and try to assuage the reader with the comforting schemes of Modernism, Zionism and their respective "posts" The novel's main impact on readers, I argue, did not follow directly from its role in reconfiguring national narrative but from the shock and attraction of the narrator Dolly, a figure who combines a unique style and a grotesque violence. The main claim of this article will be that far from hovering in an unengaged postmodern way above reality in the realms of linguistic play and psychosis, CastelBloom's novel shows what recent theory calls the "passion for the Real"

The concept of the Real was first articulated by Lacan and then elaborated by Alain Badiou and Slavoj Zizek. While there are differences in their emphases, an ideal type (Weber 90) (6) of the concept of the Real can be readily sketched. …

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