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Sidra DeKoven Ezrahi's sweeping study of modern Jewish writing is in many ways a long meditation on the thematics of geography in Jewish culture, what she calls the "poetics of exile and return."
Until the late nineteenth century, Jews were identified in their own religious and poetic imagination as wanderers and exiles, their sacred centerJerusalem, Zionfatefully out of reach. Opening the book with "Jewish Journeys," Ezrahi begins by examining the work of medieval Hebrew poet Yehuda Halevi to chart a journey whose end was envisioned as the sublime realignment of the people with their original center. When the Holy Land became the site of a political drama of return in the nineteenth century, Jewish writing reflected the shift, traced here in the travel fictions of S.Y. Abramovitsh, S.Y. Agnon, and Sholem Aleichem.
In "Jewish Geographies" Ezrahi explores aspects of reterritorialization through memory in the post-Holocaust writing of Paul Celan, Dan Pagis, Aharon Appelfeld, I.B. Singer and Philip Roth. Europe, where Jews had dreamed of return, has become the new ruined shrine: The literary pilgrimages of these writers recall familiar patterns of grieving and representation and a tentative reinvention of the diasporic imaginationin America, of course, but, paradoxically, even in Zion.
Posted January 6, 2001
In recent years, a seemingly endless variety of poetic and political signifiers have been invoked in attempts to describe the experiences of dispossession, minorities, and regions: border, creolization, transculturation, transnationalism, hybridity. These spatial/historical paradigms are often at the crux of cultural debates in much the way that W. E. B. Du Bois¿s concept of double consciousness would have once occupied center stage. At the top of the list ranks diaspora (and frequently the somewhat elusive diasporic) which is the focus of journals such as Diaspora and Transition as well as a wide range of academic periodicals that have devoted special issues to the theme. As the editor of Diaspora reasonably suggested in the journal¿s inaugural issue, ¿Diasporas are the exemplary communities of the transnational moment.¿ As James Clifford observes, ¿diaspora discourse is being widely appropriated. It is loose in the world, for reasons having to do with decolonization, increased immigration, global communications, and transport¿a whole range of phenomena that encourage multi-locale attachments, dwelling, and traveling within and across nations.¿ But in one way or another, these permutations and mutations of diaspora can be traced to a late nineteenth-century movement among Jewish historiographers, who sought ways to account for the Jews¿ persistence over the long span of centuries in a variety of lands that were not their homeland. Unfortunately, the rapidly increasing ways that ¿diaspora¿ has been appropriated, has led to an unfortunate increase in intellectual fuzziness and rhetorical imprecision to which even the rigorous field of Jewish Studies is far from immune. Fortunately for the latter, Sidra Dekoven Ezrahi¿s ambitious new study offers both theoretical rigor and innovation, taking the critique of literary Homecoming to a more sophisticated discursive space that will raise essential questions for future investigations of many of the poets and writers considered here. Although Jewish diasporism has often been a focus of Jewish literary analysis (notable examples include works by Norman Finkelstein, Stephen Fredman, and Andrew Furman), nothing like this book has ever been attempted. Offering a wealth of original translations of abundant prooftexts, rich biographical and literary detail, Ezrahi has produced a consistently lively, erudite, and iconoclastic tour de force. This richly insightful and frequently elegant work should be considered essential reading for anyone concerned with the literary culture of Jewish Diaspora in modernity. Divided into two major sections, Jewish Journeys and Jewish Geographies (which reflect the abyss separating writers before and after the Holocaust), this book examines the tension between ¿Jewish story and territory¿ (139). In her resourceful and wide-ranging exploration, Ezrahi, currently a Senior Lecturer at the Hebrew University, traces notions of the ¿Jewish journey¿ in representative (mostly canonical) figures from the medieval poetics of Yehuda Halevi through the post-shtetl exiles of Sholem Aleichem, Agnon, and Abrahmovitsh to the post-Holocaust ruins of memory of Celan and Amichai, and the reconfigured dramas of Exile and Return in the postmodern narratives of Philip Roth. Ezrahi¿s touchstone, Yehuda Halevi¿s ¿Songs of Zion¿ provides the essential metaphors of displacement, desire, voyage, and Return that guide her provocative readings of a century of Jewish writing shaped by Holocaust and Zionism. For Ezrahi, the essential terms that haunt the Jewish literary imagination to our own age were embedded in the Kabbalistic texts of Halevi¿s medieval contemporaries where the theosophical orientation shifts ¿from a geographical locus to the mobile body of the Jew, leading to later Kabbalistic and eventually Hassidic notions of individual salvation and symbolic rather than concrete connections with a sacred center¿ (49). In her shrewd analysis of the ¿diasporic journey¿ encoded heWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.