Monday, April 21, 2008

Hebrew Literature

I''m not terribly fond of reading Hebrew novels. I feel they are too political. There always seems to be a "second floor", invisible but for the trained eye which can see it in spite of the cloaking devices employed by the writer. I can't quite put my finger on it, so I was delighted to read this snippet on Sign and Sight , quoting the eminent Israeli literary critic Dan Miron:

Hungarian writer and publisher of the Jewish cultural newspaper Szombat, Gabor Szanto T. spoke to Israeli literary academic Dan Miron. In his reply to the question on the political content of Hebrew literature, Miron refers among other things to "Toward a Theory of Minor Literature" by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari: "Minor literature is not 'minor' but culturally marginalised. In this sort of literature everything has a political stamp on it. Not directly, through the reflection of political issues, but due to the fact that whatever the absolute individual writes about, it touches on the themes and experiences of the collective. This applies more or less, I think, to Israeli literature. Israeli writers formulate their individual experiences and yet every important Israeli novel which deals with the destinies of private individuals, conveys something of the situation of the collective. [...] Naturally political poetry also exists but the main flow of literature deals with questions of private life and yet something over and above this emerges. I would not be surprised if this didn’t apply to Hungarian literature as well. Because if the intellectual sphere is not wide enough, it often happens that people, when they talk about themselves also raise issues that apply to the collective."

Miron's explanation resonates with my experience.

A few years ago, when I found out that a high school friend had become an author and published a few books, I was almost afraid to read them, for fear of hearing in it yet again the echoes from the "second floor". So imagine my delight when, upon reading a book of his short stories, I felt the fresh cool wind of originality of voice and subject, which had no echoes of the political whatsoever.

Here is an excerpt from one of his short-short stories, just to give you a taste of his uncommon voice:

Knock-knock/ By Rony Lakish

Knock-knock. Knock-knock. An insistent rapping on my door.

I opened the door.

Some vague and scruffy mortal was standing there, offering something to sell.

“Pardon me, sir, “ he whispered. “Cou..”

“No, thanks, “ I said, slamming the door. But... bang and bump, the door wouldn’t shut.

Again, I pushed the door open. On the doorstep, between door and door frame, the unknown person had shoved a wedge of wood. I began to heave and haw at such temerity.

“Now look here, Sir,” I hissed, “If you don’t…”

“No, no, no,” the individual hurriedly interrupted, holding on fast to his no. “ I just… I just..”

There was a grubby black dog with him, a dripping drooping little mutt. I took such pity on both of them that I kicked at the piece of wood and swung the door shut.

Knock-knock. Knock-knock.

Gombo, my dog, sprawled at some distance from the doorway, growled indignantly. I linked the security chain and opened the door, just a crack. The soaking wet snout of the little mutt directly poked in.

“Pardon me, Sir,” said the older of the two creatures, “I just wanted to ask. You might know. Where can I buy around here Pall Mall, either long or short, dry in the middle, cut at the ends, with or without a filter?”

Gombo and the little mutt were touching nose to nose. They seemed to like each other. I gave a heavy sigh of resignation, closed the door, unhooked the security-chain and pulled the door wide open.


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