Grumberg, Karen. “Female Grotesque: Orly Castel-Bloom and the Israeli Woman’s Body.” Nashim 23 (2012): 145-168.
Despite the egalitarianism at the heart of its founding socialist ideals, Israel’s society has been shaped by a decidedly masculine discourse. Some women authors respond to this reality by trying to assert a place for women and their bodies through the representation of female characters who are strong and independent. Others, however, choose to disregard the contours of the discussion altogether, moving beyond them to create a radically new bodily discourse. This essay argues that Orly Castel-Bloom’s representation of women’s bodies, in light of the Bakhtinian conception of the grotesque, constitutes the creation of a new critical aesthetics of the body. The innovative corporeal idiom that emerges from Castel-Bloom’s oeuvre does not merely reject an existing ideal of the Jewish Israeli body but actually seems indifferent to it. Instead, it makes use of certain tropes that are relevant beyond the particular Israeli context to illuminate the encounter between the woman’s body and the world, among them abjection, excess, hunger and plasticity. The maternal also plays a role in the construction of this narrative of the body, not only by disrupting familiar Israeli father/son configurations, but also by illustrating the chilling consequences of the incompatibility of motherhood with the violent public realm. The aesthetics of the grotesque offers interpretive possibilities for acknowledging that the violence of contemporary society—in its demanding ideal of femininity, in its brutal interpersonal relations, and in its wars and other political traumas—is always written on the woman’s body.