New Book: Cohen, Literary Imagination in Israel-Palestine

Cohen, Hella Bloom. The Literary Imagination in Israel-Palestine. Orientalism, Poetry, and Biopolitics, Postcolonialism and Religions. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016.

literary imagination

This book presents a cutting-edge critical analysis of the trope of miscegenation and its biopolitical implications in contemporary Palestinian and Israeli literature, poetry, and discourse. The relationship between nationalism and demographics are examined through the narrative and poetic intrigue of intimacy between Arabs and Jews, drawing from a range of theoretical perspectives, including public sphere theory, orientalism, and critical race studies. Revisiting the controversial Brazilian writer Gilberto Freyre, who championed miscegenation in his revisionary history of Brazil, the book deploys a comparative investigation of Palestinian and Israeli writers’ preoccupation with the mixed romance. Author Hella Bloom Cohen offers new interpretations of works by Mahmoud Darwish, A.B. Yehoshua, Orly Castel-Bloom, Nathalie Handal, and Rula Jebreal, among others.

Table of Contents

  • Acknowledgments
  • 1. Introduction to Israeli-Palestinian Literature and Postcolonial Studies: An Uneasy Relationship
  • 2. Reading Freyre in the Holy Land
  • 3. “The Synthetic Principle”: Darwish’s “Rita”
  • 4. “Intimate Histories”: Internal Miscegenation in A. B. Yehoshua’s A Late Divorce
  • 5. “Mixed Syndicate”: Poetics of Fabric under Occupation
  • 6. Reading past Freyre: Disembodied Miscegenation
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index


HELLA BLOOM COHEN is an assistant professor of English at St. Catherine University, USA. She previously held a visiting assistant professorship at Elon University, and has published on material culture and global literature.




New Article: Ofengenden, Therapy and Satire in Contemporary Israeli Film and Literature

Ofengenden, Ari. “National Identity in Global Times: Therapy and Satire in Contemporary Israeli Film and Literature.” The Comparatist 39 (2015): 294-312.





To conclude let us step back and look at the effects of all of these transformation narratives together. These and other novels and films engage in a sustained reusing of the past and successfully transform the way people articulate their identity. They do this with an empathic retelling of the national story like Oz, with the German or Arab Israeli other as in the film Walk on Water and Arab Labor, or with a crazed narrator like Kaniuk’s and Castel-Bloom’s. Therapeutic interventions end with a working through of displacement and immigration, a heightened awareness of the effects of the Holocaust, and a new appreciation of the creative potential of Jewish identity and culture. Self-critical satire breaks open a monolithic national identity, exposing its constructed nature and calls for creative transformations. We can now ask why these two narratives are so central to the way literature and film re-imagine national identity in contemporary times. I think that the answer lies most prominently in globalization. International flows of culture, goods, and people help strengthen civil society in its critique and parody of state violence and state agents. Somewhat paradoxically, globalization also leads to a demand for specifically national narratives in the international market. In a recent talk, Salman Rushdie pointed out that contemporary writers are increasingly asked to mediate the story of a nation for an international audience. Indeed that is what his own Midnight’s Children did for India, what J. M. Coetzee’s Disgrace did for South Africa, Toni Morrison’s novels for the U.S., and Oz and Grossman for Israel. Thus we get narratives that are called to represent the nation on an international market but heal, critique, or poke fun at it at the same time. The system in which Hebrew literature finds itself has radically changed. Previously this system or field was constructed as a national field; now the field is constituted as semi-global. Some actors achieve international success while others remain domestic. Some mediate and explain the national story on the global stage while others parody the nation in order to change it.

Israeli national-cultural discourse is not a sole expression of some underlying economic forces that determine its content. However, its expression is a result of creative adaptation to economical and political pressures and opportunities that have become more and more global. Mainstream literature and culture has responded by articulating narratives that simultaneously reflect feelings of lack of political agency and an empathic apologetic self-representation for the global other. Minor literature in Israel saw an opportunity in the weakening of the state to articulate a critique in the form of parody that attempts to reconfigure national identity.




New Article: Olmert, Mothers of Soldiers in Israeli Literature

Olmert, Dana. “Mothers of Soldiers in Israeli Literature: The Return of the Politically Repressed.” Prooftexts 33.3 (2013): 333-64.





This article discusses the role of mothers of soldiers in Israeli literature of the past decennia. The canonical Israeli literature between the 1940s and the 1990s teems with figures of fighters and soldiers, alive and dead, combatants and noncombatants, but in only very rare cases does it actively feature mothers. In the great majority of these sporadic cases, these are, moreover, bereaved mothers. Though ostensibly bereavement would appear to underscore the conflict between loyalty to the national ethos and to the family, most of the mothers who appear in this literature do not bear this out and tend, unquestioningly, to fall in with the dominant national ideology. The canonical Israeli literature, that is, fails to exploit its potential fictional freedom to propose alternative narratives to those provided by the ideologically engaged national culture. From the early 1990s, however, the role of the soldier’s mother in Israeli literature starts to change. Inspired by the active part taken by Israeli women in the public struggle against the first Lebanon war and against Israel’s military occupation of Palestinian territories, a new character enters the literary stage: the mother who refuses to accept the conventional gender roles and questions the validity, good faith, and moral superiority of the national ideological discourse. In these works—by Orly Castel Bloom, Yehudit Hendel, David Grossman, Sammy Bardugo and others—motherhood takes a more central role and is treated with more complexity and ambivalence.

The first part of this article is dedicated to a description of the national norm of motherhood and the way it evolved, from a psychoanalytical and historical perspective and in relation to other cultural models of soldiers’ mothers. The second part offers a critical description of the sphere of action set aside for mothers of soldiers in post-independence Israeli literature. Here the question arises what mothers of soldiers in Israeli literature between the 1940s and 1990s “were allowed” to think, feel, and do, and what they were “forbidden” to think, feel, and do.

The final part offers a reading of Orly Castel Bloom’s novel Dolly City. Here the argument is that Dolly constitutes the most critical mother of the national ethos this literature hitherto evolved. The focus of this discussion is on the interrelations between Dolly and the sphere in which she acts, Dolly City—relations that on the face of it are marked by continuity and containment. The argument of this article is that Dolly’s inclusion in the Dolly City—an inclusion reflected in the name of the city—is a parodic and challenging gesture aimed toward a continuity typical of the relations in Israel’s national domain between the mothers of soldiers—or of soldiers-to-be—and the state. The interpretive move that concludes the article suggests reading Dolly City’s drama of motherhood in light of the elusive and deceptive mechanism of continuity between mothers and the nation.

Cite: Peleg, Language and Territory in Modern Hebrew Literature

Peleg, Yaron. “Writing the Land: Language and Territory in Modern Hebrew Literature.” Journal of Modern Jewish Studies 12.2 (2013): 297-312.





This essay examines one of the greatest ambitions of the Hebrew cultural revival––the creation of a modern and distinct Hebrew national culture by rewinding history and reconnecting the indeterminate Jewish subject to a determinate Hebrew soil. The essay looks at three writers from three distinct periods in the last century, S. Yizhar, Amos Oz and Orly Castel-Bloom, whose works are deeply concerned with this connection between man and land, and who demonstrate that concern through a particular use of language. The essay shows how each of these writers uses the Hebrew language to comment on these relations in the last 50 or so years and tell us something about the state of Israeli Hebrew culture in the so-called post-national age. The article looks at Yizhar’s careful creation of a language-land bond, at the way Amos Oz warns against the excesses of these bonds, and at Orly Castel-Bloom’s critical attempt to undermine these bonds half a century after they have been created.

Cite: Grumberg, Female Grotesque: Orly Castel-Bloom and the Israeli Woman’s Body

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.

Dissertation: Levinson, The End of the Founding Zionist Dream

Levinson, Rose L. The End of the Founding Zionist Dream: Reflections in Contemporary Israeli Fiction. Cincinnati: Union Institute and University, 2009.



This dissertation explores dilemmas of contemporary Israeli culture through the work of four Israeli novelists: Yoram Kaniuk, Orley Castel-Bloom, Michal Govrin and Zeruya Shalev. The focus is on how these artists provide insight into vexing political, communal and individual situations in Israeli society. Using literature as cultural artifacts through which Israeli life is revealed, the research focuses on key aspects in which modern-day Israel is radically different from the state envisioned by its founding pioneers just over sixty years ago. The eight novels of the study–two by each author–are the basis for considering such issues as the role of religion and biblical text in contemporary Israeli life, particularly as they impact women; the nature of Israeli domestic life as it reflects larger issues of social unrest; the ongoing influence of the Holocaust in determining political and personal responses to perceived danger; and the use of satire as a means of examining dysfunction in Israeli institutions. The fictive worlds of the novels reveal a society deeply fragmented, one in which once familiar structures are breaking apart under the stresses and confusion of newly emerging challenges.

Autoethnography is included in the methodology. The inclusion of an autobiographical element draws attention to the impact Israeli issues have on a non-Israeli Jew for whom this country remains a strong embodiment of core aspects of Jewish identity. This Cultural Study of Jewish Israel links questions of Israeli Jewish identity to issues of Jewish identity in general. The autobiographical elements are used as a bridge between the novelists’ insights and the preoccupations of individuals seeking to grapple with perplexities around identity by studying Israeli cultural maladies through its storytellers.