Nevelot (Eagles) is an Israeli miniseries about two elderly men who, in their youth, fought for a Jewish Zionist underground movement in Palestine, and who in the present-day, embark upon an all-out, killing spree across the city of Tel Aviv, targeting exclusively the young. Whilst it does not directly address television (TV) per se, key scenes and paratexts convey that Nevelot is by no means ‘regular TV’, and that watching it constitutes a viewing experience which differs altogether from ‘regular TV viewing’; a practice often associated with passivity, femininity and victimhood. Employing terms from Zionist, gender and cultural discursive fields, Nevelot offers a fascinating commentary on contemporary Israeli society and the TV content it produces.
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.
Wounded in body and spirit following his participation in Israel’s War of Independence, Yoram Kaniuk’s (1930–2013) protagonist of several key and stylistically sophisticated America-centered novels escapes to the New World. There, seeking a haven for recuperation and finding his identity, he exhibits some of the unheroic qualities that are a manifestation of his upbringing, of the mythological and unsavory sabra, or are the mirror of the fragmented social circle of acquaintances he makes in New York. Seeking an identity, he attempts to own the New World, doing so by attempts at conquest—of women, financial stability, or climbing the ladder of social hierarchy. In terms of women, he fails at exhibiting a lasting commitment with any. He fails at maintaining a successful career, while the “aristocracy” with which he affiliates turns out to be flawed and decaying. So while he meets some of New York’s rich and famous, he finds no model whom to emulate among them. None of these avenues bring any succor to him emotionally, spiritually, or physically from the trauma of the war memories that continue to haunt him and as he continues to search for a place to call home. Realizing the futility of it all, the protagonist escapes to other realms, mostly by returning to Israel in the expectation of finding a modus vivendi there with his memories and the reality of the new society.
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.