Israeli Identity on the Run: the Quest for a Non-National Position in Contemporary Israeli Literature
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My essay discusses a new attempt in young Israeli novels to break out of the suffocation and stagnation of the dominant literary protagonist. The discussion revolves around Ilai Rowner’s recent novel, Deserter (2015), which suggests ‘desertion’ as an option of to overcome nationalized structures of the self and of break new ground for its existence. The protagonist’s escape and a quest for a non-national position are destined to failure, however, reflecting the current state of political consciousness among young Israeli authors, and, I argue, the unthinkability of political exile in contemporary Israeli novels. The discussion presented here follows the renewed interest in Hanna Arendt’s exemplary essay “We Refugees” (1943) in light of the current refugees’ crisis in Europe among scholars such as Giorgio Agamben, Amal Jamal and Itamar Mann. While Agamben develops a phenomenology of being-a-refugee, severing the bond between nation and territory, his work lacks an experiential account of being a refugee. In light of this absence, I argue that Rowner’s protagonist remains blind to the particular identities he encounters, actively erasing the profound differences between deserters and refugees, persecutors and persecuted. While he recognizes the haunted element in him, Rowners’ protagonist’s obliviousness to the specific experiential trappings of his own story effectively sterilizes the novel’s political acuity through the effort to adopt an all-human perspective.
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