restricted access Israeli Mythogynies: Women in Contemporary Hebrew Fiction (review)
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Reviewed by
Esther Fuchs. Israeli Mythogynies: Women in Contemporary Hebrew Fiction. Albany: State U of New York P, 1987. 151 pp. $34.50.

Fuchs's book analyzes the rejection or devaluation of women by the Israeli patriarchy on three interrelated levels. The first, upon which she concentrates, is the negative and limited images of women in the fiction by male Israeli authors. The second is the exclusion or marginalization of female Israeli writers. The third is the relative absence of and bias against feminist criticism of Hebrew literature.

In part Fuchs explains these three in terms of Simone de Beauvoir's theory of the Other. In the fiction by male Israeli authors, the male is taken as the norm, as embodying the general human condition, whereas the female is defined in opposition, usually through negative projections. Likewise, male Israeli critics who establish the literary canon see women authors as alien, as Other, and thus exclude them and their work. And finally male intellectuals, by refusing to accept gender as a category of literary analysis, repudiate feminist criticism.

Fuchs is well aware that seeing woman as Other is endemic in the Western tradition and is hardly an Israeli anomaly. She also explores specific Israeli social conditions and the status and history of Israeli literature that contribute to this particular case. Indeed, in her Preface she notes that this study of modern Hebrew literature convinced her of the need for a culture-specific perspective in feminist literary theory. One of the strengths of her book is the analysis of the unique social conditions in Israel and in literary traditions of Hebrew fiction. For example she points to the short history of modern Hebrew literary tradition and its limited audience (how many readers of Hebrew are there?) as causes of defensiveness, which in turn result in the rejection or devaluation of women writers. [End Page 750]

Fuchs relates the varying images of women to the changing literary traditions in Israel, which themselves reflect changing social conditions. The Palmah Generation that dominated the literary canon from the late 1940s to the late 1950s was associated with the Labor Movement's idealistic principles and the pioneering spirit. In the fiction written by the male Palmah Generation, the male hero is torn between the private and the collective (represented by the kibbutz or the army). Collective or public life is extolled, and the dangers of private life are represented by the female. The eclipse of the Palmah Generation paralleled the loss of the Labor Movement's ideological hegemony and the troubled transition in Israel to an industrialized, capitalist economy and a more urban, bureaucratic society. The Generation of Statehood writers who followed the Palmah Generation replaced the old private/public dichotomy with new divisions, such as spirit/matter or culture/nature, that still favored the masculine. The literature of the Generation of Statehood condemns society as corrupt and spiritually stagnant and portrays women as representing this sick society. Thus in both periods the female obstructs the male protagonist's quest for freedom and self-actualization, and in both periods the female characters consistently lack the qualities of consciousness and conscience, questing and growth.

Fuchs's overall argument is more convincing than some of her more focused analyses of individual authors' works. For example, in her analysis of Amos Oz's Elsewhere Perhaps she underestimates the fact that Noga, a crucial female character, is presented as self-divided, torn between conflicting desire and imperatives, and thus is decidedly human. And she seems much more willing to analyze the complexities and ambiguities of Amalia Kahana-Carmon's And Moon in the Valley of Ajalon than she is the work of male authors, which she occasionally handles reductively.

Still, her overall analysis is provocative and convincing. Her thesis that there is still no fictional depiction of a liberated Israeli woman, that collections of Israeli fiction are usually exclusively male despite excellent women writers like Kahana-Carmon, and that there is no feminist interpretive community in the field of Hebrew literature is well argued.

Bonnie Lyons
University of Texas at San Antonio
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