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  • Poetic Trespass: Writing between Hebrew and Arabic in Israel/Palestine by Lital Levy
  • Riki Traum
Lital Levy, Poetic Trespass: Writing between Hebrew and Arabic in Israel/Palestine Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014. 360 pp.

"Who will tell our story? We, who walk upon this night, driven out of place and myth. The myth that could not find a single one among us to testify that the crime had not taken place. If we are not we, then they are not they.

But particulars are particulars—the thief's pretext."

—Mahmoud Darwish1

Edward Said introduced the idea that postcolonial writers bear their past within them as "re-interpretable and re-deployable experiences in which the formerly silent native speaks and acts on territory taken back from the colonialist."2 His words resonate decades later, in the works of Israeli and Palestinian writers and poets. In many ways, Lital Levy's Poetic Trespass, which studies the inseparable paths of Hebrew and Arabic, starts exactly where the silent native Palestinian or Jewish writer locates the appropriate linguistic "territory" and speaks. Poetic Trespass profoundly identifies linguistic liminality within Jewish-Israeli and Palestinian-Israeli literature and its interrelation with Mizraḥi literature. It brings together historical moments in which the past is abruptly taken and consequently dies, and the future is yet to be born and is hence questionable. In this context, the nakba, for the Palestinians, and the immigration to Israel, for Jews, are two focal and vivid examples. For Levy, however, this liminal stage creates poetic possibilities that deserve special scholarly attention. Moreover, these experiences have become points of encounter where a literary text meets its other, and historical circumstances generate circles of linguistic identity, by their own merits and crucial impact.

The attention that Levy draws to this hyperawareness of language to its Other and to itself, as well as the different representations of this hyperawareness, unveils a crucial aspect in the contemporary Israeli politics of identity. In this context, the book presents Mizraḥi writers and poets who resist the politics of identity by rendering their linguistic identity as an open and heterogenic space.3 Levy then examines different linguistic strategies and practices emerge amid displacement of ethnocentric domain and recreate poetic visions and possibilities. No-man's-land, [End Page 331] a saturated term that becomes a theme in the book, becomes a palpable metaphor of the book's zone of study and exploration; "The cultural space of in-betweenness, encompassing contact zone and no-man's-land" (12). Although Levy anchors the term in its scholarly context, she clearly uses it as a zone and form of resistance and subversion.

Poetic Trespass studies the complex multi-layered dialogue between Hebrew and Arabic and the cultural functions and meanings of Arabic in Modern Hebrew literature. This no-man's-land can be seen as the "forsaken zone" between Hebrew and Arabic, where writers and poets wander between the two languages, but also create alternative standpoints and political stances. At the foundation of the book lies the presumption that the migration between Hebrew and Arabic opens new cultural-cum-political "redemptive" possibilities, beyond the narrowly national ones, "where writers transgress the boundaries of language and identity inscribed in sociopolitical codes of the state" (3).

This poetic insight is refreshing in itself and requires the clarification of the book's two conceptual axes. The first axis is the "hyperlanguage" that Levy coins and describes as "excessively performative, self-aware literary language" (12). Hyperlanguage is the exact dialogized state between Hebrew and Arabic which anchors the literary works discussed in Poetic Trespass in a wider socio-political concept. It is employed at different levels of visibility, but it illuminates the creative state of mind of its writer, who links "the political and the metaphysical." The second axis is the literature of no-man's-land, the subject of the book, and a literature that emerges in the bilingual interaction between the two languages. No-man's-land, in Hebrew, in Arabic, and in their relationship, evokes simultaneously political and mental intersections while translating the unclaimed and abstract political zone into a palpable and visible literary space, now inhabited by the...


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pp. 331-341
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