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A Poetics of Trauma

The Work of Dahlia Ravikovitch

Ilana Szobel

Publication Year: 2013

Astute analysis of the work of a great Israeli poet through the lens of psychoanalysis, gender, nationalism, and trauma theory

Published by: Brandeis University Press

Title Page and Copyright

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Title Page

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pp. vii

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pp. ix-x

Writing a book is a personal process, which could not be possible without the support and the advice of so many dear people: family, friends, teachers, colleagues, and students. I would like to express my gratitude to the many people whom I had the good fortune of encountering throughout the years, and who helped me shape and reshape this book. I am so grateful to Yael Feldman for her guidance, wisdom, and support. I cannot say enough about her...

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Introduction: What Must Be Forgotten

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pp. xi-xx

Dahlia Ravikovitch (1936–2005) is one of the most widely admired and beloved writers among both readers and scholars of modern Hebrew literature, and one of the most influential figures in the Israeli canon. Between 1959 and 2005 she published eight books of poetry (which have been translated into twenty-three languages...

Part One | Forever Beholden: The State of Orphanhood

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1 | Poetics of Orphanhood

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pp. 3-20

When Dahlia Ravikovitch was six years old, her father was killed in a car accident — a traumatic event that would fundamentally orient her writing and play a central role in the way she established her poetic self. This incident and its repercussions, which scholars have described as “a fatal forcibleness” — a force that ties the speaker to her orphanhood1 — appear in various guises throughout Ravikovitch’s...

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2 | "She Has Damaged the Little Girl": Orphanhood and Motherhood

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pp. 21-29

“ Most of the mothers stopped taking care of their kids,” says the narrator of the story “Tirtza in the Snow” (Tirtzah basheleg, in Winnie Mandela’s, 178), a remark that distills the behavior of the orphan characters in Ravikovitch once they have become mothers. In stories by Ravikovitch told from the perspective of struggling...

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3 | "His Eldest Daughter": Women's Symbolic Orphanhood

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pp. 30-36

As a symbolic position, orphanhood can be seen as representing femininity in its social, cultural, and emotional formation. In Western society, which assigns power according to proximity to the father (to the totem, the law, the logos, the phallus), women are always both orphaned and excluded. In this chapter I explore the gendered aspect of the relationship between the symbolic order and deviant

Part Two | Estrangement: The Project of Female Subjectivity

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4 | Estrangement and the Collision of Perspective

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pp. 39-51

"I look at my reality and see that it differs from conventional reality,” Ravikovitch once said in conversation with the journalist Saar Dayan.1 This feeling of aberration that Ravikovitch recognizes in her life is central to both her poetry and prose, and to the manner in which her poetic persona perceives her own subjectivity. This chapter discusses Ravikovitch’s character’s sense of estrangement, which is one of the central elements in...

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5 | "Imaginary Geography": The Gap between "Here" and "Over There"

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pp. 52-60

Ravikovitch says of her first book, The Love of an Orange, that it “is written in eloquent language. I devoted myself to exalted situations.”3 These words articulate one of the fundamental qualities of her writing, namely, it’s acute awareness of the gap between the flawed nature of lived experience and the perfection that we...

Part Three | "She Tried to Escape and Lost Her Senses": Mania, Depression, and Madness

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6 | The Manic-Depressive Mode: Poetics of "Mobilité"

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pp. 63-76

Dorit, the protagonist of Ravikovitch’s story “The Natural Laws” (Chukey hateva) testifies about herself that “I’m tired of distinguishing between darkness and light, red and green. I don’t understand what is happening to me. I don’t understand the natural laws any more” (Come and Gone, 189). With these words she describes a fundamental sense of detachment, confusion, and estrangement. In the world...

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7 | "Therefore I Invented Conversation": Speech about Madness, and Mad Speech

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pp. 77-92

After Ehud, the protagonist of the story “I Am Joseph” (Ani yosef), learns that “for years it has been written in the school reports that you are hated by the rest of the students” (Winnie Mandela’s, 53), his school principle advises him to seek psychological treatment. In another story, “Winnie Mandela’s Football Team” (Kvutzat hakhaduregel...

Part Four | Unveiling Injustice: Testimony, Complicity, and National Identity

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8 | "Hovering at a Low Altitude": Witnessing and Complicity

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pp. 95-115

On June 6, 1982, the Israel Defense Forces (idf) invaded southern Lebanon. As part of an attempt to diminish the military implications of this war, the Israeli government, media, and public first referred to it as “Operation Peace for Galilee” (Mivtza shlom hagalil). It later became known in Israel as the Lebanon War, and since the 2006 Lebanon War it is commonly called the First Lebanon War. The First Lebanon War left a significant...

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9 | "Guilt-Ridden Poems": The Contamination of Language and the Departure from Innocence

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pp. 116-125

Presenting suffering from the position of the witness enables Ravikovitch to understand, interpret, and depict the existence of evil in its political and social contexts. This perspective exposes the social mechanisms and arrangements that cause avoidable misery and challenges the witness to depart from...

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10 | "Stinging and Itching/Maddeningly": The Palestinians as the Israeli Abjection

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pp. 126-130

Ravikovitch’s use of ambiguity and blurring of boundaries contributes to one of the most radical statements in her protest poetry. This statement, concerning the establishment of Israeli national identity, suggests the possibility of a national identity based not on the exclusion of the Other but on a recognition of affinity with this other and its inclusion. This alternative has the potential to challenge...

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Conclusion: "The Transparent Skin that Unites Us"

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pp. 131-140

Ravikovitch’s work creates a space for otherness, estrangement, and inferiority, and enables silenced voices to express their particular viewpoints and be heard. Characters that have often been marginalized in the Israeli literary and cultural milieu stand at the center of Ravikovitch’s writing. The room she makes for victimhood, as well as the way her characters and speakers fail to conform or accommodate...


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pp. 141-156


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pp. 157-168


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pp. 169-178

E-ISBN-13: 9781611683561
Print-ISBN-13: 9781611683547

Publication Year: 2013

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Ravikovitch, Dahlia, 1936-2005 -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • Psychic trauma in literature.
  • Alienation (Social psychology) in literature.
  • Identity (Psychology) in literature.
  • Nationalism in literature.
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