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MICHAL PELED GINSBURG and MOSHE RON Flirting with the Uncanny: The Poetics of David Shahar AT THE TIME OF HIS DEATH, April 2, 1997, David Shahar had not become a household name. He died in France, and his body was transported back home to Jerusalem, where a brief ceremony was held before the funeral procession to the Mount of Olives. A few dozen people gathered in the little plaza outside Beit hasofer in downtown Jerusalem around a slightly raised stone platform on which the body was laid. Midday traffic was heavy, as usual, in the adjacent streets of this busy commercial district. Some speeches were given. While Avner Treinin, professor of physical chemistry at Hebrew University and a poet, spoke of Shahar's passionate interest in the phenomenon of vision and his intense ambivalence about the mind-body duality, hundreds of highschool students began streaming out of the nearby Beit hacam auditorium , where they probably had attended an educational program. Some lingered a moment on the crowded sidewalk to stare, by no means disrespectful, obviously nonplussed. Who was this guy? A writer, ah, yes. A Jerusalem writer. Is this odd event a proper emblem of the saying Ein navi be'irò, so often applied to David Shahar? It is a fact that Shahar is not the best known among Israeli novelists, certainly not the most widely read. On the other hand, the notion that he has been totally or willfully ignored is not quite accurate, either. He himself was not averse to cultivating the mystique of the prophet unrecognized in his hometown. The Israeli press, too, seemed to concur that the various honors accorded to him at home (Agnon Prize, 1973; Prime Minister's Grant, 1969, 1978, 1991; Bialik Prize, PROOFTEXTS 19 (1999): 151-177 0 1999 by The Johns Hopkins Univeisity Press 152MICHAL PELED GINSBURG and MOSHE RON 1984; Bar-Ilan University Newman Award, 1986/87) all pale compared with the prestigious Prix Médicis (for the best foreign work of fiction) he won in France in 1981.1 Still, he did obtain those marks of recognition in his homeland, and his books have always been widely reviewed and have won him some faithful admirers. We have neither the space nor the inclination to embark here on a full account of the reception of Shahar's work in terms of cultural history and sociology. Since his major work took twenty-five years to produce (1969-94), it is perhaps too early to know what its ultimate evaluation (if such a thing is thinkable) may yet turn out to be. Born in 1926, and having begun publishing short stories in the early fifties, Shahar, in retrospect, roughly fits into the elder group of what came to be called dor hamedinah (statehood generation), or hagal hehadash ("the new wave," Gershon Shaked's preferred term).2 Compared with the previous mode, that of the 1948 generation (dor tashah or dor ba'arets), the new Israeli literature of the sixties was more pluralistic and tended to focus on figures who until then had been marginalized or excluded from literary representation. This rehabilitation of individual experience (and to some extent, desire) from the strictures of collective commitment has often been traced to what may be termed an "inward turn," a move generally perceived to have been led by Nathan Zach in the domain of lyric poetry. In a general way, then, Shahar's work may be seen as one of those "many windows" and "side entrances"—to use Shaked's terms—that opened up in the new house of Israeli fiction. His name would then find its place in a somewhat heterogeneous list that may include Amalia Kahana-Carmon, Ya'akov Shabtai, Pinhas Sadeh, Yitshak Orpaz, Yehoshua Kenaz, Dan Tsalka, and others. In this group, one can also include Amos Oz and A. B. Yehoshua, often held to be the central figures, ifnot the undisputed leaders, of the "new wave" novel. They, like Shahar, started out writing short fiction, before moving, in the mid- to late sixties, to longer narrative forms. The kind of novel they produced was realistic in its basic representational procedures3 but fundamentally determined by a symbolic or allegorical design. On...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-3311
Print ISSN
0272-9601
Pages
pp. 151-177
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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