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H. N. BIALIK AND THE QUEST FOR ETHICAL IDENTITY· Dan Miron Columbia University I It is a common assumption that art in general and poetry in particular deepen and strengthen the collective identity of the community that they address. This presumably is one of the services--often the main one-they render the community. Poetry does this, we believe, by reactivizing the community's linguistic resources; by infusing its cultural traditions with the vitality of actual experience; by projecting the community's fears and hopes in vivid images and living symbols; by re-inventing its myths or collective ethical narratives. If this holds true for poetry in general, it is so much more so for poetry which addresses itself to a community whose sense of collective identity has been diminished or badly damaged. Communities which, due to ethnic, religious, social, cultural, or gen-der-detennined factors have been politically and culturally marginalized, often exhibit fractured identities. Here, as Deleuze and Guattari argued in their KafkaTowards a Minor Literature and David Lloyd in his Nationalism and Minor Literature, writers face a choice: embracing and deepening the group's sense of cultural and linguistic marginality, thus achieving both expressive intensity and a politico-cultural independence vis avis the major, "colonizing," culture, or internalizing the nonns of the major culture, but "realizing" them by activating the group's own cultural resources, thus developing through them "an autonomous ethical identity for the subject."I The choice, actually. is between a rejection of the major culture's concept of universal humanity (because. presumably. it "universalizes" only that culture's own identity for the purposes of cultural domination) or an acceptance of that concept with the intention of making it one's "own" through a synthesis between it and some of the group's own traditional norms. The • The term "ethical identity" indicates here a sense of separateness or distinctiveness supported by an ethos. Ifidentity per se subsists ofdifferentiating qualities or traits which set an individual or a coUective apart, "ethical identity" emerges when these traits are regarded as justifiable, valuable, and worthy ofpreservation and cultivation, even ofactive defense against possible erasure ordilution. 1G. Deleuze and F. Guattari, Kafko-Toward a Minor Literature (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1986), pp. 16-24; D. Lloyd, Nationalism and Minor Literature (Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 1987), pp. 1-26; the quotation is taken from Uoyd's book. p.19. Hebrew Studies 41 (2000) 190 Miron: H. N. Bialik Hebrew philosopher Ahad Ha'am (Asher Ginzberg) analyzed the second option in his essay "Imitation and Assimilation" in which he contended that Jewish creativity always-or at least since Jewish culture and literature had outgrown their biblical beginnings-opted for "imitation," that is, for absorbing foreign cultural norms but internalizing them through a synthesis with traditional Jewish ones.2 While contemporary theorists, concerned mainly with the postmodem condition and with cultural anti-colonialism, tend to dwell mainly on minor literature in its "radical" form, it seems that the less radical one, that is, that of literature that strives to synthesize a "universal" norm with particularist traditions, was the literature that historically helped most marginal groups attain a sense of independence and even "equality" vis avis a political-cultural majority. This certainly was the choice made by the so-called modem national Jewish literatures written mainly in Hebrew and Yiddish since the later part of the eighteenth century. These were undoubtedly "minority literatures" although they do not fit the unnecessarily narrow defmition of the term by Deleuze and Guattari. Since the two French theoreticians defmed "minor literature" in the current non-evaluative sense of the term through an examination of the works of Franz Kafka-a Jew writing in German in a non-Jewish but also non-German environmentthey defmed it as a literature which did not "come from a minor language," but rather one which "a minority constructs within a major language.''3 It can and has been argued that this definition leaves out literatures which clearly bear the mark of minority in a sense quite close to that of Deleuze and Guattari; and that minority in this sense is determined not by language, but...


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