The Person, the Path, and the Melody: A Brief History of Identity in Israeli Literature

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This article uses the image of life as path to trace the changes in Israeli identity since the founding of the State. The poetry of Natan Alterman, to begin with, foregrounds the figure of the passerby, whose forward motion is an endless encounter between "the self" and "the world." He collects the vivid scenes that confront him, briefly receives the love offered him, and then moves on. In Alterman's later poetry, the figure of the passerby changes into the figure of the livingdead, the youthful warrior sacrificed on the national altar, who continues to wander through the nation's consciousness. During the Statehood period, especially in the stories of Amos Oz and A. B. Yehoshua from the 1960s, this dynamic embrace of the world is arrested by a perceived cleavage between the individual and the collective. The world now seems capricious or malevolent, and acts of individualistic resistance are often harshly punished. Parallel to the work of these writers is a parallel but yet less noticed trend represented by the fiction of Pinhas Sadeh and Yitshak Orpaz, at the center of which are the figure of Jesus' Passion and the notion of the secular pilgrimage. In recent Israeli literature, the idea of the journey has returned with the added features of the nomad and the accidental tourist.
Original languageEnglish GB
Pages (from-to)318-339
JournalProoftexts - Journal of Jewish Literature History
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2000


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