Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Confessional Texts and Contexts: Studies in Israeli Literary Autobiography
by Pressman, Hannah Simone, Ph.D., New York University, 2013, 475; 3557024
Abstract (Summary)

In Jewish Studies in general and Jewish literary studies in particular, the autobiography has taken on renewed significance in the twenty-first century. A recent wave of Hebrew autobiographical writing has reinvigorated long-standing debates about the connections between family drama and national history in the modern state of Israel. This dissertation examines the discourse of selfhood generated by a select group of authors from the 1950s-1990s, the decades immediately preceding the genre's current boom. The "confessional mode of Israeli literary autobiography," as I designate this discourse, exposes the religious underside of early Israeli life writing.

The proposed genealogy uncovers a heretofore unacknowledged stream of autobiographical writing positioned at the nexus of public and private expression. Starting with Pinhas Sadeh's Hahayim kemashal (1958), I deconstruct the author's sacred-profane terminology and his embrace of sacrificial tropes. I then explore David Shahar's Kayitz bederekh hanevi'im (1969) and Hamasa le'ur kasdim (1971), two works engaging with the Lurianic kabbalistic mythology of fracture and restoration ( tikkun). The next turn in my discussion, Hanokh Bartov's Shel mi atah yeled (1970), focuses on the development of individual memory and artistic identity. Haim Be'er's confessional oeuvre anchors the final two chapters, which reveal the therapeutic and theological motivations behind Notsot (1979) and Havalim (1998).

My interdisciplinary engagement offers fresh readings of these autobiographical performances. The narratives by Sadeh, Shahar, Bartov, and Be'er deploy memories as a conscious, aesthetic act of self-construction. Riffing on the portrait of the artist as a young man, each author reveals the intimate connections among memory, trauma, and artistic creation. Concurrently, they mediate their religious identities in the new Jewish state, Oedipally rejecting the father's faith. The combination of literary self-reflexivity with spiritual self-accounting (heshbon nefesh) links these Israeli writers with the classic confessional "double address," which engages both God and the human reader. My analysis thus contributes a new consideration of the relationship between author and audience in modern Hebrew culture.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Feldman, Yael S.
Commitee: Cohen, Zafrira, Engel, David, Hoffman, Anne G., Sieburth, Richard
School: New York University
Department: Hebrew and Judaic Studies
School Location: United States -- New York
Source: DAI-A 74/07(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Comparative literature, Middle Eastern literature, Judaic studies
Keywords: Autobiography, Bartov, Hanokh, Be'er, Haim, Confession, Hebrew literature, Israel, Israeli culture, Sadeh, Pinhas, Self-writing, Shahar, David
Publication Number: 3557024
ISBN: 978-1-267-99602-2
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