ebook Polish and Hebrew Literature and National Identity -

Polish and Hebrew Literature and National Identity

During many meetings and conversations in the last ten years about our profession or even one could say passion – literature, we had the impression that there is much in common between our two literatures – Polish and Hebrew. We decided to put our intuition to the test and see how much truth there is to it, and we organized the conference “Polish and Hebrew Literature and National Identity”, which took place at the University of Warsaw in October 2009. We invited brilliant scholars from both sides, Poland and Israel, who picked up the gauntlet, offering their reflections and prompting discussion on the relations between nationhood and literature from different perspectives. This book compiles extended and revised versions of the papers presented at the conference. During the conference sessions, discussions, conversations, as well as the social events in the evenings, we came to the conclusion that there are some very important questions and problems which both literatures address and struggle with. The first, and perhaps most central issue is the construction of the concept of nationality; namely, the symbols, myths and images which create national identity. This question has several aspects: Polish, Jewish, Polish- Jewish, Israeli, with another important element being whether the author writes in his/her homeland or in the diaspora. Within these aspects we could recognize similarities between Polish and Hebrew literatures. Here we have to underline that, in our understanding, what defines a literature as Polish or Hebrew is the language of the work and not the national-religious identity of the writer. In the opening article, Anita Shapira illustrates Hebrew literature’s reciprocal relations with Zionism, a complex link with a dual perspective, both encouraging and doubting. In her wide-ranging study she shows that it was common for different literatures to shape their respective national 10 consciousnesses. Through their works, the likes of Pushkin, Mickiewicz, Byron, Smetana, Scott, Hugo and many others formed national identities and political consciousness. Secularization played a great role in this. Instead of the Scriptures, which had lost their hold among the intelligentsia, it was secular literature that created a national-cultural community in the language of the nascent nation. The power of literature was decisive because it is literature that impacts the imagination and emotions most effectively. However, Shapira shows that it was not only Hebrew literature which shaped the Zionist mind, as by and large the highbrow of Hebrew belles-letters consisted of elitist writers who created critical, challenging, pessimistic, and individualistic works, which were by definition intended for a relatively limited readership. Shapira claims that the canon that shaped the Zionist narrative included Hebrew and translated literature, highbrow and lowbrow alike. In that light she points to the influence Polish literature had on the Zionist narrative.