Central to the transformation of Israeli literature in the early 21st century is the emergence of new genres and forms of writing. In this essay, I try to relate these new literary developments to socio-econoic transformations.. I address the emergence of three genres: Israeli speculative fiction (in works by Ofir Touché-Gafla, Vered Tochterman, Gail Hareven, and others), detective fiction (in novels by Dror Mishani and Noa Yedlin), and diasporic novels—novels whose interpretive frame of reference tries to bypass the Zionist-Israeli world of meaning (in novels by Maya Arad and Ruby Namdar). I suggest that these genres emerge as a response to the crisis of older forms of literary representation, registered in Israeli postmodernism in the 1980s and 1990s. I argue that these older forms become unable to provide concrete figures for the social and a sense of historicity, the emerging genres begin fulfilling precisely these functions, taking the place of the older genres. In particular, I demonstrate how the three new genres unconsciously map the unevenly developed socioeconomic structure of Israel, developing spatial allegorical languages through which to consider the antagonism between older welfare-state social form and the newer neoliberal structures in Israel (contrasting both to utopian states of existence). I suggest that Israeli detective fiction is useful in capturing the commodification of older national political projects and the rise of new neoliberal social forms; that diasporic novels help develop new allegorical understanding of individual existence that bypass national allegories; and that Israeli SF both captures the antagonism between welfare state and neoliberalism, as well as unconsciously imagine non-capitalist futurity.
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From its emergence and early evolution in and through the writings of Immanuel Kant, Ludwig Feuerbach, and Karl Marx, critique established its parameters very early on as both porous and dynamic. Critique has always been, in this sense, mutable, directed, and both multidisciplinary and transdisciplinary, and this very fluidity and flexibility of its processes are possibly among the central reasons for its continuous relevance even when it has been dismantled, rebuffed, and attacked for embodying traits, from gender bias to Eurocentrism to neuro-normativity, that seem to indicate the very opposite of that flexibility. Indeed, once it is examined closely as an apparatus, the mechanism of critique will invariably reveal itself as having always contained the tools for its own opposition and even the tools for its own destruction. Critique has in this way always implied both its generality as a form and autocritique as an essential part of its process. For the past two centuries this general, self-reflective, and self-dismantling quality has led to its constant reinvention and re-adaptation by a wide range of thinkers and writers and across a broad range of disciplines. In the case of literature and literary theory, its role can often best be grasped as that of a meta-discourse in which the nature and purpose of literary criticism is shadowed, reflected upon, and performed. From this perspective, from the 18th-century origins of critique in its gestation in the fields of theology and literary criticism to its formalization by Kant, the literary expression of critique has always been bound up with debates over the function of literary texts, their history, their production, their consumption, and their critical evaluation. In the early 21st century, having evolved from its beginnings through and alongside various forms of anticritique in the 20th century, critique now finds itself in an age that favors some variant or other of postcritique. It remains to be seen whether this tendency, which suggests its obsolescence and superseding, marks the end of critique as some would wish or merely its latest metamorphosis and diversification in response to the multivalent pressures of digital acceleration and ecological crisis. Whatever path or paths contemporary judgment on this question may follow, critique as the name of a series of techniques and operations guided by a desire for certain ends is likely to remain one of the most consistent ways of surveying any particular field of intellectual endeavor and the relations between adjacent or even divergent fields in terms of their commonalities and differences. As Kant and Voltaire understood so well of their own age, modernity is characterized in the first instance by its will to criticism and then by the systematic criticism of the conditions for that criticism. By the same token now in late or post- or neo-modernity, if contemporary conversations about literature and its pleasures, challenges, study, and criticism require an overview, then some version of critique or its legacy will undoubtedly still come into play.
Disability studies is an interdisciplinary mode of inquiry that flourished beginning in the late 20th century. Disability studies challenges the singularity of dominant models of disability, particularly the medical model that would reduce disability to diagnosis, loss, or lack, and that would insist on cure as the only viable approach to apprehending disability. Disability studies pluralizes ways of thinking about disability, and bodily, mental, or behavioral atypicality in general; it simultaneously questions the ways in which able-bodiedness has been made to appear natural and universal. Disability studies is an analytic that attends to how disability and ability are represented in language and in a wide range of cultural texts, and it is particularly attuned to the ways in which power relations in a culture of normalization have generally subordinated disabled people, particularly in capitalist systems that demand productive and efficient laborers. Disability studies is actively intersectional, drawing on feminist theory, critical race theory, queer theory, and other analytics to consider how gender, race, sexuality, and disability are co-constitutive, always implicated in each other. Crip theory has emerged as a particular mode of doing disability studies that draws on the pride and defiance of crip culture, art, and activism, with crip itself marking both a reclamation of a term designed to wound or demean and as a marker of the fact that bodies and minds do not fit neatly within or beneath a historical able-bodied/disabled binary. “To crip,” as a critical process, entails recognizing how certain bodily and mental experiences have been made pathological, deviant, or perverse and how such experiences have subsequently been marginalized or invisibilized. Queer of color critique, which is arguably at the absolute center of the project of queer theory, shares a great deal with crip theory, as it consistently points outward to the relations of power that constitute and reconstitute the social. Queer of color critique focuses on processes of racialization and gendering that make certain groups perverse or pathological. Although the ways in which this queer of color project overlaps significantly with disability studies and crip theory have not always been acknowledged, vibrant modes of crip of color critique have emerged in the 21st century, making explicit the connections.
The Arabic literary tradition is a long one, stretching back to undocumented beginnings in the Arabian Peninsula in the pre-Islamic (pre-7th century) era. The study of that heritage in Western academe began as a subset of the philological traditions of biblical and ancient Near Eastern scholarship, with their primary focus on the preparation of textual editions, compendia, dictionaries, and translations into European languages. In the specific context of studies devoted to the Arabic literary tradition, the study of the Qurʾān set the stage for the emergence of similar philological approaches to the variety of literary generic categories created within the increasingly widespread Arabic-speaking Islamic communities. The shift from the more philological approach to that of a more theoretically founded discipline of Arabic literature studies is a gradual one. Terry Eagleton notes (Literary Theory, 1983) that the discipline of literature studies—involving the interpretation of literary materials and their theorization—traces its beginnings to the early decades of the 20th century. In the case of the Arabic literary tradition, the shift can be traced to the second half of the same century, and as the result of a number of factors. In the Arabic-speaking regions themselves (in President Jamāl ʿAbd al-Nāṣir [Gamal Abdel Nasser] of Egypt’s terms, “from the [Atlantic] Ocean to the [Persian / Arabian] Gulf), changes in regimes led to the emergence of new political and social configurations, duly reflected in literary production. In the anglophone Western academic context, a consideration of the consequences of World War II led the governments of both the United States and Britain to establish commissions that led to the fostering of new approaches to the study of the regions of West Asia and North Africa and to the provision of funding for the creation of new centers and programs devoted to the modern period (however that was to be defined). Among the consequences of these new emphases was the need to offer instruction in the modern Arabic language and its dialects, thus providing students with skills that enabled them to avail themselves of opportunities to study at institutions in the Arabic-speaking world and to engage with Arab littérateurs and critics. The results of these various trends in Arabic literature studies during the second half of the 20th century and into the 21st, including the development of increasingly close affiliations with comparative literature studies, have shown themselves in a number of ways. As new centers of literary activity have emerged in different parts of the Arabic-speaking region (with the Gulf States as a primary example) and as Arab littérateurs have explored fresh genres and modes of expression (including media of a wide variety often expressed in colloquial dialect), so has literature scholarship set itself to apply new theoretical and critical approaches to the rapidly expanding publication sector. With the theorization of the discipline has come the need for a greater focus on individual genres, regions, and critical approaches and a concomitant move away from attempts to subsume “Arabic literature” under a single rubric. Such studies are not only opening up new avenues of inquiry, but are also demanding a re-examination of some of the principles and parameters governing the composition of Arabic literary history, both modern and premodern.
In the works of Kant, Hegel, and Marx, a philosophy of history developed to consider how thought and culture are historically situated and to present human civilization as an organizing force that subdues nature toward a form of progressive improvement. This new sense of being situated in history subsequently shaped philosophies of “historicity” in the writings of Dilthey, Heidegger, Gadamer, and others. It also led to less desirable political investments in collective fate and destiny. Against these teleological and culturally reductive forms of historicity, poststructuralist articulations of multiple historicities conceive of historical engagement as a cyclic or stratigraphic configuration of unlimited potential. Theorists such as Derrida, Deleuze, and Baudrillard provide more open, associative, and playful approaches to historical frameworks. An understanding of historicity requires the articulation of related terms such as historiography (the writing of history) and historicism (the analysis of culture through historical context). Historicity as a sense of historical development as well as of future potential is an important theme for discussions of diverse topics, including identity, community, empire, globalization, and the Anthropocene. Literary engagements with historicity range from the rejection of history to the interrogation of historicism as a series of competing and contradictory narratives. Historicity is a vital concept used by literary theorists to critique authoritative accounts of history, as well as a self-reflexive mode for considering institutional and disciplinary biases. The following article surveys different forms of historicity in philosophical and theoretical traditions, analyzes institutions that influence official accounts of history, and posits literary and imaginative engagements with the past as an important mode of social and cultural critique.
Impersonator narratives exist at the intersection of literature and history; they serve as interventions during flash points in history. Impersonation takes a number of different forms, but in all cases it is contingent on reader reception. There are narrative impersonations in which reader and writer are willing collaborators and in which readers feel little to no discomfort with an author’s assumption of a voice far from his or her public identity; any novel written in first person is in a sense an impersonation. Yet even when author and reader agree that the work is fictional, this compact between fiction reader and writer can become disrupted when readers question the author’s right to assume a specific voice. There are literary hoaxes, which generally (although not always) involve a body of work whose author is supposedly dead (and thus it is impossible for any actual impersonation to take place). The most analytically productive for textual scholars, however, are the most committed impersonators—those who (at least part-time) inhabit the literary personae they have created. For this last group of impersonators, as is true for some of the others, success depends on having a readership with fixed ideas about the identities the impersonator chooses to inhabit. The impersonator succeeds through a deep understanding of stereotypes and, through his or her success, further imprisons his or her readers in caricatured thinking about race and identity. Yet the unmasking of the impersonator offers the possibility of liberation to readers, in that it forces them to consider the preconceptions that led them to believe in these false narratives, no matter how implausible. Impersonation can be a means for its practitioners to escape historical traps, or identities that no longer work for them; it can be a way for practitioners to put a historically understood label (Holocaust survivor, AIDS victim) on their private, uncategorizable pain or trauma. Impersonation is meaningless without the underlying belief in an authentic voice. And these authentic voices are usually from speakers outside the literary canon.
Tracy Devine Guzmán
Indigenous Studies as a topic of scholarly inquiry in modern-day Brazil comprise over five hundred years of colonial and national history, nearly three hundred distinct peoples with a collective populace of approximately 900,000, and some 270 languages or dialects, many of which approach extinction. Official estimates of indigenous populations have varied tremendously ever since officials began making such assessments during the late 19th century, in large part because a host of political and material interests have always informed and mediated the counting process. Who is indigenous, under what circumstances, with what conditions, and according to whom, are legal and philosophical queries—unresolved and likely unresolvable—that shape not only indigenous-centered scholarship and activism, but also, most importantly, the lived experiences of Native peoples across the country and the region. Political crises and catastrophic environmental disasters since the early 2000s have brought renewed international attention to the critical situation of indigenous Brazil. While non-indigenous peoples, beyond a doubt, also suffered tremendously from the impact of these events, the situation of Native Brazilians has been exceptional for two reasons: First, their miniscule numbers vis-à-vis the general population render them, their collective interests, and their political voices invisible or easily ignorable for the holders of power. Second, legal contradictions render their juridical condition vis-à-vis the Brazilian state unclear, resulting in a long-standing dynamic through which purported indigenous interests are represented not only by non-indigenous entities, but also by non-indigenous entities that are overtly hostile to collective indigenous interests. While distinct state mechanisms for “Indian protection” have been in place since the beginning of the 20th century, they have consistently lacked indigenous leadership or significant indigenous participation and have functioned, more often than not, to the detriment of the purportedly protected population. Indigenous peoples from radically distinct realities have responded to this dire situation in correspondingly distinct ways. Over the past two years, for example, Brazilians saw an indigenous woman (Sonia Guajajara) run for vice-president of their country, at the same time isolated Native communities in the Amazon fled from the National Indian Foundation’s highly controversial efforts to bring them into contact with dominant society for the very first time. In light of these radical differences, any effort to generalize the interests, needs, or lived experiences of Native peoples in Brazil is inherently flawed, resulting in overly simplified renderings of the past and a flattening of diverse Native subjectivities into idealized or demonized “Indianness.” Lauded or reviled, generic “Indians” and their Indianness are time-honored staples of Brazilian national identity and popular culture. To recognize the profound heterogeneity of indigenous Brazil is not to say that Native Brazilians do not share many of the same experiences, interests, and goals. Indeed, the very articulation of an “indigenous movement” requires a strategic suspension of, and extrapolation from diverse histories and present-day circumstances so that many voices, sometimes representing conflicting perspectives and priorities, can articulate their goals as a collectivity. Brazil’s so-called indigenous movement took root during the 1970s. With a focus on creating favorable (or at least, less prejudicial) national legislation, the first wave of that movement culminated in indigenous participation in crafting the 1988 post-dictatorship Constitution of Brazil, which represented, in theory, a profound change in the way the Brazilian state would engage with indigenous peoples. It is precisely the failure of dominant society to enforce those changes that has inspired the majority of subsequent work by indigenous intellectuals, scholars, writers, artists, and other activists. Acknowledging the profoundly antidemocratic political reality in which their voices are either muffled or ignored, indigenous peoples have not given up on politics. On the contrary, they have redoubled their political work by taking their struggles to diverse social organizations and expressing them through forms of cultural production that allow them to articulate their needs and interests to a broader audience, oftentimes with the support of social media. Demands for land rights and environmental protection measures often lie at the heart of these efforts, placing the well-being of indigenous peoples into direct conflict with multinational development interests (such as mining, agribusiness, and tourism) that operate with insufficient oversight, or even with the outright support of the Brazilian government. This dynamic has pushed indigenous peoples and organizations to seek national, regional, and global backing from Native and non-Native allies who mirror their critique of unchecked developmentalism and their concern for the shared ecological future of humanity.
Since the publication of Claude Shannon’s groundbreaking paper, “A Mathematical Theory of Communication,” in two parts in the Bell Laboratory journal in 1948, understanding and research concerning communication and information has received a technicized treatment. As biosemiotics has been at the forefront in arguing, all living organisms communicate, but they do not do so in the digital mode used in information technology (IT) engineering. Life communicates in inherited, evolutionary ways that are traceable from single cells all the way to complex humans. What IT engineers call “redundancy” those studying living organisms call “meaning.” The trade between individual organisms and their environment takes place in the circulation, interpretation, and feedback loops of semiosis. In this way, organisms are able to maintain the features of adaptive, creative, and evolutionary learning systems by modeling their worlds in open, receptive fashion via the use of iconic and indexical signs. In other words, organisms make use of natural, then cultural metaphors and metonyms.
Infrastructure is the artificial foundation on which any form of social life depends. When it works well, infrastructure fades into the background of social interactions as though a feature of the landscape, at once obvious and invisible, that runs on its own. Composed of the technologies and systems responsible for extracting and distributing resources, infrastructure provides human populations with the materials they need in order to make a living and reproduce their way of life. Although it often blends into the natural environment, infrastructure’s technological domination of space facilitates and directs flows of people, objects, and information within this space and, in this sense, completely displaces nature. It does so by choreographing the movement of human actors within the space it governs, limiting what these actors can see, hear, or feel, and often preventing them from sensing how that space controls their movement. So defined, infrastructure refers not only to the roads, conveyances, pipes, and fiber-optic cables that distribute goods, services, information, and pleasure to a population but also to the production of the very categories that identify those units of information as either people or things. As it limits what information a person gathers in the way of experience and how they organize it, infrastructure imposes those same limits on the lives people imagine for themselves as opposed to others. This means that infrastructural control extends well beyond an individual’s personal experience to manage the cultural abstractions and fictional narratives available to that individual not only for making sense of this world but also for imagining alternatives to it. Hence its importance for literary studies. Infrastructure has always shaped the way that literature is produced. In addition to the infrastructures that contribute to a literary work’s production—from the printing presses to the global supply chains that connect readers with books—literary form also provides texts with their own narrative infrastructure. Consider the novel’s dependence on specific formal conventions to unfold a world around a representative human character over time and through space, so that readers will recognize that narrative as a novel. Such a narrative must create an artificial space where characters interact according to the protocols governing any number of modern spaces. This artificial infrastructure space must exercise control over the unfolding of a plot that ensures its (even inverse) homology to the infrastructure that limits the historical time and space in which the novelist writes. Insofar as the Bildungsroman and domestic fiction both divided the 19th-century reader’s world into public and private spheres that could interact dialectically, its narrative infrastructure supported the interrelated routines of production and reproduction. Alternatively, a novel or other literary text will test the reigning infrastructure to expose the means by which it governs human behavior. One witnesses this in novels written during the early 21st century, many of which are intent on showing how a complex layer of technological infrastructure and extranational regulations work in tandem to turn certain locations into powerful zones for the production of capital.
The presence (or absence) of compositional precursors and leftovers raise for critics and editors methodological, epistemological, ethical, and aesthetic questions: What gets collected and preserved? What does not—for what reasons? How can these materials be interpreted? And to what ends? A draft may refer to written materials that never attain printed form as well as early manuscript compositions and fair copies, typescripts, digital text, scribbles, doodles, leftovers, or other marginalia and extraneous materials that may or may not find their way into archives. The manuscript draft came of age following the invention of printing, although unfinished or working drafts only began to be self-consciously collected with the emergence of the state archive in the late 18th century. The draft is, therefore, intimately connected to the archival, whether the archive is taken as a material site, a discursive structure, or a depository of feeling. Any interpretation of drafts must take into account the limits and limitations of matter including the bare fact of a draft’s material existence or its absence. In the 20th and 21st centuries, there have evolved a diverse network of theoretical approaches to interpreting drafts and compositional materials. Scholars of drafts may ask questions about authorship, materiality, production, technology and media, pedagogy, social norms and conventions, ownership and capital, preservation or destruction, even ethics and ontology. However, these investigations have been most pronounced within four fields: (a) media theory, histories of the book, and historical materialisms that investigate the substance, matter, and means of production of drafts as well as the technological, pedagogical, and social norms that mediate writing, and the cultural/historical specifics of these materials and media; (b) textual editing, which establishes methods that regularize (or complicate) how scholarly editions are produced and related mid-20th century New Bibliography approaches, which illuminated some of the limitations of manuscript-and-edition blind close reading, especially by the New Critics; (c) French genetic criticism in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, which engages with French post-structuralism and psychoanalysis to look at writing as a dynamic and developmental process that has both conscious and unconscious components; and (d) legal scholarship and debates concerning rights to ownership and possession of manuscripts and drafts and their publication, which developed between the 17th and 21st century. These discussions, and their elaboration within national and international legislation, resulted in the invention of copyright, moral rights, and changed understanding of legal rights to privacy and property as well as a division between material and intellectual property, the use and destruction of that property, and the delineation of rights of the dead or the dead’s descendants. The draft manuscript came to be endowed with multiple bodies, both fictive and actual, for which individuals, institutions, corporations, and even nations or the world at large, were granted partial ownership or responsibility. From the late 19th century, the catastrophic legacy of modern warfare and its technologies, including censorship, as well as movements in historical preservation, cultural heritage, and ethics have affected policies regarding ownership and the conservancy of drafts. The emergence of digital and on-line textual production/dissemination/preservation in the late 20th and 21st centuries have broadly transformed the ways that drafts may be attended to and even thought. Drafts must finally be seen to have a complex and intimate relationship to the authorial body and to embodiment, materiality, subjectivity, and writing more generally. Drafts—particularly unread, missing, or destroyed drafts—lie at the border between the dead object and living text. As such, the purposeful destruction of drafts and manuscripts initiates an ontological and ethical crisis that raises questions about the relationship between writing and being, process and product, body and thing.