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Routes of Displacement: The Representation of Exile between Germany, Turkey, Palestine, and Israel


This dissertation focuses on the figure of Jewish exile since the rise of Zionism. My research proposes a unique configuration of German, Turkish, Israeli, and Palestinian contexts, one that sheds new light on the challenge of representing minority subjectivity during moments of collective displacement. I argue that displacement is not only an experience, but also a structure of representation. My study begins by examining the representation of Jewish belonging at the turn of the century, when the German-Ottoman imperial alliance provided a potential framework for the immigration of European Jews to Palestine. The aesthetic possibilities that ultimately crystallize in Israeli and Palestinian literature, I assert, are inseparable from the imaginary of Jewish displacement in fin de si�cle Germany and Turkey.

Germany, Turkey, and Israel each occupy a space of intense critical focus in Comparative Literature. Beginning with Edward Said, scholars have called the discipline’s attention to a cohort of German-speaking Jewish academics who fled to Istanbul during the Nazi years. From this canonical moment in the emergence of Comparative Literature, Erich Auerbach’s composition of Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature, and his work on Weltliteratur (or “world literature”), have emerged as prominent models for the discipline’s self-conception. The achievements of German-Jewish intellectuals in Turkey would later reinforce notions of “exilic” critique as a practice of heroic opposition to nationalist chauvinism.

These assessments could be enriched, however, by situating the very possibility of Auerbach in Istanbul within the political programs and cultural imaginaries that immediately preceded, and in fact enabled, the German-Jewish scholars’ remarkable refuge in Istanbul. My project begins the story of German-Jewish literature and aesthetics a generation earlier. I propose a comparative framework that juxtaposes the Zionist leader Theodor Herzl’s five visits to fin de si�cle Constantinople with the German-Jewish scholars, such as Erich Auerbach, who found refuge from the Nazis in Turkey a generation later. I assert that the very production of Mimesis is a vital part of the story of the representation of European Jewish exile – perhaps inseparable from the story of Zionism in the early 20th century. Through close readings of Herzl’s wide- ranging corpus of literature, I conclude that this exilic position – one who identifies with and yet (must) live beyond the settled location of the native – was an irreducible feature of Herzl’s Zionism. Mimesis, as the re-presentation (making present, again, elsewhere) of European reality and subjectivity, becomes an essential analytical tool for understanding the relationship between Jewish belonging and exile.

My dissertation then turns to literary works written in the aftermath of the 1948 partition of Palestine and creation of Israel. I discuss the portrayal of Palestinian exile by two of the most canonical Hebrew authors from the period, the poet Nathan Alterman and the novelist S. Yizhar. My readings explore changes in the representation of exile at the moment when its simultaneous creation and negation comes to define two national communities. The dissertation’s final chapter presents an original, comparative analysis of poetry written by Dahlia Ravikovich and Mahmoud Darwish. Through recourse to what I term the visionary prophetic modes of Hebrew and Arabic literature, these authors re-open the literary significations of exile to pre-modern traditions of Jewish and Islamic exegesis, liturgy, and history. I assert that their poetics – attuned to the semiotic displacements between vision and text – unravel the political discourses of national belonging generated by the failed partition of Israel and Palestine. These alternative modalities of representation re-envision the nature of belonging in a post-colonial world. I contend that the study of Israeli and Palestinian literature cannot be extricated from broader inquiries into the representation of migration and flight across Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East.

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