Dahlia Ravikovitch, Israeli poet and writer, peacenik, and public figure, was part of the “Generation of the State,” or that group of writers whose literature came into being in the years after the State of Israel was established. But, as Ilana Szobel points out in A Poetics of Trauma: The Work of Dahlia Ravikovitch, the writer was more often known for the devastating elements of her personal life – her father’s death when she was a young girl, her bouts with depression – rather than her oeuvre, which includes poetry, short stories, children’s literature, and translations.
Szobel’s book sets out to correct that error, and to add to the small but growing scholarship focused on Ravikovitch’s legacy. A Poetics of Trauma joins a 2011 English translation of Ravikovitch’s poetry, Hovering at a Low Altitude, translated by Chana Bloch and Chana Kronfeld, and a 2010 anthology of her work, Khitmei, published in Hebrew and edited by Hamutal Tsamir and Tamar Hess. Szobel reads Ravikovitch’s works through the lenses of trauma, gender, subjectivity, and nationalism. She argues that Ravikovitch’s literature can help us think about victimhood from a new perspective, as it challenges the notion that victims are inherently weak. Instead, as Szobel demonstrates through careful close readings, Ravikovitch’s works espouse the possibility of “active passivity, the potential of enacting change through poetry and testimony.” In one of the book’s most interesting chapters, “Unveiling Injustice,” Szobel reveals how Ravikovitch’s protest poetry calls for the possibility of establishing an Israeli national identity “based not on the exclusion of the Other but on a recognition of affinity with this other and its inclusion.”
Szobel weaves through her text ideas coined by theorists of feminism, trauma, and psychology, including Emmanual Levinas, Shoshana Felman, Luce Irigaray, Jacques Lacan, and Elizabeth Grosz. For that reason, I would recommend the book for an academic audience, although it also includes chunks of Ravikovitch’s poetry and even several pages of her original manuscripts, covered in scrawls and corrections. A Poetics of Trauma pays a thoughtful tribute to a passionate and unique literary voice whose works should not be forgotten.
Tahneer Oksman is assistant professor and director of the Writing Program at Marymount Manhattan College. She has published articles in a/b: Auto/Biography Studies, Studies in Comics, and Studies in American Jewish Literature, as well as the Forward, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and Cleaver Magazine, where she is the graphic narratives reviews editor.