A Poet­ics of Trau­ma: The Work of Dahlia Ravikovitch

Ilana Szo­bel

  • Review
By – July 11, 2013

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.

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