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Seminal Israeli poet’s work celebrated in new book

By Jess Linde

Section: Arts

March 21, 2013

Recently, Professor Ilana Szobel (NEJS) published her third book on Israeli poet Dahlia Ravikovitch, “A Poetics in Trauma: The Work of Dahlia Ravikovitch.” Last Tuesday, a group of students, faculty and other guests gathered in the Mandel Center to mark the release. After an introduction by Schusterman Director Ilan Troen, Szobel read from her book and discussed the life and importance of Dahlia Ravikovitch. “A Poetics in Trauma” outlines and analyzes the poetry, stories and nonfiction of Ravikovitch, an Israel prize laureate and peace activist whose works raise cutting questions about gender, national identity and victimhood. Ravikovitch, who died in 2005, was a celebrity in Israel in the seventies and eighties, but was also intensely private. She did not believe that her personal life should define her work, something that Szobel kept close to heart while writing “A Poetics of Trauma.”

“Ravikovitch did not believe her biography deserved attention, and I have purposely kept her biography separate from her writing, which I believe Ravikovitch would have wanted,” Szobel told the audience. An important aspect of this was Ravikovitch’s gender. When her books were reviewed in Israeli newspapers, Ravikovitch was always referred to as “Dahlia,” and her childhood was referred to as an “explanation” for the dark nature of her writing, unlike male authors of the time who were always referred to by last name and whose personal lives were rarely mentioned.

Szobel then began a general analysis of Ravikovitch’s work, discussing how Ravikovitch had a miserable childhood and was victimized by the then-infantile foster care system in Israel. This influenced her work massively, giving her what Szobel believes to be a unique ability to identify and understand the suffering of others. But the most interesting thing about Ravikovitch’s exploration of victimhood, according to Szobel, was that while she suffered from depression and trauma throughout her lifetime, Ravikovitch made the fact that she was an outcast something she could use to distinguish herself. When asked a question by an audience member who could not find a connection between Ravikovitch’s work and Israeli national identity, Szobel explained that national identity was a concept about which Ravikovitch herself asked many questions. Ravikovitch herself did not understand where she, a victim of a parentless childhood and the terrible Israeli foster-care system, fit into the ideal of the Jewish state.

After Szobel finished her talk, there was an open forum in which many asked questions about Ravikovitch, her life and work, and Szobel’s book. Szobel addressed how she had identified with Ravikovitch’s dark poetry when she was growing up in Israel, and how she is fascinated with how Ravikovitch, a consistently dark and counter-culture writer, fit in as a celebrity in Israeli society. Ravikovitch seemed to be a talented and unique but troubled poetic voice, one who lived to defy the norm, a person whose work was hard to define using traditional taxonomies. Szobel “only hopes that [the] book will allow more people to discover and explore the work of Ravikovitch, and to enjoy and connect to Ravikovitch’s work as I did.”

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