Differently than existing accounts that concentrate on Israeli and Palestinian nationalism, Kfir Cohen Lustig
's Makers of Worlds, Readers of Signs: Israeli and Palestinian Literature of the Global Contemporary
(Verso, 2019) suggests a new theoretical and historical approach to Israeli and Palestinian literature as well as to the contemporary system of world literature by accounting for the consequences of neoliberal globalization to literary form and its political import. The book proposes that until the neoliberal moment the difference in the socio-poetic form between Western Europe and Israel and Palestine lay in the concepts of autonomy and temporality: if in Western European societies autonomy is defined as an a-priori, ready-made property of the self-legislating subject, in Israel and Palestine, between the 1940s and the 1990s, autonomy was a collective product to be made in time. Autonomy here was the result of a social struggle with nature and with the “enemy” that subordinated the private to the public, the particular to the universal, body to spirit, making impossible the emergence of a liberal subject and its attendant category of aesthetic autonomy a la Kant. In this historical condition, Israeli and Palestinian literature developed a gamut of literary responses and political positions that competed over the imagination of social and aesthetic autonomy.
In the global neoliberal period when privatization processes in Israel and Palestine rearticulate the public and private spheres and make possible both liberal and aesthetic autonomy, social life and literature begin to revolve around the experience of self-legislating subjects for whom the world is no longer an object to be made but a text to be read. Now, private life, taking after the “particular” in Kant’s reflective judgment, seems independent from its social determining law and turns into an autonomous appearance or text akin to Adorno’s Schein and Derrida’s textuality respectively. Once the structure of aesthetic appearance/text characterizes the social itself and infiltrates the very raw materials of the literary artwork, Israeli and Palestinian literature engage in narratives of national and global mapping that attempt, consciously or unconsciously, to decipher and retrieve the political conditions of local life which exceed the nation state and question the coherence of private life. With this new aesthetic and social form, Israeli and Palestinian literature begin to resemble contemporary Western European and American literature, a change unaccounted for in contemporary theories of world literature and requires a new concept of global literature with which the book closes.
Yaacov Yadgar is the Stanley Lewis Professor of Israel Studies at the University of Oxford. His most recent book is Sovereign Jews: Israel, Zionism and Judaism (SUNY Press, 2017). You can read more of Yadgar’s work here.