The Full Severity of Compassion

9780804782951: Hardback
Release Date: 9th December 2015

Dimensions: 152 x 229

Number of Pages: 416

Edition: 1st Edition

Series Stanford Studies in Jewish History and Culture

Stanford University Press

The Full Severity of Compassion

The Poetry of Yehuda Amichai

The Full Severity of Compassion is both a modular retrospective of Yehuda Amichai's poetric project and a reassessment–by attending closely to the theory embedded in the poetry–of major issues in contemporary literary studies, from the politics of form to radical allusion, and from metaphor to translation.
Hardback / £56.00

Yehuda Amichai (1924–2000) was the foremost Israeli poet of the twentieth century and an internationally influential literary figure whose poetry has been translated into some 40 languages. Hitherto, no comprehensive literary study of Amichai's poetry has appeared in English. This long-awaited book seeks to fill the gap.

Widely considered one of the greatest poets of our time and the most important Jewish poet since Paul Celan, Amichai is beloved by readers the world over. Beneath the carefully crafted and accessible surface of Amichai's poetry lies a profound, complex, and often revolutionary poetic vision that deliberately disrupts traditional literary boundaries and distinctions. Chana Kronfeld focuses on the stylistic implications of Amichai's poetic philosophy and on what she describes as his "acerbic critique of ideology." She rescues Amichai's poetry from complacent appropriations, showing in the process how his work obliges us to rethink major issues in literary studies, including metaphor, intertextuality, translation, and the politics of poetic form. In spotlighting his deeply egalitarian outlook, this book makes the experimental, iconoclastic Amichai newly compelling.

Contents and Abstracts
Introduction: "Be an Other's, Be an Other": A Personal Perspective
chapter abstract

A biography of Yehuda Amichai and the arc of his life in poetry is interwoven with a discussion of autobiography and its role in lending Amichai's avant-garde lyric a deceptively simple impression.

1Beyond Appropriation: Reclaiming the Revolutionary Amichai
chapter abstract

This chapter traces Amichai's reception and appropriation as a "national poet" of official celebrations in Israel and as a poet of simple religiosity in the Jewish American synagogue. Arguing that revolutionary poetry is too "dangerous" to be left alone to do its work, the chapter interrogates these misreadings not as mistakes that should be corrected but as informative expressions of hegemonic processes of canon formation. By contrast, the chapter illustrates the wrath with which early critics received his work, labeling it revolutionary and heretical – all this in an attempt to restore our ability to perceive these features in Amichai's poetry even today, despite its massive cooptation. The chapter also critiques the over-emphasis on thematics in literary studies, theorizing from Amichai's work a model for the politics of poetic form.

2"In the Narrow Between": Amichai's Poetic System
chapter abstract

Simplicity and accessibility are for Amichai serious ethical principles, guidelines for a poetic effect that are part of the fabric of everyday life, not just the mark of "a playful poet" writing "easy" verse who has "no worldview," as some scholars have argued, mistaking his egalitarian imperative for a lack of philosophical gravitas. Poetic philosophy is revealed in the process to be a feature of stylistics as of thematics. Chapter Two outlines the major principles that underlie Amichai's poetic philosophy, focusing on the state of "in-between-ness" as the privileged yet endangered site of the poetic subjects-cum-ordinary human beings. This sets the stage for an array of systematic correlations between liminality as the governing feature of Amichai's poetic worldview and many of his signature rhetorical practices discussed throughout the book, such as juxtaposition, intertextuality and metaphor, which map two domains together without ignoring their distinctness.

3"I Want to Mix Up the Bible": Intertextuality, Agency, and the Poetics of Radical Allusion
chapter abstract

Famous for his iconoclastic allusions to sacred texts, Amichai is able to subject these sources to irreverent rewritings without producing a hermetic poetry. His intertextual collage co-exists with lucidity and readerly accessibility. The chapter retheorizes intertextuality through Amichai's rhetorical practice to call into question contemporary Western theories in the field. Using Amichai's unique combination of Jewish and matrilineal notions of literary tradition and (inter)textual exegesis, the chapter engages critically with Harold Bloom's model of "the anxiety of influence," and its bourgeois-individualist, male-Oedipal struggle between "strong poets;" it also critiques the poststructuralist view of intertextuality as "an anonymous tissue of citations" through Amichai's insistence on a historically inflected human agent as central to any process of recycling a culture's texts. This agency, though censored and limited, offers a possibility of resisting interpellation by the act of changing the words of its subjugating command, in Judith Butler's terms.

4Celebrating Mediation: The Poet as Translator
chapter abstract

Amichai sees the work of translation as a model for the poet's own in-between-ness, as well as for the translator/poet's inescapable secondariness. That the poet, like the translator, plays an immanently mediational position is a source of comfort rather than anxiety. This view of the poet's role sheds new light on contemporary theories of translation as cultural negotiation and their focus on asymmetrical power relations between source and target language. Amichai's poems about translation are read as celebrating the imperfect "recycling of words," describing translation as the epitome of all intertextuality, and ultimately of the creative process itself. Through Amichai's ecology of language, the chapter interrogates the ideological blind spots behind the numerous mistranslations that Amichai has been subjected to, not in order to advocate some correct rendition, but rather to suggest the ways in which they express what Gayatri Spivak has termed "the politics of translation."

5Living on the Hyphen: The Necessary Metaphor
chapter abstract

Metaphor embodies Amichai's principle of "in-between-ness" and has a significance within his poetic system that far exceeds the rhetorical. Chapter Five focuses on metaphor as the central marker of liminality, the hyphen of survival and resistance: it must never erase that hyphen, the marker of the disparate domains which it brings together (hence his preference for simile), even while it strives to make the gap between these domains productive of meaning. The ways Amichai's metaphors resist the erasure of difference critiques the vestiges of poststructuralist views, and offer an alternative model based on a historicized, context-sensitive reworking of prototype semantics. Amichai's images, while as novel and surprising as those of any 17th-century metaphysical poet, nevertheless strike us as completely "right," as visually and experientially familiar, because of their perceptually primary basis and the extensive and rigorous mapping they provide for the distant source and target domains.

6Double Agency: Amichai and the Problematics of Generational Literary Historiography
chapter abstract

Amichai extols the poet's freedom to oscillate between generational trends and poetic styles, while cherishing his outsider role and calling into question the underlying assumptions behind the generational model itself. His self-description as an inter-generational "double-agent" has presented a real problem for normative Hebrew literary historiography, with its teleological, unidirectional notions of a literary lineage, and has occasioned an impassioned debate. This literally subversive statement also articulates Amichai's post-Marxist critique of teleological historicism, his aversion to chronological order; and his preference for a simultaneous representation of personal and collective temporalities either as a fragmentary "archeology of the self" or as a fault-line geology. The chapter explores Amichai's resistance to the normative historiographic narrative of Hebrew literature, as well his refusal to reject his literary predecessors, a rejection prescribed in the manifestos of the self-proclaimed leader of the Statehood Generation, Natan Zach.

Chana Kronfeld is Professor of Hebrew and Comparative Literature at the University of California, Berkeley. She is the author of On the Margins of Modernism: Decentering Literary Dynamics (winner of the MLA Scaglione Prize for Best Book in Comparative Literary Studies) and the co-translator (with Chana Bloch) of Yehuda Amichai's Open Closed Open: Poems (winner of the PEN Translation Prize). Kronfeld is the recipient of the Akavyahu Lifetime Achievement Award for her studies of Hebrew and Yiddish poetry.

"In a series of crystalline readings, she restores to [Amichai]'s poetry its cultural dangerousness"—James Wood, The New Yorker

"I am not exaggerating when I say that this is a book a whole generation—on two continents—has been waiting for. It is the only study of its kind in English, and it resolves and transcends decades of controversy and misguided readings of Amichai's poetry in Israel and elsewhere."

Sidra DeKoven Ezrahi
Hebrew University of Jerusalem