Contemporary Israeli Prose in German: National Literature or World Literature?

This project examined German translations of contemporary Israeli prose written in the last two decades as well as their public and critical reception. It explored the links between translated works and their position within the Israeli literary canon and posed the question of whether their reception in Germany is similar or rather independent to that in Israel. Here, the issues of reception and canon-formation were interlinked with questions of nation building and the national imaginary: which attributes are ascribed (explicitly or implicitly) to the image of ‘Israeliness’ in these translations? And how, in turn, is the evoked image received in Germany?

This research followed the heated debate on ‘World Literature’ as a cultural phenomenon and as a discipline in the field of comparative literature. According to critics such as David Damrosch, world literature is that literature which transcends both its source language and nationality as well as its borders and boundaries and achieves ‘universal’ recognition. Due to the untranslatability of texts from various linguistic traditions, some scholars have either criticized or rejected this concept altogether whereas others based it on a critique of “linguistic imperialism” and global English or on the rejection of the “triumphalist discourse of globalization.”

Jewish literature—which could generally be defined as the entirety of literature written by Jewish authors regardless of their nationality—is a very good example for what Damrosch and others have described as “World Literature,” since it seemingly transcends the national and is widely translated into various languages. At the same time, the majority of contemporary Jewish literature is written in Israeli Hebrew, the national language of Israeli Jews. Hebrew literature, however, was conceived explicitly as a national literature and was even considered an essential component in the formation of the Israeli nation. Thus, the Israeli literature that stood at the center of this project happens to be a literature that continuously oscillates between the concepts of national literature and world literature, thereby revealing the tensions between these concepts.

Program funding through the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) 2019
Head researcher(s): Tom Kellner