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

This project examines German translations of contemporary Israeli prose written in the last two decades, and their public and critical reception. It attempts to explore whether the choice of works to be translated was linked to their position in the Israeli literary canon, and asks if their reception in Germany is similar to that in Israel, or rather independent of it. The issues of reception and canon-formation are, of course, interlinked with questions of nation-building and the national imaginary: which attributes are ascribed (explicitly or implicitly) to the image of "Israeliness" in these translated works, and the reception of this image in Germany.

These inquiries emanate from the heated debate over “World Literature” as a cultural phenomenon and as a discipline in the field of comparative literature. World literature, according to critics such as David Damrosch, is literature that goes beyond its source language and nationality, transcends borders and boundaries, and achieves “universal” recognition. Some scholars have criticized or rejected altogether this concept on the grounds of the untranslatability of texts from different linguistic models, while others base it on a critique of “linguistic imperialism” and global English, or on the rejection of the “triumphalist discourse of globalization.”

Jewish literature – which could be generally defined as all literature written by Jewish authors, regardless on their nationality – may serve as a very good example of what Damrosch and others have termed “World Literature”, as it supposedly transcends the national, and is widely translated into different languages. However, the majority of contemporary Jewish literature is written in Israeli Hebrew, which is the national language of Israeli Jews. Hebrew literature, on the other hand, was conceived explicitly as national literature, and was even considered as essential for the formation of the Israeli nation. Hence, the Israeli literature that is the focus of this project constantly oscillates between national literature and world literature, and reveals the tensions between these concepts.

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