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Frankel Center Colloquium

Thursday, January 6, 2011
5:00 AM
Alumni Center, 200 Fletcher

presents Na’ama Rokem, University of Chicago

In April 1957, Yehuda Amichai went on a hike in northern Israel, an experience that the poet documented in a small notepad that is now kept with the rest of his estate at the Yale Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. The notepad supplies evidence not only of the excursion but also of Amichai’s exploration of and experimentation with his German-Hebrew bilingualism. In this talk, Na’ama Rokem analyzes this and other documents from what she calls “the bilingual archive” of the celebrated Hebrew poet, who was born and raised in Southern Germany. As she shows, Amichai’s German-Hebrew experiments raise the question of orientation – as a topographic, a linguistic, and an existential problem – a question that she uses to bring Amichai into dialogue with another great twentieth century Jewish author, Paul Celan. For Celan, orientation is a key poetological and ethical term. As the talk shows, in order to understand the common ground on which Celan and Amichai both seek to orient themselves and their poetry, it is necessary to consider both their engagement with a German literary tradition (Georg Büchner) and their shared German-Hebrew bilingualism.

Na’ama Rokem is Assistant Professor at the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago. She works on Modern Hebrew and German-Jewish literature. She is currently completing a book manuscript titled Monuments of Prose: Heinrich Heine and the Zionist Remaking of Literary Space, in which she argues that prose - as a figure of thought, a mode and a medium - played an instrumental role in the literary foundations of the Zionist revolution. In her new project - on German-Hebrew bilingualism - she is focusing on poetry, starting with the bilingual drafts of celebrated Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai. Her publications include “German-Hebrew Encounters in the Poetry and Correspondence of Paul Celan and Yehuda Amichai” (forthcoming in Prooftexts, Fall 2010); Heine's Monument and the Poetics of Space”(Journal of Modern Jewish Studies, 8.1, March 2009), and “Zionism Before the Law: The Politics of Representation in Herzl and Kafka”(Germanic Review, 83.4, Fall 2008, 321-342).