Identity as Allegory in Samuel Rawet and Moacyr Scliar: An Essay on Twentieth-century Jewish Literature

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This essay has two mutually related goals. At a more theoretically oriented level of the general problematics of modern Jewish literary studies, it aims to foreground and reappraise several assumptions upon which the works of modern Jewish writers are usually approached, analyzed and interpreted. The essay begins with a brief discussion of the use of such concepts and interpretative categories as center and periphery, autonomous and hybridic, monolingual and multilingual, as well as a number of related dichotomies. It also addresses the two major models which are used for conceptualizing modern Jewish literatures: ‘the essentialist’ and ‘the contingent’ ones. In contrast to the above taxonomic categories, as well as the both opposed representative models, this essay suggests that modern Jewish literary works can better be understood and analyzed through the model of Jewish ‘regional poetics,’ as these poetics are structured by ‘cultural dominants.’ With an eye on these relatively general questions and problems, yet focusing on one of such cultural dominants – the allegorical mode of literary writing - the essay analyzes the figurations of identity in the works of Samuel Rawet and Moacyr Scliar. As the focus on the problem of Jewish identity has repeatedly been represented as the pivotal characteristic that defines Jewish literary works as a category, the problem of identity is significant at the theoretical level as well. The analysis carried out in this essay shows that both in Samuel Rawet and Moacyr Scliar the representation of Jewish identity undergo a gradual process of allegorization, which redefines the very problem of identity as a figure for a broad range of ontological, phenomenological, epistemological, ethical and social problems, questions and ambivalences. At the same time, whereas in Rawet allegoresis is dominated by the melancholic, in Scliar it is structured by multi-layered textual discrepancies, as well as the picaresque and the ironic modes of representation, The concluding section of the essay brings this discussion back to a broader literary perspective. It suggests that concordant processes of the allegorization of the problem of Jewish identity characterize other Jewish ‘regional poetics,’ beyond the limits of Brazilian Jewish literature; moreover, this seems to be one of the most significant, as well as literary efficient and suggestive, characteristics of twentieth-century Jewish literatures, in general.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages25
JournalCadernos de Língua e Literatura Hebraica
StatePublished - 2015


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