Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A Poet Without A Country; Facing the Sea

I have been re-reading David Vogel's (1891-1944) novella Nokah YaHam, Facing the Sea.

In order to fully appreciate Vogel, Hebrew poet, the author of two novels, a novella, and a series of diaries in Hebrew, many poems, you must understand that except for one year of living in Palestine, Vogel never wrote in a Hebrew environment. He was the last of his kind: the Hebrew writer in Europe.

And the setting of his novella, Facing the Sea, is intimately European. Barth and Gina are a young couple taking a vacation in a steamy southern town. They are entinced by the sensualism around them. Barth succumbs with another woman and Gina with Cici, the Dionysian Italian lover of brute, short proportions and powerful passions. The plot line is modernist in the sense we find in D.H. Lawrence. The passions can save us, can be a new religion, but they can tear us apart with their power.

There is nothing particularly new here. The plot line and concerns fit with the 1920s. What is new is that the writing is in Hebrew; the characters speak and write in a Hebrew which for the author were not his native tongue. We can presume that everyone in Facing the Sea would be speaking French.

Vogel created a naturalistic and modernist Hebrew in a place and time where it did not exist. In that sense, he was the precursor of Israeli writers who would take Hebrew into uncharted territories. But for Vogel, Hebrew was, oddly, quintessentially European. It could express the shades and nuances of conflicting impulses in modern life in a Western setting.

Vogel anticipated Hebrew linguistic normality. When he was killed by the Nazis in 1944 he was little known. A later generation of Israeli writers and readers discovered him because his project was a precursor to their own.

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