Growing Old: Post Utopian Personhood in Israeli Cultural Production
One of the main tropes of modern Hebrew literature—in contradistinction to ancient and medieval literatures—is “youth.” It seems almost natural that Hebrew authors, particularly of the Tehiya (19th century) and the 1948 Generations, endeavoring to mold new literary models of the Jew and the Sabra, would leave behind aging and old age as remnants of the old, exiled Jew. The worthy dead in their works die young, admirable martyrs of the emerging new nationalism in the Land of Israel. Hebrew literary criticism also had great difficulties looking beyond eternal youth, at that which bears within it the possibility of demise. Mendele Mocher Sforim is thus constituted as “grandfather” on behalf of his “grandchildren,” as a point of origin to which one cannot return; the proclamation of the “changing of the guards” allows one to continually place the “new” and the “young” at the forefront of the literary stage.
At the same time, over the years, and especially since the mid 1990s, Hebrew authors and filmmakers began paying increasing attention to aging, its disabilities and anxieties, but also the possibilities old age opens. Already Ahad Ha-Am in his essay “Past and Future” dealt with personal as well as national aging as a starting point for cultural constitution. In his key story “Death of an Old Man” Yehoshua takes this position to its logical conclusion and points at youth as the end of culture. More recently, David Grosman’s Grandpa Anshel in See under: Love, Yehoshua Kenaz’s The Way to the Cats, and Yoram Kaniuk’s “Dead Flesh” seem to have opened the floodgates for an ever growing number of works that explore aging and old age from divergent perspectives: over the past two years alone (2014-2015) numerous texts have appeared and gained much public notice, including Amnon Shamosh’s Good Morning Alzheimer, Sami Michael’s Diamond from the Wilderness, Haim Gouri’s Though I Wished for More of More, Tal Granit and Sharon Maymon’s The Farewell Party and Sylvain Biegeleisen’s Twilight of Life.
The workshop seeks to explore aging and old age in Jewish, and especially in contemporary Hebrew culture. We believe that the topic offers a new perspective on other, more established, concerns of the study of Hebrew culture, and Jewish culture more generally: questions of immigration, the body and its limits, cultural and gender identity. We thus hope that the workshop would help chart new productive possibilities, even for those who do not consider their work as primarily focused on the study aging and old age.