Nitza Ben-Dov - Research

Research

Ben-Dov has published books, articles, and essays on S. Y. Agnon, Abraham B. Yehoshua, Amos Oz, S. Yizhar, Yehuda Amichai, Yehoshua Kenaz, Yehudit Handel, Haim Be'er, Sami Michael, Zeruya Shalev, Yehudit Rotem, and Dahlia Ravikovitch. Her research combines structuralist, feminist, psychoanalytical, and biographical elements in the work of these authors, along with intra-textual and inter-textual scrutiny.

Her book Agnon's Art of Indirection: Uncovering Latent Content in the Fiction of S.Y Agnon, published in 1993, revealed the possibility of analyzing Agnon's work (characterized by "the art of indirection", a term coined by Ben-Dov) even when translated into English. Ben-Dov has introduced Agnon to scholars of literature outside Israel and proved that it is possible to analyze word by word, through close reading, the unique nature of Agnon's work. Although the nuanced relations of the 'latent' and the 'uncovered' layers are attached through the essence of the Hebrew language, Ben-Dov illustrates that the greatness of a writer must withstand translation. The book surveys the methods, themes, and materials in Agnon's art, and deals extensively with dreams and their interpretation. It presents intersections of meaning in Agnon's writings, in which various layers are brought to light: psychoanalytical and cultural; a discussion is conducted on Biblical infrastructures, which the English reader may find in the translations of the works, in contrast to the Talmudic infrastructures.

The Hebrew book Unhappy/unapproved Loves: Erotic Frustration, Art and Death in the Work of Agnon (1997) enlarges the discussion of the Agnonian corpus and contains psychoanalytical discussions in the spirit of Freud and Jung; along with these are inter-textual discussions, both literary – as to the affinities between Agnon and Mann, Kafka, Voltaire, and Flaubert – and artistic-anthropological, on the affinity of the writings to the works of Rembrandt and Arnold Böcklin. The combination of methods constructs an autonomous cultural interpretation, which deciphers the Agnonian character, as well as the society out of which it arises. Common to the corpus under consideration is the theme of unfulfilled love and frustration that this invites. In this book Ben-Dov holds a dialogue with Agnon scholars and critics, and offers an original interpretation of his writing.

Her Hebrew book And It Is Your Praise: Studies in the Writings of S. Y. Agnon, A. B. Yehoshua and Amos Oz (2006) concerns particular, intra-textual research, mapping repetitive primary themes and literary formats in Agnon, Yehoshua, and Oz. It also conducts inter-textual research, singling out the tangential points of Yehoshua (to whom is devoted Ben-Dov's Hebrew book In the Opposite Direction, 1995, about the novel Mr. Mani) and Oz on the one hand, and Agnon and the other: Agnon is a 'father figure' and the creator of literary models on which Oz and Yehoshua draw. In addition, the book indicates the unique elements in the works of Oz and Yehoshua after they lay down a mature fictional mode. The writings that Ben-Dov chose to discuss are timeless.

Her Hebrew-language book Written Lives: On Israeli Literary Autobiographies (Hayyim Ktuvim, 2011) is a scholarly response to the wave of autobiographic and biographic prose that has flooded Hebrew literature (and literature generally) since the early 1990s. Ben-Dov assigns Preliminaris by S. Yizhar, published in 1992, as the starting point of this salient trend in Israeli literature. In its wake came self-declared autobiographic novels: The Pure Element of Time (Havalim) by Haim Be'er (1998), A Tale of Love and Darkness (Sippur al ahava vehoshekh) by Amos Oz (2002), My Russian Grandmother and Her American Vacuum Cleaner (Ha-davar haya kakha) by Meir Shalev (2009), and Spanish Charity (Hessed sefaradi) by A.B. Yehoshua (2011). In Ben-Dov's discussion of Preliminaris and these others, she substantiates the two faces of this genre: a factual or semi-factual account tied in with a well designed written work. Ben-Dov likewise scrutinizes that dialectics of the later self-declared autobiographic work with earlier writings by these authors.

Ben-Dov studies autobiographic writings that preceded the torrent of late 20th and early 21st century: Agnon's story "The Mark" (Hasiman), the full version of which was published in 1962, the two semi-autobiographic novels by Sami Michael Refuge (Hasut) and A Handful of Fog (Hofen shel arafel), published in the late 1970s, and the complex of Dahlia Ravikovitch's prose and poetry, from which the experience of orphanhood erupts.

Written Lives also contains scholarly discussions of writings that are not purely literary, such as the Baghdad Yesterday: The Making of an Arab Jew (Bebagdad etmol), which is the memoirs of the literature scholar Sasson Somekh (2004); Yosef Haim Brenner: A Biography (Yosef Hayyim Brenner: Sippur hayyim) by the historian Anita Shapira (2008); and Home (Habayta), a novel of the kibbutz by Assaf Inbari (2009). Written Lives has a three-part Introduction and an Epilogue.

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