In this episode of The Archive Project, Israeli writer Amos Oz discusses Israeli Literature, Hebrew as a spoken and written language, the influence of the Holocaust on literature, and the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.
Amos Oz, born Amos Klausner, is a novelist, short story writer, and essayist whose work examines Israeli culture. Educated at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the University of Oxford, Oz served in the Israeli army during three separate stints and joined the Israeli peace movement following the Six-Day War in 1967. It was at this time that he began advocating for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Oz’s fiction combines realism with irony, resulting in a critical, unapologetic tone. He credits Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio with his choice to write about his own experiences and point of view. “The written world,” he wrote in his memoir, “always revolves around the hand that is writing, wherever it happens to be writing: where you are is the center of the universe.” Oz has published 38 works of fiction and nonfiction, has had his work translated into 42 languages, and has won literary prizes from around the world. In addition to writing, Oz has worked as a teacher and a laborer and is currently a professor emeritus at Ben-Gurion University.
I love Israel, even at times that I don’t like it. In fact, I love Israel even at times that I cannot stand it. And Israel, as I’m sure you know, ladies and gentlemen, Israel is neither a country, nor a nation. Actually, it is a fiery collection of arguments. A noisy assembly of 5.6 million citizens, 5.6 million Prime Ministers, 5.6 million prophets and Messiahs, each with his or her own personal formula for instant redemption.”
“I know the word compromise has a terrible reputation in English, especially on the West Coast. This is the place of idealists, and they regard compromise as lack of principles, lack of backbone, lack of integrity, lack of devotion, lack of everything. Let me tell you, in my vocabulary, the word compromise is synonymous to the word life itself. And the opposite of compromise is not integrity, and the opposite of compromise is not idealism—the opposite of compromise is fanaticism and death. Where there is life, there is compromise. Compromise, not capitulation.”
“In the 50s, pulses of guilt and dread and uneasiness and social anger and political rebelliousness reappeared in the literature and very strongly. Since the 60’s, roughly, one can decipher a significant comeback of themes, melodies that used to be attached to the previous generations. That basic Hebrew context seems to reappear vigorously on the scene with poets and novelists who are survivors of the Nazi massacre…the persistent fear of an approaching disaster, longings for far away places, skepticism, irony, even self-hatred. Political siege conceived as an emotional siege, persistent, tormented sense of moral ambiguity, and ultimately, the pulses of a secret theological quest.”