Kfir Cohen Lustig (PhD '14) publishes "Makers of Worlds, Readers of Signs"

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Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Makers of Worlds, Readers of Signs: Israeli and Palestinian Literature of the Global Contemporary is the first book by UC Berkeley PhD in Comparative Liteature and longtime CMES affiliate Kfir Cohen Lustig, to be published on September 3rd, 2019 by Verso

Differently than existing accounts that concentrate on Israeli and Palestinian nationalism, Makers of Worlds, Readers of Signs suggests a new theoretical and historical approach to Israeli and Palestinian literature by accounting for the consequences of neoliberal globalization to literary form and its political import. This new kind of approach based in an interdisciplinary study bringing together a humanistic ideographic study of literary texts together with a social sciences’ nomothetic inquiry also offers a new account of world literature. The book proposes that until the neoliberal moment the difference in the socio-poetic form between Western Europe and Israel and Palestine lay in the concepts of autonomy and temporality: if in Western European societies autonomy is defined as an a-priori, ready-made property of the self-legislating subject, in Israel and Palestine, between the 1940s and the 1990s, autonomy was a collective product to be made in time. Autonomy here was the result of a social struggle with nature and with the “enemy” that subordinated the private to the public, the particular to the universal, body to spirit, making impossible the emergence of a liberal subject and its attendant category of aesthetic autonomy a la Kant. In this historical condition, Israeli and Palestinian literature developed a gamut of literary responses and political positions that competed over the imagination of social and aesthetic autonomy.

In the global neoliberal period when privatization processes in Israel and Palestine rearticulate the public and private spheres and make possible both liberal and aesthetic autonomy, social life and literature begin to revolve around the experience of self-legislating subjects for whom the world is no longer an object to be made but a text to be read. Now, private life, taking after the “particular” in Kant’s reflective judgment, seems independent from its social determining law and turns into an autonomous appearance or text akin to Adorno’s Schein and Derrida’s textuality respectively. Once the structure of aesthetic appearance/text characterizes the social itself and infiltrates the very raw materials of the literary artwork, Israeli and Palestinian literature engage in narratives of national and global mapping that attempt, consciously or unconsciously, to decipher and retrieve the political conditions of local life which exceed the nation state and question the coherence of private life. With this new aesthetic and social form, Israeli and Palestinian literature begin to resemble contemporary Western European and American literature, a change unaccounted for in contemporary theories of world literature and requires a new concept of global literature with which the book closes. 



Kfir Cohen Lustig’s work advances an inquiry into the aesthetic and political significance of neoliberalism and globalization in Israel, Palestine and France in the period between 1945 and the present moment. Cohen Lustig’s book, Makers of Worlds, Readers of Signs: Israeli and Palestinian Literature of the Global Contemporary with a Foreword by Fredric Jameson (Verso, 2019) offers a new theory of world literature in the global moment as well as a critique of post-Zionist literary criticism. He is currently completing a second book on the development of liberal subjectivity and the limits of identity politics in Mizrahi and Beur literature. His work has also appeared and is forthcoming with: Novel, Telos, Interventions, French Cultural Studies and Prooftexts among others. Cohen Lustig completed his PhD at the Department of Comparative Literature at UC Berkeley and is currently a Senior Research Fellow and Academic Director at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute.



Center for Middle Eastern Studies
University of California, Berkeley
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