Literary Criticism

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The Ambassadors of Death

The Sister Arts, Western Canon and the Silent Lines of a Hebrew Survivor

Shahar Bram is a senior lecturer teaching Hebrew & Comparative Literature at the University of Haifa. He is the author of Charles Olson, Alfred North Whitehead and the Long Poem: An Essay on Poetry (Bucknell University Press 2004); The Backward Look: The Long Poem in the Poetry of Israel Pinkas, Harold Schimmel and Aharon Shabtay (The Hebrew University Magnes Press 2005) (in Hebrew). His essays and articles were published in literary journals such as Word and Image; Partial Answers; Connotations. He is also a poet and translator of poetry.

Tuvia Rubner is the 2012 recipient of the Konrad-Adenauer Prize for Literature

Tuvia Rübner, winner of Israel Prize for Poetry (2008), is a Hebrew poet who lost his family in the Holocaust. He turned his personal trauma into a broad world view that engages with Western culture, his poetry highlighting correspondences with paintings by Chagall, Breughel, Holbein, Turner and Rembrandt.

Death and loss are molding experiences in this poet’s world. Paintings and sculpture masterpieces are signalled as masks, as Ambassadors of Death. Rübner’s poems enable us to examine the tradition of various forms of artistic representation, while addressing the experience of art in a century when God ‘hid his face’ from the fate of European Jewry. And as Shahar Bram discovers and elaborates, herein lies an exquisite example of the use of ekphrasis – Rübner using his poetic language medium to explain and process the meaning and messages inherent in a select group of paintings and sculptures of cultural significance.

This important book contributes to the interdisciplinary theory of “word and image”, and the history of the relationships between “sister arts”. This is not only a unique perspective of traditional Western art form as reflected in the eyes of a Hebrew survivor of twentieth-century Holocaust atrocities, but, in the words of Ruskin, it is “the expression of one soul [one artistic form] talking to another”. The result is a profound understanding of the central principles of word and image art forms.

Hardback ISBN: 978-1-84519-450-5
Hardback Price: £55.00 / $69.95
Release Date: January 2011
Page Extent / Format: 224 pp. / 229 x 152 mm
Illustrated: No


Introduction: Achilles’ Shield
Ekphrasis, ut pictura poesis and Tuvia Rübner

Chapter One: The Fall
Peter Breughel’s The Fall of Icarus, Marc Chagall’s The Fall of Icarus and Tuvia Rübner's The Fall. Poetry and painting: basic questions of comparison; the museum of words: Rübner's book.

Chapter Two: The Ambassadors of Death
Hans Holbein’s The Ambassadors and Tuvia Rübner’s The Ambassadors. The portrait: the ambassador of death, a guide to the silent museum of words.

Chapter Three: Horse and Rider
Simone Martini’s Guidoriccio da Fogliano and Tuvia Rübner’s Horse and Rider. The paradoxical animation of death in poetry. Rübner's voyage towards death. The Photograph in Rübner's world.

Chapter Four: The Silence of Words
Tuvia Rübner’s Two Zen Paintings. Rübner's use of Haiku and Zen. The image in poetry. Imagism. Poetics of Space.

Chapter Five: The Structure of Narrative
Casper David Friedrich’s Chalk Cliffs on Rueben and Tuvia Rübner's Chalk Cliffs on Rügen. Renaissance vs. Romanticism. Narrative poetics in painting and poetry.

Chapter Six: The Chaos of Colors and the Order of Words
Joseph Mallord William Turne’'s Peace - Burial at Sea and Tuvia Rübner’s The Ship. The language of paintings. Painting as text. The inseparable world of word and image.

Chapter Seven: The Fallen Angel and the Survivor's Burning Eye
Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn’ Descent from the Cross and Tuvia Rübner’s Descent from the Cross. Word and image in the religious world. The survivor and the story of redemption. Past, memory and the survivor as a living dead. Walter Benjamin. The end of the journey is in the beginning: Rübner, the heavenly beauty of the dead image, and the fallen angel.

Epilogue: Ekphrasis, Mimesis and the Difference between Word and Image


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