Celina Mashiach

Glocal Childhood : The Construction of Childhood in Israel


Speaking time: 23 September, 11h00-12h30, Room II

A common and popular idea suggests that global culture is affected by sameness. Though certainly true, I would like to call to mind the idea that globalism affects culture more intricately. I would like to suggest that globalism affects culture glocally and not globally. Thus, to both bring to the forth, but mainly to foster, the active role that local cultures may have upon globalism.

Glocal Childhood implies the idea that the world of childhood portrayed in children's literature in both modern and present day global era, reflects the interaction of local and global expectations and images of childhood. Glocal Childhood is thus inter– nationally and inter-culturally constructed.

Glocality as represented by Israeli children's literature mirrors the cultural interplay involved in the construction of the world of childhood, by both Globalism, and the Modernism of 19th and 20th century, mainly its view of Universalism.

In mapping the main cross – cultural images pertaining to the Israeli literary child and its world, my intention is:

a. To chart the nature and main characteristics of the invented world of childhood, as represented by Hebrew Children's Literature at the age of Modernism in print – dominated world, and by Globalism in the electronically wired world culture.

b. To advance the idea that the phenomena of inter–cultural osmosis, is inherent to the genre of children's literature. This fact undermines the novelties attributed to globalization and fosters the potentiality of children's literature to regenerate the ethos of Modernism, namely, Universalism: The promise for progress and betterment of the world.

European modern theories of Education, Romanticism and Nationalism were the building blocks upon which, the imagined Israeli Child and its ideal world were first constructed. J.J.Rousseau's perceptions of child and nature (Emil, ou de l'Education, 1762), Friedrich Froebel's metaphorical Children's Garden (1837) and the Celestial child, "Father of the Man", envisioned by Romantic poet William Wordsworth (1807)were infused into corresponding local tradition and collective ancient Jewish heritage, in a manner that solidified the monolith icon of the Israeli child and its ideal world.

Nurtured by Modernism and its missionary vision of universalism, the child assumed the celestial aura of a savior. The healer of adult's corrupted world, and a universal symbol of a better future. The ideal world of childhood has been described by concepts and images such as naivety, innocence, purity, elevation, nature, garden and eden. These images reflect both the local and the universal codes of 19th and 20th century Modernism, and the tools upon which Modernism transmitted the ethos of universal progress, and betterment of the world.

The equivocality or rather multivocality of the images that constructed the ideal world of childhood, facilitated their world migration, so that crossing the Mediterranean they were transplanted into Israeli Children's Literature by means of re – coding, mutation and hybridity. Modification made Western concepts and images of childhood available to local Israeli collective consciousness, expectations and national culture. The idea of "Child of Nature" for instance, has been localized so that both "Nature" and "Child", assumed an extra import of local geographical and national identity. Cultivated European flowers, roses and lilies, were replaced by local vegetations such as ragweeds, poppies, almond trees, the cyclamen or the cactus known as Sabar (Sabra). The Imaginary Israeli Child of pre – global era thus mirrored the life of uncultivated flowers, which were at one and the same time symbols of local and universal aspirations of Innocence, rejuvenation, need for protection, purity, redemption, order, solidarity and the universal trust between human beings and Nature.

The shift from Modernism to Globalism marks the destabilization and eradication of the former concepts and images of childhood inscribed by modernism. Post – Modern attitudes and Globalization are reflected by a radical transition from the idea of "Nature" as a metaphor representing a spiritual world, to actual urban life striped of the promise of collective and Universal happiness. "The Child" as both a vision and an idea, was discharged of its metaphorical import to become an exclusive urban child: Egocentric, critical, savant , elitist , individualistic , independent and mainly - consumptive.

The Story of Danny Mehonany (Gifted Danny), written by Israeli poet David Avidan (1992), well reflects the transition from Modernism with it's universal values and hope for progress and salvation, to Globalism which promotes progress in terms of consumption and commerce. The Examplary five years old child of Avidan's story is no longer a symbol of either universal, collective or national hope. Interested in himself only he rejects the boring interactions with playmates in the Kindergarden. In fact he rejects all traditional interactions represented by modern institutions such as school, family, children's literature or parents. As far as parents are concerned, he dismisses their authority and protection and suggests that they be treated like babies: " Mom, Dad / Get the Potty /And straight off to bed," He commands.

Being exposed to global culture, savant self-educated Danny is obsessed with T.V. and computers. He is multi-lingual, a karate expert, has knowledge in stock – marketing and as a global tourist he plans a visit to China.

Representing the local new image of childhood, Danny promotes Globalism, Elitism and Exclusion. Very much like Modernism, Globalism too homogenizes the world of childhood. It constructs this world inter – culturally in a process that includes both global and local expectations of childhood. Yet, unlike Modernism, Glocal Childhood lacks the ethos of Universalism typical, as I mentioned before, to modern utopian view of Childhood.

Considering the parallel patterns involved in the formulation of the world of Childhood represented by Israeli Children's Literature in both pre , and present - day global culture, I suggest that :

a. The world of childhood reflects above all the vigor social and cultural changes created by the transition from Modernism to Globalism. From Universalism to Commercialism.

b. As the World of Childhood, in Israeli Children's Literature and else where, has never been constructed either locally or globally only, it is for writers of children's literature all over the world, to go beyond global boundaries in order to both maintain local distinctive attributes, and to regenerate the unfulfilled promise of Modernism: The promise of universal values and betterment of the world.

Dr. Celina Mashiach