Introducing Maayan Eitan

An interview with the newest member of the Tel Aviv Review of Books editorial team.

Photo by Silan Dallal

We’re very excited to announce the novelist and academic Maayan Eitan as the newest member of our editorial team. To mark the occasion, we interviewed her (via Zoom) last week.

Maayan – could you tell us a bit about your background?

I’m Maayan Eitan, from Tel Aviv, I’m a writer and translator. I’m doing a PhD in Hebrew Literature at Ben-Gurion University. I grew up in the Negev, Jerusalem, and Tel Aviv. I was a graduate student for five years at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor – I was writing a PhD dissertation but quit in the middle and returned to Israel.

And now you’ve resumed work on your PhD? What’s it about?

I’m writing about the representation of sleep in contemporary Hebrew poetry. Right now, I’m working on the theoretical chapter. So I’m reading and writing about the politics of sleep, the sociology of sleep, the philosophy of sleep. There is something in recent years called Sleep Studies, it’s not yet a discipline, but it’s a field of interest for many academics from many different perspectives, and I’m looking at the literary aspects. I’m writing about the male gaze – how do men write about men who look at sleeping women.

Men writing about men who look at sleeping women?

Yeah. You have the sleeping lover, the female lover, the sleeping daughter.

The Sleeping Beauty.

Yeah. So the Sleeping Beauty is one of the myths that stands at the center of my research. Another is the Song of Songs, where the narrator says “I was asleep, but my heart was awake.” I’m trying to think of sleep as a liminal stage where people exist in unconscious forms. And of course I’m writing about representations, because the person who writes about sleep is normally awake. You can’t write and sleep at the same time.

What drew you to the subject?

I think it’s a fascinating phenomenon, and not much has been written about it. A lot has been written about dreams, and about the symbolic aspects and psychoanalytical interpretations of dreams. But sleep – even for laymen – is seen as a non-event. A place or a situation where nothing happened. I wanted to think about sleep as an event.

You’ve also written a novel, Love. We were excited to publish an excerpt in our last edition. Can you tell us a bit about the novel and how you came to write it?

Sure. It tells the story of a young prostitute in a city that may or may not be Tel Aviv. She’s a young woman, we don’t know exactly how young, we don’t even know her name. We know her professional name, Libby, ‘My Heart’ in Hebrew…

Song of Songs again?

Maybe! I hadn’t actually thought about it. She gets in and out of cars and she has sex. Slowly we come to understand her background. She’s a very nihilistic character. People ask her: “Why do you do it?” And she says: “Because I feel like it.” The novel doesn’t offer any psychological or even philosophical explanations for Libby becoming a prostitute, but it does try to examine the life that she leads. And eventually it does go back to her childhood and the reasons for her non-conventional choice of job.

That came out a few months ago – are you working on anything new now?

Since the novel was published I’ve written several short stories. They’re going to be published in different outlets and journals. I’ve begun research for my next novel, but it’s in the very early stages.

Can you tell us what it’s about?

I’ve been reading Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann, which is about the decline of a family. I’m writing about a family from the point of view of two or three of the women, who enter the family as wives/daughters-in-law. That’s the general idea – I’m still researching.

Sounds interesting. Can you tell us about your plans for the Tel Aviv Review of Books?

I come from the world of literature. So I’m excited about the possibility of having more contemporary Israeli literature published in English for the whole world to read. There’s a lot of beautiful literature that’s been written here in Israel in recent years. Not only in Israel, by the way, there are some very prominent authors writing in Hebrew abroad. I’m excited about sharing striking pieces of prose and poetry with a larger readership. What’s unique about the Tel Aviv Review of Books is its insistence on diversity. I’m not sure I know of any publication in Israel that insists on that. That’s exciting for me.

We’re very excited to have you on board! Thanks a lot for the interview.

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