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Fichman, Jacob

FICHMAN, JACOB

FICHMAN, JACOB (Ya'akov ; 1881–1958), Hebrew poet, critic and literary editor. Born in Belz, Bessarabia, Fichman left home at the age of 14 and subsequently resided in various cities of czarist Russia and Western Europe, among which were Warsaw, Vilna, and Berlin, finally settling in Ereẓ Israel (1912).

He revisited Europe several times to carry out various editorial assignments, After spending World War i in Odessa, he returned to Ereẓ Israel in 1919 and then left again in 1922 for Warsaw on the invitation of the Stybel publishing house. From there he made his way back to Bessarabia in 1924, returning to Tel Aviv the next year. His occupations included teaching, the producing of textbooks, and working for the Tushiah and Moriah publishing houses. He was on the staff of the Warsaw paper Ha-Zofeh. In Palestine he edited the journals Moledet and Ma'abarot and, in collaboration with Joseph *Klausner, Ha-Shilo'aḥ. From 1936 to 1942 he was editor of Moznayim, the organ of the Hebrew Writers Association.

His first book of poems, Givolim, was published in Warsaw in 1911, and his first collection of essays, Bavu'ot, in Odessa in 1911. Fichman, a younger member of what is usually described as Bialik's school, is generally dubbed impressionist, both for the manner in which he handles his natural themes and images, and for his highly subjective and delicately intuitive criticism, which lacks theoretical interests and varies its criteria to fit the particular work under discussion. Such labels, and the affinities they imply, should however be treated circumspectly, in view of the gap separating the renascent Hebrew literature from the full-blown European context, as well as the often indirect and fragmentary nature of the influences involved. Fichman's criticism itself is an unwitting example of the dangers of facile generalization, as when it lumps together writers, poets, and philosophers of different periods and cultures, and contrasting temperaments. Thus his "imaginary museum" includes Emerson, Carlyle, Taine, Renan, Pisarev and Lessing, Goethe and Hoelderlin, Pushkin, Fet, Baudelaire, and Stefan George. Such lists attest to Fichman's strong desire to bring Hebrew criticism closer to European ideas and individual works. They also reflect, however, the eclectic and impressionistic approach for which he found it necessary to apologize in his essay, Al ha-Bikkoret ha-Yoẓeret.

Here he defines his role as that of a friend-critic who writes out of gratitude toward the poet for the moments of joy and the insight he has granted him. The task of such criticism is not to find fault, nor even to discriminate according to merit. In contrast to the "hostile critic" who criticizes that which is not – the flaws and shortcomings of the work of art – his task is to present that which is: to discover the center of a writer's "world" and manifest its uniqueness. The creative critic is thus able to appreciate writers of different, and even opposing, characteristics. Fichman does not shrink from subjectivity. Echoing Anatole France, he maintains that "in talking about the artist I am talking also about myself." Objectivity, he claims, may be a mere obstacle, while the subjective interrelation of critic and artist, and a close attention to the effect of the work on the sensitive reader, reveal its true power.

His point of departure, particularly in his essays on his contemporaries, is the impression which a writer or a particular work have made on him, or on those close to him. Positing a collective "we," he identifies his own sensibility and responses with those of his generation. At least once, however, he asserted his independence by welcoming the militant modernism of Shlonsky and his followers, notwithstanding that it was mainly directed against his own circle. It was only natural that a criticism as tolerant and eclectic as his would have little to do with the more innovatory trends of 20th-century Hebrew literature. It also refrained from questioning established reputations or calling attention to forgotten writers. Nor was its influence always salutary. Fichman's main merits – the charm of his vignettes, his broad-mindedness, and his desire to establish a "creative community" between writer and critic – were often disregarded by his more militant successors. His florid, cliché-ridden style had a definitely adverse effect on later "impressionists," lacking the strength of his tastes.

Fichman's poetry includes prose poems, folk poems, idylls and sonnets, dramatic poems, and verse on national and biblical themes. Like other contemporaries of his, such as Ya'akov Kahan, Zalman Shneour, Ya'akov Steinberg, and David Shimoni, he too underwent Bialik's formidable influence. But he was equally susceptible to the influence of the new Palestinian poetry led by Shlonsky, particularly in his later Pe'at Sadeh (1944). To the latter he is indebted for the Sephardi prosody, the structuring of the rhyme, and a somewhat harder image. Fichman was among the first of the Bialikites to renounce the-at the time almost compulsory-"prophetic mask," and concentrate on the smaller forms of artistic-conscious craftsmanship.

His more impressive achievements are attained in his symbolic nature-sketches, and in a series of pensive little lyrical poems, all composed in a minor key. The landscape is represented with an eye to its natural coloring and the interplay of light and shade. The moods are often derived from the familiar romantic and sentimental repertoire. Here, too, as in his criticism, there is no genuine originality, no daring, and little inventiveness. There is however the same respect for good craftsmanship.

Even in these later poems, Fichman's penchant for elevated language often causes him to resort to archaisms, abstractions, hackneyed metaphors, and words or phrases used solely to meet structural and rhythmic needs. He inclines to prefer the often trite poeticism to the concrete rendering of a physical reality. There is hardly a hint in his work of the new, more colloquial idiom which was gaining entry into Hebrew poetry; nor of other qualities usually associated with modern poetry, such as poetic irony and ambiguity. Particularly in his longer poems, it becomes clear that the poet was not capable of sustaining a longer work.

After his immigration to Palestine, Fichman became increasingly absorbed with the Palestinian landscape. Here too he is a member of a transitional generation. His attitude toward the new landscape is basically secular; he does not view it through the biblical-Zionist romanticism of Shimoni and other contemporaries. In this, too, he is a forerunner of the changes in Hebrew poetry, some of which he witnessed in his own lifetime.

For translations of his works into English, see Goell, Bibliography.

bibliography:

Kressel, Leksikon, 2 (1967), 602–8; Y. Keshet, Be-Dor Oleh (1950), 95–132; Rejzen, Leksikon, 3 (1928), 68–72; Waxman, Literature, 4 (19602), 306–11; M. Ribalow, The Flowering of Modern Hebrew Literature (1959), 189–206; R. Wallenrod, The Literature of Modern Israel (1956), index; G. Schoffmann (Shofman) Kol Kitvei, 4 (1960), index; Davar (Dec. 14, 1951), list of musical compositions to his poems. add. bibliography: B.Y. Michali, Fichman be-Shirah u-ve-Masah (1952); N. Govrin, "J. Fichman, Al Yeẓirato," (1971), bibliography; R. Kartun-Blum, in: Moznayim, 32 (1971), 320–29; N. Govrin, in: Arugot (1973), 13–24; A. Kinstler, Merḥav u-Zeman be-Te'urei ha-Teva shel Fichman (1973); Y. Zemorah, Arugot: Koveẓ le-Zikhro shel Y. Fichman (1973); N. Govrin, "Idilyot Yam le-Y. Fichman," in: Sefer ha-Yovel le-S. Halkin (1975), 627–53; A. Regelson, in: Bizaron, 67 (1976), 112–20; A.B. Jaffe, in: Moznayim, 51, 6 (1981), 415–20; K.A. Bertini, in: Al ha-Mishmar (Oct. 28, 1983; Nov. 4, 1983); L. Kupferstein, in: Davar (Mar. 9, 1984); Y. Zilberschlag, in: Ha-Do'ar, 63:30 (1984), 484–85; Z. Luz, Shirat Ya'akov Fichman (1989).

[Natan Zach]

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