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Life of the Non-Living: Nationalization, Language and the Narrative of “Revival” in Modern Hebrew Literary Discourse

Henig, Roni

This dissertation critically examines the question of language revival in late nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century Hebrew literature. Focusing on major texts that participate in the political and aesthetic endeavor of reviving Hebrew as an exclusive national language, this study traces the narrative of revival and explores the changes and iterations it underwent in the course of several decades, from the 1890s to the early 1920s. Informed by a wide range of critical literary theory, I analyze the primary tropes used to articulate the process whereby Hebrew came to inhabit new discursive roles.
Building on close readings of canonical texts by authors ranging from Ahad Ha’am and Mikha Yosef Berdichevsky to Hayim Nahman Bialik, Rachel Katznelson, and Yosef Hayim Brenner, I argue that while modern Hebrew literature largely rejected the philological assumption that Hebrew was a dead language, it nevertheless produced a discourse around the notion of “revival,” in a manner that deferred the possibility of perceiving Hebrew as fully living. My readings show that while many of these texts contemplate linguistic transformation in terms of revitalization or birth, the national mission of language revival is in fact entwined with mourning, and ultimately produces the object of revival as neither dead nor fully alive. Dwelling on the ambivalence and suspension of that moment, and examining a range of nuances in its articulation, I explore the roles that Hebrew language and literature play in nationalization, Zionism, and the constitution of a new Hebrew subjectivity.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies
Thesis Advisors
Miron, Dan
Degree
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
May 14, 2018
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