Before the twentieth century, Hebrew was largely considered a non-spoken language. It was a language associated with written texts, books, and religious life. Yet discussions about the prospects of “reviving” Hebrew abounded in meta-literary debates of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Hebrew writers constantly negotiated the ways in which the language might be revitalized, renewed, or expanded in the process of becoming a modern, national language.
The lecture tackles Hebrew revival as a foundational narrative in the history of modern Hebrew literature. It raises questions such as: can a language perish, rise from the dead, or give birth? In the work of national Hebrew poet H.N. Bialik and his figurative account of revival, the language is portrayed through bodily and gendered metaphors. A pathological feminine body, Hebrew emerges as both productive and threatening in its liminal state as neither dead nor living.