Life of the Non-Living: The Narrative of Language Revival in Modern Hebrew Literature
My research explores the question of language revival in early twentieth-century Hebrew literary discourse. By closely reading texts that participate in the political and aesthetic project of reviving Hebrew—a largely non-spoken language before the twentieth century—I trace the narrative of revival, critically examining its role in the formation of Jewish nationalism, Zionism, and modern Hebrew culture. While many of these texts figuratively contemplate linguistic transformation in terms of revitalization or birth, my reading shows that 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. I conclude that it is this figure of the non-living that lies at the heart of the revival discourse and that this figure is constitutive of Jewish nationalism. By reframing the discussion of language revival, I propose an alternative historiography of modern Hebrew literature, one that takes multilingualism as its point of departure.
Roni Henig received her PhD in Hebrew and Comparative Literature from Columbia University in 2018. In 2020, she will join the Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies at NYU as assistant professor of Hebrew literature. Her research focuses on language politics, multilingualism, dysfluency studies, and the critique of nationalism across Jewish literatures and beyond. Her work has been acknowledged by the American Comparative Literature Association, which has awarded her article “Stammering Hebrew: Y.H. Brenner’s Deferred Beginnings” the 2017 A. Owen Aldridge prize.