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  • Margins and Minorities in the Modern Hebrew Canon
  • Nancy E. Berg
Hannan Hever . Producing the Modern Hebrew Canon: Nation Building and Minority Discourse. New York and London: New York University Press, 2002, xi + 259 pp.

Much Israeli scholarship has been dedicated toward establishing the modern Hebrew literary canon. Gershon Shaked's five volumes of Hasipporet haʿivrit (Hebrew fiction)1 have played a dominant role in this regard. Iris Parush and others have examined the ideological bases of literary criticism by leading critics who have contributed to canon formation.2 In addition, the journal Teʾoryah uvikkoret (Theory and criticism), founded by Adi Ophir in 1991, has provided a forum for scholars interested in the influence of identity politics on the canon.3 In English-language scholarship, concerted attempts to understand, question, and revise the modern Hebrew canon constitute a fairly recent development. Several notable studies have contributed to understanding the issues. Chana Kronfeld's On the Margins of Modernism exposed the limits of writing literary history and mapping canons, demonstrating the need to recognize careful negotiations between the center and the periphery. Yerach Gover offered a more overtly political reading of the canon in Zionism: The Limits of Moral Discourse in Israeli Hebrew Fiction. Scholars such as Yael Feldman and Ammiel Alcalay have offered partial correctives to the national narrative by redefining and expanding the canon to include, respectively, writing by women and writing by those from the Mediterranean region.4 Joining these titles, Hannan Hever's book Producing the Modern Hebrew Canon provides a welcome addition to the field.

This latest work places itself firmly in the camp of post-Zionist scholarship and reads almost as a companion piece to Laurence Silberstein's The Postzionist Debates. Silberstein has laid out the essence of post-Zionism: to question the very assumptions underlying Zionist discourse and to question the categories, ideas, and perspectives of the Zionist narrative:

The struggles over postzionism are struggles for the control of cultural space, that is, the space within which the meanings of the Israeli collective [End Page 240] identity are constructed, produced and circulated. At stake in these struggles are such questions as: Who is included or excluded from Israeli cultural space?5

As it addresses similar issues, Hever's book taps into the critical discourse that, over the past twenty years or so, has looked at the role of the literary canon in modern nationalist movements. Hever agrees with those who view literature as having a role larger than merely reflecting sociopolitical realities. In this view, literature becomes instead a forum in which political ideologies and conflicts can be played out. Hever thus reads the formation of the canon through power relationships. He looks at the making of the canon by investigating a number of challenges to it by authors, works, and readings. Most fundamentally, he writes against the Zionist master narrative and highlights those authors and works that also do so. Basing his analysis on postcolonial theory—especially the work of Deleuze and Guattari—Hever frames his discussion of the canon and its formation by considering the nexus of language, land, and national identity. He focuses on the reterritorialization of Hebrew effected by Zionism and its subsequent, post-Zionist deterritorialization.

For many years, Hever has been involved in this enterprise of examining the politics of canonization by exposing the assumptions on which the canon is formed. Producing the Modern Hebrew Canon is a collection of articles, at least half of which were previously published in English.6 The articles are arranged in an approximately chronological order, yet each chapter has other connections to those directly before and after. While Hever's introduction masterfully contextualizes each chapter, the ultimate effect is not seamless; the shifts from the discussion of noncanonical works and authors to those clearly in the canon as well as the shifts from micro- to macroviews leave some gaps and many questions in their wake. These gaps and questions attest to Hever's nonlinear and non-teleological conception of literary history. Hever privileges discontinuity over continuity; he eschews evolutionary approaches and constructing a progressive narrative. Instead he sees the creation of the literature—and the canon—as a series of moments...


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pp. 240-248
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