- The Politics of Canonicity: Lines of Resistance in Modernist Hebrew Poetry
In the academy's ongoing and wearisome canon wars, ideology criticism often substitutes manifesto for making manifest the intricacies of literary expression. Fortunately, Michael Gluzman's The Politics of Canonicity refrains from egregious ideological commentary and is thoroughly grounded in close readings of poetry and an informed historical sense of the development of Hebrew literature. The author presents persuasive analyses of the work of several poets who have been consigned to the periphery of the modern Hebrew canon. He seeks to "uncover sites of exclusion that reveal the underlying ideology of cultural production and consumption in an emerging nationalist context" (5). Gluzman is successful in this endeavor, although it is arguable how hidden the Zionist tenets governing the creation of a national [End Page 248] literature ever were. Zionism was in many ways a product of literary utopianism, and Hebrew literature was an integral element in the Zionist goal of forging a polity based on nation, territory, and language. Gluzman's contention, that "[w]riters who did not or could not write as national subjects . . . faced great obstacles and were relegated to marginality," is well supported by his examination of those poets whose lines resisted the dogma of the day (28).
The dominant ideology of Israeli critics in the twenty-first century, it seems, is to redress the grievances of those writers labeled as minor or secondary by preceding decades of literary scholarship. Hannan Hever's Producing the Modern Hebrew Canon: Nation Building and Minority Discourse does for Hebrew prose what Gluzman has set out to accomplish for Hebrew poetry. Another recent book, Rachel Feldhay Brenner's Inextricably Bonded: Israeli Arab and Jewish Writers Re-Visioning Culture,1 covers similar ground. The publication of several critical works that focus on canon formation in Hebrew literature is not a coincidence and serves to underscore the influence that post-Zionist thinking has had on Israeli academics. Various incarnations of post-Zionism have appeared over the last ten to fifteen years, but in general, post-Zionism may be understood as a discourse that criticizes normative Zionist historical, social, and cultural self-representations. Theorists of different temperaments and allegiances have increasingly applied the lessons of post-Zionism, as gleaned from the pages of its seminal journal Theory and Criticism, to Hebrew literature. Strongly influenced by thinkers such as Homi Bhabha, Edward Said, and Gayatri Spivak, Israeli critics have lately turned to postcolonial theory to illuminate how literary scholarship has been conscripted in the cause of nation building.
In particular, Gluzman (as well as Brenner and Hever) considers whether certain noncanonical products of Hebrew literature conform to the privileged status of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari's definition of a "minor literature" from Kafka:Toward a Minor Literature.2 To Deleuze and Guattari, a "minor literature" exhibits three necessary attributes: it must be written in a major language from a marginalized subject position, exist as inherently political, and evince a collective or revolutionary character. Here it is worth pointing out that Gluzman, Brenner, and Hever are all Israeli but have chosen to collect and publish their work in English. This decision bespeaks both a cultural identification with the Western liberal [End Page 249] tradition and an acknowledgment, perhaps, that the Hebrew language is truly marginal. Likewise, their projects are explicitly political and, at least within the context of Israeli literary historiography, revolutionary. All three volumes may thus point the way toward a "minor criticism."
The results of Hebrew literary criticism's engagement with postcolonial theory have been mixed, not least because it is not always clear in what ways Zionism is now "post" or ever was "colonial." This reservation aside, postcolonial literary historiography does convincingly demonstrate the process by which literary canons have been falsely endowed with universal value by the prevailing critical establishments. Few disagree that canons are historically limited, socially constructed artifacts of less enduring value than we might wish. But what even those who remain sympathetic to the aims of postcolonial theory may object...