Feminist Hebrew Literary Criticism: The Political Unconscious

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This article charts the basic outlines of my forthcoming collection on the historical and theoretical evolution of feminist Hebrew literary criticism in the last two decades. In this article, I argue that Hebrew feminist criticism, as an emerging field, is motivated by the desire to change the subject, shifting the almost obsessive concern with politics in the conventional sense of the word to discursive and cultural politics, from a concern with the collective and questions of national survival and security to interpersonal politics, and from the public to the private. My argument is that this shift is political. As I argued in my book, Israeli Mythogynies: Women in Contemporary Hebrew Fiction (1987), this shift has the potential to generate an internal re-evaluation of ethical and aesthetic values as well as a post-Zionist critique of national priorities. Hebrew feminist literary critics then question the canonic and ideological priorities of the critical establishment and use gender as a point of departure for critical assessments of various dichotomies that structure the Zionist narrative. Gender thus becomes a point of departure for reading the national canon, and the politics of literary presentation--differently. The shift away from national politics paradoxically leads back to it, but this time the topic is visited critically from both Zionist and post-Zionist perspectives (e.g., Naomi Seidman, Yael Feldman, Iris Parush, Hannah Naveh, Hannan Hever, and Orly Lubin).


The term "political" in the title of this essay refers to an interpretive activity that seeks to unveil the ideological construction of what appears to be a natural, self evident representation of social reality. The recognition that all texts have what Fredric Jameson referred to as a "political unconscious" informs several postmodern discourses in addition to feminism. (1) The political is often unconscious in Western literary criticism because literary creativity often presents itself as a product of individual talent, a particular biography, or universal human psychology--in short as "natural" and seamless. (2) A political criticism unveils points of resistance to the hegemonic regime of knowledge that presents its interpretation of personal and national life as unmediated, as a totalizing truth. In feminist Hebrew literary criticism, these points of resistance are generally located in two areas: the resistance to the exclusion of women from the canon, and what I will define as a post-Zionist resistance to the gendered construction of the nation as such. A national feminist approach questions the omission of Zionist female agencies from the narration of the nation, and often seeks to reconstruct an alternative space for these agencies placing them in some relationship of androgynous ambiguity with the culture at large. Masculine and feminine refer to cultural formations, such as the feminine culture of Yiddish over against the masculine culture of Hebrew. The fundamental concern of national feminism is to uncover the muted voices of women who have transformed, contributed, and constructed the nation. Post-Zionist approaches tend to use feminism as a starting point from which to interrogate the totalizing definitions of nation and its hegemonic narrations. The distinction I draw here between national and post-national critiques should not be taken as an absolute demarcation between two distinct lines of inquiry, but rather as an outline of relative emphasis. In the following overview of major feminist literary theory and criticism of the last two decades, I try as much as possible to shun evaluations of one or the other trend, though I suggest that they are informed by a political unconscious, as they uncover the political implications of literary fictions.

The feminist reading of difference is political to the extent that it interprets it as an alternative, or counter-voice to a master narrative of the literary canon and literary criticism. …