Between the Living-Dead and the Dead-in-life in Hebrew Literature and Culture

Dr. Maayan Harel

In Hebrew literature and culture, especially since the 19th century and the rise of the Hebrew Enlightenment movement (Haskala), the symbol of the living-dead has been associated with the spirit of Judaism, which is depicted as "dead" but crying out for revival. In the early twentieth century, this trope directly reflected the ideas and ideals of the Zionist national revival.

In my study I will contrast the living-dead with another literary-allegorical figure, which I call the dead-in-life or the vegetable – a human being who is officially still alive but in fact is already dead. In most cases, this is a figure of a man whose heart and body are still alive, but whose brain and consciousness are no longer functioning. Like the symbol of the living-dead, the figures of the dead-in-life can also have two forms of existence, but while the living-dead stay on "the other side", and their subsequent return to life is an act motivated by emotional and physical reality, the vegetative dead-in-life individual exists on a physical realistic level, and for this reason is seen and interpreted more clearly as an allegory. The dead-in-life are basically a parody and even grotesque, particularly because they mock the heroic national anesthetization of death.

I intend to deal with the national and political analogies of the dead-in-life motif in Hebrew-Israeli literature and culture, especially in the period after 1967. I will explore this motif in the framework of Zionism, and specifically inquire in what ways the rise of this figure relates to the goals of the Zionist movement to turn the weak and puny Diaspora Jew of the shadows into a newborn vibrant and healthy Israeli. I believe that the dead-in- life, a body without a soul, is in some respects an exaggerated and radical image of this physical "new man", and may imply a breakdown or disruption of the Zionist national dream.

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