Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Fantasies of Modernity: Representations of the Jewish Female Body in Turn-of-the-20th-Century Hebrew Fiction
by Bailis, Beverly, Ph.D., The Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 2012, 255; 3527266
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation explores representations of the Jewish female body in Hebrew literature at the turn of the 20th century. It serves as an intervention in the dominant discourse on the male Jewish body in recent scholarship, and its occlusion of discussions of femininity and female sexuality. The project brings together canonical texts and some that have been virtually overlooked that depict concrete female experiences, including many that are erotic and sexual. It asks: how can one begin to theorize the Jewish female body within the mostly male-authored Hebrew literature from this period, which has been a largely neglected venue for exploring constructions of femininity? In what kinds of discourses does the female body become visible? What ideological work does it perform and what is at issue in its representation? This project brings the Jewish female body into view by building on scholarship within Jewish Studies that examines representations of women in earlier Haskalah literature, criticism that explores the question of female embodiment in later Hebrew narratives, and historical research documenting changes in the material reality of Eastern European Jewish women at this period. It is also informed by the European 19th-century discourse on female sexuality produced by the sexologists and thinkers including Freud and Otto Weininger.

The first chapters focus on the figure of the "new Jewish woman" and the trope of female sexual awakening, and how it becomes imbricated in the conflict between assimilation and maintaining Jewish tradition as portrayed in two overlooked novels that directly represent the emerging Zionist movement, Y. Bershadsky's Neged Ha-zerem and A. A. Kabak's Levadah. The second part explores stories by U. N. Gnessin, and his modernist critique of this trope that exposes the violence that necessarily underwrites it, thereby revealing how anxieties of Jewish modernity are negotiated around the female body.

This dissertation argues that female sexuality plays a role in issues of modernity from assimilation to the emergence of Zionism. By focusing on intersections of Jewishness and femininity, it opens up these literary texts for considering how fantasies of Jewishness spoke to fantasies of modernity in the reformulation of modern Jewish identity.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Mintz, Alan
Commitee: Golomb Hoffman, Anne, Kalmanovsky, Amy, Lapidus Lerner, Anne, Nahshon, Edna
School: The Jewish Theological Seminary of America
Department: Graduate School
School Location: United States -- New York
Source: DAI-A 74/01(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Source Type: DISSERTATION
Subjects: Modern literature, Slavic literature, Middle Eastern literature, Judaic studies
Keywords: Bershadsky, Isaiah, Embodiment, Female body, Gnessin, Uri Nissan, Hebrew literature, Israel, Kabak, Aaron Abraham, Modernity, Russia
Publication Number: 3527266
ISBN: 9781267614605
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