Zionism and Melancholy

Zionism and Melancholy

The Short Life of Israel Zarchi
Nitzan Lebovic
Distribution: Global
Publication date: 04/24/2019
Format: Hardback
ISBN: 978-0-253-04181-4
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Nitzan Lebovic claims that political melancholy is the defining trait of a generation of Israelis born between the 1960s and 1990s. This cohort came of age during wars, occupation and intifada, cultural conflict, and the failure of the Oslo Accords. The atmosphere of militarism and conservative state politics left little room for democratic opposition or dissent. Lebovic and others depict the failure to respond not only as a result of institutional pressure but as the effect of a long-lasting "left-wing melancholy." In order to understand its grip on Israeli society, Lebovic turns to the novels and short stories of Israel Zarchi. For him, Zarchi aptly describes the gap between the utopian hope present  in Zionism since its early days and the melancholic reality of the present. Through personal engagement with Zarchi, Lebovic develops a philosophy of melancholy and shows how it pervades Israeli society.

Author Bio

Nitzan Lebovic is Associate Professor of History and Apter Chair of Holocaust Studies and Ethical Values at Lehigh University. He is author of The Philosophy of Life and Death: Ludwig Klages and the Rise of a Nazi Biopolitics, the editor (with Roy Ben-Shai) of The Politics of Nihilism: From the Nineteenth Century to Contemporary Israel, and editor (with Andreas Killen) of Catastrophes: A History of an Operative Concept.



A splendid text, learned and diligent, but not without resourcefulness of language. It's a scholarly work that is written like a melancholic novella.


 (Galili Shahar, Haaretz)


A truly original work that engages the pervasive condition of melancholy facing many progressive and left-wing artists, thinkers, scholars, and political actors. The short life of Israel Zarchi becomes the vehicle by which Nitzan Lebovic interrogates the demands, implications, and surprising virtues of the melancholic in the present.


 (Eugene Sheppard, author of Leo Strauss and the Politics of Exile: The Making of a Political Philosopher)


Through Lebovic's gripping account we gain a sense of intimacy and a deep understanding of the Zarchi the man and Zarchi the author. ... The work is fundamentally and thoroughly interdisciplinary, moving deftly between intellectual history, literary studies, political philosophy, and psychoanalysis, to name the most important coordinates on Lebovic's map.


 (Na'ama Rokem, author of Prosaic Conditions: Heinrich Heine and the Spaces of Zionist Literature)

"Lebovic reveals a great deal about the work of Zarchi and the melancholic mindset of an entire generation of contemporary Israelis. . . . Highly recommended."


"Lebovic's main line of argumentation in the book is original and interesting. The monograph is a compelling contribution to the literary history of Hebrew prose. . . . The monograph . . . subtly unearths a voice in Hebrew literature that resonates with Israeli left-winged politics while differing from its major standpoints."


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Table of Contents

List of Israel Zarchi's Works under Discussion



1. The History of a Failure

2. The Early Novels

3. Jerusalem, Messianism, Emptiness

4. Political Theology and Left-Wing Melancholy

5. In an Unsown Land

6. The History and Theory of the Melancholic Discourse

7. The Revival of Hebrew: Utopia, Indistinction, Recurrence


Selected Bibliography