Serious play : representation of the Holocaust between humor and the sublime / Ruth Liberman.
Representation of the Holocaust has largely been understood in terms of boundaries and transgressions: what cannot be represented and what should not be represented. To this discourse, often invoking the sublime, many artists, filmmakers, and writers during the 1990s have responded with works that engage absurdity and the ridiculous through humor and play. This dissertation examines the ranging strategies with which select artists employ humor and play in the negotiation of Holocaust history and memory. Prevalent in the discussed works is the theme of childhood, which functions both as a marker of innocence and of transgression and play, as exemplified by the works of Alain Séchas, Zbigniew Libera, and Ram Katzir. Play, by definition interactive, brings an element of activity to an otherwise passive and mostly contemplative situation.Along the trajectory of the theme of childhood and play, I explore the concept of the carnivalesque in Erony and Marquardt's collaborative paintings, Lina Wertmüller's film Seven Beauties, and Tadeusz Borowski's short story "This Way to the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen." Aiming to provide an instance of humor that epitomizes some pertinent factors within humorous representations of the Holocaust, I focus on this one particular mode, the carnivalesque, which comprises a number of important features that exemplify what is at stake in humor in Holocaust representation.As humor approaches the carnivalesque it recalls notions of the sublime, thereby challenging the conventional binary relation of the sublime and the ridiculous. A fusion of the traditional genres of tragedy and comedy in Holocaust representation has taken place. I consider the association of Rausch (intoxication, rapture, loss of identity, self abandon) with the sublime and also with mass movements and genocide, through the work by the Chapman brothers. While some of the artworks discussed may allude to the "carnivalesque sublime" or to the sublime of silence, as we often see in commemorative works, their humor can activate the viewer to become aware of his or her subject position, thereby obviating any kind of identification with either victim or perpetrator.
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