The aesthetics of the worst : remembering and forgetting in French, Yiddish, and architectural Holocaust representations / by Brett Ashley Kaplan.
This dissertation is a comparative and interdisciplinary analysis of different modes of Holocaust representation, including French and Yiddish testimony and literature and an international array of monuments, memorials, and museums. Although setting out to write about pain I have inadvertently also written about pleasure; by examining painful memories and painful recreations, I uncover the thorny problems that pleasure poses in relation to the aesthetics of remembering the Shoah. Because aesthetics is the branch of philosophy dedicated to investigating what pleases the senses, aesthetic questions always involve pleasure. Because history is the branch of the humanities that investigates social change, it often involves pain. Hence my project addresses the paradox inherent in the aesthetics of history. In the first part of the dissertation I discuss the aesthetics of memory and their relationship to pleasure in literature by Charlotte Delbo, Georges Perec, Edmond Jabès, Robert Antelme, and Marcel Proust. I argue that some of these writers challenge prevalent conceptions of Holocaust representation and Jewish identity, hence problematizing the very subjects they memorialize. In the second part I reflect on the interconnections between language, memory, and Jewish identity within Yiddish literary and testimonial culture by analyzing Yiddish texts by Jacob Glatstein and Abraham Sutzkever. I argue that a paradoxical relationship between nostalgia and irony characterizes many of these works, and that this paradox derives from the confrontation between the pleasure of memory and the painful realization that the past is irretrievably lost. In the final part of my dissertation I discuss various arguments about Holocaust monuments and memorials in Europe and America and reveal parallels and differences between literary, sculptural, and architectural aesthetics. The dissertation therefore transforms the paralyzing debates over the aesthetics of Holocaust representation into productive questions about the politics of memory in the contemporary world.
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