Missing absence : trauma and national memorials to the Holocaust / by Natasha Goldman.
This study investigates the interpretation of national Holocaust memorials through the trope of trauma, as it is understood within psychoanalysis and literary theory. While previous analyses of Holocaust memorials work within the rubrics of memory and collective memory, this study demonstrates the limits of those frameworks and suggests trauma theory as an alternative. Between traumatic events and the narration of them, victims of psychological trauma often are plagued by aftereffects that hinder a life in which emotional security and a working through of the past are possible. When therapists “bear witness” to patients' traumas, they assume ethical positions in understanding the limits between what someone says and what they are unable to say. The motif of repeating trauma has been appropriated by literary studies to explain how texts enact a pattern of repetition similar to trauma. The reader, like the listener described above, must read the stories of trauma and discern how metaphorical language indicates underlying trauma. This study proceeds from these investigations and considers the relationship between trauma, Holocaust memorials and the viewer. If memorials are marked by visual dissonance and disruption, then they require a certain kind of viewing that understands what trauma is and how it functions, thereby making bearing witness possible. When a cultural milieu is not ready to investigate or accept the aftermath of trauma, however, the aftereffects of trauma in the present go unremarked and unwitnessed. The United States Holocaust Museum is an official site of memory in which documentary objects make trauma visible while official rhetoric about them conceals it. Works of art and the museum's imperative to “bear witness” are also considered. The diverse memorials at Yad Vashem, a living memorial, have changed form as the cultural rhetoric of trauma has developed. Early memorials dedicated to heroes have given way to ones that investigate the deaths of ordinary people. The Berlin Holocaust Memorial debate is investigated as a site of traumatic return that misses important absences regarding the Nazi past. The static site of the memorial is contrasted to the public works of art that dot Berlin's living memorial landscape.
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