The midrashic impulse : reading fiction, film, and painting in the face of the Shoah / by Monica R. Osborne.
In this dissertation, I suggest that the problems we encounter in trying to represent the Holocaust may derive precisely from the nature of our attempts: namely, that we have persistently tried to re-present events that we acknowledge to be ineffable and unknowable, and yet that conclusion has only led us to reinitiate the representational attempt. The purpose of this dissertation is not to propose a new way of overcoming that failure, but rather to highlight it as a way of marking a non-representational impulse to which all literature and other artistic endeavors composed in the wake of the Holocaust necessarily bear witness in a more or less self-conscious way. I name this impulse “midrashic” to reflect both what the ancient rabbis designated as a certain response to gaps in the scriptural text, and what a growing number of theorists in literary study, Jewish study, and philosophic study have designated as a significant interpretative mode. The midrashic impulse is a capacity of all literature to document or witness the violent origins from which it comes. In a sense, the midrashic impulse is another vocabulary for what has been called with reference to Freud the movement from acting out to working through, a concept that has been explored by Dominick LaCapra among others.After a theoretical introduction, I examine in the subsequent four chapters the work of a secular Jewish American novelist, of an observant Jewish American writer, of a Polish filmmaker, and of a Jewish post-Holocaust painter. Each writer and artist highlights his or her own capacity to witness the Holocaust by exploring the failure of the representational aim that artists typically set for themselves. Allowing their work to attest to its own incapacities, these writers and artists offer what in my view is perhaps a more profoundly ethical way—even a more honest and accurate way—of responding to the Holocaust, not only because they do not claim to know what can never be known, but also because they have devised a way to make this darkness visible. It is this awareness and its implications that becomes a witness to the ongoing trauma of the Holocaust.
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