Documenting barbarism : memory, culture, and modernity after the "final solution" / by Michael Rothberg.
This dissertation concerns the representation of the Holocaust in literature, philosophy, film, and popular culture. I argue that there has been a shift in the dominant understanding of Holocaust representation from modernist prescriptions about the limits of representation and the division between high and popular culture to a postmodern sensibility in which the notion of limits is interrogated from a location that refuses the hierarchies of modernist aesthetics and incorporates mass cultural techniques and technologies. In the process, the modernist "Europeanization" of the Holocaust, which tended to focus on the crisis of modernity, is replaced by a postmodern movement of "Americanization" in which a version of modernity is recuperated. The texts of Americanization also mark a turning away from the fascination with the perpetrators (as diagnosed by Saul Friedlander in Reflections of Nazism), and the emergence of a new discourse which simultaneously fetishizes survival and liberation or rescue. Part I derives from a reading of Theodor Adorno's reflections on "poetry after Auschwitz." Adorno's pronouncement that such poetry is "barbaric" has had a vast influence on studies of Holocaust literature, even as it has been decontextualized and misunderstood. Chapter 1 tracks Adorno's changing notions of culture "after Auschwitz," arguing that they need to be read both in the context of his philosophy as a whole and in the particular historical circumstances in which they were meant to intervene. In the next two chapters, on Maurice Blanchot and Marguerite Yourcenar, I read the significance of "Auschwitz" as a moment of rupture and assess the possibilities for what Adorno called "coming to terms with the past." I argue that Blanchot succeeds in working through his prewar fascist and antisemitic engagement, while Yourcenar represses the significance of the Holocaust by recontextualizing her prewar novel, Coup de Grace, in the Cold War climate of the 1950s. Drawing its name from a television news show that declared 1993 "The Year of the Holocaust," Part II considers a variety of recent American texts and suggests that the symbolic power of Auschwitz has not waned, but has been somewhat displaced by the different context of a postmodern, post-Cold War world. Chapter 4, on Philip Roth and Art Spiegelman, considers the impact of the commodification of the Holocaust on Jewish-American identities and on contemporary attempts to represent the Nazi genocide. In Chapter 5, I demonstrate a logic of simultaneous identification with victims/survivors and liberators/rescuers that is shared by Schindler's List and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, although the museum uses architecture, design, state of the art technology, and survivor testimony to present a more complex version of Holocaust history. In conclusion, I read Grace Paley's short story, "Three Days and a Question," as evidence that the logic of Holocaust Americanization can incorporate the strengths of modernism with a concern for and recognition of the circumstances of the present. Paley points the way toward an ethical relationship to history that acknowledges both the singularity and historicity of suffering and the universality of its implications.
Record last modified: 2018-05-22 11:46:00
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