Traumatic encounters : literature, the Holocaust, and the human subject / by Paul Eisenstein.
It has become almost a commonplace to argue for a limit-point in any attempt to bear witness to the Holocaust. That point is the reality of the Holocaust itself--i.e., "the way it was." Though this claim is clearly of relevance to various artistic forms that would represent it, my study argues that the case is otherwise for the human subject, that the gap between symbol and real is not the last moment of an ethics of memory but the first. Outside the order of language is precisely the "real" of the Holocaust, and it can be "witnessed"--but only by risking that encounter in which one repeats the trauma and loses all identity. As the experience in which one truly bears witness, this encounter with the real ought neither be deferred (in the manner of deconstructionist practice), nor made the basis of a higher form of communal identity (in the manner of liberal democratic claims concerning universal human rights). Which forms, then, repudiate these alternatives? Which forms, then, best place their own identities and the identities of their readers at risk? I note two formal options available to the work of art that would bear witness: the dream-like, hesitant idiom of the ineffable and the "absolute" form. The first of these forms is exemplified by Claude Lanzmann's Shoah and its repeated encircling of the sites of destruction. Lanzmann's repetitions are read against the more conventional narrative strategies and resolutions of Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List and D. M. Thomas's The White Hotel. The second of these forms is exemplified by the twelve-tone method of musical composition employed by Adrian Leverkuhn in Thomas Mann's Doctor Faustus, and by the "Encyclopedia" form deployed by Momik Neuman in David Grossman's See Under: Love. The exaggerated, totalizing gestures that underlie these forms suggest a return to Hegel in order to articulate an ethics of memory. By employing and deploying an absolute ordering principle--by assuming the position of Absolute Knowledge--Leverkuhn and Momik Neuman thereby place themselves--and ourselves--at risk to the unnameable outside, at risk to the truly traumatic encounter.
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