Representing the Holocaust on film : Schindler's list and the pedagogy of popular memory / by Uriel J. Grunfeld.
The following enquiry aims to identify some of the conditions under which narrative constructions of popular memory either enable or disable the exercise of critical awareness and agency. This critical perspective, in turn, raises the following pedagogical challenge: that we should learn how to distinguish between commemorative practices which function as mechanisms of denial and those which are conducive to the working through of collective trauma. Specifically, this investigation examines the narrative representation of the Holocaust in Steven Spielberg's film, Schindler's List. Two different readings of the film are offered in the course of the analysis. The first reading demonstrates how Schindler's List has been appropriated by educational discourse in the USA in a manner that is consistent with mainstream liberal ideology, which preaches tolerance and equates agency with individual moral choice. The second reading makes use of a hermeneutic approach in order to analyze how the film text itself constrains the possible constructions of meaning which surround it. The purpose, in this case, is to examine how the Hollywood narrative code, employed by the film, utilizes a variety of rhetorical means which typically uphold the status quo, as they reproduce the same scheme of power relations as that which prevails within the dominant culture. The two critical readings of Schindler's List reveal the limitations of the liberal agenda and of the Hollywood narrative code, respectively, as they both fall short of providing the conditions for the collective trauma of the Holocaust to be properly worked through. This enquiry concludes with the observation that historical narratives must fulfill certain key requirements, if they are intended in any way to meet the challenge of critical pedagogy, as outlined above. First, the historical narrative must testify to the irreducible specificity of the events which it describes, even as it avoids making general moral and educational statements about the meaning of those events; second, the historical narrative must produce an open discursive space within which we, as subjects of history, may insert ourselves as witnesses i.e., agents of memory) who participate in the continual, ongoing interrogation and reconstruction of that selfsame narrative.
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