An imported past : writing the Holocaust in America / by Steven Gangbar.
With its dual movement towards the past as a vessel of mythic origins and towards the future as unbridled opportunity and progress, America has within its actual history buried pasts that reverberate under the weight of the Holocaust. The challenge to represent this event in America is felt as an encumbrance on its ability to sustain an idealized master narrative. The intrusion of unwelcome and destabilizing pasts awakened by the Holocaust is further complicated by the fact that, having been structured according to Enlightenment precepts, America was led on the one hand to configure principles of morality and rights in form of a scripturalized ur-text, and on the other, to embrace concepts of cultural and geographic expansion, ethnic and class differentiation, imperialism and genocide. Confronted with the Holocaust, America's ambivalence is tested as an unsustainable veil of strategic amnesia and tactical concealment behind which the force of its own history insists itself As an event that has reshaped the nature of contemporary historiography by putting on trial the traditional Enlightenment pillars of positivism, objectivity and rationalism, and universal rights that have anchored the work of history in the past, the Holocaust represents a limit-case of history's ability to circumscribe the past. When we add to this the notion that National Socialism represented a radicalization of Enlightenment precepts, albeit infused with an impenetrable evil, American attempts to represent the Holocaust become sites of contestation between an idealized and an actual American past. The challenge to American Holocaust representation thus becomes one of forging a post-Enlightenment, post-metaphysical discourse for speaking the past. Through an analysis of representative texts taken from architecture and literature, I expose America's relation to the past of the Holocaust as one of as a contestation between an actual past and an ideal past, and then show that struggle culminating in the insertion of an ethical component that is anterior to metaphysics and to the realm of idealization in which the Enlightenment ethical tradition is grounded.
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