Disciplining the Holocaust / by Karyn Marie Ball
Includes bibliographical references (p. -379)
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Disciplining the Holocaust focuses on questions of moral and scientific propriety in recent critical discussions about the Holocaust's representation. The dissertation revolves around my employment of the term proper to describe the nexus of moral, hermeneutical, and aesthetic ideals that delineate a rigorous (i.e., disciplined ) approach to the Holocaust and thereby delimit its content as an object of inquiry. This formulation derives from Jacques Derrida's deconstruction of idealist conceptions of meaning and identity, but also from Michel Foucault's emphasis on the double sense of the term discipline as a field of inquiry and a system of codes that regulates (through punishments and rewards) discourse and knowledge in the human sciences. My analysis problematizes the ways that historians, philosophers, and critics invoke the disciplinary proper for the purpose of excluding allegedly “improper” representations of the Jewish genocide. My aims are to trace shifts in scholars' definitions of propriety across different discursive domains while illuminating the relevance of Holocaust scholarship for an understanding of traumatic discourse in general. In the first chapter, the controversy surrounding Daniel Jonah Goldhagen's Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust (1996) provides the departure point for my theorization of the genocide's constitution as a traumatic historical object. The second chapter concretizes this analysis through a reading of the 1986 West German Historians' Debate about the Holocaust's centrality in German history. The third chapter examines Jean-Francois Lyotard's philosophically over-determined figuration of Auschwitz as a sublime event that transcends empirically based judgments. This critique also affirms his rhetorical emphasis on the competition among opposing descriptions of historical experience. The fourth chapter identifies the theoretical conditions and moral limits of adopting Freudian psychoanalysis to evaluate representations of the Holocaust. In addition, this chapter employs psychoanalytic theory to explain how collective memories assume a disciplinary power to regulate interpretations of the traumatic past. This is a controversial fine of inquiry because it suggests that scholars consider their affective investment in the Holocaust as a traumatic object of inquiry. My conclusion therefore addresses the ethical implications of this analysis that potentially offends the sensibilities of Holocaust survivors and the bereaved.
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