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Scenes of witnessing in Paul Celan, Anselm Kiefer and Daniel Libeskind / by Eric Kligerman.

Publication | Library Call Number: PT2605.E4 Z625 2001

In my dissertation I concentrate on three modes of representation—poetry, painting and architecture—and examine their relation to the working through of trauma in postwar German aesthetics and the Holocaust. I explore how Kiefer and Libeskind translate Celan's poetic invocations of trauma into the visual arts. Following Celan's command from “Engführung”, “Read no more—look! Look no more—go,” I investigate how these three artists seduce the spectator into entering the aesthetic voids of their respective projects and solicit from them an engagement with the historical void of the Shoah. Through an imposition of perceptual violence, the artist provokes the spectator to read, see and enter the historical voids figured in the artwork. I begin with Saul Friedlander's thesis that historians need a new category other than the sublime to discuss the terror of the Shoah. While some scholars employ Kant to discuss the interpretive limits of the Shoah, I argue that they fail to reckon with Kant's concept by dismissing the ethical implications behind the sublime and its call for a witness. I reject this application of Kant's negative sublime in the context of the Shoah, in favor of Freud's model of the uncanny. My use of what I call the holocaustal uncanny enables me to approach the representational limits of the Shoah and to examine the act of secondary witnessing in aesthetic depictions of an historical trauma. Taking three case studies, I explore how each artist intervenes during a shifting moment of memory work in Germany's reflections on the Holocaust. While I offer a much-needed critical study of the ethics of mourning in relation to Celan's poetry, I also expand upon contemporary theoretical debates on traumatic memory. I conclude by analyzing how the New German Republic transforms the passive consumption of traumatic memory into an act of historical agency through the founding of museums and memorials. In addition to probing how Celan constructs a social space in which one can bear witness to a trauma, I investigate how other artists in postwar German transform this icon of Holocaust lyric in their respective media to commemorate the Shoah in provocative and challenging ways.

Kligerman, Eric.
Record last modified: 2018-04-24 16:01:00
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