Passing on trauma : the witnessing of the Holocaust / by Suzanne Julie Popkin.
Despite the diversity of responses to the Holocaust, most survivors and writers remarkably agree on the following: there is something absolutely unrepresentable about the Holocaust. There have been two predominant ways of explaining this. First, the Holocaust is thought to have so radically exceeded the linguistic and socio-historical frameworks available, that there were no frameworks with which to witness the Holocaust. Second, the events are understood to have been so shocking that individuals became emotionally numbed to them. Passing On Trauma: The Witnessing of the Holocaust challenges this claim to the unrepresentability of the Holocaust. It offers shame as an alternative psychological point of reference for understanding unrepresentability. I suggest that what has been taken to be the “impossibility” of witnessing is actually the effect of shame: the fear of having done (or felt or imagined) a reprehensible act and the consequent fleeing from one's own testimony. I suggest that it is not only the shame of the survivor that limits witnessing, but also the shame of the bystander and post-witness. The very act of witnessing produces the “listener's” shame and avoidance, and this shame often in turn produces and intensifies the shame of the witness. Witnessing thus gets caught in a vicious circle of shame that emerges between the witness and post-witness. I suggest that shame is constituted not only by desubjectification, the fleeing from oneself, but also, subjectification and the desire for affirmation. Insofar as the witness wavers between desubjectification and subjectification, so witnessing wavers between withdrawing from representation and emerging in representation. The avoidance prompted by shame is thus never complete. Witnessing wavers between withholding and release, knowing and ignorance. Passing On Trauma is divided into three sections: texts by survivors (Elie Wiesel and Sarah Kofman), bystanders (Marguerite Duras and Albert Camus), and post-witnesses (theoretical, legal and psychoanalytic texts on the Holocaust). The aim of Passing On Trauma is both to show the way in which shame renders witnessing seemingly “impossible,” and then also to explore the possibility for affirmation. I suggest that through an understanding of shame, the Holocaust can be exposed and addressed more openly
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