Holocaust Remembrance – The shapes of memory – Geoffrey H. Hartman

pg 2 – The Jews in Europe were decimated by the Nazi genocide and lost their communal identity. In Germany and Eastern Europe that loss of community has been decisive, irreversible; in other parts of Europe, such as France and Italy , or in Israel and America, new communities have developed, though conscious of a perhaps fatal amputation, and caught between a morbid and a necessary remembrance.

pg 3. In the dawn of new life, moreover, the liberated were again shunned or disregarded like the proverbial messenger of bad news. Aharon Appelfield depicts the survivors as lapsing into a Big Sleep, not unlike the charmed amnesia of national assimilation from which they were so traumatically torn; and Haim Gouri documents the eye-opening impact of the Eichmann trial on an Israeli generation that had encouraged the dormancy of which Appelfeld writes.

pg 3 – For those who do not see the Holocaust as “just another calamity,” or who think that even were it comparable to other great massacres we should not allow it to fade from consciousness – because of its magnitude, its blatant criminality, its coordinated exploitation of all modern resources, cultural and technological, and the signal it sends how quickly racist feelings can be mobilised – for those m and i am of their number, post-historical is as unacceptable as historical relativisation .

pg 5 – “Curse God and die” may respond to our bitterness of heart, but what we generally do is seek a redemptive perspective to save the good name of humanity or of life itself. Yet the Final Solutions man-made calamity is exceptionally resistant to such a perspective. It threatens to remain an open grace, an open wound in consciousness. In fact, the passage of time has eroded redemptive as well as merely rationalising meanings faster than they can be replace. We become, in Mauric Blacnhot’s  words, “guardians of an absent meaning.” and in a gesture that is meant to be theoretical rather than religious, we then reflect on the limits of representation, questioning under the impact of this corrosive event our cultural achievements in criticisms, literature and historiography.

pg 8 – In Israel (not only in Germany ) the idea of overcoming the past has proved to be an illusion. On both the personal level and that of public policy there is enormous tension. For a long time Israel itself rejected the ethos of refuges who flooded in, while legitimating  itself (as it still does, and increasingly ) through Holocaust memory. The essays by Appelfeld and Gouri reflect this contraction but do not speak fully about the impact of the dead on the living. Or about the way the living appropriate the dead. The generation after, because of its closeness to the survivors, has the essential and ungrateful task of criticising specific aspects of a Holocaust remembrance that runs into a politics of memory [for more info see Saul Friedlander, “Shoah: between memory and history” The jerusalem Quarterly and Tom Segev, the Seventh Million : The Israelis and the Holocaust”]]

pg 11 (talking about walter benjamin) His famous essay of 1936, on the changing status of art in the era of mechanical reproduction, suggests that when techniques like photography transport objects from their original site, from their specific historical locus, they lose the aura of uniqueness. The reproducibility of art – and, by extension, of the newsworthy event – brings us closer to it yet also creates a further distance: a world in which presence is increasingly displaced by representation.

pg 17 –  It is not surprising that after the Holocaust so much guilt surfaces in the form of religious types of incrimination as well as reactive and exculpatory schemes of denial. With respect to guilt, there are many that question not only the treatment of immigrants but our entire history of behaviour toward the other – the stranger in our gates or the conquered and colonised. Our confidence with the West, in its claim to be civilized, is shaken. Yet, reactively, there are many that blame the victims or count themselves among their number or, seeing victims everywhere, equalise them all, undermine moral distinctions. So the waffen SS, buried in Bitburg cemetery, are also “victims” of the Third Reich, even though many of them may have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity , especially against Jews .

pg 19 – (n.q relate this to the memory of shoah every year in religion, the detachement in time and place, into why art is created at Yad Vashem but not in germany)  Art can and does move away from historical reference by a characteristic distancing. Moreover, even so estranging an event as the Shoah may have to be estranged again, through art, insofar as its symbols beecome trite and tirualistic rather than realizing…. The issue of how memory and history become art is always a complicated one; in the case of the Shoah the question is also whether they should become art. Adorno’s dictum ” to write poetry after Aushwitz is barbaric” was intended to be, as the context shows, a caution against the media and any aesthetic exploitation.



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