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Witnessing the Disaster

Essays on Representation and the Holocaust

Edited by Michael Bernard-Donals and Richard Glejzer

Publication Year: 2003

    Witnessing the Disaster examines how histories, films, stories and novels, memorials and museums, and survivor testimonies involve problems of witnessing: how do those who survived, and those who lived long after the Holocaust, make clear to us what happened? How can we distinguish between more and less authentic accounts? Are histories more adequate descriptors of the horror than narrative? Does the susceptibility of survivor accounts to faulty memory and the vestiges of trauma make them any more or less useful as instruments of witness? And how do we authenticate their accuracy without giving those who deny the Holocaust a small but dangerous foothold?
    These essayists aim to move past the notion that the Holocaust as an event defies representation. They look at specific cases of Holocaust representation and consider their effect, their structure, their authenticity, and the kind of knowledge they produce. Taken together they consider the tension between history and memory, the vexed problem of eyewitness testimony and its status as evidence, and the ethical imperatives of Holocaust representation.

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press


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pp. v-vi

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Introduction: Representations of the Holocaust and the End of Memory

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pp. 3-23

In spite of Adorno’s dictum of over forty years ago that to make art from the suffering of the Holocaust is barbarity, the event of the Holocaust can be and has been effectively represented. Even if Lawrence Langerhad not pointed this fact out in 1976, the proliferation of novels, plays, films, and other representations of the event seems to have mooted...

I. The Epistemology of Witness

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pp. 20-22

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1. The Holocaust as Vicarious Past: Art Spielgelman's Maus

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pp. 23-45

Despite the brilliant example of his own work, Nazi Germany and the Jews, Saul Friedlander is still not convinced that an anti-redemptory historiography of the Holocaust is possible.1 For even that narrative, which integrates something akin to the deep, unassimilated memory of survivors as a disruption of “rational historiography,” also seems to mend these...

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2. “The Language of Dollars”: Multilingualism and the Claims of English in Hasidic Tales of the Holocaust

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pp. 46-81

This essay assumes that, in two significant and related domains—American literary history on the one hand and Holocaust writing on theother—the position of English is contested, uncertain, and undergoing transformation. In American letters, scholars have noted the almost exclusive attention given to English-language writing in recent accounts of...

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3. A Pedagogy of Trauma (or a Crisis of Cynicism): Teaching, Writing, and the Holocaust

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pp. 75-89

"Looking back at the experience of that class, I therefore think that my job as a teacher, paradoxical as it may sound, was that of creating in the class the highest state of crisis that it could withstand, without ‘driving the students crazy’—without compromising the students’ bounds.”1 In this excerpt from “Education and Crisis; or, the Vicissitudes of...

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4. The “Erotics of Auschwitz”: Coming of Age in The Painted Bird and Sophie's Choice

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pp. 90-124

What does it mean to come of age within the context of the Holocaust? To write a coming-of-age novel, a Bildungsroman, is to write the narrativeof an authentic developing self in a particular social milieu with all its components: educational and cultural, as the German term implies, butalso emotional, psychological, and, of course, sexual. Given both...

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5. Maus and the Epistemology of Witness

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pp. 125-140

Art Spiegelman concludes his two-volume Maus with an instance of embedded memory, where he recollects a moment of his father’s recollection. The final page depicts Vladek telling the story of his reunion with his wife, Anja, after being separated for over a year upon their arrival at Auschwitz. Vladek’s story ends with an uncharacteristically...

II. Memory, Authenticity, and the “Jewish Question”

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pp. 138-140

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6. Promiscuous Reading: The Problem of Identification and Anne Frank's Diary

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pp. 141-160

A few years ago when I was teaching Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl, one student in my class related the following: “My roommate went to Poland this last month and stayed with her boyfriend’s family. While discussing their plans, she said she wanted to visit a concentration camp.This topic then diverged into a discussion of Anne Frank. Their family,...

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7. Humboldt’s Gift and Jewish American Self-Fashioning "After Auschwitz"

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pp. 162-182

In his 1978 comments on the proceedings of the International Symposium on Saul Bellow, Tony Tanner sees Bellow’s protagonists as aware ofthe problems of history, but he argues that these problems “do not functionally enter his fiction.”1 Tanner’s cogent claim should resonate with any ongoing effort to assess Bellow’s novels within the historical...

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8. Mormon Literature and the Irreducible Other: Writing the Unspeakable in Holocaust Literature

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pp. 183-195

In The Differend: Phrases in Dispute, Jean Fran

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9. Beyond the Question of Authenticity: Witness and Testimony in the Fragments Controversy

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pp. 196-217

Dominick LaCapra has written extensively on what he calls the “ex-ceptionally vexed” relationship between history and memory after Auschwitz: history and memory cannot be conflated, and in resisting this conflation we trouble the relation between witness and testimony, as well as the relation among what happened, what we recognize as...

III. The Ethical Imperative

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pp. 218-220

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10. Maurice Blanchot: Fighting Spirit

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pp. 221-230

The problem caused by writers who helped to create a murderous climate that contributed to the Holocaust is verbal as well as moral: can the abused words be restored to a kind of innocence or neutrality? “No word tinged from on high,” Adorno wrote, not even a theological one,can be justified, untransformed, after Auschwitz.1 Sublime yet rabid...

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11. Shoah and the Origins of Teaching

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pp. 231-251

At first blush, Professor Bauer seems to be evoking something quite familiar to scholars: their responsibilities to their discipline and to their students. But he does something else as well: the sharp distinction he proposes prompts us to consider how our approach to historical work (particularly if we are not historians) might change if we were to place the accent on the teaching. At least, we should begin to talk about the...

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12. Teaching (after) Auschwitz: Pedagogy between Redemption and Sublimity

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pp. 245-261

We begin by asking a simple question: what do we think we teach when we write about, or give classes on, the Shoah? In the years since 1945 we have heard a lot of answers: so that we never forget; so that something like this could never happen again; so that we can heal or redeem the damage done to the world through anti-Semitism or racial hatred or...

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13. Approaching Limit Events: Siting Agamben

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pp. 262-306

At issue in many approaches to the Holocaust and other extreme or limit events, situations, and experiences are two perspectives with problematic relations to one another. One affirms a notion of redemption as absolute recovery with no essential loss, even with respect to so traumatic a past as the Shoah. The second involves the denial or absolute...


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pp. 307-308


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pp. 309-317

E-ISBN-13: 9780299183639
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299183646

Publication Year: 2003