restricted access Conclusion: Toward the Possibility of a Diasporic Community
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Conclusion: Toward the Possibility of a Diasporic Community In my readings I have shown that postwar German Jewish writers experienced their favorable reception in West Germany after 1960 as a return of the historical events of genocide and mass displacement. Yet however traumatic these crises were, bringing back painful memories of exile and expulsion, they did not silence these authors. Rather, the figures of exile and dispersal that proliferate in their literary texts of the time demonstrate how a sense of irredeemable displacement contains the potential for a productivity marked by critical acuteness. One difficulty in analyzing the nexus between trauma and displacement is the temptation to fall back into a hermeneutic of exile that simply assumes a productive force of exile. Cathy Caruth’s classic text on trauma theory , Unclaimed Experience, for instance, relies on figures of displacement to propagate a view of trauma as both shattering and liberating. Caruth bases her argument to a great extent on Freud’s last book, Moses and Monotheism. Briefly summarized, this book advances the thesis that Moses was an Egyptian who imposed the monotheistic doctrine first formulated by Pharaoh Amenhotep IV onto the Hebrews, a group of poor immigrants he led out of Egypt. After some time, the Hebrews reacted to the exacting laws of the new religion and the demands for a constant renunciation of instincts with a rebellion, in which Moses was 173 CONCLUSION 174 killed. The murder of Moses was a traumatic event for the perpetrators; it was followed by a period of latency lasting several hundred years, after which monotheism and its strict laws returned and were internalized . Because trauma results from a confrontation with death and survival , Caruth concludes, it opens up “the possibility of a future.” 1 This understanding of trauma hinges upon an interpretation of the biblical Exodus as departure rather than return: by transforming the Hebrews into the Jews, God’s chosen people, Moses did not so much return them to their former homeland but create a new paradigm of human life, a monotheistic religion with a strong ethical bend. Caruth supports this idea by pointing to the prominence of the word verlassen [to leave] in Moses and Monotheism, to Freud’s interpretation in “Beyond the Pleasure Principle” of the fort-da game as a game of departure, and to Freud’s own exile as another instance of a departure both forced and liberating. Freud drafted Moses and Monotheism during the rise of Nazism and the increasing persecution of Jews and completed the book after leaving Austria for England, where he enjoyed the freedom of expression he had missed in the years before. Though all of this is correct, Caruth’s emphasis on these kinds of departures is apt to perpetuate a notion of exile as intrinsically productive because it grants individuals a new perspective on their lives. More precisely, Caruth reformulates this notion into the idea that exile propels traumatized subjects into contact with others and thus ensures the transmission of trauma and the beginning of a history always already shared with others . While this idea resonates, for instance, with Nelly Sachs’s understanding of the postwar Jewish diaspora as charged with the task of bearing witness to the Holocaust, Caruth provides few hints as to what such a communication might look like. Rather, she relies, as Ruth Leys puts it, on the idea of a “face-to-face encounter between a victim, who enacts or performs his or her traumatic experience, and a witness who listens and is in turn contaminated by the catastrophe.” 2 In contrast to this idea of a direct contact between survivor and witness, the authors examined in this study write not only from a peculiar distance to their readers but also in a language experienced as a vehicle of violence. Celan’s dissemination of language into semantic splinters from disparate vocabularies and epistemes, Weiss’s failing attempt to transform the German language into a mere analytical tool, and Sachs’s dramatization of conflicting semantics in German and Hebrew instantiate not only a departure to new expressive possibilities THE POSSIBILITY OF A DIASPORIC COMMUNITY 175 but also a return to a scene of split identity. This does not mean that their texts lack the force of address that characterizes testimony but that the passage of their words to their addressees is fraught with additional complications. If the collision of redemptive and catastrophic meanings in Sachs, for instance, transmits the trauma of an irreparably split identity onto readers, this...