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Anus Mundi: Jews, the Holocaust, and Excremental Assault in Michel Vinaver's Overboard (Par-dessus bora/ MICHAEL DA VID FOX The new prisoner's initiation into camp life was complete when he realized that there was 110 toilet paper. (Des Pres 54) I. I NTRO DU CT IO N This essay examj~es th~ representation of Jews, the Holocaust, and excrement in Michel Vinaver's Overboard (Par-dessus bard). What is argued here is that Overboard's inscription of Jewish images and the Holocaust, in contrapuntal combination and juxtaposition with images of excrement, stages the Holocaust by producing a kind of excremental assault on the audience. The term "excremental assault" is taken from Terrence Des Pres's passionate and astute Holocaust study, The Survivor: An Anatomy ofLife in the Death Camps. Des Pres's work includes a chapter entitled "Excremental Assault," which describes how the prisoners in the Nazi death camps "were systematically subjected to filth" and forced to suffer "the ordeal of excremental crisis" intended to destroy every shred of the prisoners' dignity and humanity (57, original emphasis ). Des Pres explains that in the Nazi death camps "[t]he death of the soul was aimed at. It was to be accomplished by terror and privation, but first of all by a relentless assault on the [prisoner's] sense of purity and wonh. Excremental attack, the physical inducement of disgust and self loathing, was a principal weapon" (60). The effect on the audience of Overboard of the pervasive presence of excrement and the way the play is structured to force the spectators to engage their own consciolls and unconscious associative and signifying processes regarding excrement constitute a kind of excremental assault. This excremental assault does not, of course, begin to compare with what was done to the Jews in the Holocaust. It does, however, create for the spectator a sense of forced immersion in the excremental. Moreover, the pervasive presence of excrement and the Jews, together with the play's relentless Modem Drama, 45:1 (Spring 2002) MICHAEL DAVID FOX contrapuntal juxtaposition of excrement, Jews, and the Holocaust, creates a fusion of these signs and images in the consciousness of the spectator, so that the play functions as a means of conveying to the audience the experience of the Nazi's excremental assault against the Jews. Overboard also connects the Nazi terror in the Holocaust of excremental assault to the present excremental assault comprised of the banal terrors of postmodem capitalism. The link between these excremental terrors is the figure of Alex Klein, musician, entrepeneur, de-Judaized Jew, Holocaust survivor, and eventual merchandising director, whose free fall into the "normal life" of the corporate world signals the final victory of both banality and terror. 2. THE CONTRAPUNTAL STRUCTURE OF OVERBOARD AND THE FREE FAl,.L OF IMAGES The contrapuntal structure of Overboard reflects the strikingly contrapuntal life of the playwright. Michel Vinaver was born Michel Grinberg in Paris in 1927 (Bradby, Theatre ofMichel Vinaver 153). His family was Russian Jewish on both sides; his father, Leon Grinberg, emigrated to France during the Soviet Revolution; his mother, Sophie Vinaver, also emigrated from Russia to France when her father, Maxim Vinaver, a lawyer and a leader of both the Jewish community in Saint Petersburg and the Constitutional Democratic Party, was forced to flee from the Bolsheviks in 1919 (153). When the Germans occupied France in 1940, the Grinberg family escaped first to the 20lle Libre; in April 194I they fled France and came to New York, where they remained for the rest of the war (153). Michel Vinaver completed college in the United States and returned to France in 1947 (154). In 1953 Vinaver was hired by the Gillette corporation (155). For the next twenty-five years Vinaver lived a double life as artist and business executive, becoming both "the leading French playwright of his generation" and "one of the most powerful business executives in all of Europe, CEO of Gillette Belgium, Gillette France, and the mighty DuPont Corporation" (Lester 69). Vinaver has described his double existence as "a symbiosis of two identities" and "[a] very farcical situation " (" Reflection" 75). In 1988, Vinaver was "[aJppointed titular professor in the Drama Department at...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5286
Print ISSN
0026-7694
Pages
pp. 35-60
Launched on MUSE
2013-07-03
Open Access
No
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