In Memoriam: Geoffrey H. Hartman
Geoffrey Hartman, Sterling Professor Emeritus of English and Comparative Literature at Yale University, passed away on March 14, 2016. He and his wife Renee, along with others, founded the Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies, the first major collection of its kind. Professor Hartman served as faculty advisor and project director at the Archive, which holds more than 4,400 testimonies—over 10,000 hours of recordings. Hartman was also one of the founders of Yale’s Program in Judaic Studies. Though some worried about “ghettoizing” Judaic culture, Hartman told the Jewish Ledger in 2014 that despite the challenges, “Judaic studies at Yale is flourishing, even more than I expected.”
Geoffrey Hartman was born in Frankfurt, Germany in 1929. At the age of 9 he was sent by Kindertransport to Britain, where he spent six years with nineteen other boys on the Waddesdon estate of James Rothschild. There he discovered his lifelong love of literature. He joined his mother in New York in 1945 and went on to graduate from Queens College (1949) and eventually to earn a doctorate in comparative literature at Yale (1953), where he would teach for almost forty years before his retirement in 2009; he taught as well at the University of Iowa and at Cornell University.
Hartman was one of the most distinguished literary scholars in America, and known particularly for his contributions to deconstructionist approaches. His early work at Yale involved the study of Wordsworth and other Romantic poets, influenced by French and German theorists. His interdisciplinary bent associated Hartman with the likes of Erich Auerbach, Harold Bloom, Jacques Derrida, and Paul de Man. He was also interested in Hitchcock, the detective story, and trauma. Hartman sought make the study of literary criticism a discipline in its own right. Beginning in the late 1970s, Hartman discovered a new interest in Jewish texts and memory, noting that “the shadow of the Holocaust often waylays me.” His only published collection of verse centers on Rabbi Akiba (Akiba’s Children, 1978), seeking “to thread and unthread the tangled ties of poetry and divinity.” Hartman’s turn toward Jewish and Holocaust studies underlay his 1994 collection, Holocaust Remembrance: The Shapes of Memory (1994); and his 2008 memoir, A Scholar’s Tale: Intellectual Journey of a Displaced Child of Europe. Hartman spoke at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum on May 30, 1995, delivering the inaugural Monna and Otto Weinmann lecture, “Preserving Living Memory: The Challenge and Power of Videotestimony,” viewable online at the Museum’s website, available there as an occasional paper, and published as well under the title “Learning from Survivors: The Yale Testimony Project” in the fall 1995 issue of Holocaust and Genocide Studies. Among his other publications are Wordsworth’s Poetry, 1787−1814 (1967); Beyond Formalism: Literary Essays, 1950−70 (1971); Minor Prophecies: The Literary Essay in the Culture Wars (1991); The Longest Shadow: In the Aftermath of the Holocaust (1996); Bitburg in Moral and Political Perspective (2000); and The Third Pillar: Essays in Judaic Studies (2011). Volumes he edited include Shakespeare and the Question of Theory (with Patricia Parker, 1985); and Midrash and Literature (with Sanford Budick, 1986). [End Page 209]