Whither the Broken Middle?
Rose and Fackenheim on Mourning,
Modernity and the Holocaust
Emil Fackenheim cites with approval Elie Wiesel's statement that the ‘Holocaust destroyed not only human beings but also the idea of humanity’. 1 The evaluation of this claim, which raises the question of the very possibility of ethics after Auschwitz, rests upon a prior assessment of the relation of the Holocaust to modernity. In a nutshell, does the Holocaust represent an appalling ‘hiatus’ in the ongoing progress of modernity, or the disclosure of its essential nihilism? Do we still dwell in the shadow of Auschwitz or is it now possible to ‘actively forget’ and move on? My aim in this paper is to evaluate the contribution of Gillian Rose to this debate. 2 Rose's central claim is that we can fully acknowledge the trauma of the Holocaust without continuing to be traumatised by it. Moreover, Rose insists, we must not only remember the Holocaust; we must remember it perfectly.3 For only on the basis of a total and fearless reconstruction of its antecedents and effects in their specificity — causal, conceptual, spiritual — along with a comprehensive understanding of its ramifications in the present, may we arrive at an uncompromising acknowledgement of the degree of our own implication in the nexus of factors that made the catastrophe both possible and actual. Only then will we be free to repeat the past differently. In short, for Rose, the work of comprehension is an act of mourning that can and must be completed, so that, educated by the experience, we may move forwards in life and history.
Although Rose's explicit reflections on the Holocaust are confined to her late works, their theoretical foundations are laid in her early writings on Adorno and Hegel. Accordingly, Rose's claim can only be adequately assessed in the context of the development of her authorship as a whole. From this point of view, I shall argue, the ‘method’ of her late authorship is quite different from that employed in her early works. Whereas Hegel Contra Sociology and Dialectic of Nihilism are
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Publication information: Book title: Social Theory after the Holocaust. Contributors: Robert Fine - Editor, Charles Turner - Editor. Publisher: Liverpool University Press. Place of publication: Liverpool, England. Publication year: 2000. Page number: 47.
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