History and Memory after Auschwitz

History and Memory after Auschwitz

History and Memory after Auschwitz

History and Memory after Auschwitz

Synopsis

The relations between memory and history have recently become a subject of contention, and the implications of that debate are particularly troubling for aesthetic, ethical and political issues. Dominick LaCapra focuses on the interactions among history, memory and ethicopolitical concerns as they emerge in the aftermath of the Shoah. Particularly notable are his analyses of Albert Camus's novella The Fall, Claude Lanzmann's film Shoah and Art Spiegelman's comic book Maus. LaCapra also considers the Historian's Debate in the aftermath of German reunification and the role of psychoanalysis in historical understanding and critical theory.

Excerpt

Recently the concern with the problem of memory has become so widespread and intense that one is tempted to take a suspicious view and refer to fixation. In certain of its forms, the preoccupation with memory may indicate a failure of constructive will and divert attention from the needs of the present and the necessity of attempting to shape the future. One particularly dubious phenomenon is the nostalgic, sentimental turn to a partly fictionalized past that is conveyed in congenially ingratiating, safely conventionalized narrative form. Indeed the immersion in memory and its sites may at times have the quality of junk-Proustian Schwärmerei. But the recent turn to memory may have more than a symptomatic value, at least when a concern with memory includes a desire to be attentive to the problem of history insofar as it bears on the present and future, involving the need for a self-critical examination of one's own implication in the problems one treats. Memory--along with its lapses and tricks--poses questions to history in that it points to problems that are still alive or invested with emotion and value. Ideally, history critically tests memory and prepares for a more extensive attempt to work through a past that has not passed away.

I would initially mention two pressing sets of reasons for the turn to memory and its relation to history. First, there is the importance of trauma, notably including the deferred recognition of the significance of traumatic series of events in recent history, events one might well prefer to forget. The traumatic event has its greatest and most clearly unjustifiable effect on the victim, but in different ways it also affects . . .

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