After Representation? The Holocaust, Literature, and Culture

After Representation? The Holocaust, Literature, and Culture

After Representation? The Holocaust, Literature, and Culture

After Representation? The Holocaust, Literature, and Culture

Synopsis

After Representation? explores one of the major issues in Holocaust studies the intersection of memory and ethics in artistic expression, particularly within literature.

As experts in the study of literature and culture, the scholars in this collection examine the shifting cultural contexts for Holocaust representation and reveal how writers- whether they write as witnesses to the Holocaust or at an imaginative distance from the Nazi genocide- articulate the shadowy borderline between fact and fiction, between event and expression, and between the condition of life endured in atrocity and the hope of a meaningful existence. What imaginative literature brings to the study of the Holocaust is an ability to test the limits of language and its conventions. After Representation? moves beyond the suspicion of representation and explores the changing meaning of the Holocaust for different generations, audiences, and contexts.

Excerpt

The generation of scholars who first focused on an emerging canon of Holocaust literature—figures such as George Steiner, Lawrence L. Langer, Alvin H. Rosenfeld, and Sidra DeKoven Ezrahi—were faced with the task of defining what Holocaust literature might be. Although this task was initially accomplished by a process of exclusion, asking a series of questions framed in the negative—When was representation inappropriate, and which sorts of representation might be inappropriate? What was it about the Holocaust that empiricist history-writing or literature or even testimony could not account for? What kinds of text shouldn’t count as Holocaust literature? What should imaginative literature not do?—the legacy of these studies was an emergent critical discourse about the literature of witness and the limits of any representation of atrocity, the impact of which was felt across the discipline of literary studies as well as in other fields in the humanities.

These questions are no less urgent today for scholars who have found new ways of talking, for example, about silence, trauma, testimony, and memory— all of which are topics addressed in this collection. If the prevailing suspicion of Holocaust literature had once been focused on whether the literary imagination in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries was adequate to the task of representing atrocity while remaining faithful to the historicity of such devastating, immensely significant events, contemporary authors of Holocaust literature and scholars of their work have concentrated with ever greater concern on the cultural context in which such literature is produced. Moreover, the diversification of media for representing historical and contemporary events has increased the urgency of addressing the intersection between the hypothetically nonrepresentable event and the pervasive, representation-saturated environment. In the postmodern era—which is defined as much by the technologies of representation as by any other single cultural or political factor—it may be that other representational media have taken the lead in conveying the Holocaust to the general public. Amid the American public, both Jewish and non-Jewish alike, young people are increasingly likely to glean their first Holocaust memories from Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List, much as a former generation once proved susceptible to The Diary of Anne Frank. The space allotted . . .

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