Academic journal article Framework

Phantasmatic Losses: National Traumas, Masculinity, and Primal Scenes in Israeli Cinema-Walk on Water

Academic journal article Framework

Phantasmatic Losses: National Traumas, Masculinity, and Primal Scenes in Israeli Cinema-Walk on Water

Article excerpt

None of us ever knows the world of our parents. We can say that the motor of the fictional imagination is fueled in great part by the desire to know the world as it looked and felt before our birth. How much more ambivalent is this curiosity for children of Holocaust survivors, exiled from a world that has ceased to exist, that has been violently erased. Theirs is a different desire, at once more powerful and more conflicted: the need not just to feel and to know, but also to re-member, to rebuild, to re-incarnate, to replace, and to repair.1

In her influential book Family Frames, Marianne Hirsch, daughter of Romanian Holocaust survivors, describes the sense of exile that many European Jews of her generation experience: exile from a world that she has never seen and never will see since it has so utterly changed, having been almost completely destroyed by the catastrophic sudden violence of the Holocaust. Children of Holocaust survivors live, to an even greater extent than their parents, in spatial and temporal displacement from a world that became extinct, from the place of origin, from the incomprehensible and traumatic persecution of the Jews during World War II. Although they did not themselves experience the trauma of exile, separation, and destruction of the home, the second generation is marked by their parents' ordeal: like them, they too are forever exiled, marginalized, living in the Diaspora. "Home" has become a lost object, always in another place, distant in time and space, and although it is possible to visit the actual geographical territory that was the place of "origin," these are not the same countries that their parents had lived in before the annihilation, but places from which the Jews and their memories were deported. These "lost" countries from which their parents were exiled nonetheless constitute for them an ambivalent place and source of identity and identification. Hirsch calls this secondary memory, the memory of the second generation, "postmemory" which "characterizes the experience of those who grow up dominated by narratives that preceded their birth, whose own belated stories are evacuated by the stories of the pervious generation shattered by traumatic events that can be neither understood nor re-created." Postmemory, thus, is "distinguished from memory by generational distance and from history by deep personal connection." It is "a powerful and very particular form of memory precisely because its connection to its object or source is mediated not through recollection but through an imaginative investment and creation."2 In other words, postmemory grieves for a traumatic loss that cannot be repaired, imagines where one cannot recall, constructs what cannot be retrieved, represents the unrepresentable.

By correlating the child's past, before it came into being, with an imaginative investment, Hirsch's account is reminiscent of Freud's account of primal fantasy in which a child is listening to or gazing at his parents' sexual activity-witnessing his own origin, his own conception. The subject is invested in the entire phantasmatic scenario and not in a particular object, and his identifications may oscillate between different positions.3 In the fantasy of the primal scene, the child simultaneously occupies both the position of one of the parents and that of the observer. The child takes one of his parents' place in order to dissimulate and contain a loss that is connected to that parent, in an attempt to create a new past, to repair and compensate for what is perceived as the parent's lapses or flaws. The notion of returning to the past to generate an event that has already made an impact on one's subjectivity lies at the heart of both the primal fantasy and the Holocaust second-generation discourse. In both cases, the subject is sent "back in time" in order to reconstruct, to "remember," a traumatic event that had a profound effect on his/hers psychical life. In the case history of "The Wolf Man," Freud stresses that the traumatic childhood memory of the primal scene does not necessarily have to occur in reality in order for it to have a far-reaching influence on the mental life of the patient: "It does not necessarily follow that these previous unconscious recollections are always true. …

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