Between Witness and Testimony: The Holocaust and the Limits by Michael F. Bernard-Donals

By Michael F. Bernard-Donals

The Holocaust offers a huge problem to people who might characterize it or train it via fiction, movie, or historic bills. Even the stories of these who have been there offer just a glimpse of the catastrophe to those that weren't. among Witness and Testimony investigates the problems inherent within the legal responsibility to undergo witness to occasions that appear not only unspeakable but in addition unthinkable. The authors research motion pictures, fictional narratives, survivor stories, and the museums at Yad Vashem and the USA Holocaust Memorial Museum on the way to identify an ethics of Holocaust illustration. Traversing the disciplines of background, philosophy, non secular reports, and literary and cultural thought, the authors recommend that whereas no account effectively offers entry to what Adorno known as the extremity that eludes the idea that, we're nonetheless obliged to testify, to place into language what historical past can't contain."

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More important, this group suggests, is that we look not tor the contours of the object casting the shadow upon the cave wall but the contours of the shadow. Though such an examination may not tell us much about the events, it may be able to suggest how to construct a narrative account of history that suggests some of the resonance of its events without conveying the thing in itself. On such an accounting of history, the task would be to understand the narrative as evidence of the problems of the historian's method, drawing "attention to a historicity inhabiting the very presupposition that history is the fundamental mode of being" (Bennington and Young 8).

Adorno is right: it is barbaric to create poetry after Auschwitz. There is a certain barbarism, a certain horror, involved in representations of the Holocaust, or involved in any representations at all in a world that made the Holocaust possible. But this is not a barbarism that can be avoided by ruling such representations out of court, either by banning graven images or by insisting on a "modernist" rendering of the events of the Shoah. Because the utter burn of the events of the Shoah are in some sense paradigmatic of the immensity of the objects or events that Kant would say arouse the anxiety or trauma of the sublime, they will just as certainly give pain to the creator and the viewer of the works as they will give pleasure to them.

It attempts to match the inflnite sense data of our life worlds to the limits of the capacity of reason that would hope to bring some kind of narrative pattern or unity to the event. But in the case of what Blanchot has called the "disaster," the "force of writing [which is] excluded from [testimony] is beyond the pale of writing or extratextual" because it is what writing comes after, while at the same time it is the thing which writing hopes to bring to the present (Blanchot 7). The force of writing-the moments of the lives of the six 20 Between Witness and Testimony million Jews of Europe and the innumerable millions of others, the words of prayer uttered before the gas silenced prayer altogether, the moment of realization that comes with the closing of a van door in Kulmhof that you are the last one alive-is itself so inconceivable that any attempt to testifY to it is altogether doomed to failure.

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