A Sample Response to the Following Question:

Andreas Huyssen makes the argument that "the impulse to memorialize events like the Holocaust may actually spring from an opposite and equal desire to forget them." Is there a way that cultural representations of the Holocaust subscribe to what we have termed in class the "amnesia of representation." Do any of the works we've examined escape this problem and, if so, how so? Discuss with reference to three of the texts we have examined in class (Claude Lanzmann's I, Alain Resnais' Night and Fog, Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List, Art Spiegelman's Maus, Henryk Mikolaj Górecki's Symphony No. 3, and Paul Celan's "Death Fugue").


Things to note:

1) The responses has a strong thesis, articulated from the start in an introductory paragraph.

2) The response has strong, well-articulated, and logical transitions between sentences and paragraphs. The argument seems to proceed inexorably from point to point.

3) The student is making powerful connections among the three texts s/he examines, interpreting any differences s/he identifies.

4) The student is providing interpretation of the text rather than mere paraphrase. The student is even making points that were not made in class. S/he is interpreting the text on his/her own and providing evidence to support his/her claims.

[Note that I am including my marginal comments in parenthesis and in red.]

After considering the Holocaust, one must realize that its association with tragedy, destruction, and horror makes all uncomfortable. Its survivors and victims have been permanently placed in our hearts and minds: they have been memorialized. But another problem associated with the representation of the Holocaust is its effect on people's ability to remember history. The "amnesia of representation" is a result of the difficulty with representation as it relates to the falsification of testimony through postmodern skepticism with grand narratives. There are several works which we studied—Maus, Shoah, and McCullough's Holocaust Cantata—which escape grand narrative to embrace petit récits to healthily represent testimony.

Maus is an example of a work that supports petit récits, or a smaller, more personal story. According to Hartman from "The Book of the Destruction," "The trouble with infinity of any kind is that it dwarfs response and disables human agency." This quote reveals that grand narratives which tend toward mass generalizations often overwhelm and offend, causing people to become defensive. Maus does the opposite. It reveals both sides of the story of the Holocaust; it shows that the Jews were both victims and murderers. The victims included the 3 million Jews who were murdered [6 million is the usual figure cited] and the murderers were the kappo, the Jews who collaborated with the Nazis out of self-preservation. The text, while exhibited in a comic book, successfully revealed these conflicting stories. The Jews stole food from each other but also made huge sacrifices. Maus explores the Holocaust experience on personal, intimate levels, therefore qualifying as a petit récit, and further proving the failure of the grand narrative.

Maus is also interesting because it reveals the story of the author and his conflict in representing the Holocaust. He states in Book 2 (page 16), "I feel so inadequate trying to reconstruct a reality that was worse than my darkest dreams... and trying to do it as a comic strip! I guess I bit off more than I can chew..." This quote reveals the author's inner conflict. He recognizes the difficulty and fragility of the petit récit but, in saying so, leaves some interpretation to the reader. The lack of color and other means of discourse (like music, voice, etc.) allows the reader to infer implication rather than be told what to believe. Maus recognizes the difficulty in exhibiting testimony and makes up for it through a self-conscious attitude and an open-ended interpretation.

Shoah is a film that also successfully represented testimony. Lanzmann, the creator of Shoah stated that if he "had stumbled on a real SS film... not only would I have not shown it but I would have destroyed it" ("Why Spielberg Has Distorted the Truth"). Maybe Shoah's techniques can be easily understood when compared to Schindler's List. According to Hansen, Spielberg has a "trivializing effect on everything it touches... turned Holocaust into a theme park... [and] the business of hollywood is entertainment" (296). [Note that quotations need to be made to make grammatical sense. Also, Hansen isn't making this argument; she's citing the opinion of others.] Shoah uses few discursive techniques. Lanzmann avoids music, voice-overs, horror shots, much of what is popular in mass culture representations of the Holocaust like Schindler's List. [Note that the voice-over is one discursive technique Lanzmann uses continuously throughout the film.]

Let me compare expressive techniques of the two film using a few examples. Shoah reveals the intensity of emotion when a Jewish survivor returns back to Poland where he lived at a concentration camp. The man was well-known for his singing and when he shared a song with the reunited group he was remembered. Lanzmann then filmed the reactions of the reunited group, the closest that one can get to accurate testimony. This accuracy comes out becaust the reactions are coming from the people with whom the story is concerned. The reactions go through no filters, like editing, and are offered no enhancement, like music or dramatic lighting. The purity of the experience is therefore revealed as it banks off of petit récits (the story, song of one man) rather than mass generated, edited responses. [Not clear what this is referring to.]

Schindler's List does offer such a mass generated, edited response. One emotional scene is prominant. Schindler sees a young girl walking through a violent street. Her presence is highlighted by a red cloak, while the rest of the movie had been black and white. Spielberg attempts to generate a petit récit but fails when the girl, whom Spielberg wanted to be an individual, melted into a number. This number, "infinity," according to Hartman, "dwarfs response and disables human agency." The meaning behind the girl's innocent character is lost because she is formulated among a grand narrative and she thereby loses her impactful influence.

Another example of a piece that successfully represented testimony is McCullough's Holocaust Cantata. Because it is solely music, it cannot rely on excessive discursive techniques like, for example, The Diary of Anne Frank does. Diary uses image and music together to manipulate the audience into feeling sympathy for Anne's death. She is categorized with all the other Jews who hid and were discovered, making her a part of infinity and grand narrative. [Not clear how this is so. You seem to be contradicting your previous sentence. Explain more fully.] On the other hand, Cantata uses music and speech to represent pieces of a story. In the Cantata, there are several dialogues revealing individual stories or petit récits. One such example is the piece "An Accidental Meeting," which states

5 years ago
when all the trains
travelled to our destinations
my mother introduced me
to God
He joined us on our journey.

Such a story is very impactful. It has elements of a specific individual's experience with the use of "my mother" and "me," meaning the speech was directed toward a specific individual. The prayer-like form of the words is also impactful in and of itself. I believe music is closest to prayer because it comes directly from the body without filters (much like Shoah is a representation of testimony without filters). The individualistic faith revealed puts a captivating twist to the petit récit. The faith issue, and the piece, "We Remember Them," both follow the same individualistic, faith representation. The words in "We Remember Them" are as follows: "so long as we live/ they too shall live/ for they are now a part of us/ we remember them." It gives a true sense of hope because it does not touch on the infinity that Hartman claims "dwarfs response and disables human agency." It touches on the greatness of the survival of the few individuals who made it out of the concentration camps. It enhances their story by revealing the truth, purity, and faith of the survivor's emotions. The success of such petit récits is what make McCullough's Holocaust Cantata so exceptional.

The use of grand narrative in Holocaust representation falsifies testimony. As Hartman proves, the concept of infinity is difficult to grasp and skews any concept it tries to portray. Because of this reason, grand narratives like Schindler's List and The Diary of Anne Frank give the audience a skewed view of testimony. The more pure, individualistic approach of the petit récits like Shoah, The Holocaust Cantata, and Maus portray such testimony in a productive, meaningful way which, unlike grand narratives, does not uphold the "amnesia of representation."

Grade: 40 points

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