Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Nothing is Illuminated? Really?

I just read a piece called "Nothing is Illuminated" by Hal Niedzviecki, who I have never heard of. It's shockingly insensitive, and downright ignorant on most counts. I posted a response, and have copied it below:

Are you attempting to coin a new term with "Holocaust Style"? If so it feels more than a bit ignorant. For at least the past decade, in the literary world and beyond, what you are referring to has already been labeled and defined as Post-Holocaust Literature. You may consider reading up on the genre as a whole, including the fairly large body of scholarly work that has been done on it. The narratives of Second Generation (children of survivors) writers, like Thane Rosenbaum and David Grossman among others, have also garnered the attention of scholars working in psychoanalytic criticism and trauma theory. Attempting to call it "Holocaust Style" trivializes the content and suggest that there's some sort of mimicry or bizarre obsession involved with the construction of these texts. What your comments seem to ignore is the fact that, like it or not, the Holocaust happened, and it now colors everything we say and do, particularly for those in the Jewish world -- it's a legacy of loss and destruction that we're stuck with, and to suggest that we should cease speaking/writing about it is like a slap in the face to those who died in it, lived through it, or have family members who experienced it. But considering that you are fed up with actual images and stories from the camps, I would think you would be able to appreciate the Post-Holocaust narratives of people like Rosenbaum and others who show us the after-effects of the Holocaust without relying on standard images of corpses and gas chambers.

8 comments:

Adam Shprintzen said...

I am entirely with you about that posting, and found your response to be beautifully elucidated and right on point. I especially found the original article to be particularly ill-timed given the events in Iran of the previous week...

Monica said...

Thanks, Adam -- glad you agree. And I agree with you about the poor timing of the piece. Whenever I read things like that I am always shocked, but when it comes from someone with a Jewish background or a connection to the Jewish world, I just don't understand the impulse.

Thanks for stopping by!

Adam Shprintzen said...

Well, maybe some people feel compelled to say outrageous things just for the sake of saying outrageous things? Is difficult to fathom though, out of ALL the things to possibly write about, that someone would feel so compelled.

Monica said...

You know, I did wonder myself how much of the article was really meant just to be provocative for the sake of being provocative. But, like you said, there are other ways to be outrageous.

Casey said...

One little comment, only diagonally on topic: Two things occur to me upon reading the last sentence of your post, Monica:

#1) how strange and troubling it is that corpses and gas chambers have become standard literary devices.

#2) how, even given my awareness of the troubling nature of observation #1, I cannot help recognizing (with you) the standardness of these images.

I might suggest that finding new ways to tell old stories is the only way to keep old stories from being forgotten.

Monica said...

All too true, Casey. And that's why I have a dissertation -- proposing new ways to tell old stories (midrash)!!

lovefourbooks said...

I very much appreciated your response, and believe you would like to check out award winning Israeli author Amir Gutfreund's debut, "Our Holocaust" which mixes humor and pathos and has a new way of telling the story without using those all too well known images.

“Even if I write an instruction manual for a washing machine, it will always contain
humor, and it will always contain the Holocaust. It's a part of me.”

So says award-winning Israeli author, Amir Gutfreund, and it is exactly such a combination of the mundane, the humorous, and the horrific that give Our Holocaust its unique power.

Throughout this enthralling tale, part autobiography, part novel, Gutfreund uses humor and keen psychological insight to guide us through the topsy-turvy world of a child growing up within a family and neighborhood where all the authority figures he knows have been damaged by the greatest horror the world has ever known: the Holocaust.

Monica said...

Thanks for the tip, lovefourbooks! I'll have to check out Amir Gutfreund!