Traumatic Uniqueness and the Proscription of Idolatry


This will be my final posting at this site for this year, 2008.  I anticipate putting up my next posting on January 5 of the new year.

My discussion of the works of Dominick LaCapra continues in today’s posting, as it will in the first few entries I plan to post early in 2009.


Sunday, March 16, 2008

Both in the work above [Writing History, Writing Trauma] and in History and Memory After Auschwitz (Cornell University Press, 1998), LaCapra advances (see pages 7 and 26 in the work  just cited) a useful notion of “uniqueness” which liberates that concept from any purely numerical criterion.  For him, [to speak of] the uniqueness of, say, the Holocaust, is to say that a “limit” is reached in/by such events such that (p. 26) “something radically transgressive [of those limits] or incommensurable [with them] has occurred.”

As he goes on to say:  “The limit may be reached more than once in history and still remain distinctive or even unique in a specific, very important sense.”  As he puts it earlier (p. 7), when an event of such uniqueness happens:  “In it an extreme threshold or outer limit of transgression was crossed, and whenever that threshold or limit is crossed, something  ‘unique’ happens and the standard opposition between uniqueness and comparability is unsettled, thereby depriving comparatives (especially in terms of magnitude) of a common measure or foundation.”

In effect:  In an event such as the Holocaust there is a breakdown of the notion of uniqueness as numerical, where it means “one of a kind,” and a breakthrough into a sense and site of uniqueness as no  longer “of a kind” at all.  In that second, traumatic (we could call it) sense, the  unique is no longer any kind of  kind. 

Later that same day:

LaCapra (n. 21 on pp. 32-33, History and Memory After Auschwitz):  “From the perspective of a radically transcendent conception of the sublime, such as that of Jean-Francois Lyotard, the immanent sublime (notably including sacrifice) would be a degeneration  of an unrepresentable, radical alterity that is misappropriated when it is rendered immanent or ‘spectacularized.’ . . . One may also argue that the prohibition of representation [in Judaism, presumably] is a safeguard against–or foreclosure of–the immanent sacred, notably including the role of sacrifice.”

Compare Eisenstein [see my first posting on this site, for December 11, 2008,] on the Lacanian “quilting point.”

In general:  idolatry.

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