Items Concerning LaCapra’s Works #1


In the entry below from my philosophical journal, as in those for my next few postings, I continue my exploration of works by contemporary American historian and trauma theorist Dominick LaCapra.  Both today’s entry and the one I will post next contain a series of related but independent, separate numbered items pertaining to various  aspects of his thought.


Saturday, March 22, 2008

(1)  The use of the Holocaust as what LaCapra calls a “founding trauma”–e.g., as used too often by Israel–does not honor the debt all of us alive after the Holocaust owe to the dead.


(2)  LaCapra ([History and Memory] After Auschwitz, p. 166) quotes Art Spiegelman [comic-strip artist, winner of the Pulitzer Prise for his two-volume Holocaust comic-strip classic  Maus] in an interview on the Poles who witnessed the Holocaust:  “The Poles were the victimized witnesses.”

That notion, of “victimized witness,” is useful.  It covers all witnesses to abuse, from those who try to do something to stop the abuse, to those who are gleeful in watching it.  Just to witness abuse is, as such, itself traumatizing.  That, I  think, is the deep  truth in what Spiegelman says–in the concept he formulates in his remark.


(3)  La Capra comes (After Auschwitz, pp. 182-183) close to saying what I would about “false memory syndrome”:  “Here ‘recovered memory syndrome’ is not a pathology. . . . It is rather a subcase or even a metonymic exemplar of a larger problem concerning the difficulties of memory with respect to traumatic events…”

He does not go quite as far as I would, which would be to argue that all memory is traumatic, and to combine that with the double sense I’ve used [before, in earlier posted entries from my philosophical journal] of “screen” memories, whereby they (1) mask/cover at the time time–indeed, as such “masks/covers” of what cannot be masked as such–that they (2) become the “surface” (screen) upon which the trauma projects itself (in and as the image).

Memory is always symbolic!


(4) LaCapra comes very close (p. 187 [of same book]) to what, following Eisenstein, I would also say about what such disasters as the Holocaust come from:  “Particularly when one avoids recognizing the sources of anxiety in oneself (including elusive sources that are not purely empirical or historical in nature), one may be prone to project all anxiety-producing forces onto a discreet other who becomes a scapegoat or even an object of quasi-sacrificial behavior in specific historical circumstances.”  He gives the figure of the Jew in German culture as an example.


(5)  LaCapra (p. 195 [same book]):  “. . . historical events of the seismic nature and magnitude of the Holocaust may, in transgressing a theoretical limit, pose a challenge to the distinction [between structural and historical trauma, with the former defined earlier in this paragraph as “the condition of possibility that generates a potential for  trauma”]:  the structural (or existential-transcendental) seems to crash down into the empirical.  Thus [it can come to serve in effect] as an index of God’s intention in history,” or the like.

Might this not be because catastrophes such as the Holocaust arise from  an idolatrous identification of the traumatic, which is as such a structural, transcendental, existential  birth of the historical, empirical, [and] individual, with one instance of that which it so makes possible, with, that is, an isolable, historical “this” such as “the Jew”?

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