Witnessing Trauma: Reflections on the Work of Shoshana Felman and Dori Laub, #3 of 5


Below, with the date I originally wrote it in my philosophical journal, is the third in a series of five sets of entries dealing with Shosahan Felman’s and Dori Laub’s Testimony:  Crises of Witnessing in Literature, Psychoanalysis, and History.


Saturday, August 16, 2008

Felman, p. 93, quotes (for the second time, actually) Hegel’s Lectures on the Philosophy of History:  “The term history unites the objective and the subjective side, and denotes . . . not less what happened than the narration of what happened.  This union of the two meanings we must regard as of a higher order than mere outward accident; we must suppose historical narrations to have appeared contemporaneously with historical deeds and events.”

Insofar, however, as it is an historical event in the first place, “what happened” (as Laub’s pieces [discussed in the entry I posted two days ago, for April 8] can help us see) is never separable from the “narration.”


Felman asks (p. 95):  “Can contemporary narrative historically bear witness, not simply to the impact of the Holocaust but to the way in which the impact of history as holocaust has modified, affected, shifted the very mode of the relationship between narrative and history?”

Insofar as history is holocaust–or “just” event:  that is, insofar as history is history–then history is also testimony:  Testimony is not only itself effective historically, but, given the inseparability of “what happened” and the “narrative” thereof, there is history at all only when there is testimony.

The entries today are from ch. 4, by Felman:  “Camus’ The Plague, or a Monument to Witnessing.”  In section II, “A Missing Literality, or an Event Without a Referent” (pp. 101-104), she begins to explore why “allegorical” or “metaphorical” narration is required of testimony, as with Camus using the  plague as an allegory for WW II.  P. 103:  “There is thus a certain tension, a certain aporia that inheres between the allegorical and the historical  qualities of the event:  the allegory seems to name the vanishing of the event as part of its actual historical occurrence.”


P. 103: 

The plague (the Holocaust) is disbelieved because it does not enter, and cannot be framed by, any existing frame of reference (be it of knowledge or belief).  Because our perception of reality is molded by frames of reference, what is outside them, however imminent and otherwise conspicuous, remains historically invisible, unreal, and can only be encountered by a systematic disbelief.

P. 104: 

The unreality that strikes, thus, the event before and during its occurrence through the victims’ own refusal to believe in its historic referentiality, is matched and reenacted on another level by the way in which the relief at the war’s end is immediately accompanied by a denial and forgetfulness of the war’s horrors.

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