Ground Zero, Day Zero, and The Day After–continued

Toward the end of The Man on the Bridge, his journal of his visit to Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1958, Günther Anders recounts a lengthy conversation he had with a fellow passenger during one leg of his return journey to Europe–a conversation  about Hiroshima, nuclear arms, the Cold War, and related matters.  Anders’ seat-mate has bought the official party line of the powers that be. He proudly spouts the dictated slogans about the unprecedented threat of “totalitarianism” and the supposedly regrettable but necessary reliance on the strategy of “nuclear deterrence” and “mutually assured destruction” until that threat can be eliminated.  In short, he marches with the compliant masses who back in those days contentedly and complacently reduced everything to the thought-imploding chant of  “Better dead than Red!”

In the course of the conversation Anders attempts to explain to this self-satisfied conformist a theme with which the readers of Anders’s journal are already well familiar by that point.  That theme is embodied in his observation to his fellow passenger that the most disturbing thing about the Hiroshima he visited in 1958 was precisely how, thanks to the massive, sustained efforts to rebuild the city after its nuclear devastation in 1945, virtually all signs of that very devastation had been erased, buried beneath the gleaming new skyscrapers, shops, office buildings, and homes that had been erected over the ruins.  The only visible evidence of the devastation that remained was confined to a carefully, officially selected section of the city.  There, the ruins were not replaced and erased by new construction.  Instead, they were deliberately preserved and protected.  So maintained, those ruins were put on exhibition for all who live in Hiroshima and all who visit the city to go and see.  They stand there as an officially sanctioned “memorial” to what happened in Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, and a sobering “warning” to all future generations, lest they be tempted to any relaxation of the perpetual vigilance that must be kept alert if the world is to avoid the same sort of devastation, only this time going global, in effect.  So, at least, went—and still goes–the official party line.

To his seat-mate Anders tries to make the point that what is really most sobering is noticing that the unprecedented annihilation, not just of property but above all of two-hundred-thousand human lives, that took place in Hiroshima on that August day in 1945 is itself annihilated by the furious reconstruction that rebuilt the city after the disaster.  That annihilation of the annihilation, the erasure of the erasure of human life and habitation that took place there, is in no way countered by the special preservation of evidence of the devastation in one confined area of the city.  By being reduced to the status of a sort of museum, which one can visit as tourists have long visited the excavated ruins of the ancient Pompey, to gawk at what the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius did in the days of ancient Rome, only distances the devastation further.  Far from fostering any genuine recollection, it institutionalized forgetting, and buries what happened even more deeply beneath the façade of pious pretenses.

Anders tells his companion (page 161 of Hiroshima Ist Überall, the first of the three parts of which is his Hiroshima-Nagasaki journal, once again in my own somewhat free translation) that “the reconstruction is a betrayal of the dead.  They themselves don’t complain about it, of course.  I mean the dead.  They never complain.  And they who in that way make no appeal, they never even put in an appearance.  As missing, I mean.  It’s not that the dead are invisible that’s the scandal.  Rather, it’s that their being missing is missed.  That their being missing is not visible.”

If there is any duty to remember those who died on August 6, 1945, in Hiroshima, and honor them in the memory, then it is not by making fetishes of their names or of pictures or trinkets kept as tokens of them that we fulfill that duty.  It is, rather, by keeping the wound of their absence open, in remembering that they have been forgotten.  It is by keeping their absence, their still being missing, ever before our minds–which doesn’t even require that we know their names, and may even be hindered by such knowledge—that we remember, and honor, those whose deaths are not to be forgotten, and who are to be honored in their absence.  What is at issue with regard to remembering Hiroshima is the same sort of thing that is at issue, to give a different example, by the still ongoing admonitions, on black flags, bumper-stickers, and elsewhere across America, to remember all those American troops who went—and are often still–Missing in Action (MIA) and/or were Prisoners of War (POW) during the American debacle in Vietnam.

Anders saw and said that is not the gaping void opened by the horrible, sudden snuffing out of so many human lives—the two-hundred thousand disappeared, as it were–by the nuclear bombing of August 6, 1945, that is so scandalous.  Rather, it’s that that void itself is given no void—no room—wherein it might manifest itself with any force, to make itself felt.  What’s truly scandalous is that the ghosts of all those killed that day are not even granted any site where they might haunt the living, but are made instead to pass on beyond recall.  Every nook and cranny, every dark corner or place aside where they might make their ghostly presence—which is always just the sort of presence of an absence, a void, a going missing, that Anders is talking about—known to us whom they have left behind.  Thus robbed even of haunting places, those who have died can no longer be honored by genuine mourning among us from whom they have been taken.  And we, in our turn, are denied any presence of the dead—they themselves, as dead, as absent, as leaving a hole never to be filled again.  We are bereft of our very bereavement.

Days before his trip home, when he was still in Hiroshima itself, Anders had a similar conversation with a dissimilar companion, this time a Hiroshima resident who, as a member of the Japanese army, was doing duty elsewhere when the bombing occurred.  He tells Anders (page 62) that now, upon his returning to the city, he has a strange feeling of “not being there, where he is,” namely back in Hiroshima.  Standing on the bridge into the newly rebuilt city, and recalling when he first came home there at the end of the war, he cries out, “Yes!  When I [first] saw the city again, when it still lay in ruins, then it still was itself.  But now!”  Now, he has the strange feeling already described, of not being where he is.  (As an aside my regular readers may appreciate, let me add that he’s right, he’s not in Hiroshima, where he is, because it really is Hiroshima no longer.  It’s become Las Vegas.  Hiroshima is everywhere/Las Vegas is everywhere:  those are jus two sides of the same coin.  Or, to say that a bit differently, those are just two different ways of pointing at the same thing.)

Anders writes that he easily identified with that feeling, of not being where one is.  Back at his own home in Europe, the same phenomenon of massive, amazingly rapid reconstruction had occurred, after so much of greater Germany had been reduced to ruins by the Allied forces.  Anders writes that he and the other inhabitants of rebuilt central Europe have even grown used to such erasure of the erasure, so that by the time he is writing (1958) it had “almost ceased being  shocking.”   It had become “the new normal.”  No one really even noticed it any longer–and, not noticing, also didn’t even notice that they had failed to notice, so that not only did the former devastation vanish altogether from view, but so did it’s very vanishing.   Everything appeared to be there after all, with nothing absent. “For,” Anders writes (with his own emphasis), “the reconstruction is even the destruction of the destruction, and thereby the culmination of destruction.”  He goes on to write that he himself can no longer see anything of what happened there, in Europe or in Japan.

Everything visible—the new houses—they hush up what took place exactly as do the newspapers or everyday chatter [which bury what has happened under the din of “the news”].  Everything looks to be “time-neutral,” that is, everything looks as if it has been that way since who knows when; what’s now present masks itself with the sense that “it’s always been this way”; and mere appearance of its having always been this way masks what really happened.  History is falsified backwards, and even (for the reconstruction is also history) by history itself.  History—the history of its own falsification.

It strikes me that what is at issue here is akin to when those who are abused are denied even the linguistic means necessary to complain about the abuse, since the language made available to them has already been laundered to mask and perpetuate that very abuse.  If one’s very language, the language into which one is born, the only language one has available, is such that it already institutionalizes sexism, for example, then not only are some members of society targeted for victimization by sexism, but are also in the process denied access to the means whereby they could even become conscious of their plight, let alone protest against it.  In just the same way, Anders is saying that the reconstruction which erases evidence of the earlier destruction is really a double erasure, which also and above all erases any evidence that anything was destroyed in the first place—just as Himmler and the other Nazi murderers sought to exterminate all signs that they had exterminated the Jews of Europe.  As Anders rightly observes, no destruction could conceivably be more complete than that which destroys all access to the very fact of destruction, no dishonoring of the dead greater than that which buries their very burial.

There are absences, and then there are absences.  There are voids, and then there are voids.  The fertile womb is a void, as is the Nothing from which all things come.  Then there is another sort of void.  For instance, the void, the absence, the not-being, of that second sort is what is at issue in what Kierkegaard—in The Sickness Unto Death, written nearly a full century before the bombing of Hiroshima, which means nearly one-and-two-thirds centuries before September 11, 2001–identified as the very worst form of despair, the most devastating form of hopelessness, with really no chance at all of ever recovering.  That worst, most ineradicable form of despair is the despair that doesn’t even know it is in despair, and is therefore barred from any possibility of changing its condition.  It is the despair that thinks itself to be happiness.  In a kind of anticipation of those remarks on despair, a few years earlier in Works of Love Kierkegaard had written these lines (in the translation by Howard and Enda Hong) about such deception:  “People speak of [life’s] falsity and immediately take it to mean that it deceives one in respect to earthly goods, disappoints one’s great expectations, makes sport of one’s darling plans.  But that it can be most dangerously deceiving when in these respects it honourably maintains everything, almost more than it has promised—that this is the most dangerous falsity [we] seldom think about.”  A misery so deceptive that it makes the miserable think they are happy, or at least ought to be, is the deepest imaginable misery, a despair altogether beyond hope.

The void that opened over Hiroshima on the morning of August 6, 1945, was that sort of void, the kind that results from voiding the void itself—from cancelling it out, effectively erasing it, burying it beyond possibility of recall.  As Jean-François Lyotard would say a few decades after Anders wrote his remarks about Hiroshima, with reference not to Hiroshima but rather to Auschwitz, it is the void, the erasure, that comes from forgetting that we have forgotten.  What really happened during World War II in Auschwitz and then, at the War’s end, across the globe in Hiroshima, was above all just that:  the forgetting that we had forgotten.  It was the opening of a Day that consumed all days, that gobbled them all up at once, wolfed them all down whole, and then digested them completely, transforming them all into itself–which means, as Anders has told us, into one endless nullity, one endless, endlessly unnoticed absence, of any actually new Day at all.  From that Day Zero on, every day was nothing more than that same zero Day, over and over and over again.

That was the Day Zero, the null Day.  It was  the Day that marked the vanishing point of every Day, the Day “after” which there is no more “after that Day”:  as already noted, zero multiplied by any number up to and including infinity is still just that–zero, zilch, nada, null.

Day Zero:  that was the Day the Day died, and died so completely that even its death died away unnoticed, not even forgotten but just erased, never to be recalled.  And thus Day Zero was the Day without end, that repeats itself endlessly, day after day after day after dead and deadening day—a limitlessly wasted expanse of ever expanding wasteland, with no outer boundaries.

And yet, despite all that, despite the dying of the Day beyond any renewal,  another Day did dawn one day.  At least it did if Baudrillard and his like are onto something.  To everyone’s surprise, what was in principle beyond any prediction, because it was beyond any realm of possibility that remained after Day Zero, happened anyway, as impossible, as inconceivable as it may have been.  A new Day did dawn one day—on one of those endless zero days after Day Zero.

It dawned on September 11, 2001.  What happened that day was the dawning of the Day After, that is, the Day After that Day Zero, after that Day after which there were no more Days to dawn.

September 11, 2001:  An impossible day–The Day After!

More on that next time.

Lyotard, Heidegger, the Jews, and “the jews”–#3


Below is the third and final entry from my philosophical journal addressing Jean-Francois Lyotard’s Heidegger and “the jews”. After beginning to reread Lyotard’s book in January of this year, other things intervened, such that I did not return to it for two months–hence the date below, slightly more than two months after the entry I posted here just two days ago.

After concluding my remarks on my rereading of Lyotard’s book, in the entry below I go on to consider a critique of his thought about trauma and representation by fellow French philosopher Jacques Rancière.  What I say below is by no means my final word on Jacques Rancière’s critique, but it shows the extent to which, at the date of the entry, I had been able to think through some of the important issues he raises.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

For the last day or two I’ve gone back to Lyotard’s Heidegger and “the jews”, which I started reading back in January, reading through the first of the two parts of the book, “the jews,” before putting  it down to go on to other things that needed my attention.  Well, now I’ve gone back and reread “the jews” yet again, then went on to “Heidegger,” the second part of the book.

In going again through the first half of the book called “the jews,” I hit upon a couple of additional passages worth noting down in this journal–additional to what I put down back in January.  Here they are:

P. 10:  “Here [in the case of the Holocaust] to fight against forgetting means to fight to remember that  one  forgets as soon as one believes, draws conclusions, and holds for  certain.  It means to fight against forgetting the precariousness of what has been established, of the reestablished past; it is a fight for the sickness whose recovery is simulated.”  Thus, for trauma as for addiction, genuine recovery is the refusal of any pretense of recovery, which is to say the refusal of any claim to be cured.  In terms of the injunction “never forget,” it is precisely to refuse to countenance the idea that it is possible to remember, in the sense of “remembering” being equated with keeping a memento or memorial, in general a representation, present before one.

Then, from section 6, two passages, the first on p.19:

Whatever the invoked sense [of primal trauma, as it were–e.g., Freud’s “primal scene”] might be, in the night of  time, of the individual or of the species, this scene that has not taken place, that has not had a stage, that has not even been, because it is not representable [Note how, here, he clearly qualifies what he is saying:  If to be = to be represented, vorgestellt, then trauma cannot “be”] but which is, and is ex-, and will remain it whatever representations, qualifications one might make of it, with which one might endow it; this event ek-sists inside, in-sisting, as what exceeds every imaginative, conceptual, rational sequence.

Then, next page (20):

It follows that psychoanalysis, the search for lost time, can only be interminable, like literature and like true history (i.e., the one that is not historicism but anamnesis):  the kind of  history that does not forget that forgetting is not a breakdown of memory but the immemorial always “present” but never here-now, always torn apart in the time of consciousness, of chronology, between a too early and a too late–the too early of a first blow to the apparatus that it does not feel, and the too late of a second blow where something intolerable is felt.  A soul struck without striking a blow.

Now, on to the second part of the book, “Heidegger.”

P, 51-52 (first two pages of 2nd part), invoking “another urgency,” namely, one other than that manufactured by “the politics of publishing” [at play in “the Heidegger affair”–the agitation over Heidegger’s Nazi connections that was especially disruptive in French intellectual circles in the 1980s]:

Thought can be “urgent”; indeed, this urgency is essential to its being.  One is urged or pressured to think because something, an event, happens before one is able to think it. This event is not the “sensational.”  Under the guise of the sensational, it is forgotten [as 9/11 was forgotten precisely in and under the immediate, even simultaneous, sensationalization of it].  In any case, the event does not “present” itself, it will have happened:  thought finds itself seized and dispossessed by it according to its possibility as regards the indeterminate; it realizes its lack of preparedness for what will have come about, it understands its state of infancy.  The Heidegger affair will have come to our thought in such a way; it will have found it unprepared despite denials on both sides.  The urgency to investigate it when it is prescribed by the publishing powers is a way of precipitating its closure or classification.  In claiming that thought is unprepared for the affair I am eager to maintain its urgency and its pressure, to leave it open to the most patient questioning.

In effect, then, “the Heidegger affair” is a trauma for thought/philosophy.  What is more, isn’t that “historical” trauma traumatic for thought precisely because it crystallizes–becomes a site [for the striking of]–the “structural” trauma that births thought itself in the first place, thought itself as always traumatically structured?  And, ultimately, isn’t the urge and urgency that first calls thought forth–isn’t that the urge and urgency to think trauma?

For Lyotard, “the jews” is just the name of that trauma, the trauma that calls forth thought, to be thought.  And what of the thought of such thought?  P. 84:

This thought has never told anything but stories of unpayable debt, transmitted little narratives, droll and disastrous, telling of the insolvency of the indebted soul.  Where the Other has given credence without the command to believe, who promised without anyone ever asking anything, the Other who awaits its due.  There is no need to wait for or believe in this Other.  The Other waits and extends credit.  One is not acquitted of its patience or its impatience by counteroffereings, sacrifices, representations, and philosophical elaborations.  It is enough to tell and retell that you believe you are acquitting yourself and that you are not.  Thus one remembers (and this  must suffice) that one never stops forgeting what must not be forgotten, and that one is not quit either just because one does not forget the debt. . . . It is this, then, . . . that Nazism has tried to definitively forget:  the debt, the difference between good and evil.  It had tried to unchain the soul from this  obligation, to tear up the note of credit, to render debt-free forever.  And this unchaining is evil itself.

Like the debt we owe to the dead (if it is not the very same debt), the debt to God/the Other is in principle unpayable; and it is  the very endeavor to pay off this debt that compunds it most.

Pp. 93-94 (last page of the book):

[T]he debt that is our only lot–the lot of forgetting neither that there is the Forgotten nor what horrors the spirit is capable of in its headlong madness to make us forget the fact.  “Our” lot?  Whose lot?  It is the lot of this nonpeople of survivors, Jews and non-Jews, called here “the jews,” whose Being-together depends not on the  authenticity of any primary roots but on that singular debt of interminable anamnesis.

The (non-)people or (non-)community of all those who have nothing in common save that each is alone in his/her own unpayable debt.

Also, I just recently read Jacques Rancière, The Future of the Image, translated by Gregory Elliott (London and New York:  Verso, 2007–Fr. orig. 2003).  The last chapter (#5), “Are Some Things Unrepresentable?” is, in large part, a critique of Lyotard’s Heidegger and “the jews”.  I’ll begin with the summary with which he [Rancière] ends his essay, and therewith the whole book.  Pp. 136-137:

I shall conclude briefly with my opening question.  Some things are unrepresentable as a function of the conditions to which a subject of representation must submit if it is to be part of a determinate regime of art, a specific regime of the relations between exhibition and signification. . . . This set of conditions exclusively defines the representative regime in art. . . . If there are things which are unrepresentable, they can be located in this regime.  In our regime–the aesthetic [as opposed to the representative] regime in art–this notion has no determinable content,  other than the pure notion of discrepancy with  the representative regime.  It expresses the absence of a stable relationship between exhibition and signification.  But this maladjustment tends towards more representation, not less. . . .

Anti-representative art is constitutively an art without unrepresentable things.  There are no longer any inherent limits to representation, to its possibilities.  This boundlessness also means that there is no longer a language form which is appropriate to a subject, whatever it might be.  This lack of appropriateness runs counter both to credence in a language peculiar to art and to the affirmation of the irreducible singularity of certain events. . . . I have tried to show that this exaggeration itself merely perfects the system of rationalization it claims to denounce. . . . In order to assert an unrepresentability in art that is commensurate with an unthinkability of the event, the latter must itself have been rendered entirely thinkable, entirely neccary according to thought.  The logic of unrepresentability can only be sustained by a hyperbole that ends up destroying it.

With that general summary laying out what he is arguing overall, I’ll now go back to flesh it out a bit at a few places.

P. 126:  “There is no appropriate language for wintessing.  Where testimony has to express the experience of the inhuman, it naturally finds an already constituted language of becoming-inhuman, of an identity between human sentiments and non-human movements.”  He then gives a (very good) analysis of Lanzmann’s Shoah in terms of just how it makes use of such already available cinematic language to accomplish its tasks.  On the basis of that analysis of a prime example, he  then concludes (p. 129):  “Nothing is unrepresentable as a property of the event.”  I’m not sure whoever said it was, really.  And, anyway, it all depends on what one means by “the event” here.  If one means simple “datable occurrence,” then “event” itself is cut down to representational size, in effect, before one even begins.  At any rate, he continues:

There are simply choices.  The choice for the present as against historicization; the  decision to represent an accounting of the means, the materiality of the process, as opposed to the representation of causes.  The causes that render the event resistant to any explanation by a principle of sufficient reason, be it fictional or documentary, must be left on hold.

. . . And Lanzmann’s investigation is part of a cinemtaic tradition that has established its pedigree.  This is the tradition that counter-poses to the light thrown on the blinding of Oedipus the simultaneously solved and unresolved mystery of Rosebud, which is the “reason” for Kane’s madness, the revelation at the end of the investigation, beyond investigation, of the nullity of the “cause”. . . . A form of investigation that reconstructs the materiality of an event while  leaving its cause on hold, proves suitable to the extraordinary character of the Holocaust without being specific to  it.  Here again the  appropriate form is also an inappropriate form.  In and of itself the event neither prescribes nor proscribes any artistic means.  And it does not impose any duty on art to represent, or not to represent, in some particular way.

I’m not quite sure what to make of his critique.  On its own terms, his analysis is illuminating, I think.  But as a critique of views such as Lyotard’s,  it seems to me basically to fail.  It passes Lyotard by, as it were.  What it attacks is not what Lyotard is saying, so far as I can see.  For instance, Lyotard himself says that something such as the Holocaust can be more effectively erased by being represented than by being simply denied.  Well, that makes sense only insofar as one can represent the Holocaust.  But his point is that trauma disrupts and disconnects the very business of “representation,” undercutting its claim to any sort of mastery, as it were.

As I say, I’m just not yet sure what to do with Rancière’s discussion here.

Lyotard, Heidegger, the Jews, and “the jews”–#2


This is the second of a series of three posts on Jean-Francois Lyotard’s Heidegger and “the jews”.  I first wrote the entry below in my philosophical journal on the date indicated.

Satruday, January 10, 2009

Lyotard, Heidegger and “the jews”, p. 27, just after writing what I cited yesterday [see my preceding post], that ends with “Finally, one has appeal to human rights, one cries out ‘never again’ and that’s it!  It is taken care of,” he continues:  “Humanism takes care of this adjustment because it is of the order of secondary repression.  One cannot form an idea of the human being as value unless one projects one’s misery to the outside as caused by causes that one only needs to get down to transforming.”

This is also essentially what Paul Eisenstein says, when he argues that trauma is effectively denied its traumatization by the identification of trauma, which is finally always “structural,” with some one actual “historical” occurrence–or figure (such as “the Jew”) made to represent trauma–in precisely the negative sense of “represent” that Lyotard critiques in the passage I cited yesterday [see the preceding post].

He picks up that critique again a few lines later on p. 27:

If one represents the extermination, it is also necessary to represent the exterminated.  One represents men,  women, children treated like “dogs,” “pigs,” “rats,” “vermin,” subjected to humiliation, constrained to abjection, driven to despair, thrown like filth into the ovens.  But this is not enough, this representation forgets something.  For it is not as men, women, and children that they are exterminated but as the name of what is evil–“jews”–that the  Occident has given to the unconscious anxiety.  Compare [Robert] Antelme and [Elie] Wiesel, L’Espèce humaine [The Human Race] and Night. Two representations, certainly.  But Antelme resists, he is somebody who resists.

Then he makes a point similar to one Chrétien makes in The Ark of Speech (see my journal  entry above, for 12/28/08 [in my post before last]):

All resistance is ambiguous, as its name indicates.  Political resistance, but resistance in the Freudian sense.  It is a compromise formation that involves learning to negotiate with the Nazi terror, to manipulate it, even if only for a little; trying to understand it [cf. Claude Lanzman saying that it is obscene and blasphemous to try to give “meaning” or “explanation” to the Holocaust], so as to outsmart it; putting one’s life on the line for this; reaching the limits of the human species, for that.  It is war.  Deportation is a part of the war.  Antelme saves honor.

These remarks, especially in echoing relation with those of Chrétien, perhaps point to a way to resolve the issue of reconciling the liberation attested by the rebellion at Auschwitz with that equally–if not even more so–attested by the experience of the ultimately transitory, ephemeral, and illusionary character of the assertion of power in “Auswchwitz”–the problem that has surfaced more than once in my journals on trauma.  Maybe these echoing passages from Lyotard and Chrétien are the way-markers to  the way out of that apparent impasse.  That may well be a suggestion reinforced by how Lyotard goes on with his discussion.

Still on page 27 [and extending over to page 28], Lyotard goes on to say:

One can represent the Nazi madness–make of  it what it also is–an effect of “secondary” repression, a symptom; a way of transcribing anxiety, the terror in regard to the undetermined (which Germany knew well, especially then), into will, into political hatred, organized, administered, turned against the unconscious affect. . . . But on the side of “the jews,” absence of representability, absence of experience, absence of accumulation of experience (however multimillenial), interrior innocence, smiling and hard, even arrogant, which neglects the world except with regard to its pain–these are the traits of a tradition where the forgotten remembers that it is forgotten; knows itself to be unforgettable, has no need of inscription, of looking after itself, a tradition where the soul’s only concern is with the terror without origin, where it tries desperately, humorously to originate itself by narrating itself.

The SS does not wage war against the Jews. . . . The war merely creates the din that is necessary to cover the silent crime. . . . –a second terror, a horror rather, practiced on the involuntary witness of the “first” terror, which is not even felt, not even lodged, but which is diffuse and remains in it like an interminably deferred debt.  In representing the second terror one ineluctably perpetuates it [!!!].  It is itself only representation. . . . One betrays misery, infamy by representing them.  All memory, in the traditional sense of representation, because it involves decision, includes and spreads the  forgetting of the terror without origin that motivates it.

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Lyotard, Heidegger, Jews, and “the jews”–#1


Today is the first of three posts on Jean-Francois Lyotard’s Heidegger and “the jews”, translated by Andreas Michel and Mark Roberts (Minneapolis:  University of Minnesota Press, 1990; orig. French version 1988).  The use of the scare quotes and the lower case ‘j’ in “the jews” is intentional in the original French work and in its English translation.  By “the jews” Lyotard means the always already rejected, projected, and repressed “Other” of so called Western society.  According to Lyotard, it is only accidental, in a certain sense, that the Jews, meaning some actual, historical group of people, came to be identified with “the jews,” in the sense he has given to that phrase.

The entry below is one I first wrote in my philosophical  journal on the date indicated.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Years after I first read it, I am currently rereading Lyotard’s Heidegger and “the jews“.  Since first reading it, my focus has shifted to trauma, and I am reading it this time with an eye to that.  There are some thought-provoking passages, seen from that perspective of the focus on trauma.  One is on pp. 15-16, where Lyotard writes:

Nachträglichkeit [the “belatedness” that, according to Freud, characterizes trauma] thus implies the following:  (1) a double blow that is constitutively asymmetrical, and (2) a temporality that has noting to do with what the phenomenology of consciousness (even that of Saint Augustine) can thematize.

The double blow includes a first blow, the first excitation, which upsets the apparatus with such “force” that it is not registered. . . . The discovery of an originary repression leads Freud to assume that it cannot be represented.  And it is not representable because, in dynamic terms, the quantity of energy transmitted by this shock is not transformed into “objects,” not even inferior ones, objects lodged in  the substratum, in the hell of the soul, but it remains potential, unexploitable, and thus ignored by the apparatus. . . .

The first blow, then, strikes the apparatus without observable internal effect, without affecting it. It is a shock without affect.  With the second blow there takes place an affect without a shock.  I buy something in a store, anxiety crushes me, I flee, but nothing had really happened. . . . And it is this flight, that feeling that accompanies it, which informs consciousness that there is something, without being able to tell what it is. . . . The essence of the event:  that there is “comes before” what there is.

This “before” of the quod is also an “after” of the quid. For whatever is now happening in the store (i.e., the terror and the flight) does not come forth; it comes back from the first blow, from the shock, from the “initial” excess that remained outside the scene, even unconscious, deposited outside representation. . . . This chronologization of a time that is not chronological, this retrieval of a time (the first blow) that is lost because it has not had time and place in the psychic apparatus, that has not been noticed there, fulfills exactly the presumed function of a protective shield that Freud attributes to it in Jenseits [Beyond the Pleasure Principle].

Then, on the next page (17), he uses this to argue that, with regard the idea, in Freud, of “the scene of a seduction perpetrated on the child, in ontogenesis, and in several versions of a phylogenetic event (including the last glaciations), the common motivation of these hypotheses (always fantastic) is nothing else than the unpreparedness [in principle, I would add] of the psychic apparatus for the ‘first shock’. . . . It is in this  fashion that the principle of an originary–I would say ontological–‘seduction’ cannot be eluded (Laplanche), of a ‘duction’ toward the inside of something (of energy) that remains outside of  it.”

These passages, and even more the next one I will cite below, from  pages 26-27, add support to the suspicion I express in my “9/11 Never Happened” piece, about how the proliferation of images of 9/11, as earlier of Vietnam, served  only to cover over and avoid 9/11 and Vietnam.  Geared into that is my growing uneasiness in the face of all use of images of such things as the Holocaust,  9/11, or, in general trauma of whatever sort.

Here are the later passages  (pp. 26-27):  “But to make us forget the crime [of the Holocaust] by representing it is much more appropriate” than even the endeavor to “efface” it by “the criminals disguis[ing] themselves as courageous little shopkeepers [as did Eichman, for the prime example],” or to efface it by “‘denazi[ying]’ them on the spot [as the Allies did, I suppose would be a good example, when they moved to make Germany a central piece in the chess game of the Cold War], or else one opens a lawsuit for a reappraisal of the crime itself (the ‘detail’), [and] one seeks dismissal of the case” (as he discusses on the preceding page, 25).  [Making us forget the crime by representing it is “more appropriate” than any of those ways of trying to “efface” it,]

if it is true that, with ‘the jews,’ it is a question of something like the unconscious affect of which the Occident does not want any knowledge. It cannot be represented without being missed, being forgotten anew, since it defies images and words.  Representing ‘Auschwitz’ in images and words is a way of making us forget this.  I am not thinking here only of bad movies and widely distributed TV series, of bad novels or “eyewitness accounts.”  I am thinking of those very cases that, by their exactitude, their severity, are, or should be, best qualified not to let us forget.  But even they represent what, in order not to be forgotten as that which is forgotten itself, must remain unrepresentable.  Claude Lanzmann’s film Shoah is an exception, maybe the only one. . . .

Whenever one represents, one inscribes in memory, and this might seem a good defense against forgetting it.  It is, I believe, just the opposite.  Only that which has been inscribed can, in the current sense of the term, be forgotten, because it could be effaced.  But what is not inscribed, through lack of inscribable surface, of duration and place for the inscription to be situated, . . . cannot be forgotten, does not offer a hold to forgetting, and remains present “only” as an affection that one cannot even qualify, like a state of  death in the life of the spirit.  One must, certainly, inscribe in words, in images.  One cannot escape the necessity of representing.  It would be sin itself to believe oneself safe and sound.  But it is one thing to do it in view of saving the memory and quite another to try to preserve the remainder, the unforgettable forgotten, in writing.

It is to be feared that word representations (books, interviews) and thing representations (films, photographs) of the extermination of the Jews . . . by the Nazis bring back the very thing, . . . in the orbit of secondary repression. . . . It is to be feared that, through representation, it turns into an “ordinary” repression.  One will say, It was a great massacre, how horrible!  Of course, there have been others, “even” in contemporary Europe (the crimes of Stalin).  Finally, one will appeal to human rights, one cries out “never again” and that’s it!  It is taken care of.

I suggest just that same thing in “9/11 Never Happened,” where I argue that the worldwide proliferation via the mass media of video images of the attacks on the Twin Towers and the immediate aftermath, including people jumping to their deaths rather than die in the fires raging in the towers–those video images with which we were globally assaulted even while the attacks themselves were still unfolding in “real time”–may as well have been deliberately designed efforts to gloss over the event, the trauma, itself, to deaden and divert us from it,  to make us forget the unforgettable by remembering little or nothing but those graven and craven images:  an idolatry!

As I also said in a footnote somewhere in “9/11 Never Happened,” about the television coverage of the war in Vietnam:  Far from bringing the war “home” to us,  bringing it into our very “living rooms,” as has often been claimed it did, the televisioning of the Vietnamese war actually did the opposite, burying the war beneath all those images, pushing it back so far as to be beyond recall–or almost!

That is “the horror, the horror.”