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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Killing to Heal: Robert J. Lifton on the Nazi Doctors, #4


This is the fourth in my series of posts of philosophical journal entries I wrote last fall concerning Robert J. Lifton’s The Nazi Doctors.  As was true for the journal entry in my immediately previous post, the first entry below begins with a remark about Alain Badiou, before shifting to Lifton.  The two entries below were written at the Benedictine Monastery of Christ in the Desert, near Abiquiu, New Mexico, where I have been making personal retreats for years.


Thursday, October 28, 2008–at Christ in the Desert

During Vespers here yesterday, it struck me that the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ could  be taken in the sense I’ve been exploring a bit in recent entries on the “reality” of what is experienced–or, better, on “reality,” period.  That is, the resurrection could be taken to be the revelation to the apostles and then generations of the faithful that suffering, destitution, and pain are not “ultimate reality,” any more than, for Badiou [see my immediately preceding post], “the sad passions” such as “death and depression” are “loyal feelings,” or “licit passion” (so they are il-licit!).  The resurrection–which, for Badiou’s own account, is the sole truth [which Badiou, however, insists did not “really” happen] that makes of the human animal Saul, the subject Paul, with claim to universality–would then be the event of just that truth, at the very heart of the crucifixion itself, dispelling the later as “a dream one wakes from,” to borrow [again] from the Psalms.


Lifton, The Nazi Doctors, on Dr. Ernst B., the Auschwitz doctor who was able to help and rescue many, to become, in the words of one survivor, used as the title for this chapter in Lifton’s book, “a human being in an SS uniform”–p. 333: 

An important part of B.’s post-Auschwitz self and worldview is his unfinished business with Auschwitz.  His conflicting needs are both to continue to explore his Auschwitz experience and to avoid coming to grips with its moral significance.  His insistence that Auschwitz was not understandable serves the psychological function of rejecting any coherent explanation or narrative for the events in which he was involved.  He thus remains stuck in an odd post-traumatic pattern:  unable either to absorb (by finding narrative and meaning) or to free himself from Auschwitz images.

But isn’t that, indeed, how it is with all trauma, finally?  One cannot get past it!  One cannot “free” oneself from its “images” (and note how the ability of “finding narrative and meaning” for any trauma is just a way to “free”oneself from it–or, more accurately, to bury and avoid it).  (Lifton himself knows this, as his comments on p. 13, which I site in an [earlier] entry, shows, to give one good example.)  Isn’t that what [Eric] Santner [in his Psychotheology of Everyday Life], for example, distilled from his reading of Freud with Rosenzweig?  And doesn’t Santner’s analysis point to a “recovery” from trauma which respects it, so to speak, by neither explaining nor otherwise avoiding it, in its very inexplicibility and one’s own “stuckness” on it?

Related:  Lifton’s book came out before, a few years later, [Claude] Lantzman’s [film] Shoah, and Lantzman’s argument that any attempt to make Auschwitz “understandable” is a blasphemy, tantamount to compounding the brutality of the camps and the “Final Solution.”  That would complicate Lifton’s picture here,  and I’m curious what he thought of  Lantzman’s film and assertion.

There may be some advantage in distinguishing two different places from and in which one can get traumatically “stuck.”  One such place would be that of the perpetrators, to which in some sense Ernst B. continues to belong despite his attempts at (relative) “humanity” in his role there (as Lifton correctly insists).  From that place, as Lifton suggests in the quote I began with, there is a definite self-serving (by way of self-exculpating) dimension of “payoff” that comes from denying the explicability of Auschwitz.  But precisely for that reason, the specific nature of the stuckness at/from this locus is basically an exploitation of the very inexplicability at issue. 

In contrast, there is the place of the victim, where no such  exploitation occurs in the acknowledgement–here, genuine; when exploitative, disingenuous–of the inexplicability.  And it is here, in this place, if anywhere, that any “resurrection” must occur. (As, perhaps, it does in D. M. Thomas’s The White Hotel?  I’m not sure:  Need to look at that novel again, maybe.)


Wednesday, October 29, 2008–at Christ in the Desert

Yesterday, a propos Lifton, I forgot to note this thought that came to me when reading the passage I cited yesterday:

It is as if Auschwitz mirrors an event of truth, most especially in its “excessiveness,” its irreducibility to any explanation.  Because it (Auschwitz–and other [pseudo-?]events like it) mimics truth in that way, the illusion of it–specifically, it’s being “how things really are“–can only be dispelled by the event of a genuine truth, one that dismisses the illusion as a phantom.

There is also, perhaps, a sense in which such points of the mocking mimicry of a truth-event opens, despite its mimicking intentions, a site for the striking of truth.

Killing to Heal: Robert J. Lifton on the Nazi Doctors, #3


This is the third in my series of posts with journal entries I wrote last fall, on the dates indicated, concerning Robert J. Lifton’s The Nazi Doctors.  Today’s entry begins with some reflections on a work by Alain Badiou, which I soon connect up with my continued reflections on Lifton’s study of “medicalized killing and the psychology of genocide,” the subtitle of his book.


Sunday, October 26, 2008

Badiou, Petit panthéon portratif [Little Portrait Galley] (Paris:  La Fabrique editions, 2008), “Ouverture,” pp. 7-8 [my translation]: 

If philosophy serves for something, it is to remove the chalice of sad passions [in the preceding sentence he has said that he holds “that death should not interest us, nor depression”], to teach us that pity is not a loyal feeling, nor complaint a reason to have reason, nor the victim that from which we should start to think.   On one hand, as the Platonic gesture establishes once and  for all, it is of truth, declined as necessary as beauty or the good, from which every licit passion originates and every creation of universal  aim.  On the other hand, as Rousseau knew, the human animal is essentially good, and when he is not, it is by some exterior cause that constrains him, a cause that must be detected, combatted, and destroyed as possible, without the least hesitation.

It seems to me that Badiou could be used here as a commentary on the following, from Lifton’s The Nazi Doctors, p. 238, concerning the “prisoner doctors” at Auschwitz: 

As Henri Q. explained, “We suffered and [acted] within the limits of the possible. . . . Doctors did provide some comfort, I believe.  There was the comfort for the patient, the fact that he was not alone, that someone understood and was trying to help to do something for him–and that was already a lot. . . . We were a group, not just the [individual] doctors of our block.”  He could then conclude . . . that he and his friends “remained doctors . . . in spite of everything.”

Helping children could greatly contribute to the prisoner doctors’ struggle to maintain a healing identity.  Dr. Henri Q., for instance, told of the impact of a nine-year-old boy from a Jewish ghetto in Poland, who [was helped to survive the war and Auschwitz]. . . . He spoke  even more intensely of a still younger, Russian child (“a rare think in the camp”) whom he once took to the infirmary:  “I walked in front of all the blocks, and you could feel all the men, ten thousand men, who  were looking at this child.  I was very proud to walk with him. . . . as if I were walking with the president of the Republic.  There is only one president and there was only one child.”

Viewed through the lens of Badiou’s comment, such prisoner doctors at Auschwitz proved themselves to be philosophers.  And the philosophical reality was revealed to them–in and as their own form,  described by Dr. Henri Q., of “resistance.”  Philosophically, that reality was the presidency of that simple child.

The Devil at Noon: Care and Carelessness


At the end of the entry from my philosophical journal contained in my immediately preceding post, I cited journalist-columnist Michael Greenberg’s account of how the medications his daughter Sally was eventually given to stabilize her diagnosed condition of bipolar II disorder actually worked to “release her not from her cares, but from caring itself.”  My own closing remark after that was that what Greenberg was saying bore comparison to “acedia , the noonday devil.”  Today’s post picks up that reference, in the form of reflections in my journal about poet and best-selling spiritual writer Kathleen Norris’s most recent book, Acedia and Me:  A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer’s Life (New York:  Riverhead Books, 2008). 

In the writings of the Christian monastics and anchorites of the first centuries of Christianity, acedia was commonly listed as one of what eventually came to be most frequently known as “the Seven Deadly Sins”:  pride, anger, greed, envy, gluttony, lust, and “acedia,” which came to be translated most often as “sloth.”  If Norris and a variety of other  contemporary writers are right, as my own experience of the particular “sin” at issue certainly confirms they are, then that is not a felicitous translation, suggesting, as it does, laziness and an inclination toward inactivity, as opposed to busy industriousness.  However, one of the most powerful ways in which the temptation the early Christian writers called acedia often strikes is precisely as a temptation to “industriousness”–to getting up off one’s lazy duff and getting busy doing something!  The oft-cited monastic antidote to the temptation of acedia was precisely not to “do” anything, throwing oneself into business and activity, but was, instead, to “remain in your cell,” which cell, according to  the ancient anchorites, “would teach you everything.” 

Accordingly, as Norris discusses, various suggestions for translations of acedia by terms other than “sloth” have been suggested, among which are “boredom,” “sadness,” and even “depression” (from which, however, acedia, understood as any sort of sin or moral failing, should be kept clearly distinct, at least in any modern, medically inclined understanding of depression).   At any rate, as Norris’s analysis makes clear, what is at issue in acedia is just the sort of thing that Greenberg captures excellently in his remark about losing not so much one’s “cares,” that is, one’s sufferings and sorrows and onerous burdens, but one’s very “caring” itself.  Greenberg’s daughter suffers such a loss through no fault of her own, of course, but as the result of the medications she has been prescribed.  In contrast, acedia is an invitation to distraction to which one may yield or against which one may steel oneself.  What in the one case is a misfortune from which one suffers is in the other case an exercize in voluntary self-indulgence.  

Because in the monastic tradition the temptation to give up on the ascetic journey–to abandon the “discipline” (which is the original meaning of ascesis) of the ongoing, recurrent routines that make up the actual practice of the spiritual life–most often comes to monastics in the middle of their daily round of prayer, meditation, and simple manual labor, acedia was identified with the image of “the noonday devil,” or “the devil that strikes at noon,” mentioned in the Hebrew Psalms at one point.  But the temptation or devil of acedia can, in fact, strike one at any time of the day or night.  It strikes whenever one is tempted, often and especially with the very best of motives (or so, at least, are we tempted to try to convince ourselves,under the sway of acedia), to escape the day and the all too daily chores that continuing to care requires of us, seeking diversion from the necessities of care by throwing ourselves into activity.

Below I am posting two different days’ entries pertaining to Norris’s book from my philosophical journal, with the dates I originally wrote them, as usual.  As I note in one of the citations below, in her book Norris opposes acedia, traditionally (mis-)translated by “sloth,” not to industriousness or efficacious activity, but to love.  By fortuitous accident, the entry in my journal for the day just before I turned my attention to Norris’s book happened to be given over to some reflections of my own on that same topic, of love–especially in terms of love’s connections to forgiveness.  Accordingly, I begin with my entry for that day, followed by the entries for the two succeeding days, both of which focus on Norris.


Tuesday, October 7, 2008

As we can love only because we first are loved (John [in his first letter in Christian Scripture]:  “We love, because he–God–first loved us”; but the point can also be made in terms of developmental psychology and the importance of parental love for the healthy development of a child), so can we forgive–or ask genuinely for forgiveness from others–only because we are forgiven.  In that sense, the line from the [definitively Christian prayer] “Our Father” that prays to be forgiven as “we” forgive others, is a prayer that is already answered even before it is asked.  the very asking for forgiveness becomes possible only in, and from out of, being already forgiven, and functions as a sign confirming that very being forgiven.  Augustine says that our search for God itself demonstrates that God is already with us and has graced us.  Just so, even being able to ask for forgiveness demonstrates that what is thereby being asked for has indeed already been given.  “Before you ask, I will answer, Here I am.”

But if we are not to forget that we are already forgiven, we must enact, as sacraments [in the broad sense] (that is, signs that are themselves, in their actual signing or marking or making, “effective” of what they signify), the asking for forgiveness from and of those to whom we have come to be in debt.  We must, for our being forgiven itself to become “effective”–in the double sense of “go into effect,” as a warranty on an appliance may “go into effect”only once the original purchase is properly recorded, and [in the sense ]of itself “having effect” (“going to work”)–we must, to make our being forgiven “effective,” enact it, then, always by asking forgiveness from”God” and the dead, and also, whenever we have harmed others, directly of those we have harmed, thereby incurring debts with them.


Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Norris, Acedia, p. 230, cites a line from Graham Green’s “tragicomic novel of acedia, A Burnt-Out Case” in which Green speaks of “the grace of aridity.”  The character whose story is the novel burns out as both architect and womanizer, and ends up going to Africa and helping out in a leper colony run by a religious order.  He denies any spiritual motivation, yet the monks and Africans regard him as (p. 231) “divinely inspired,” and “admire his humility.”  In one scene “a priest says to him, ‘Don’t you see that perhaps you’ve been given the gift of aridity?  Perhaps even now you are walking in the footsteps of St. John of the Cross.’ ”  Then, a couple of pages later (p. 233) she cites “the Carmelite Constance Fitzgerald” [as Norris calls her on p. 232]:  “Finally I am forced to admit that the new venture will come to fruition only if, as Fitzgerald says, I can ‘make the passage from loving [and] serving . . . because of the pleasure and joy it gives . . . to loving and serving regardless of the cost.”  Then, a few lines later in the same paragraph, Norris writes:  “Commitment always costs, and there is a particular burden in loving another person, if for no other reason than the fact that this beloved will one day die.”  She is thinking, perhaps, about all adult beloveds, like her own husband, who died at 57 in 2003.  But what she says also applies to the love whereby parents choose to have a child.  As she herself observes (same p.–233), “this is the true strength of a woman willing to  give birth, despite the odds.”


Thursday, October 9, 2008

Norris, p. 265, commenting on the death of a spouse, but surely also applicable to the deaths of other loved ones such as children:  “Above all, I need to recall, even if the culture has forgotten it, the spiritual wisdom that correctly opposes acedia not to [business or activity] but to love.”

Yesterday morning, in our first regional oblate meeting after our summer break [like Norris, I am a Benedictine “oblate,” and in my case we have a regional oblate group that meets monthly], we were on Ch. 7 of [St. Benedict’s] Rule, on humility.  It came to me as I was sharing some troubledness about how the conversation was going, when one of us brought up the issue of how one is “humble” as an Auschwitz survivor, and we were verging, in my judgment, on some  [unintentional] derogation of those who did not survive–this [thought] came to me:  The whole issue of what is called for in the face of Auschwitz and–i.e., really–what truth it brings to us, therefore, can well be formulated this way:  What is it to be “obedient” (as I understand that:  listening, attentive to . . . ) in the face of Auschwitz?  (In Badiou’s terms,that would become:  How can one be faithful–show “fidelity” to–the truth that goes by the name of Auschwitz?)

Jean Améry: Discordant Echoes to Levi–#4


Today’s post contains the final entry, originally written last fall on the date indicated below, in the series of entries from my philosophical journal reflecting on the works of Auschwitz survivor Jean Améry.  Not long after publishing the book on suicide I address in the following entry, Améry succeeded in committing suicide himself. 

In his writing on suicide, as earlier in his writing on aging, and first of all in his writing on Auschwitz and all that name stands for, Améry demonstrates an adamantine fidelity to the truth as he has been given to experience it and, above all, to the truth of resistance, even and especially against that against which no resistance can ever hope to succeed, at least if success is measured by the standards of that very “reality” to which, in resiting it, one refuses to submit.


Monday, September 22, 2008

Jean Améry, On Suicide:  A Discourse on Voluntary Death, trans. John D. Barlow (Bloomington and  Indianapolis:  University of Indiana Press, 1999).

Pp. 25-26:

[Otto] Weininger [the Jewish but anti-Semitic, misogynistic author of Geschlecht und Charakter (Sex and Character), who killed himself in 1903 at 23] could not bear to be a Jew:  he was one.  My housemaid [i.e., one Améry read about in the paper, who killed herself because she could not  become the beloved or a popular singer she’d become fixated upon] could not bear to be an anonymous woman upon whom  the singer’s attention was never bestowed:  she was one.

By suicide, they did not become what they were not (a non-Jew or the singer’s lover, respectively).  Nevertheless, in a certain sense, (p. 27) “at least in a foolish way in the moment before the leap,” each “was” (his emphasis) what he/she “could not be because reality would not allow it to [him/her]:  Weininger as a non-Jew, the girl with the  broom as the sweetheart of the singer.”  Each rose up against reality and became, in that foolish instant, what reality would not let each be, in effect, to use a line from a couple of pages later (p. 29), “by de-selfing their self themselves”  (his emphasis).

Compare the “resistance”and “revolt” of “striking back” at Auschwitz, and of remaining faithful to the  truth of aging:  In all three cases–Auschwitz, aging, dying –in the act (or event) of such  resistance there is the only possible victory here, that of the revelation of the truth–a truth against Auschwitz, age, and death, one showing that those tree are the illusion:  “I passed by again, they were not  there.”


Or it is no doubt better to say the suicide revolts not against death as such, but against the failure (he prefers and uses the French échecas more expressive–even as sound–of what he means) of  one’s life.  Such failure is one of the two common conditions back of the decision to kill oneself [according to him], the other being “disgust with life,” [such as] one experiences life in (p. 47) “[l‘]naussée, one of the basic constituents of a human being,” and wherein life [in the biological sense:  the living as opposed to the “inorganic”] is experienced as I [myself] perceived it could be on my way to Mazatlan by train years ago, namely (as he puts it in parentheses a few lines before the remark on “nausea”), “a malignant tumor.” 

Thus, p. 60:  “What is suicide as natural death?  A resounding no to the crushing, shattering échec of existence.”  A refusal to live the life of “a failure.”

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Jean Améry: Discordant Echoes to Levi–#1



As last summer came to an end, my reading went on from Primo Levi’s writings, as addressed in my preceding four posts, to those of another Auschwitz survivor, Jean Améry.  The entry below is from my philosophical journal at that time, and is the first in a series I will post addressing Améry’s work.



Wednesday, September 17, 2008


Jean Améry, At the Mind’s Limits:  Contemplations by a Survivor on Auschwitz and Its Realities, trans. Sidney Rosenfeld and Stella P. Rosenfeld (Bloomington:  Indiana University Press, 1980), Preface to the Reissue, 1977, pp. x-xi.  [After remarking that “the present reflections . . . stand in the service of an enlightenment,” but that “enlightenment is not the same as clarification,” he writes:] 

Clarification would also amount to disposal [cf. Lanzman], settlement of the case, which can then be placed in the files of history.  My book is meant to aid in preventing precisely this.  For nothing is resolved, no conflict is settled, no remembering has become a mere memory.  What happened, happened. But that it happened cannot be so easily accepted.  I rebel:  against my past, against history, and against a present that places the incomprehensible in the cold storage of history and thus falsifies it in a revolting way.  Nothing has healed . . .


Thursday, September 18, 2008


Améry, At the Mind’s Limits, p. 14: 

What I felt [sic.] to comprehend at that time [in Auschwitz] still appears to me a certainty:  whoever is, in the broadest sense, a believing person, whether his belief be metaphysical or bound to concrete reality, transcends himself.  He is not the captive of his individuality; rather is part of a spiritual continuity that is interrupted nowhere, not even in Auschwitz. . . . For the unbelieving person reality, under adverse circumstances, is a force to which he submits. . . . For the believer reality is clay that he molds, a problem that he solves.


This stands as a sort of confirmation of Badiou on the “eternity” of the subject, who is always defined by a truth event and his “confidence” in it, as opposed to the mortality of the mere “human animal,” the “individual” as opposed to the “subject.”




P. 18:  “Occasionally, perhaps [for the “intellectual” in Auschwitz, such as Améry himself] that disquieting magus from Alemanic regions [Heidegger, of course] came to mind who said that beings appear to us only in the light of Being, but that man forgot Being by fixing on beings.  Well now, Being.  But in the camp it was more convincingly apparent than on the outside that beings and the light of Being get you nowhere.”  (Granted—and it must be faced, as I’ll return to—but might not the fixation on beings in the oblivion of the forgottenness of Being have been what made Auschwitz itself possible, in the first place?)  P. 19:  “Like the lyric stanza [from Hölderlin he’s earlier written about] . . . , the philosophic declarations also lost their transcendency and then and there became in part objective observations, in part dull chatter.  Where they still meant something they appeared trivial, and where they were not trivial they no longer meant anything.”  Later on the same page:  “We did not become wiser in Auschwitz. . .”  However, as he adds on p. 20: 

And yet, the time in the camps was not entirely without value for us (and when I way us I mean the nonreligious and politically independent intellectuals).  For we brought with us the certainty that remains ever unshakeable, that for the greatest part the intellect is a ludus and that we were nothing more—or, better said, before we entered the camp were nothing more—than hominess ludentes.  With that we lost a good deal of arrogance, of metaphysical conceit, but also quite a bit of our native joy in the intellect and what we falsely imagined was the sense of life.

Later, same page, last lines of his first chapter (“At the Mind’s Limits”):  “the word always dies where the claim of some reality is total. It died for us a long time ago.  And we were not even left with the feeling that we must regret its departure.”


Then, in his next chapter, “Torture,” he writes (p. 26):  “. . . even in direct experience everyday, reality is nothing but codified abstraction [which sound very like Heidegger, actually].  Only in rare moments of life [such as the torture he is about to describe and address] do we truly stand face to face with reality.  It does not have to be something as extreme as torture.  Arrest is enough and, if  need be, the first blow one receives.”  (So it is a matter of trauma, where the datable occurrence is the occasion and/or emblem of the “reality” that reveals itself through it.  It is not the datable occurrence itself that is traumatic, but the revelation of reality that takes place in that occurrence.)  Continuing the discussion (p. 27):  “The first blow brings home to the prisoner that he is helpless, and thus it already contains in the bud everything that is to come.”  And thus, already at that first blow (p. 28), “trust in the world breaks down.”


Life void of all such trust—that is what trauma gives us to understand.  Thus, the issue is to find out what it is, to “understand” that—to live continuously in the “knowledge that there is nowhere to go, no help to come, no room for such trust any longer.”




P.35, still on torture:  “A slight pressure by the tool-wielding hand is enough to turn the other—along with his head, in which are perhaps stored Kant and Hegel, and all nine [Beethoven] symphonies, and the World as Will and Representation—into a shrilly squealing piglet at slaughter.”


As he has already written, there is no return from the revelation the tortured are given of the face of reality.  P. 36, on his own torture:  “It is still not over.  Twenty-two years later I am still dangling over the ground by dislocated arms, panting, and accusing myself [in hopes of that stopping the torture—since he has no real information to divulge].  In such an instance, there is no ‘repression.’”


P. 40 (end of chapter):  “Whoever has succumbed to torture can no longer feel at home in the world.  The shame of destruction cannot be erased.  Trust in the world . . . will not be regained. . . . It is fear that henceforth reigns over him.  Fear—and also what is called resentments.  They remain, and have scarcely a chance to concentrate into a seething, purifying thirst for revenge.”




P. 70:  “. . . my resentments are there in order that the crime become a moral reality for the criminal, in order that he be swept into the truth of his atrocity.”

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Trauma, the Morality of Representation, Death, and Community


Coincidentally, in the same January 9, 2009, Sunday New York Times that contained Jacob Heilbrunn’s criticism of recent films depicting the Holocaust, which I discussed briefly in my last post, there also appeared a book review, by Richard Lourie, of H. G. Adler’s novel The Journey, the English translation of which, by Peter Filkins, appeared only last year from Random House.  As one learns from Lourie’s review, as well as from Filkins’s introduction to his translation of the book itself, Adler was born in Prague in 1910 into a secularized Jewish family, and was himself a survivor of both Theresienstadt and Auschwitz, surviving 18 members of his family, including his wife, her mother, and his own parents, all of whom died in the Nazi camps.  After liberation, Adler eventually settled in London, where he wrote, among other things, The Journey, detailing in fictionalized form his own journey during the Nazi era.

Both Lourie’s review and Filkins’s introduction–as well as Adler’s son Jeremy Adler’s afterword to The Journey–also acquaint the reader with the journey Adler’s book, written in German, we are told in the son’s afterword, during 1950-1951, itself had to take before it was finally published in Germany in 1962.  Even after publication, the book languished little-known and little-read until only recently, as indicated by an English translation only now becoming available for the first time.

In all three places, Richard Lourie’s review, Peter Filkins’s introduction, and  Jeremy Adler’s afterword, we are also told that the influential German publisher Peter Suhrkamp vowed that the book would never be published in Germany so long as he lived.  And it wasn’t.  Lourie and Filkins also connect Suhrkamp’s reaction with the dominance at the time of the aesthetics of Theodor Adorno, who famously declared that literature was no longer possible after Auschwitz, that the very idea of transforming such horror into fiction was blasphemous and obscene, to use the same terms I already used myself in my last post to characterize any “exploitation,” as Heilbrunn appropriately names it, of “Auschwitz”–of all that name has come to  stand for–for the sake of telling some tale of redemption.

Interestingly, H. G. Adler himself refuses to tell any such tale in The Journey.  At least that is how I read what he says in the opening pages of his book, which are all that I have so far managed to read of it myself, having purchased Filkins’s translation just a few days ago.  At any rate, to help contextualize the series of postings I have been making recently on this site–the series of entries made in my philosophical journal months ago, concerning the works of contemporary American historian Dominick LaCapra, who is himself very much concerned with such matters as concerned both Adorno and Adler–it will, I hope, be helpful  to the reader to know a little about how I stand in relation to what, for short, I will call the morality of fictionalized representations of the Holocaust/”Auschwitz.”

To put it as clearly and bluntly as I can, my own strong sense of the matter is that the risks of falling into blasphemy and obscenity grow greater, the less “fictional” and more “realistic” the representation–in a certain sense of “representation,” to which I will return in a moment–becomes.   Thus, as I see it, we are much nearer to the swamp of blasphemy and obscenity, if not already neck deep in it, in, say, Spielberg’s film Schindler’s List, which presents itself as basically a “true story,” than we are in, say, the “imaginative,” “fictionalizing” reworkings of the material in a work such as I (so far, at least) take The Journey to be.

The sense of “representation” I have in mind in making such remarks is one in which “representing” means something such as “presenting in an image,” or “picturing.”  It is representation in a sense that ties the notion very directly and closely to that of an image, itself taken as essentially, or at least paradigmatically, visual.

For me, there is an important sense in which, to put the point hyperbolically, with regard to such things as Auschwitz the photo-graphic is the porno-graphic.  That is, the more closely the representing comes to what Walter Benjamin called “mechanical reproduction” (in his often-cited article “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction), as in the photographic image, the more morally questionable it becomes.  The  closer representation comes to reproduction in and as such an image, the greater the risk of blasphemy and obscenity becomes.

Fully to articulate what I am struggling to  articulate with such formulations will require further efforts in future posts.  It will also require the context provided by my confrontations, in the philosophical journal entries I have been posting and will continue to post, with a variety of the issues involved.  That most surely includes the entries in my journal that address the works of LaCapra, which entries I have been posting here for the last few weeks. 

The post before this one, to which I gave the title “The Truth of Auschwitz,” contains the final entry from my philosophical journal occasioned directly by my reading of LaCapra’s works.  In the next entry from my journal, posted below, my focus shifts away from LaCapra and, for the time being at least, away from direct concern with the issue of representing trauma, especially the Holocaust.  Nevertheless, the matters that concern me in the entry below and that will  concern me in the coming posts continue to provide a context for further direct discussion of the issue of the representation of trauma, when it does resurface, as it will eventually for me in this blog.

Below is the next entry in my philosophical journal.


Monday, April 4, 2008

Various things:

1.  [Alain] Badiou, Logiques des Mondes (Paris:  Éditions du Seuil, 2006), p. 571, in note on IV.3.4, just after Derrida died [my translation]:  “Death, decidedly, always comes too soon.”

Comments:  Death is not only a trauma, even the one trauma we must all come to “sooner or later.”  Rather, it is the trauma.  It is what is traumatic in every trauma:  the revelation without mask of the face of death, as in Poe’s “Dance of the Red Death.”  And insofar as to become a human subject–if that expression is not pleonastic–is, as Heidegger has it, to be cast into being-toward-death, then death (as being-toward-death itself, as Heidegger insists) is the founding trauma of  the human subject as such.

The trauma of time:  the trauma which is time.


2.  In an excellent essay [“Notes on Trauma and  Community”] in  Cathy Caruth, ed., Trauma:  Explorations in Memory (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995), sociologist Kai Erikson distinguishes between what he [following two other researchers he cites] calls [p. 189] “corrosive communities” and “the ‘therapeutic communities’ so often noted in an earlier literature” about the way, after “natural disasters” like an earthquake, there comes a period of community drawing together in mutual support and aid.  In his “corrosive communities,” however, what happens is the opposite, and they emerge from “technological” rather than “natural” disasters–the key distinction.  Here, the disaster reveals and deepens the divisions within the community, as between the corporations responsible for the disaster but who deny all such responsibility finally, and the victims of it–in effect,though Erikson doesn’t say this himself, the trauma that gives rise to such a corrosive community is one in which the line between perpetrators and victims becomes crystal clear.  Yet the trauma–this is the point Erikson is making here–is still a founding one (not his term) for the community at issue.  Only now it is a riven, split, divided community.

Comment:  The truth that comes to  pass in a “technological” disaster that founds a “corrosive” community (where both or all sides of the divided parts of the community define themselves in terms of the traumatic event, from the date of that event on) is precisely the splitting of the given community into perpetrators (oppressor, dominant class) and victims–a splitting which has always already been there but did not yet, until the traumatic event, come to show its own face.

Accordingly, if that truth coming to pass in/as the traumatic “technological” disaster is  to be allowed to come to pass,the only way that can occur is by the restoration of justice, the healing of the rift between perpetrator and victim–better:  the redemption (in, e.g., Benjamin’s sense) of the victims.  And it is precisely the reaction of the  perpetrators not to let that happen–i.e., not to allow  comes to pass (that is here to say, what has come/comes/is coming now, here, on/as this date-event, as to pass, as demanding the emergence of its truth, the truth it is/reveals:  It has come/comes/is to come as to be allowed to pass).  The primary form of that reaction is to engender the false sense of community–to lay claim to the event as a trauma that “struck us all alike”–and in that process to reinforce the violence/oppression/perpetration and even to compound it, by denying the victims even the possibility of complaint, in effect, relegating them to a silence that, unlike the silence of Abraham in Kierkegaard’s reading of the sacrifice of Isaac, cannot even itself be voiced or heard.

So:  What, if any, truth comes to pass on 9/11?  What, if not precisely the truth the refusal of which the Bush reaction institutionalizes?  The refusal of the truth that America is not the victim here, but is, rather, the perpetrator?

A couple of pages later (pp. 193-196), Erikson notes how the victims (not his word) of such “technological” disasters often come together (in effect in their mutual  estrangement from the larger community wherein, know it or not, they are victims) for mutual support.  P. 194:  “They are not drawn together by feelings of affection . . . but by a shared set of perspectives and rhythms and words that derive from the sense of being apart.” As he goes on to note at the end of the next paragraph:  “. . . they can be said to have experienced not only a changed sense of self and a changed way of relating to others but a changed worldview.” 

So far, everything he says fits AA like a glove, though he says no such thing himself. However, he then goes on to characterize this new “worldview” that arises in the traumatized victims of refused (at the level  of the community as a whole and as run to satisfy the powers that be) trauma, as being characterized by a hyper-sensitivity and hyper-alertness to risk, etc.. 

Well, there the AA example presents a different possibility:  that of the creation of a new community “alongside” the corrosive one that just keeps on keeping on–a community in which all such hyper-vigilance can be and is let go, so that the community and its members can go on/go into, again or for the first time, their own lives, to live them, free of all such anxiety and constant, nagging insecurity, as the Big Book’s [that is, the book Alcoholics Anonymous’s] talk of how “we” [i.e., such alcoholics in recovery] “overcome our sense of economic insecurity,” which has nothing to do with “becoming financially secure.” 

AA, like Benedictine monasticism, is life itself lived in and as a community of equals. It is justice reigning.  Not, however, as even disruptive of the unjust pseudo-community alongside which life in AA/the monastery is lived, but, rather, as the reality to and for which the pseudo-community is dismissed as a phantom, as God dismisses such phantoms [when he wakes], in one of the stanzas of one of the repentance psalms.

The Truth of Auschwitz


The truth of Auschwitz is that there is no truth in Auschwitz.   Auschwitz is the place where there is no longer truth.

As I recall, it is Primo Levi who somewhere tells of an episode when he was an inmate at Auschwitz in which he or another prisoner asks why something or another is done.  The guard or capo (I can’t remember which, but it  does not matter for my purposes here) replies, “Here, there is no ‘why.'”  Auschwitz is the place where there is no why any longer; what gets  done, gets done, that’s  all.

By the same logic, Auschwitz is the place where “truth” vanishes.  Auschwitz is a sort of black hole where deceit, betrayal, and denial are so condensed and concentrated that no ray of truth can any longer break out from there, just as in an astronomical black hole matter is so condensed and concentrated, and the resulting gravity is so great, that no light, no sort of “information” at all, can any longer escape from it. 

Those reflections occurred to me when I read, last weekend, a commentary in the Sunday, January 9, 2009, New York Times by Jacob Heilbrunn, called “Telling the Holocaust Like It Wasn’t,” in which Heilbrunn critiques the rash of recently released films (Valkyrie, Defiance, The Reader, etc.) that all, in one way or another, concern “Auschwitz,” that is, the Holocaust.  Heilbrunn sets the tone for his whole critique by citing a scene from one of those films:  “Toward the end of the new film about postwar Germany ‘The Reader,’ a holocaust survivor in New York curtly instructs a visiting German lawyer named Michael Berg that he would do  well  to remember that the camps were neither a form of therapy nor a university.  ‘Nothing,’ she says, ‘came out of the camps.  Nothing.'”

Despite that opening, however, Heilbrunn begins the two paragraph closing of his commentary with the  following remark, which effectively takes back what he says in that opening passage.  “Perhaps,” he writes, “nothing came out of the Holocaust other than the determination  to prevent a repetition  of the  crimes.”

With such an ending Heilbrunn, despite himself one may assume, undercuts the very critique he would seem to want to advance, the heart of which can be found early on, right after he cites the scene from The Reader, where he writes that “the further the Holocaust recedes into the past, the more it’s being exploited to create a narrative of redemption.”  Yet that is, ironically, just what his own ending remarks then proceed to do, creating a redemption story of their own.

But if, as I put it to begin this post, only this time with emphasis added, the truth of Auschwitz is that there is no truth in Auschwitz–that Auschwitz is that place where there is no place for truth at all any longer–then any attempt, including Heibrunn’s  own, to tell a tale of any truth at all coming out of Auschwitz, becomes unacceptable.  To tell any such tale, including his own, becomes blasphemous and obscene, an exploitation, to use one of  Heilbrunn’s own  terms, of what is never to be exploited.

My hope is that the preceding remarks will help to contextualize the entry from my philosophical journal given below, an entry which continues my reflections on the works of Dominick LaCapra, especially, for the last few posts as well as for this one, his book Representing the Holocaust.


Saturday, March 29, 2008

LaCapra, Representing, p. 73, on [former President] Reagan’s 1985 trip [with then German Chancellor Helmut Kohl] to Bitburg cemetery [where many German soldiers, including many SS members, are buried, in what was then West Germany]:  “Helmut Kohl and Ronald Reagan were at one in attempting to ’emancipate’ Germany from what they saw as a debilitating memory.  In Reagan’s case, the notion of emancipation was tantamount to  unearned, celebratory forgetting that invited the return of the repressed.  It simply ignored the  problems of public acknowledgement, mourning, and working-through.”  Then, [he writes, on] p. 74:  “. . .Reagan misconstrues the process whereby one can achieve a condition that allows one to let bygones be bygones, and he does not address the possibility that a viable and legitimate democracy cannot be based on celebratory oblivion but requires a critical attempt to come to  terms with the past.”

This analysis applies as well to the Bush administration’s orchestrating of the American reaction ([“reaction,”] not “response,” I  might add) to 9/11/2001.  Except the analogy would, in that case of 9/11 and the Bitburg incident, be between Bush  and Kohl, rather than between Bush and Reagan.  That is, the atrocities which are being consigned [by Bush after 9/11] to a convenient (for whom? one should ask) oblivion–in the immediate casting of everything in the language of good and evil, and all  the rest of the baggage of the “war on terror”–were those perpetrated by the US itself, just as the Nazi atrocities Kohl was glad to join Reagan in assigning to oblivion were committed by Germany itself.

Still, on p. 74, LaCapra goes on to quote Regan’s response to the discovery that Bitburg included graves of SS men.  Reagan, in the New York Times of April 19, 1985, is  quoted as saying:  “. . . these young men are victims of Nazism also, even though they were fighting in German uniforms, drafted to serve to carry out the hateful wishes of the Nazi’s.  They were victims, just as surely as the victims in the concentration camps.”

As LaCapra rightly bemoans, Reagan here conflates crucial distinctions between victims and perpetrators, and the mixed cases, as it were, in between.  He does not mention, though I’m sure  he’d agree, how Reagan also conflates the distinction between the SS and the regular German military, as well as that between the concentration camps and the extermination camps.

More important, to  me, is  that one can see structural similarities again here between the Bitburg episode and the Bush reaction to 9/11.  For one thing, the Bush reaction conflates the distinction between those who died in the Twin Towers as a result of the attacks on 9/11, and who were certainly in the obvious sense “victims” of that strike/attack, but who themselves had varying degrees of complicity in the destruction brought about by US policies and acts over the years(just as the German camp administrators from Camp Commandant to Kapos and Sondercommandos, had varying degrees of complicity in the Nazi camps), [with those victims who had no such complicity] .  In that sense, [University of Colorado professor Ward] Churchill’s remarks that the Twin Towers victims were “little Eichmanns” is  not off the  mark entirely, overstated as it may be–even offensively so. 

It seems to me Churchill himself is conflating, at least at the level of his rhetoric, a distinction between perpetrators as such (which Eichmann was) and accomplices, and then conflating important distinctions between different levels of complicity among the latter (accomplices).  Considered in general, the  victims of the collapse of/attack on the Twin Towers could not unreasonably be categorized as active accomplices, insofar as they helped administer the sub-structural mechanisms of  the  march of global capitalism.  Their analogue in Nazi Germany might be, for example, the workers in the chemical plants that produced the Zyklon B eventually used, by those who at that point in the system come closer to being perpetrators (or go all the way to it), to  exterminate Jews in the extermination camps.

As for other [categories of] victims of  9/11 in New York, we might take the rescue forces–firemen, police, health-care workers, etc.–who died in the aftermath of the strike of the two planes into the Twin Towers.  This category of the victims of 9/11 cannot necessarily be regarded as accomplices of American violence worldwide.  Rather, they are like what American military euphemism calls “collateral damage.”

That category marked by the US military euphemism would also include “innocent bystanders”–that is, those who were neither cogs in the engines of global capitalism (the majority of workers in the Towers), nor actively self-involving rescuers and helpers to  those caught in the destruction, but were merely “accidentally” present at the time–e.g., tourists visiting the World Trade Center, or delivery people, etc..  They (such innocent bystanders) would be analogous, I’d say, to the mass of the population of Dresden subjected to the Allied fire-bombing of  that city in WW II.

That last analogy also brings me to one more:  the attack on 9/11 by militant Arabs is analogous, it seems to me, to the fire-bombing of Dresden by the Allies.  To the degree there is such an analogy between the two, to that degree whatever moral reservations or judgments apply to  the 9/11 attacks applies just as much to the fire-bombing of Dresden (or to the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, for  that matter).  And to the exact degree the bombing of Dresden was justifiable, so  would the attack on the Twin Towers be.

LaCapra, Continued


My philosophical journal continues with further reflection on Dominick LaCapra’s Representing the Holocaust:  History, Theory, Trauma (Cornell University Press, 1994).


Friday, March 28, 2008

LaCapra, Representing the Holocaust, pp. 28-29:   “One sign of a science is that it no  longer reads its canonical authors.  To put it another way, it does not have a textual  canon or even competing canons.  It has relatively autonomous theories, textbooks, and problems . . .  Hence, a contemporary physicist need not read Newton or Einstein.”

Here, LaCapra’s use of the term ‘science’ could benefit from him displaying some of the very things he foregrounds in his  own discussions of historiography–mainly, it could benefit from a bit of historical “contextualization,” to use his term, of his own text, in its usage of ‘science.’

Clearly, the usage he has of that word in the above lines is  wholly uninformed and uninforming, so to speak, about the historically limited restriction of the correct use of “science” to cases such as he describes.  That is, what he says is true only if we fall uncritically into the modern equation of science with what Husserl, for example, calls “the exact/mathematical natural sciences,” of which modern physics is the model, as in LaCapra’s own text above.

With regard to the limits, however, of any such “contextualization,” a passage from LaCapra a few pages later [p.35] is insightful:  “If a text could be totally contextualized, it would paradoxically be ahistorical, for it would exist in a stasis in which it made no difference whatsoever. . . . If contextualization were fully explanatory, texts would be derivative items in which nothing new of different happened.”

Put paradoxically:  A completely historizing contextualization would miss the historical dimension of what is being contextualized.

Those LaCapra’s own usage [it  seems to me] moves [too] uncritically between the two senses, what his lines, especially in my paradoxical rewording, bring out is two very different, but complexly interrelated, uses of the very terms ‘history,’ ‘historical,’ and the like:

  1. “History” as “times past,” and
  2. “History” as happening, as event, which is the past that, to use
    Faulkner’s formula,not only “isn’t over yet,” but that “isn’t even past.”

A stab at some formulations of my own:

What is historical about any given phenomenon–“text,” “artifact,”occurrence”–is what in it “contextualizes” everything else.

In that same way/sense, art, the artwork, is historical:  It creates–draws forth and draws–context.  (Does that provide a way of rethinking Heidegger’s notion of art as the setting-itself-into-work of truth–a way of rethinking his notion that comes after and incorporates [Phillipe] Lacoue-Labarthe’s critique in [La fiction du politique:  Heidegger, l’art et la politique (Christian Bourgeois éditeur, 1987)]?  That is, might Heidegger be read to strip him of all mimetic trappings, in Lacoue-Labarthe’s sense, so that the “founding” movement in and as art is no longer thought as the provision of a copy/model, a model to be copied?  Might even the notion of fiction be recast along such lines?  So that the fictive/making/creative becomes the (re)contextualization of contextuality itself, in effect?)