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Amanda G

I was checking out the History and Memory issue that was linked to the Weblog and I found myself drawn to the "After the Witness" report on the video archive. After reading through it, I found myself once again thinking about what it means to tell a story, especially when the story is a true one, and a horrific one at that. How is the Holocaust a story to which all people have access, yet simulataneously, this report seems to suggest that only certain individuals may talk or write about this event?
I remember a fiction writing workshop I once took, and the instructor suggested that I should not attempt to write a story from the point of view of a Chinese-American man, which I was at that time attempting to do. I remember being extremely confused, not understanding certain things as I feel I do now, but as the article points out, there is something inherently different about the Holocaust--soon there will be no more Holocaust survivors alive to tell their own stories. A writer might, Charlotte Delbo suggets use "jarring figures to speech" to "prevent her readers from coming to close--and potentially appropriating--the exeriences of the camps" (94). Yet while it seems obvious why one might hope that others would not appropriate the story of her tragic experience, the article begins by invoking Elie Wiesel's keynote address from this conference. "What if the tragedy of the messenger is that he coudl not deliver his message?" Or "worse, that he forgot the message. Worse, that he forgot that he was a messenger Or worse, that he delivered the message and nothing changed" (85).
Wiesel's ruminations seem to suggest that the latter speculation is the worse--that a messenger's message might have no effect on the audience. In which case, of course, one might also speculate that the identity of the messenger is irrelevant. Wiesel also finds the idea that a messenger might forget his or her identity problematic as well, but the ultimate issue seeme to the message itself.
So, then, what will happen to the stories of the Holocaust when the survivors have passed away? Does this mean that there will be no new messages, that we will be limited to those already in existence? Or will their descendants be permitted to expound upon their experiences? Or all Jews? THe example of writing from the point of view of a Chinese American man clearly represents a different problem, as there are many Chinese American men available to tell stories. But if the message is the same?
I am thinking now of Eric's piece on the hoax poet...and not remembering the man's name...but nonetheless, I just remembered it and that his thesis was that in the end it didn't matter as much as everyone seemed to think...if I remember correctly.
Lastly, the Rothberg and Stark piece recalls an incident in which a Holocaust survivor was virtually discredited for misremembering the number of crematoria chimneys in a story, but also recognizes that the testimony of witnesses is no longer accepted as empirical evidence as to the "truth" of an incident.
How does this relate to Tim O'Brien's notion of "story truth" versus "happening truth"? It seems to me that it's very important to communicate the feeling of a moment, rather than the actual events, a la O'Brien, I suppose.
Why, then, are we as a culture so obsessed with "true" stories? I believe I raised this question last week.. and I'm still wondering.


Amanda brings up a lot of issues which I won't address. But I'm thinking of her last comment - that we are obsessed with true stories. In the case of the Holocaust, or any other horrific injustice (shall I say evil?), there is a stripping away of skepticism...a moment that engages the sublime? I don't know. But there is a fidelity to the true events that is a matter of honor to the loss. I think the issue at stake is the truth, but also the fear of who controls the truth (Berlatsky talks about this in his article). I can't imagine the horror of having someone murder my husband in front of me and then change all the facts and erase the truth of the event - namely that that specific person killed him. The abuse of power in that moment is so profound that I don't think anyone who had this happen would argue that there are no true events. Of course, as time moves on and the memory does its job of forgetting (see Berlatsky), the events mean differently. I don't think I'm expressing myself clearly - perhaps someone else can jump in. Ultimately, I find the ethical position postmodern theory posits disturbing - the "withdrawal from the real" position limiting.


Sorry - one more post:

Disclaimer: the use of “us” and “we” is not meant to be offensive. It is merely a marker of the people in Charlie’s class. Please substitute the pronouns as you see fit. :-)

Magnusson’s “Singularization of History” was a bit overstated: see the last paragraph on page 718 for all the ultimate language. But it did prompt me to think about the way we work as Literature students. His problem with putting conclusions into “some kind of ad hoc context,” that would be the metanarrative, corresponds to the prolific use of theory abused in literature papers. While we are learning, this type of applying the theory and doing a little reading and putting the specific details of the research we’ve done into the broad accepted metanarrative of “theory,” is acceptable, but I hope we (maybe I should say I) will outgrow it. But it seems like a lot of smart people in the profession haven’t. Magnusson would fault the academy’s insistence on creating order out of disorder—in other words the metanarrative that has been embraced. I would say there is a pervasive metanarrative at work in our profession and that it seems the aim of most work is to fit the little pieces (all the literary texts) into one overarching idea, whether it be postmodernism or modernization or even one person’s theory of X. The very choice of the theorists we read has been determined by the profession and excludes whole schools of philosophy and theories our profession has deemed unimportant. I guess what I’m saying is that we have our own metanarrative problem that tries to silence “the people” through making literary texts merely examples of theories. We also have a problem with what theories we arbitrarily deem worthwhile. So, Magnusson’s solution is one that I think applies to us: pulling back from the emphasis on the “making our research fit the overall idea of X” and questioning the theories we employ.

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