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Traumatic Realism

The Demands of Holocaust Representation

2000
Author:

Michael Rothberg

Traumatic Realism

Analyzes the impact of historical trauma on contemporary culture.

Drawing on a wide range of texts, Michael Rothberg puts forth an overarching framework for understanding representations of the Holocaust. Through close readings of such writers and thinkers as Theodor Adorno, Maurice Blanchot, Ruth Klüger, Charlotte Delbo, Art Spiegelman, and Philip Roth and an examination of films by Steven Spielberg and Claude Lanzmann, Rothberg demonstrates how the Holocaust as a traumatic event makes three fundamental demands on representation: a demand for documentation, a demand for reflection on the limits of representation, and a demand for engagement with the public sphere and commodity culture.

Rothberg’s Traumatic Realism makes a crucial, albeit controversial, foray into the questions of representation that are central within Holocaust discourse.

College Literature

How to approach the Holocaust and its relationship to late twentieth-century society? While some stress the impossibility of comprehending this event, others attempt representations in forms as different as the nonfiction novel (and Hollywood blockbuster) Schindler’s List, the documentary Shoah, and the comic book Maus. This problem is at the center of Michael Rothberg’s book, a focused account of the psychic, intellectual, and cultural aftermath of the Holocaust.

Drawing on a wide range of texts, Michael Rothberg puts forth an overarching framework for understanding representations of the Holocaust. Through close readings of such writers and thinkers as Theodor Adorno, Maurice Blanchot, Ruth Klüger, Charlotte Delbo, Art Spiegelman, and Philip Roth and an examination of films by Steven Spielberg and Claude Lanzmann, Rothberg demonstrates how the Holocaust as a traumatic event makes three fundamental demands on representation: a demand for documentation, a demand for reflection on the limits of representation, and a demand for engagement with the public sphere and commodity culture. As it establishes new grounding for Holocaust studies, his book provides a new understanding of realism, modernism, and postmodernism as responses to the demands of history.

Traumatic Realism

Michael Rothberg is assistant professor of English at the University of Miami.

Traumatic Realism

Rothberg’s Traumatic Realism makes a crucial, albeit controversial, foray into the questions of representation that are central within Holocaust discourse.

College Literature

Rothberg’s concept of traumatic realism traverses some crucial fault lines in Holocaust studies. By situating traumatic realism as a productive response to the ‘realist’ and ‘antirealist’ debate that circumscribes the degree to which the Holocaust is conceived as a subject of epistemology, Rothberg addresses the uneasy coexistence of the ordinary and the extraordinary that underlines this bifurcation.

Cultural Critique

Rothberg’s effort to theorize the ‘demands of Holocaust representation’ without resorting to traditional dichotomies between history and memory is both welcome and extraordinarily ambitious.

History and Theory

Ranging among philosophy, literary testimony, film, television, figure skating, the U.S. Holocaust Museum, as well as fiction and art produced by subsequent generations, his ambitious book follows a tripartite division in pursuit of the postwar responses of modernism, realism, and postmodernism. Rotherberg is eloquent on the dilemmas of the present generation in their search for ‘representational practices adequate to the aftermath’ in an age of commodification.

Canadian Literature

Anyone interested in the Holocaust, and in cultural studies, should pay attention to this book.

ARIEL

Michael Rothberg speaks in a critical voice that is at once incisive, exploratory, capacious and generous. Ranging from the realist to the modernist to the postmodern, he devises a remarkably simple yet conceptually rich and suggestive model for the different modes of representation demanded by the Holocaust. Traumatic Realism is clear, compelling and unusually important.

Marianne Hirsch, Dartmouth College

Traumatic Realism seeks to answer the question of ‘how to comprehend the Holocaust and its relationship to contemporary culture.’ Rothberg’s are provocative analyses, and they fulfill his intention of forcing readers of these works to face historical responsibilities.

Contemporary Literature

Traumatic Realism

Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction: The Demands of Holocaust Representation

Part I MODERNISM "AFTER AUSCHWITZ"

1. After Adorno: Culture in the Wake of Catastrophe
2. Before Auschwitz: Maurice Blanchot, From Now On

Part II REALISM IN "THE CONCENTRATIONARY UNIVERSE"

3. "The Barbed Wire of the Postwar World": Ruth Kliiger's Traumatic Realism
4. Unbearable Witness: Charlotte Delbo's Traumatic Timescapes

Part III POSTMODERNISM, OR "THE YEAR OF THE HOLOCAUST"

5. Reading Jewish: Philip Roth, Art Spiegelman, and Holocaust Postmemory
6. "Touch an Event to Begin": Americanizing the Holocaust

Conclusion. After the "Final Solution": From the "Jewish Question" to Jewish Questioning

Notes
Bibliography

Index