Third-Generation Holocaust Representation: Trauma, History, and Memory.
Attention to third-generation Holocaust representation within the fields of Holocaust literature and Holocaust history has lagged behind trends in Holocaust criticism more broadly. Professors Victoria Aarons and Alan L. Berger's timely book, entitled Third-Generation Holocaust Representation: Trauma, History, and Memory, turns our attention to the relevance of third-generation Holocaust representation as a shaping force in Holocaust literature and history, while also exhibiting a keen awareness of the psychological, religious, ethical, aesthetic, and sociopolitical factors at work in Holocaust remembrance and representation.
Third-Generation Holocaust Representation is a remarkable work of scholarship from two senior scholars with deep knowledge of Holocaust literature, Jewish history, and literary criticism who offer the reader a thoroughly researched account of the everyday struggles and successes of third-generation Holocaust authors. In the process, Aarons and Berger also uncover subtle distinctions between various third-generation authors and provide a window into the individual, nuanced struggle of each representative writer grappling with the enormity of his or her task.
The authors, who have already written an impressive number of books and articles both theorizing and historicizing Holocaust representation, move flawlessly in the seven chapters of the book from signaling to the reader the survivors' unique testimonial writing to analyzing second-and third-generation representation of this cataclysmic event in the history of the Jewish people. The authors begin by focusing on the third generation's personal histories and their multilayered challenges, and proceed to mapping the literary trajectories of a solid sample of very talented, bold, third-generation authors who, according to Berger and Aarons, are unanimously animated by an imperative to preserve memory of the Holocaust.
In the book's first chapter, "On the Periphery," Aarons and Berger underscore that third-generation writers are "digging around the ruins of memory," with "an anxious fear of belatedness," perpetually in a double bind between the impossibility of knowing and the duty to tell, with a feeling that "time is running out and that the meaningful things were always left unspoken." (1) While privileging third-generation representations, the authors examine painstakingly the issues faced earlier by Holocaust survivors whose writing has become the "landscape of memory" and bemoan the loss of their powerful voices.
The authors further instruct the reader by offering next brief incursions into the outstanding work of second-generation authors and critics, including Melvin Bukiet, Art Spiegelman, Thane Rosenbaum, and others, whom they categorize as "witnesses to memory." The third and the fourth chapters focus on third-generation writing, which is described as a "call to memory" that is governed by an "impulse to transmit the knowledge of the Holocaust by shifting to fictionalized accounts and to literature" (29).
Aarons and Berger handle with expert flair complex personal accounts and fictionalized representations using historical data as well as literary and psychoanalytic tools. Grounded in theoretical work by established Holocaust scholars, including Dan Bar On, Lawrence Langer, Susan Suleiman, Henry Raczymow, Jacob Lothe, David Roskies, Gary Weissman, Gulie Ne'eman Arad, Miri Sharf, Nava Semel, and many others, the authors of Third-Generation Holocaust Representation examine writing by David Mendelsohn, Marianne Litvak-Hirsch, Joanna Adorjan, Julie Orringer, Alison Pick, Nicole Krauss, Jonathan Safran Foer, Michael Chabon, Rachel Kadish, Sara Houghteling, Joseph Skibell, and others.
While previous scholars have offered mainly insights into the first-or second-generation representation, Aarons and Berger boldly broach their argument in support of continuity and transgenerational transmission of Holocaust memory by focusing their research on third-generation writers. In this work, the authors identify a strand that is distinct from--yet interwoven with--the texture of third-generation representation and that has not been clearly articulated in extant books on this subject: a predominant sense of belatedness evident in third-generation representation.
Third-Generation Holocaust Representation offers poignant case studies. A Blessing on the Moon by Joseph Skibell, Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, and Jonathan Safran Foer's Everything Is Illuminated are featured in chapter 4, where the authors analyze the traces of Jewish absence. Nicole Kraus's three remarkable novels are investigated in detail in chapter 5. In chapter 6, Aarons and Berger concentrate on the notion of survivor and examine authors who make a distinction between the notions of refugee, immigrant, and survivor. The concluding chapter of the book is a meditation on the absence of memory facing the third generation and the replacement of memory with responsibility. The impulse of third-generation writers, "whose narratives are motivated by twin impulses to present with as much accuracy as possible the historical facts of the Holocaust and to particularize the experience, namely, to recreate the individual lives of their families" (209), is thoroughly analyzed in this last chapter and serves to amplify issues raised in earlier chapters as well.
The concluding chapter is anchored in Julie Orringer's Invisible Bridges and ponders poetically the notions of "obligation and moral duty," as an injunction by third-generation writing to step up to the burden of transferred memory and to "create a picture" construed from "bits and pieces" (211). According to third-generation authors, we learn from Berger and Aarons, this can be achieved only through engaging the personal and the collective experience of the Holocaust that stands in competition now with daily contemporary life and with forgetting.
This beautifully written volume is not only a credit to the authors, but also to the ever-growing literary production of third-generation writers who have been working in the shadow of previous generations. Third-Generation Holocaust Representation is compelling because of its breadth and meticulous study of Holocaust memory and representation, yet it also reaches beyond the vicissitudes of this tough area of study and celebrates excellent writing by talented authors. Moreover, although this work engages with psychoanalytic theory, memory and remembrance issues, and offers precise historical data, the prose remains elegant and engaging. This panoramic survey therefore will appeal to Jewish studies scholars, literary scholars, psychologists, and historians alike. Holocaust scholars also will appreciate the thematic ingenuity, the crisp style, and the vast data made readily available. Readers familiar with Holocaust literature and history also will enjoy being guided by two prolific and meticulous scholars.
As a Holocaust scholar, I was looking for a textual nod to Cynthia Ozick who wrote in the 1980s about creating "a mind engraved with the Holocaust," (2) and perhaps to Daniel L. Schacter's pivotal insights into the structuring and burdens of memory presented in The Seven Sins of Memory: How the Mind Forgets and Remembers (2002). Likewise, I was hoping for a note on Freud's notion of besetzung (mentioned in a 1908 letter to Ernest Jones) that describes most poignantly the "investment of libido" visible in third-generation Holocaust representation. (3)
Such minor quibbles aside, this exceptional book is both smart and a pleasure to read despite the very harsh insights it brings to the foreground. Aarons and Berger give third-generation Holocaust representation an expanded dimension and together provide a new standard for considering their work.
(1.) See Fink, "A Scrap of Time," 8-9.
(2.) Ozick, Art and Ardor, 243-47.
(3.) Freud, "Letter to Ernst Jones," 9. See Paskauskas, Complete Correspondence.
Fink, Ida. "A Scrap of Time." In A Scrap of Time and Other Stories, translated by Madeline Levine and Francine Prose. New York: Pantheon Bok, 1987.
Ozick, Cynthia. Art and Ardor. New York: Dutton, 1984.
Paskauskas, R. Andrew, ed. The Complete Correspondence of Sigmnnd Freud and Ernest Jones, 1908-1939. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995.
Gila Safran Naveh is a professor of Judaic studies, comparative literature, and European studies. She is the head of the Judaic Studies Department at the University of Cincinnati and the endowed chair of the Jewish Foundation of Cincinnati. She is the author of Biblical Parables and Their Modern Re-Creations: From Apples of Gold in Silver Settings to Imperial Messages (SUNY Press, 1999), which was nominated for the National Jewish Book Award in the Scholarly Division. Naveh is also the coauthor of Cultural Shaping of Violence (Purdue University Press, 2004), a contributing author to American Jewish and Holocaust Literature (SUNY Press, 2004), and coeditor of The Formal Complexity of Natural Language (Reidel Press, 1987). She is completing a study entitled Unpacking the Heart with Words: Women Survivors of the Holocaust Writing and Healing, in contract with SUNY Press. Naveh has published numerous articles, including '"A Black Hole Burrowed within UC: Semiotics at Work in Laszlo Nemesh's Holocaust Film, Son of Saul," "Desire and Paradox: Tainted Love of Knowledge and Power" in Semiotics, and "Remembrance and Representation of the Shoah: Articulating Desire and Summoning Memory in Thane Rosenbaum's Elijah Visible and Second Hand Smoke." She is also the author of "Wrestling Memory as We Wrestle with Holocaust Representation," a chapter in Literature of the Holocaust Anthology (in press with Palgrave). Naveh also teaches Holocaust and genocide in film and fiction, American Jewish fiction, semiotics, Freud studies, Kafka, Jewish and women's humor, and salon culture.