By Michael Bernard-Donals
Examines the function of forgetfulness in our knowing of the Holocaust.
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Additional info for Forgetful Memory: Representation and Remembrance in the Wake of the Holocaust
Reality is not a matter of the absolute eyewitness, but a matter of the future” (53). All possible senses of the object or event need to be accounted for and projected into the future; what happed matters less than what one allows the other to see, what effect the eyewitness has upon the listener in order to produce the moment—the ethical moment—in which what happened (prior to memory or to the event-as-experience) emerges in the present as something altogether new and unprecedented as knowledge.
The writing of testimony, as torsion, involves both risk and, inevitably, loss. It involves risk because the others, the individuals, to whom you offer it will inevitably misunderstand it; and it involves loss because the moment you commit the event to testimony, aspects of the event are lost to discourse. This is partly what Levinas means when he says that to testify—to act as a witness and to speak memory—is a sacrifice, an “uncovering itself, that is, denuding itself of its skin, sensibility on the surface of the skin, at the edge of the nerves, offering itself even in suffering” (OTB 15).
If nothing else, Levinas suggests here that the “dispersion of duration” (27), the scattered moments that comprise our experience but that precede its organization as experience, is itself comprised of past acts, past events, some of them mundane and some of them—in Edith Wyschogrod’s terms, heterogenous—resistant to knowledge, and intransigent to ordering logic. Those heterogenous moments, resistant to memory, open up and present the opportunity for memory (and, in Wyschogrod’s formulation, the historian) to speak.
Forgetful Memory: Representation and Remembrance in the Wake of the Holocaust by Michael Bernard-Donals