Kristina Busse

Imagining Auschwitz: Postmodern Representations of the Holocaust

Abstract

This dissertation explores the Holocaustís relationship to modernity and postmodernity and the historic eventís effects on a post-Holocaust world, culturally, socially as well as artistically. Showing the Holocaustís widespread influence on our postmodern unconscious, this study examines a variety of literary texts that demonstrate the haunting effects of the Holocaust on the present.

After a brief reading of Bernhard Schlinkís The Reader that situates the concerns and parameters of this study, Chapter One looks at the theoretical relationship between the Holocaust and postmodernity. For the most part mutually exclusive, cautiously ignoring or, at best, dismissing one another, these fields ought not to be seen as antagonistic but can, instead, greatly contribute to our engagement with the past. Postmodern theory with its denial of universalism, its celebration of the imagination, and its emphasis on representation and representability is highly dangerous to Holocaust Studies.

Likewise, postmodernism often shies away from addressing the Holocaust since the historic event comprises possibly its most serious challenge as this historic event questions the easy dismissal of absolute truths and values as well as the ludic treatment of history itself. Nevertheless, the two fields are intricately entwined and a postmodern approach to the Holocaust reveals new insight into both postmodernism and our study of the Holocaust.

Accordingly, Chapters Two through Four look at the cultural, linguistic, and psychological effects of the Holocaust on post-War life in close readings of E. L. Doctorowís and Walter Abishís postmodern historical novels, Raymond Federmanís highly experimental texts and his readings of Samuel Beckettís work, and D. M. Thomasís controversial fictions. While these authors by no means present a comprehensive account of Holocaust literature, they offer a wide variety of reactions to the Holocaust, not only showing its exemplary role for postmodernism but also exhibiting a variety of ways in which postmodernism can offer new insights into our understanding of the Holocaust and its role in contemporary life. The dissertation concludes with an examination of identity politics within Holocaust, exemplified by the case of Binjamin Wilkomirskiís Fragments and the scandal surrounding its reception.