The Ethical Limitations of Holocaust Literary Representation

Hunter, Anna Clare orcid iconORCID: 0000-0003-4202-920X (2005) The Ethical Limitations of Holocaust Literary Representation. eSharp (5).

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Following Theodor Adorno's statement (and subsequent retraction) that 'to write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric' the issues surrounding the ethical implications of the production and study of Holocaust literature have continued to provoke academic discussion. My paper examines two complementary aspects of the debate: firstly, probing the arguably taboo nature of Holocaust testimony, and the limitations faced by those survivors who wish to tell their stories, in terms of what they feel they can and cannot reveal. How do these authors break the barriers that render their experiences 'unspeakable', in order to transmit these experiences in textual form? Secondly, I shall begin to approach the tension that exists between 'truly' autobiographical Holocaust literature such as the work of Primo Levi, and works of historical fiction such as Thomas Keneally's Schindler's List, and more controversially Binjamin Wilkomirski's 'fake' Holocaust testimony, Fragments. Berel Lang awards such texts a certain pedagogical value, regardless of whether or not they can be said to be historically accurate, however he also maintains a distinct boundary between the realms of 'fact' and 'fiction'. My research aims towards an understanding of how and where this boundary can be placed. Finally, I shall attempt to provide some understanding of my own position as a non-Jewish scholar undertaking academic research on Holocaust literature, and how this generates its own barriers.

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