IHUM Paper 2

IHUM Paper 2 - REACTIONS TO THE HOLOCAUST Ankur Gupta Dr....

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R EACTIONS TO THE HOLOCAUST Ankur Gupta Dr. Andrew Mitchell May 9, 2005
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Celan’s “Death Fugue” and Weiss’ “The Investigation” demonstrate the impossibility of representing or explaining the appalling events of the Holocaust in any definitive way. Despite their vastly different styles, the texts both function as subjective and artistic perspectives to confront a period of unspeakable atrocities. As such, Celan’s poem and Weiss’ play succeed in invalidating any objective, detached view of the Holocaust as an isolated event, proving instead that the horrors of National Socialism hold universal implications that transcend time, place, and culture. By emphasizing a subjective approach to the past, the works force the reader to connect with the Holocaust and to realize that such an event may be a continuation or byproduct of modern human society. Weiss and Celan stimulate a reexamination of the elements in human society and behavior that could lead to something as terrible as the Nazi genocide. With its abstract images and unusual form, Celan’s “Death Fugue” is clearly a subjective, even personal, account of the experiences in a Nazi labor camp. The musical rhythm of the poem, contrasting with its images of death and despair, creates a very surreal feel that blurs the boundaries of reality. Because of the futility of literally conveying the psychological trauma endured by the Jews in the camps, Celan instead uses poetic abstraction to achieve his goal. The repeated metaphor “black milk” connotes a sense of gradual and inevitable death, while “grave in the breezes” acts as a disturbing reference to the crematoriums used for mass extermination. Celan directly engages the reader in these experiences by writing solely in the present tense and repeating the phrase “we drink” numerous times. Not only does this force an uneasy identification and empathy with the camp victims, the poem also suggests that the suffering of a group of people, in this case the Jews, is not their problem alone, but that of the entire German people and the rest of the world. Irrational cruelty on the scale of genocide is a crime not only to the immediate victims but to all of humanity. Thus, any such grievous violation of rights affects 2
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the world for the rest of time. In addition, the repetitive quality of the poem creates a sense of continual, never-ending adversity and struggle, and intimates that the horrors of the Holocaust are not confined to the past. Instead, the trauma of the Holocaust continues on in the post-war present, affecting both victims and perpetrators. “Death Fugue” infuses a sense of universality to the grievances of the Holocaust, breaking down barriers of time and space with regard to historical significance. On the other hand, Weiss’ “The Investigation” appears upon first inspection to be a very
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This note was uploaded on 04/07/2008 for the course IHUM 53 taught by Professor Nightingale,white during the Winter '08 term at Stanford.

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IHUM Paper 2 - REACTIONS TO THE HOLOCAUST Ankur Gupta Dr....

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