March 6, 2009
Thane Rosenbaum’s thoughts on Holocaust Narrative
I was delighted to introduce novelist and essayist Thane Rosenbaum last night at Loyala Marymount University (LMU )and moderate the Q & A after. Thane was speaking on Artful Testimony: reponsibility and imagination in Holocaust narrative.
Thane made a lot of very thought provoking comments, Basically,—and let me say, that clearly you should go hear Thane, because it is worth hearing from him—but Thane made the argument that although the artists has the license to write about anything and everything, he feels that license should not extend to fictional writing about atrocities, because artists lack the capacity, the tools to express the unimagineable—that atrocities are properly the area of testimony—which may be done artfully by great writers—but not the realm that fiction should delve into.
Thane’s work, novels such as “The Golems of Manhattan,” “Second hand smoke,” and the short story collection “Elijah Visible” have Holocaust survivors and their children and grandchildren as characters discussing the Holocaust—but his work remains rooted in the aftermath of the Holocaust and its impact on his characters and their conflicts.
He also said that the famous Santyana quote that those who do not learn from the past are sentenced to repeat it is a lie—that human nature is to repeat itself, and that the tragedies in Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur show that in spite of what we know we repeat the past…... so—given that the argument for making watered down versions of Holocaust narratives in films or on TV is that they will reach more people - is an argument he would only accept if he beleived that it made a difference in human behavior—and as it does not, he would be happy not have any fictionalized Holocaust movies.
Thane’s points are well taken and well worth considering. However, knowing that there the films have been mande and will continue to be made, for me, as I wrote in a recent column, the distinction I make is by saying that there may be no such thing as a good holocaust movie, only a good movie about holocaust related events.
By the way, I’d like to give a shout-out to my new friend Prof. Holly Levitsky, of LMU’s English Department and who also chairs the minor in Jewish studies who organized the event, and whose students were also impressive.