Commentaries - March 2008
I have long been a sometimes unreasonable antagonist against Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List. It's a film about the Holocaust with an ideologically ironic Master Narrative feel, and Oskar is presented as an I know/You don't, I am/You aren't, I have/you want relationship to Jews individually and collectively. The power dynamic gets sexualized (Oskar is physically attracted to a Jew's weakness in connection with his strength — although he knows the difference is merely a result of the era and will change later). The film uses Oskar relentlessly as a focalizer of our view, and so (despite what I take to be Spielberg's good intentions) this movie gives us the Holocaust of a German (indeed a member of the Nazi Party) when so many other perspectives are narratively possible. When we see the little girl in the red coat, we see her only and precisely from Oskar's point of view (which is to say Spielberg's) and there is no visual choice. We see what he wants us to see. In an otherwise black and white film (pseudo-documentary) her coat is painted red. Get it? Sure, we get it and how can we see anything else. It's a fascistic camera. No formal replication of the chaos, the utter chaos, the multiple views, the self-reflexivity, the varying degrees of complicity, the painful-to-watchness, the who-knows-what's-happening historiography of works like Maus or Shoah.
In '94 the Village Voice hosted a terrific symposium on the film. To me this is the finest way of understanding the issues the film raises about representations of the Holocaust.
Gertrude Koch, a panelist, says, "Who has the power? Who has the power to give life or death? That's what the film's about. I think the film is very friendly toward the concept of sovereignty, in the sense that Spielberg is always reproducing it."
Click here and read the whole symposium.
I was pleased to be invited to be Charles Bernstein's guest on his radio show, "Close Listening," a series (now 38 shows) done in collaboration with PS1.org. We talked about the cold-war politics of modernism, about literary history as a method for poetics, about my new book, etc. The show is about 35 minutes long. Have a listen. All of the Close Listening shows are listed and linked in PennSound.