Commentaries - September 2009
After teaching his Holocaust course for the first time in the spring semester of 1976, Terrence Des Pres wrote an op-ed piece for the New York Times aAfter teaching his Holocaust course for the first time in the spring semester of 1976, Terrence Des Pres wrote an op-ed piece for the New York Times about the experience of teaching this material. (His approach was that of his book, The Survivor, which was being published around that time.) Here is a link to a PDF copy of the piece as it appeared in the Times. In my own course on representations of the Holocaust (I'm currently teaching it), we use Des Pres' book.
The baseball fan. The most ridiculed of all crucial points of view. It seems to me that all the many books and films made of baseball assume the fan. The event--the thing itself--is one of those things, an X, where X = 0 unless it is being observed. Certainly it is true of retrospect (which is, after all, only what writing about baseball is): no description of, or memory of, a game makes a bit of sense unless it had been once observed in the present; it's a re-narration rather than a narration. There are a few writers about baseball who forget this, but just a few. Surely one who never forgets is Roger Angell, who has made an anti-theological creed of the fan's subjectivity. He might be going on and on about the similiarities and differences between the pitching pacing of Whitey Ford (Angell's favorite retired Yankee) and David Cone, writing for a moment--a paragraph or two--as if standing on Olympus, or in the press box, but then comes the crucial line in which we know that it is a fan, sitting where fans sit, who is saying this, who is responsible for these words. He's describing Ford's low pitch counts, his efficiency, comparing this with Cone, "prodigal with his pitch count." Then back to Whitey, who moved very quickly. "[W]ith Whitey you'd look up from your scorecard or peanut and find that the inning was already over."* Writing about baseball means not looking away from X, yes, but first and foremost it means that the fan is always the subject. Your scorecard. Your peanut. You'd look up.
* "Style," p. 280, Game Time.
it doesn't represent
Three students' response to Schindler's List:
Lily: Rather than acknowledge this and do something like direct his artistic vision to conveying th[e problem of] inefficacy [of representations of the Holocaust generally] by, for example, dizzying us with an overwhelming amount of images and scenes or using unconventional camera angles or resisting one story line, Spielberg ploughs through, wants to pass off his movie as an 'accurate' portrayal, and that's that.
Rachel: Schindler’s List is not only easy because it tells us what to feel. It is easy because it tells us to feel obvious and uncomplicated emotions. The terrible contradictions and the ambiguity of moral questions are largely forgotten in his film. Schindler’s List is a blockbuster, with some interesting characters; but I don't think it represents the experience of the Holocaust victim.
Sami: As I watch Schindler's List I can't help thinking that a movie representation of the Holocaust is the least effective way of getting us to understand the X. Whereas Levi and Wiesel struggle with bearing witness, Spielberg is thinking about how to make an intriguing, compelling story. How can you take the occurrences of the Holocaust and try to produce the story for an audience? How can you hire actors who cannot possibly understand the X to pretend they were part of the Holocaust? The more I think about these questions, the more I find the film offensive and presumptuous. That's just my initial reaction....