Terrence Des Pres: teaching the hard stuff

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.

"Schindler's List" redux

it doesn't represent

Liam Neeson as Oskar Schindler, black & white

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....

Obsessed with details but oblivious (Heinrich Boll)

"Across the Bridge"

Our narrator is super-attentive to details but otherwise entirely oblivious. Yes, it’s Heinrich Boll, one of his post-Holocaust stories about German society: “Across the Bridge.” He works for a company whose business is suspect, but he doesn’t inquire. He carries parcels and messages but doesn’t know what they are. He relishes his routine trips, though, seeing in one house along the way the perfect rhythms of regularity: a woman keeps scrubbing windows, on schedule. The routine is an aesthetic, and it is associated with those first postwar months: he had crossed the bridge almost daily in those days, but then it was rickety and war-torn, and he remembers feeling that dread and emptiness. Would the train ever get across? Sometimes classic literary psychoanalytic readings work sufficiently. In this case, for sure. Let’s call it — with the Mitscherlichs, who wrote on it about postwar Germans years ago — “the inability to mourn.” By the way, I feel the same dread watching all those slow-moving Holocaust-related trains in Shoah and The Truce and elsewhere.

Holocaust verse

The blog, “Writing the Holocaust,” as of this morning has just two blog posts, one for March and one for April. But it’s of interest to me nevertheless. April’s is a longish entry giving “some cautions on writing Holocaust poetry.” It begins with Charles Reznikoff and makes reference to Holocaust verse by Snodgrass, Rich, C.K. Williams, et alia.

Fun with Nazis

Before Hogan's Heroes started up its run of several years airing weekly on a TV network, a pre-debut radio ad for the show was heard widely - and quoted in Newsweek:

Question: "What are some of the amusing ingredients?" Answer: "German police dogs, machine guns, the Gestapo… shall we say, ‘If you liked World War II, you’ll love Hogan’s Heroes’"

The one course I dread teaching

Last fall (autumn 2006) I taught my Holocaust course again. I love teaching the modern and contemporary American poetry course, English 88, and my annual spring Writers House Fellows Seminar, but I can't say I "love" teaching the Holocaust course. Do I feel obliged or committed to do so? Am I part of the "chain of witness"? That seems much too simple.

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