Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Holocaust and Us

Typically, every noun and every verb in our personal vocabularies has some reflexive effect on at least one of our senses. The mind and the senses correlate brilliantly to generate a personal sense of relation with the language that we use. This personalization, for the most part, is an extension of experience and fantasy.

The Holocaust-

A simplistic and clichéd feeling brought on as a result of the juxtaposition of the images of the dead and the starved with the stench of the burning and rotting body; usually followed by feelings of pity and compassion and some amount of loathing towards the evil Nazi and concluded by a feeling of gratefulness that the onetime aberration from the civil world, the Nazi, were contained by the powers that be. A malicious worm, squashed for good.

These images and smells are all too powerful and moving in themselves but the fact remains that the Holocaust was much more than a small set of emotional reactions coupled with some visual and olfactory stimulus. Bauman points out in his text that overwhelming proof amassed by the historians shows that ‘the Holocaust was a window, rather than a picture on the wall. Looking through that window, one can catch a rare glimpse of many things, otherwise invisible.’ The reflexive reaction that categorizes the Holocaust as an ominous deviation from the normal, civil flow of events; a barbaric act involving, primarily, the Jews and the anti-Semitic forces, needs to be questioned and re-questioned. Bauman asserts that The Holocaust was not a Jewish problem and an event in the Jewish history alone. It is a problem of the society, civilization and culture. Moreover, the all too familiar notion of absolutes, which features the Jews as absolutely good and the Nazis and their collaborators as perfectly evil, is also flawed.

‘When I visited the Museum at AUSCHWITZ, I stood in front of the display cases. What I saw there were images from contemporary art and I found that absolutely terrifying. Looking at the exhibits of suitcases, prosthetics, children’s toys . . .

I suddenly had the impression I was in a museum of contemporary art. I took the train back, telling myself that they had won!’ -Paul Virilio (Art and fear)

This processing and packaging of the Holocaust is brought on by the self-healing tendencies of the modern society. The Holocaust has been delegated a specialist shelf and department wherein the research and development that take place are impressive albeit invisible to the common eye. The Holocaust in general terms, consists of countless memorials and commemorative ceremonies. The responsibility of the in-depth analysis is left safely in the hands of the ‘experts’. The general thought process behind the understanding and analysis of the Holocaust doesn’t involve a lot of effort. Clichéd and time tested methods of analysis, like blaming the morally corrupt Nazi and attempting to understand the causes of Hitler’s obsession are employed without any thought or attempt at reason. But, these methods invariably focus on the ‘Germanness of the crime’ which results in the exoneration of everyone and everything else. By making it into a deviation in the German society, having little to do with the way modern societies function, the Enlightenment beliefs of humanity and freedom are carefully safeguarded.

The code of the Holocaust is far too complex to be understood with such simplistic notions and to be unraveled, needs to be de-emotionalized and assimilated into the general history. The Holocaust, even though written in a specialist code, needs to be understood and accepted generally by the commons. It has essential information about the way society functions and it needs to be interpreted keeping in mind that it was the outcome of unique encounters between ordinary and common factors.

PS: The post is the "Introduction" of a course project report I wrote on Modernity and the Holocaust. It derives heavily from Zygmunt Bauman's book by the same name.

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