4/26/2006

Manufacturing Memories

I must admit, I’m very cynical about Yom Ha-Shoah. I posted last year about what I thought would have been a better date. But reflecting on it more, and especially after thinking about the relationship between narrative and identity, I see more and more of how the entire basis of the day reflects how the Holocaust fits within a broader meta-narrative. It’s not about particular observances – saying Tehillim versus standing silent, for example – but about competing visions. Traditionally, we link all subsequent tragedies to the initial paradigmatic tragedies of Yirmiyahu’s era, and as extensions of that same narrative. Yom Ha-Shoah wrests the Holocaust from that narrative and places it within the context of a different one – the classic Zionist narrative (i.e., in Shazar’s words, more or less, “from the fall of Beitar until the rise of the modern State of Israel, nothing important happened; now, go play soccer”).

I’m OK with different memories, and even retellings which serve different religious/social/political purposes. If I learned anything from my experiment at the Seder this year, it’s that each retelling of the Exodus narrative has a different purpose. The goals of the retelling in Devarim are very different from the goals in Yehoshua (ve-acamo”l). But is each one a new narrative? A new founding myth? No. The old one may have been manipulated or recast, but never replaced. Here, the ancient narrative of U-mipnei Chata’einu Galinu Me-Artzeinu is being replaced with something completely different.

For an excellent article on this topic, see here (hat tip: Menachem Mendel). I’m not bothered by his questions about uniformity of memory and commemoration as much as he is. Possibly, the reason for that is that I’ve read Erica Brown’s brilliant and excellent article on the topic of trends in Holocaust commemoration, which can be found here. The paradigmatic traditional mode of commemorating the Churban – leaving a blank space – allows for unity without uniformity, as it doesn’t attempt to ‘fill’ that blank space with any particular agenda-driven ‘manufactured’ memory.

Finally, I was happy to read about movements afoot to generate an alternative Holocaust meta-narrative – not just a different set of experiences or a different type of commemoration – in Israel. You can read about that here.
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