Holocaust Ridiculous (Imagination) (Anne Frank, etc.)

Justin-Bieber-Adam-Berry-Getty-Images-e1365158029580 Anne_Frank_7 harlem shake

A friend-colleague asked on FB what people thought about the teacher in Albany in hot water over assigning his students an assignment justifying the Nazi point of view regarding Jews. Meanwhile, in the same news cycle was Justin Bieber asserting that if Anne Frank were a thirteen year old girl today that he hoped she’d be a fan of his. So what’s the link? It should upset people that the suffering of others is subject to bad judgment and gross stupidity. But wasn’t that always going to be the case when the Holocaust entered into the mainstream of the public sphere? What this can only mean is the strange mutation of a discourse, unhinged from historical reality and from direct and living memory. Baudrillard was right. Welcome to the desert of the ridiculous, where what was once sensed and represented as “unrepresentable” turns into grist for the glitterati, the blogosphere, Twitterverse and the bad judgment of high school history teachers. Both stories relate to the imagination as a form of knowing, the ways in which contemporary people try to imagine, from their own limited perspectives, the lives of others. Of course, what this demands is not the no-discourse of pious silence, but better discourse, thicker imagination, and the better education. My best guess is that, no, Anne Frank would not have been a Belieber if only because she most likely had a better education growing up than what most North Americans receive today. Where would I like to see my own daughter? Maybe at a Harlem Shake. These bizarre juxtapositions between extraordinary traumatic suffering and more quotidian forms of existence have been best explored by Laura Levitt in her book on American Jewish Loss after the Holocaust

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics. http://religion.syr.edu
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