ENG 412: Special Topic Seminar: Terror, History, Memory


Dr. Mark Facknitz 3 credits

          The course looks at an important intersection of history, trauma, and the arts in the twentieth century, in particular the coming to grips with the various emotional, cultural, and aesthetic consequences of the Second World War, the Shoah, and the bombing of Japan in 1945. Underlying, however, are broader issues for a post-9/11 generation: for example, can we—should we?—how can we?—use art to shape the memory of catastrophe? At the intersection of ethics and aesthetics, should we always prefer the truth to a curative fiction? Do ethnic and national traumas tend to deconstruct or replicate identity stereotypes such as anti-semitism, fascism, capitalism, militarism? Is there such a thing as disaster pornography? How does remembering and commemorating disaster reiterate the debility of postmodernity? What fallacies do we embrace and what risks do we take if we imagine that the Holocaust is unimaginable?

          The course is linked to offerings in History, Psychology, and Theater, most notably the November production of Sala’s Gift. In preparation for the course, students should reacquaint themselves with some classics—Elie Wiesel’s Night Trilogy and The Diary of Anne Frank, most notably—and three mass market films about the Holocaust, Schindler’s List, The Pianist, and The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. 

          We will read Jean Amery,  At the Mind’s Limits; Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning; Ann Kirscher, Sala’s Gift: My Mother’s Holocaust Story; IreneNemirovsky, Suite Francaise; W. G. Sebald, Austerlitz; and Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others.  Also, we’ll view several films, dramatic and documentary, especially Alain Resnais’ Night and Fog and Hiroshima mon amour, Sidney Lumet’s The Pawnbroker, Errol Morris’s Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred Leuchter, and large parts of Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah and Marcel Ophuls’ The Sorrow and the Pity. This course satisfies the historical period and genre requirements of the English major.

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