Silent Inscriptions of the Holocaust in American Literature

The Genetics of Jewish Self-Definition
  • Emily Miller Budick


In Representing the Holocaust, Dominick LaCapra has suggested that ‘much recent debate in critical theory and historigraphy is recast if the Holocaust is perceived as at least one more or less repressed divider or traumatic point of rupture between modernism and postmodernism. In this light, the postmodern and the post-Holocaust become mutually intertwined issues that are best addressed in relation to each other.’1 The debate to which LaCapra refers, and which is taken up by him and by several other scholars, centres largely on the deconstructive critique of traditional western metaphysics, with its emphasis on presence and truth. Meaning, according to Jacques Derrida and others, is never immanent and essential. It is always produced by the ‘difference’ between one thing and other. As such, it is always indeterminate, decentred, more the evocation of what has been lost to consciousness than a representation of what can be thought or felt. For this reason, deconstruction embodies a radical scepticism concerning what can either be known or represented. In so far as it is a move to resist the tendencies toward ideological or political overdeterminism — which tendencies we might well think of as having culminated in fascism and anti-Semitism — it functions for philosophers like Derrida as nothing less than an anti-fascist, philosemitic ethical structure (though not a victim of the Final Solution, Derrida was himself a Jewish refugee to France).


Jewish Identity Jewish History Holocaust Survivor Radical Scepticism Silent Inscription 
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  1. 1.
    Dominick LaCapra, Representing the Holocaust: History, Theory, Trauma (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1994), p. 188;Google Scholar
  2. See also LaCapra, History and Memory after Auschwitz (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1998).Google Scholar
  3. 2.
    Elizabeth Bellamy, Affective Genealogies: Psychoanalysis, Postmodernism, and the ‘Jewish Question’ after Auschwitz (Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 1997), pp.1–2.Google Scholar
  4. 8.
    I have dealt with some of these issues at greater length in the following places: ‘Some Thoughts on the Mutual Displacements/Appropriations/Accommodations of Culture in Several Fictions by Toni Morrison, Cynthia Ozick, and Grace Paley’, in Jack Salzman (ed.), Prospects: An Annual of American Cultural Studies (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996), pp.387–404; Blacks and Jews in Literary Conversation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), pp.200–17; and ‘Silent Inscriptions of the Holocaust in American Literary Culture’.Google Scholar
  5. 9.
    Cynthia Ozick, ‘Primo Levi’s Suicide Note’, in Metaphor & Memory: Essays (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1989), p.43; see also Alvin H. Rosenfeld, ‘The Holocaust According to William Styron’, Midstream 25 (1979), who quotes the following from Styron: ‘to say that only Jews suffered is to tell a historical lie’, to which Rosenfeld agrees but adds that ‘the crime was not spread out neatly and evenly among the Jews and Gentiles alike. Most of European Jewry was murdered, and the murdered were European Gentiles, some of whom also died. The extent of the dying and the motives behind the deaths were not equivalent, though, and it simply makes no sense to add up all the corpses without distinction and pile them on to some abstract slaughter heap called “mankind”’. (p.44); See also Irving S. Saposnik, ‘Bellow, Malamud, Roth….and Styron? or One Jewish Writer’s Response’, Judaism 31 (1982), who quotes Styron as saying: ‘One of the most wrenching things that I’ve ever had to deal with, morally, is my assumption that this [the Holocaust] was a universal thing in which Jews were the chief victims, but not the only victims’. (p.330)Google Scholar
  6. 11.
    Wolfgang Iser, The Fictive and the Imaginary: Charting Literary Anthropology (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993), pp.3, 297.Google Scholar
  7. 12.
    Philip Roth, The Counterlife (New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1986), p.319. Page references hereafter in parentheses within the text.Google Scholar
  8. 14.
    Cynthia Ozick, The Shawl (New York: Random House, 1999), p.5. Hereafter all quotations appear in the text in parentheses.Google Scholar

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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2001

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  • Emily Miller Budick

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