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Concentrationary Memories

AHRC project on ‘Concentrationary memories and the politics of representation’, 2007-11

Directors: Professors Griselda Pollock (CentreCATH) and Max Silverman (Centre for French and Francophone Cultural Studies), University of Leeds

Adorno declared that, in the wake of the Holocaust, all culture fails before the reality of atrocious suffering, rendering obscene all pleasure-giving forms of representation. Yet he also admitted that suffering demands representation and that the aesthetic might be its only voice. This project will consider not the ethical implications of representing the Holocaust but rather the connections between aesthetics and politics in the formation of what has become known as the cultural memory of the Holocaust and what is not fully grasped through that term: namely the concentrationary which relates to the political event of totalitarianism.

The project is divided into two parts. The first part will move from David Rousset’s understanding of a ‘concentrationary universe’ and Hannah Arendt’s thesis on totalitarianism to a consideration of Jean Cayrol’s critical/political concept of a ‘concentrationary art’, proposed most memorably in the film ‘Nuit et brouillard’ by Resnais and Cayrol. The second part will consider ways in which a concentrationary (or totalitarian) imaginary has seeped into popular cultural forms and become normalized. If Cayrol and Resnais gave us a way of critically understanding the relationship between horror and the everyday, postmodern popular culture often presents us with an assimilation of one into the other with little or no cultural politics of resistance to its effects.