Vous êtes sur la page 1sur 9

Word Count: 2494

1106144

Every Holocaust narrative strives for a closure it cannot achieve. Comment on this view, with detailed reference to one or more works. Claiming that Holocaust narratives each strive for a closure they cannot achieve proves to be highly problematic. This is due to the fact that closure, in light of a traumatic experience such as the Shoah can manifest itself in many ways. Donna Webster defines closure as a desire for definite knowledge on some issue and the eschewal of confusion and ambiguity 1, which eventually enables the attainment of a state of epistemic closure 2. Freud, alternatively postulates in Remembering, Repeating and Working Through, that, in line with traumatic experience, for a patient to gain closure they must go through these three stages to recover and overcome trauma and reintegrate themselves3. Hence, from this it would seem that the act of reliving events of a traumatic past would allow the witness or writer to gain emotional resolution, and in doing so, could effectively detach themselves from this trauma affecting their psyche. This essay will analysis whether Elie Wiesels seeks and achieves closure through the writing of his 1958 novel La Nuit. Evidently, Holocaust narratives encompasses many texts and analysing one cannot account for all. I have however specifically chosen this text, not only as Elie Wiesel is a survivor of the Holocaust and hence with his detailed personal account is a vital case for judging the search for closure, but also as it proves the view prescribed to be false. I will argue that, despite not achieving closure, what is more crucial for Holocaust authors is ensuring that posterity never forgets, and therefore never lets it happen again by universalizing its importance4. From first glance it appears that Wiesel does seek closure through writing his personal testimony. Leak and Paizis state, for Holocaust survivors, to write about their experiences was at

1 Webster, D. M. and Kruglanski, A.W. (1997), Cognitive and Social Consequences of the Need for Cognitive Closure. European Review of Social Psychology, 18, 133173 2 Luper, Steven (2001), The Epistemic Closure Principle, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Edited by Zalta, E. N. http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2012/entries/closure-epistemic/ [accessed 14/05/2013] 3 Freud, S. (1976), Remembering, Repeating and Working-Through (Further Recommendations on the Technique of Psycho-analysis II), The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud , W. W. Norton & Company, 1st edition, 151 4 Waxman, Z. V. (2008), Writing the Ineffable: The Representation of Testimony, Writing the Holocaust: Identity, Testimony, Representation, Oxford Scholarship Online, 182

Word Count: 2494

1106144

one and the same time a psychological necessity and a way of bearing witness for others 5. La Nuit certainly seems to suggest this. Wiesel details much of his traumatic experience, reflecting the three stages (remembering, repeating and working through) as mentioned by Freud. For instance, the portrayal of his relationship with his father, and his subsequent death provides a sense that he seeks liberation from trauma that affected him due to his inability and choice not to help him for selfpreservation. Describing his fathers last few hours, he states Je le voyais encore respirer, par saccades. Je ne bougeai pas.6 This blunt portrayal of his fathers death shows his outright attempt to work through the guilt he feels towards this. He even, as Freud contends is necessary, repeats his confession with the phrase je ne bougeai pas 7, which implies his search for closure. This guilt is emphasised with his admittance that his fathers last words were a call for his name, un appel, et je neavais pas rpondu8. This refrain-like repetition of short sentences, Reiter describes, is frequently used when authors describe an experience that especially affected them 9. This is therefore highly indicative of a patients step to recovery from trauma, by detailing honestly their most painful and often self-condemning circumstances. Yet, the ending chapters appear to clarify that he has been unable to achieve this. His final words portray a Wiesel who is haunted by the trauma he has been through. He states, looking at his cadavre10 appearing physique, son regard dans mes yeux ne me quitte plus11. It is clear, through the use of present tense that Wiesel himself is eternally trapped within his own nightmare and is incapable of reaching any emotional liberation or victory. It is in fact the boy who has died spiritually in the ending lines, a death equalling those who were systematically murdered. In this sense, Primo Levis warning that the Holocaust is a trauma that cannot be forgotten or consigned to oblivion12 has been proven; rendering any closure unattainable. Furthermore, it appears that Wiesel tries and fails to achieve an epistemological closure from writing La Nuit. It could be said that the several moral questions surrounding the ability of the
5 Leak, A. and Paizis, G. (2000), The Holocaust and the Text: Speaking the Unspeakable, Macmillan Press Ltd, 2 6 Wiesel, E. (2007), La Nuit, Les Editions de Minuit, 194 7 Ibid. 8 Ibid. 195 9 Reiter, A. (2000), Narrating the Holocaust, The European Jewish Publication Society, 164 10 Wiesel, E. (2007), La Nuit, Les Editions de Minuit, 200 11 Ibid. 12 Reiter, A. (2000), The Holocaust as Seen through the Eyes of Children, The Holocaust and the Text: Speaking the Unspeakable, Edited by Leak, A. and Paizis, G, Macmillan Press Ltd,

Word Count: 2494

1106144

Holocaust to have happened reveal his intentions of trying to discover reason behind its occurance, within a world of anti-reason. The fact that these remain unanswerable signifies, as Primo Levi warns, that we can never understand it13. For instance, he asks pourrant-ils comprendre comment [...] les matres sacharnaient torturer les faibes, tuer les malades, massacrer les enfants et les vieillards?14. His inability to clear up ambiguity surrounding this means that Wiesels writing may be constrained, in Maurice Blanchots words, to keep watch over absent meaning 15, leaving no alternative but to keep working through. Wiesel himself admits that Auschwitz cannot be explained [. . .] the Holocaust transcends history16. Therefore, in this sense, he fails to achieve closure. Contrastingly, it is my contention that closure is not what Holocaust narratives seek as closure could potentially be damaging to their cause. As Tim Cole states, to gain closure would be to give meaning to the Holocaust, making meaningful (and more palatable) that which was and is meaningless17. To make the Holocaust more palatable or acceptable can never be achieved, and nor would their authors wish to achieve it. Therefore, contrastingly to what Levi suggests in unattainable, not achieving closure is the most important factor for Holocaust narratives, in order that the events endured are never forgotten, accepted or forgiven. This is exemplified in La Nuit when Wiesel himself states in his preface, that he feels he is a witness qui se croit moralement et humainement oblig dempcher lennemi de remporter une victoire posthume, sa dernire, en effaant ses crimes de la mmoire des hommes18. Moreover, Wiesel claims that one of his primary motivations was to write in order that future generations would never forget, making it a duty rather than one of release19. He states, Oublier les morts serait les tuer une deuxime fois 20. It is in these lines that Wiesel admits that he knew the role of the survivor was to testify 21, because
13 Leak, A. and Paizis, G. (2000), The Holocaust and the Text: Speaking the Unspeakable, Macmillan Press Ltd, 111 14 Wiesel, E. (2007), La Nuit, Les Editions de Minuit, 13 15 Blanchot, M. cited in Leak, A. and Paizis, G. (2000), The Holocaust and the Text: Speaking the Unspeakable, Macmillan Press Ltd, 111 16 Wiesel, E. cited in Waxman, Z. V. (2008), Writing the Ineffable: The Representation of Testimony, Writing the Holocaust: Identity, Testimony, Representation, Oxford Scholarship Online, 152 17 Cole, T. (1999), Selling the Holocaust: From Auschwitz to Schindler : How History Is Bought, Packaged, and Sold, Routledge Chapman & Hall, 153 18 Wiesel, E. (2007), La Nuit, Les Editions de Minuit, 10 19 Waxman, Z. V. (2008), Writing the Ineffable: The Representation of Testimony, Writing the Holocaust: Identity, Testimony, Representation, Oxford Scholarship Online, 153 20 Wiesel, E. (2007), La Nuit, Les Editions de Minuit, 23 21 Wiesel, E. cited in Waxman, Z. V. (2008), Writing the Ineffable: The Representation of Testimony, Writing the Holocaust: Identity, Testimony, Representation, Oxford Scholarship Online, 177

Word Count: 2494

1106144

such a momentous crime against humanity must always be remembered 22. In this sense, the novel becomes didactic, not only informing his audience about the horrors of the Holocaust, but teaching them to never forget. This signifies that the ending lines aforementioned should henceforth be interpreted alternatively as a reflection of responsibility on himself to remember; he does not want to achieve closure as loubli signifie danger et insulte23. This also allows an alternative interpretation of the questions that Wiesel asks, including those that he asks towards God. Not only can it be viewed as a search for comprehension, but also an effective demonstration of the destruction of the entire Jewish community, religion, life and meaning itself at the hands of the Nazis. Therefore, he effectively renders the devastation of the Holocaust impossible to forget or deny. In all, every value is obliterated, creating a moral didactic framework. When he witnesses a young boy being hanged for collaboration against the Nazis, Wiesel states that he heard a voice saying O donc est Dieu? 24, a question which is repeated throughout the novel. He then writes `Et je sentais en moi une voix qui lui rpondait: O il est? Le voici - il est pendu ici, cette potence 25. This is significant for showing the decline in Wiesels faith due to the Nazis destruction. Similarly, the death of the young boy highlights that the affected Wiesel has lost his childhood innocence. The traumatic experiences that he witnesses undermine his view of the world. It is a direct contrast to his unfaltering faith at the beginning of the novel when Mosh le Bedeau, the quintessential character for showing Wiesels struggle for faith, asks him why he prays and he replies Pourquoi je priais? trange question 26, suggesting that faith should not be questioned. This irreparable destruction of faith and innocence shows how the Nazis permanently distorted perspective and made it impossible to uphold the same values. Though irreversible, it is not, as Friedlander details, a failed attempt to achieve closure and dispel deep memory 27, it is contrastingly important that this is never forgotten by himself or his audience. Similarly, the father and son relationship that he describes, instead of solely being a direct attempt for closure and an admittance of his guilt, shows the extent of the Nazis devastation to values. Towards the beginning
22 Waxman, Z. V. (2008), Writing the Ineffable: The Representation of Testimony, Writing the Holocaust: Identity, Testimony, Representation, Oxford Scholarship Online, 153 23 Wiesel, E. (2007), La Nuit, Les Editions de Minuit, 23 24 Ibid. 125 25 Ibid. 26 Ibid. 33 27 Friedlander, S. cited in Leak, A. and Paizis, G. (2000), The Holocaust and the Text: Speaking the Unspeakable, Macmillan Press Ltd, 111

Word Count: 2494

1106144

of the novel, his father makes decisions for Wiesel, but the novel moves progressively towards when his voice is pathetic and pleading. He has instead become the father figure, with his father requiring his care, whilst Wiesel needs to break his bond with him for survival. It is this selfpreservation that becomes the highest virtue in the world of the Holocaust and leads prisoners to commit horrendous crimes against one another. Through a perverse coming-of-age memoir, Wiesel shows his audience that any human being, even himself, is capable of unimaginable cruelty. It is moral statement that would be at danger of being forgotten if Holocaust narratives did achieve closure. It must be noted however that whilst being a memoir, each sentence has been carefully pondered over in line with literary techniques. Rather it being that the use of literary technique reduces the validity of his work, his delineation aids in portraying the true devastation of the Holocaust, and rendering it unforgettable and unacceptable. Ultimately, his narration reveals the intensity of the concentration camps and hauntingly remains with the reader post-reading. In addition to this, many Holocaust writers such as Lasker-Wallfisch have found it difficult to convey the extremity of their suffering: I dont know how to describe hunger, not the type everybody is familiar with when a meal has been skipped but hunger that causes actual pain. 28 Wiesel himself states that it became important to gain back the language, which the Nazis had corrupted and perverted, by almost inventing a new one: la faim, la soif, la peur [..] ces mots signifient certaines choses, mains en ce temps-l, elles signifiaient autre chose 29. Therefore, alongside detailing the horrors endured, this reveals another potential aim of the novel: regaining language that fully comprehends the atrocity of the events. For instance, in the chapter in which he describes one of his first nights at Birkenau, Wiesel repeatedly makes use of the word jamais 30, attached to several short, powerful sentences set out visually in a style reminiscent of a poem or sonnet. This allows Wiesel to master the language that was perverted by the Nazis, and gives the writing a more potent significance. It places responsibility with the audience to never forget. Moreover, particularly telling is the use of inversions of symbols and metaphors which, with their shifted meanings, create a haunting impact on the reader. For instance, when Wiesel describes horrors of the death march he
28 Lasker-Wallfisch, A. cited in Waxman, Z. V. (2008), Writing the Ineffable: The Representation of Testimony, Writing the Holocaust: Identity, Testimony, Representation, Oxford Scholarship Online, 153 29 Wiesel, E. (2007), La Nuit, Les Editions de Minuit, 12 30 Ibid. 78

Word Count: 2494

1106144

states tout paraissait danser une danse de mort31, immediately distorting the connotations associated with dancing. With the creation of his morbid images and destroying any humanising elements, Wiesel gives a more apocalyptic symbolic framework. He ultimately depicts the horror and trauma in a way that makes the appearance of hell for them more consuming for the reader. In addition to these literary techniques, Wiesel has chosen to harrowingly emphasise the horror of the Shoah by destroying elements that are usually natural and humanistic. Most telling is the chapter in which he describes the first night at Birkenau. The night is lit up in flames as he has to watch many led into the crematoria. For instance, he repeats the word flammes 32, including the blunt Des enfants dans les flammes33, subverting the purpose of fires natural presence and making it appallingly unnatural. As well as this, amongst the horror, at one point Wiesel states that il neigeait sans fin34. Although a natural element, this sentence, standing on its own at the end of the chapter, is destroyed by the horror that precedes it. Again, Wiesel has used his literary prowess to evoke the unforgettable horror of what the Jewish community endured. Therefore, from understanding his use of language and literary techniques, it is evident he has striven for and achieved the regain of a language that was perverted by the cruelty of the Nazi regime and the provocation of an underlying effect on his audience to never forget by stressing its importance. Therefore Holocaust narratives cannot seek closure, as closure would imply an inevitable step towards forgetting and acceptance. Whats more, on the contrary to the view prescribed, in Writing the Ineffable: The Representation of Testimony, Waxman argues that the purpose and role of the witness has been to offer warnings against future cases of ethnic cleansing and genocide35. This is clearly the case for La Nuit, il ne veut pas que son pass devienne leur avenir 36, and is an element that closure and acceptance would endanger. Wiesel, whilst condemning those who ignored prior warning, underlines the importance of listening to those who have witnessed, and ultimately believing them. Case in point is the first character we are introduced to, Mosh Le Bedeau. Although being painted as a wise man he is ultimately shunned when he tells the story of what he witnessed as a form of
31 Ibid. 161 32 Ibid. 75 33 Ibid. 76 34 Ibid. 154 35 Waxman, Z. V. (2008), Writing the Ineffable: The Representation of Testimony, Writing the Holocaust: Identity, Testimony, Representation, Oxford Scholarship Online, 152 36 Wiesel, E. (2007), La Nuit, Les Editions de Minuit, 23

Word Count: 2494

1106144

prior warning. In addition, Madame Schchter, who hysterically claims that she can see flames is told to be quiet and is beaten into silence by those in the train. She too becomes an unheeded witness. Wiesel hence underlines that evil has been perpetuated by silence, ignoring accounts of evil and refrain from resisting. He therefore extends the definition of perpetrator by suggesting that it is not only the culprits of the Nazi regime but also those who, by denying the Holocaust or forgetting about it, do not treat those who survived in an ethical manner. This acts as reminder for those who would ignore warning given to them or deny testimony its belief, hence an attempt to prevent any further genocide. In conclusion, from first analysis it appears that Wiesel has striven for an epistemic closure and emotional resolution that is prescribed as a necessary act for survivors of the Holocaust. In line with the view given for discussion, the fact that Wiesels trauma can not be dispelled into oblivion and he can not gain mastery over the ambiguity of reasons for which the Holocaust occurred signifies that he has failed to achieve any closure. However, as this essay has shown, closure is not an element that Wiesel and other Holocaust writers would wish to pursue as this would ultimately lead to making the appalling events more palatable and inevitably forgivable and forgettable. It would also potentially allow the events to occur again. Wiesel has therefore used literary techniques, a moral framework and warnings to ensure his aims. Therefore from further analysis, this essay has proven the view prescribed to be false.

Word Count: 2494

1106144

Bibliography Primary Source Wiesel, E. (2007), La Nuit, Les Editions de Minuit

Secondary Sources Cole, T. (1999), Selling the Holocaust: From Auschwitz to Schindler : How History Is Bought, Packaged, and Sold, Routledge Chapman & Hall Freud, S. (1976), Remembering, Repeating and Working-Through (Further Recommendations on the Technique of Psycho-analysis II), The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, W. W. Norton & Company, 1st edition Lang, B. (2000), Holocaust Genres and the Turn to History, The Holocaust and the Text: Speaking the Unspeakable, Edited by Leak, A. and Paizis, G, Macmillan Press Ltd, 17-32 Leak, A. and Paizis, G. (2000), The Holocaust and the Text: Speaking the Unspeakable, Macmillan Press Ltd

Word Count: 2494

1106144

Luper, Steven (2001), The Epistemic Closure Principle, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Edited by Zalta, E. N. Reiter, A. (2000), Narrating the Holocaust, The European Jewish Publication Society Reiter, A. (2000), The Holocaust as Seen through the Eyes of Children, The Holocaust and the Text: Speaking the Unspeakable , Edited by Leak, A. and Paizis, G, Macmillan Press Ltd, 83-97 Waxman, Z. V. (2008), Writing the Ineffable: The Representation of Testimony, Writing the Holocaust: Identity, Testimony, Representation, Oxford Scholarship Online, 152-184 Webster, D. M. and Kruglanski, A.W. (1997), Cognitive and Social Consequences of the Need for Cognitive Closure. European Review of Social Psychology, 18, 133173