Berel Lang, “Memory and Pain”

If pain does not by itself account for the faculty of memory, it is clearly significant as an incentive and part of that faculty. Evidence for this is apparent in both public institutions (memorials, cemeteries, many monuments and museums) and private (individual) conduct and expression. Trauma (group or individual) is invariably associated with pain--there is no parallel after-effect of pleasure--and if trauma sometimes is repressed rather than expressed, also repression makes itself known in the present. In this sense, this ground of memory is also related to the origins of moral judgment, since recognition of the distance between present and past as that shapes memory is a condition of such judgment. This is not to claim that pain or its causes is 'good', but that phenomenologically, it is more than only an ASPECT of memory: it is at least in part constitutive of it. Berel Lang is Professor of Humanities at Trinity College, visiting Professor of Philosophy and Letters at Wesleyan University. Author of Philosophical Witnessing: The Holocaust as Presence (2009), Holocaust Representation: Art Within the Limits of History and Ethics (2000), Post-Holocaust: Interpretation, Misinterpretation, and the Claims of History (2005); Heidegger’s Silence (1996), Act and Idea in the Nazi Genocide (1990) and many other works bridging philosophy, aesthetics, ethics and history. Much honored for outstanding scholarship and teaching, he held fellowships from the N.E.H., ACLS, American Philosophical Association, and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, and is a member of the American Academy for Jewish Research. He has taught at Wesleyan, Trinity College, SUNY at Albany, the University of Colorado, and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Professor Lang delivered at Wesleyan the annual 2010 Philip Hallie lecture, “Primo Levi, Writer (and Memoirist).”

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