Lawrence L. Langer, The Aftermath of the Holocaust

Memory and history intersect in different ways to evoke the “killing reality” of the Holocaust. I examine efforts of the Germans murderers to minimize or deny their responsibility for that reality through evasive memory; the attempts of others, including some survivors, to reshape the narrative of destruction through celebratory memory into a story about the triumph of the human spirit; and finally investigations into the terrain of deep memory, where the clear borders between living and dying merge and we are faced with a condition of being I once called “deathlife” but now prefer to refer to as the “afterdeath” of the Holocaust. This approach, which I illustrate through examples from history and literature, strips from the catastrophe the burden of bravado or the consolations of the heroic gesture. It leaves us staring quite literally, as I shall show, into a realm that challenges memory to respond to the question of one of my authors: “When death has come, has one finished dying?” Lawrence L. Langer is Professor of English Emeritus at Simmons College in Boston and is the one of the leading scholars in Holocaust studies, working specifically in the fields of literature and testimony. His distinguished career began by studying the Holocaust as a literary scholar, but gradually his perspective shifted and he became fascinated by the intricate workings of memoirs and memory in relation to the event. Primarily he explored facets of the narrative of survival and strived to undermine Western misconceptions about the Holocaust in order to bring awareness back to an essential truth: The Holocaust was about atrocity and assault against the individual. Langer has worked diligently through oral narratives and video testimonies, seeking the voices of memory to bring them into the foreground. After more than three decades of teaching, Langer retired to pursue his writing. He has written extensively on the art of Samuel Bak and analyzes Bak’s work with a keen understanding of the historical, political, and religious context. Among numerous scholarly contributions, Langer has also received a National Book Critics Circle award and has been noted for a “best book of 1991” from The New York Times Book Review.

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