Tuesday, August 28, 2007

An Academic Travesty

I''m both glad and horrified that I happened to come across Mark Scroggins's blog post on Norman Finkelstein's tenure denial. I wasn't familar with either the tenure issue or Finkelstein's scholarly work. (Well, at least not *that* Norman Finkelstein , as Scroggins mentions, tho I'm a fan of the *other* Finkelstein.) DePaul Finkelstein's work, as far as I can tell, is so in line with things I've been thinking about/drawn towards I'm a bit shocked--in a good way. I'm going to leave the tenure issue aside. For now, I simply want to post an excerpt from Finkelstein's memorial article on Raul Hilberg in order to point out (really, to remember for myself) two issues he mentions which have become very important to my sense of how one thinks of the Holocaust: 1) the concept of the assembly-line operation that set in motion the destruction of the Jews was developed by Hilberg and 2) the stark, careful (scholarly?) language Hilberg used to describe his subject contributes to the intensity of its meaning at the same time that it points to its banal facticity, and this to my mind aligns with Reznikoff's "ethics" of representation which works as a method by blurring the line between historiography and poetics:

"Hilberg's reputation for mastery of the primary sources was such that my former coauthor (and an authority in her own right on the Nazi holocaust) Ruth Bettina Birn feared their first meeting: no mortal being, she thought, could have stored so many Nuremberg Tribunal documents in his brain. The magnitude of Hilberg's achievement is hard to appreciate today because the scholarly breakthrough has passed into commonplace. His sequential-chronological account of the steps pressing ineluctably from the Nazi definition of Jews to their expropriation, massacre, deportation and assembly-line extermination has been assimilated into the infrastructure of all subsequent scholarship.

Stylistically Hilberg's study might be said to be the opposite of current Holocaust fare: short on adjectives and adverbs such that when he reaches for one it packs unusual intensity. Apart from professional discipline his dry-as-dust rendering was perhaps also meant to capture the desiccated esprit of the bureaucratic - dare I say banal? - process through which millions of Jews were shoved along to their deaths

No comments: