Saturday, July 09, 2011

From Fragmentation to Integration 22

The infamous gate to the infamous Auschwitz
No Poetry after Auschwitz

The last chapter of Professor Levine's small but closely argued book - at times complex and convoluted, though mostly insightful and inspiring - is entitled  "And Yet - Poetry After Auschwitz" indicates that he fundamentally disagrees with Theodor Adorno's almost aphoristic statement that there could never be poetry after Auschwitz

Some Personal Preliminary Views

As a young boy, I was both frightened and fascinated by the famous T.V. documentary series The World at War which I viewed with my father as a young teenager.  The World at War (1973–74) was a 26-episode British television documentary series chronicling the events of World War II. It was produced by Jeremy Isaacs, narrated by Laurence Olivier, and has a score composed by Carl Davis.  A book, The World at War, was written by Mark Arnold-Forster to accompany it, and I remember accompanying my mother into Easons in O'Connell street to purchase a copy for me.  That such horrific murder and mayhem could have been unleashed on humanity, especially genocide against the Jewish race by the evil inspiration of a small coterie of individuals literally bowled me over as a young teenager.  Indeed, it continues to fascinate me.  So much so, that I wrote a thesis entitled The Mystery of Evil for my initial undergraduate degree.

As I grew older and hopefully wiser, I quickly learnt that no individual, and indeed no race, has a monopoly on suffering.  To say that the Jews have a monopoly on racial suffering is to misrepresent and misinterpret history grossly and to insult humanity.  Hence, I'll mention other horrific evils outside the most documented case of Hitler's Final Solution to the Jewish Question.  This is not to detract from the horrific nature of that Holocaust, which I have dealt with in detail in these pages before where I discussed the nature of evil and the works of Primo Levi.

For instance the evil Dictator Joseph Stalin, leader of the Soviet Union, set in motion events designed to cause a famine in the Ukraine to destroy the people there seeking independence from his rule. As a result, an estimated 7,000,000 persons perished in this farming area, known as the breadbasket of Europe, with the people deprived of the food they had grown with their own hands. Thus, beginning in 1929, over 5,000 Ukrainian scholars, scientists, cultural and religious leaders were arrested after being falsely accused of plotting an armed revolt. Those arrested were either shot without a trial or deported to prison camps in remote areas of Russia.  Stalin also imposed the Soviet system of land management known as collectivization. This resulted in the seizure of all privately owned farmlands and livestock, in a country where 80 percent of the people were traditional village farmers. Among those farmers, were a class of people called Kulaks by the Communists. They were formerly wealthy farmers that had owned 24 or more acres, or had employed farm workers. Stalin believed any future insurrection would be led by the Kulaks, thus he proclaimed a policy aimed at "liquidating the Kulaks as a class."

Then, there were still other genocides e.g., Namibia, (1906),  Armenia (1925), Cambodia (1975),  Guatemala (1982), Rwanda (1994) and Bosnia (1995).  So there is no monopoly on racial oppression or genocide either.  Indeed, no one nation or no one person in particular is ever the sole innocent victim.  Victims of genocide and murder and mayhem come in their millions upon millions over the whole spread of history in all shapes and sizes, in all colours, of all ages, of all sexes, of all sexual orientations, of all religions and beliefs, of sound and unsound mind, and both healthy and sick.

Even if one is to interpret Theodor Adorno's remarks, which I have stated in my opening paragraph, in a wide metaphorical rather than narrow historical sense, they are indeed in many senses patently untrue. However, we can appreciate his view, though, because Adorno's father was a Jew who had converted to Protestantism while his mother was a Christian, and he had to flee Germany with the rise of Fascism.   One can understand fully his believing his above statement because he was essentially so personally caught up in the Final Solution on the wrong side.  He would also have known many who had perished in the concentration camps, in both his extended family and among his friends.

A Note on Adorno's Philosophy

Theodor Adorno (1903-1969)


Theodor Adorno was one of the foremost philosophers of the twentieth century. Although he wrote on a wide range of subjects, his fundamental concern was human suffering – especially modern societies’ effects upon the human condition. He was influenced most notably by Hegel, Marx, and Nietzsche. He was associated with The Institute for Social Research, in the Frankfurt School, which was a social science and cultural intellectual hub for promoting socialism and overthrowing capitalism.  Interestingly for this writer, Adorno was a multi-talented scholar - an accomplished pianist and musicologist as well as a philosopher and sociologist.  Having read some of his thought and writings on-line for the last few hours, I find them very intricate, convoluted and complex in the extreme, so I cannot say I have got anything of a handle on his philosophy, save to say that for Adorno, reality is grounded in suffering and the domination of nature.  This small result of my all too brief and superficial reading is sufficient for my writing here as Expressive Arts Therapy, as all therapy of all kinds, is dedicated to assuaging the effects of human suffering in the client or patient.

A Deep Question

An important and deep question we can ask as students of any therapy, or simply as students and livers of life, is: Can arts really redeem our suffering?  This is essentially a post-modern, post-Christian question and concern, which essentially is a parallel writing of another metaphorical question: Can Christ redeem human suffering?  Same question, but on a different level culturally and critically, I contend.  In other words what I am saying is that the concept of redemption need not/is not only a religious one; it is also a deeply spiritual one in a deep human, even humanistic, way.

Expressive Arts therapists, as many other therapists of other schools, too, operate on the assumption that art can heal, that the pain and suffering of the human soul can find a form or shape or vehicle in paint or stone or marble or any such form in which it can be held.  After all, there are many museums and works of art in public spaces dedicated to thousands upon thousands, and in some cases millions upon millions, who have perished in this or that spot at a certain point in human history.  It would be tedious and indeed unnecessary to list even some of these works here.  Readers will readily recall those that have impacted on them personally.  That they are healing of us as a society in their recall of whatever suffering was endured can be of little doubt to the reflective and sensitive mind.

Of course, no Expressive Arts Therapist, or any psychotherapist for that matter, would say something like: "Make art and your troubles will fly away."  To this extent, those of us involved in the professions involved in Social and Community Care, take Adorno's pithy warning to heart.  One can never trivialise the suffering of the human soul.  One always realises that we all need the courage and strength of Orpheus to descend into our personal Hades and emerge strengthened and healed, but never fully cured or totally free.  Levine says we must reflect on Auschwitz, but I add that we must reflect on all of humankind's inhumanity to its fellow creatures as I have outlined above.  Particular places are only symbolic of universal suffering.

Also that survivors of most of the above tragedies have written their own accounts of their suffering lest future generations forget that such suffering and such evil can be inflicted by humankind on its own kith and kin is a testimony in itself to the ability of art to contain suffering:  Guernica by Pablo Picasso comes initially to the mind of this writer, though his work was concerned with an horrific atrocity during The Spanish Civil War. Works concerned with the Holocaust that might come to mind would be all those novels and narrative or diary accounts by the likes of Primo Levi , Elie Wiesel and Ann Frank, the poems of Paul Célan and William Heyen. 

In the Visual Arts we might recall that while inside the Łódź ghetto, Mendel Grossman took over 10,000 photos of the monstrosities inside. Grossman secretly took these photos from inside his raincoat using the statistics department for the materials needed to make the photographs. He was moved to a labor camp and died in 1945, but the negatives of his photos were discovered and were put into the book, With a Camera in the Ghetto. The photos illustrate the sad reality of how the Germans dealt with the Jews.

Alice Lok Cahana (1929- ), a Hungarian Holocaust survivor is well-known for her artwork dealing with her experiences in Auchwtiz and Bergen Belsen as a teenage inmate. Her piece "No Names" was installed in the Vatican Museum's Collection of Modern Religious Art.  The Holocaust has also been the subject of many films, including The Pawnbroker, Schindler's List, Voyage of the Damned, The Pianist, The Sorrow and the Pity, Night and Fog, Shoah, Sophie's Choice, Life Is Beautiful and Korczak. A list of hundreds of Holocaust movies is available at the University of South Florida. See the following WIKI article: Holocaust in Popular Culture.

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