This chapter explores the construction of evil and the strategies of violence in purification. Prurient fascination and righteous revulsion both recreate and repel each other, developing an anxiety of confusion that has resulted in many circumstances in community efforts to cast the subject, the symbol, of that confusion. Erotic prurience into the nature and deeds of Evil may remain as a living genre for centuries without lending itself to societies as legitimation for purge. Dramaturgy and procession can contribute to brutal but cathartic narratives of saints and monsters, martyrs, and their persecutors, into the immediate festival lives of communities. Furthermore, brutality and atrocity are recurrent characteristics of any culture, often aggravated in situations of historical stress independent of religious systems.
This article shows that German government offices and private diarists and correspondents kept widely scattered but extensive records of the unfolding of the ‘Final Solution’. Anti-Jewish legislation ensured that the paper trails of persecution ran to the far corners of the German bureaucracy. Moreover, the perpetrators of anti-Jewish actions at the local and national level commemorated their deeds, in effect preparing initial drafts for a victorious history of the destruction of Jewish life. Private diaries and letters not only confirm the widespread knowledge that Germans came to share about the ‘Final Solution’, but also the process by which many of them came to endorse cruelty toward Jews.
This article begins by emphasizing that the concepts of truth, fact, and verifiability — mainstays in the modern history of the humanities as well as of science — came under the increasing pressure of scepticism in the late 19th and 20th centuries. This trend was exemplified in such otherwise different perspectives as those of existentialism, analytic philosophy, historicism, pragmatism, post-structuralism, and postmodernism as those outlooks shaped literary studies, historiography, philosophy, and the humanities in general. The Holocaust poses a distinctive, if not unique, testing point for these fields, since they all, whether in writing about the Holocaust or not, face the challenge of Holocaust-denial: the ‘either/or’ question of the epistemic status of the Holocaust that asks whether it did occur or not, with no available third option. How one responds to this question has important consequences for every area of the humanities and the principles of interpretation and explanation on which they depend. The occurrence of the Holocaust has become a line of demarcation for all reflection in the humanities that comes after it.
Diary and memoir writing by Jews was the most significant and typical literary phenomenon of the Holocaust period. This article shows that Jews from almost all ages and cultural backgrounds wrote such documents in nearly all locations of persecution, including Auschwitz. Treating the ‘Holocaust diary’ as a linguistic-cultural phenomenon, it offers a typology: the ‘documentary diary’ focuses on recording events and raises the question of cultural continuity; the ‘synecdochical diary’ concentrates on the writer's individual experience and its relation to history; the ‘reflective diary’ explores existential and semi-philosophical issues. The article concludes by examining the reception of diaries and commenting on whether these texts bear witness to the persistence of the human spirit or precisely the opposite.
Karim H. Karim
The portrayal of Muslims in the news did not become salient only after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, this has been a long-standing issue that has acquired increasing attention over the last few decades as the coverage of the adherents of Islam has steadily grown in American news coverage. The image of the “Islamic terrorist” has come to dominate various depictions of Muslims. It tends to take at face value the claims of some who perpetrate political violence in the name of Islam at the expense of more than a billion followers who see the religion as a source of harmony. The endless stream of depictions beginning with some of the earliest encounters of Europeans with the “Saracens” have produced a strongly embedded set of core stereotypes that make plausible depictions that would seem outrageous when applied to other groups. This article shows how the intertextual weaving of the legends of the medieval “Assassins” into contemporary American news and entertainment media draws upon and reinforces the ingrained image of the violent Muslim.
Sara R. Horowitz
This article discusses the development of literature of the Holocaust since World War II and endorses a broad definition of Holocaust literature that embraces a range of genres, subject positions, and literary traditions. It argues that such works both resist and embrace integration into the continuum of Jewish and western thought and expression. Holocaust literature mediates life and death, survival and memory, during and after the war, through indirection, fragmentary narratives, and other literary strategies. Self-reflexively ambivalent about literary representation, works of Holocaust literature negotiate the inherent contradictions between historical and imaginative discourses, paradoxically insisting on the need to narrate the events and inner experiences of the Nazi genocide and the impossibility of doing so adequately. As Holocaust imagery increasingly permeates western culture, literature offers not only an ethical discourse of mourning and commemoration but also metaphors for psychological states, social and political issues, and contemporary evil.
This chapter investigates how violence gets into religious texts and how it gets out of them, into action. Religious literatures clearly help to provide archives of cosmologies, memories, personalities, and symbols for collective imagination. Trauma, terror, pain and the like are among the fundamental components of religious literature, and conjure a violent imaginary, which, by definition, takes shape in violent acts. It surely modifies wartime actions constituted within ancient literature, in some cases saturating warlike acts with sacrificial themes. Upon reading, hearing, or seeing, it is hard to imagine that any conscious being would not be focused by a spectacle of violent destruction, grasping immediately the specter of his or her own demise.
This chapter reviews the selected religious myths of violent death under three rubrics: when death is primordially wrong; when violent death is cosmically right; and when violent death, particularly in the form of suicide, is enshrined as martyrdom. A brief speculation on religious imagination and its peculiar obsessions is given. There are few themes in religious studies that justify a sweeping overview, but violent death is recurrent enough to be one of them. The biblical Chaoskampf theme needs death, rescue, and restoration. Two motifs that illustrate the violent deaths are the dema and the Chaoskampf. The first focuses on the victim, the other on the victor. The spectacle of violent death has concentrated individuals and mobs across traditions. Although the examples presented consider the mythology of violent death, the ritualistic display of violent death could have been treated in equal breadth.