skull_bearer: (Skull Bearer)

So, I’m currently making my way through Howey’s silo series. I just finished Shift, and it was… okay. There was some win, there was some fail (Anna was some misogynist nightmare, I swear), but the thing that really pissed me off was when Howey dragged the Holocaust into the conversation.

Now, I’m not going to say the inclusion was not warranted, when you’re talking about the annihilation of all but a few hundred thousand people, comparisons to genocides are perfectly valid. No, I dread whenever someone brings up the Holocaust because it’s either going to be a) trite, or b) entirely inaccurate.

Now, Howey managed to dodge most of a) but fucked up wildly with b). Firstly, Donald? You are not an inmate. You are an SS who honestly both didn’t know what he was doing and had no real way of knowing. It sucks, but it’s still kinda your fault. I did love the ‘it was not bad men who did this, it was an evil system’ and that fact that Shift explores how people who work in an evil system can so easily become corrupted without even knowing. Though Donald is still fighting, he’s still pretty much beyond redemption.

But there was one bit that absolutely pissed me off, because it shows that Howey didn’t do even a basic google reseach. There’s a bit where our reluctant proto-SS Donald remembers a photo from a concentration camp of a man driving a bulldozer which is shoving along a huge pile of corpses. Now, my degree was apparently good for something because I not only knew the photo, I could bring it up in my mind immediately. Which is why it pissed me off that Howey followed the reference with Donald thinking of how the man driving the bulldozer was clearly not bothered by what he was doing, that ‘it was just another job to him’.

Now, I had a hunch that Howey got so far the wrong end of stick that he was in another tree altogether, so I looked it up. Here’s the photo.


It’s from Bergen-Belsen, taken in April 1945. Do you see the problem? I do. Belsen was liberated in April 1945. That guy driving the bulldozer? Is a British soldier. And I’m pretty sure I can guarantee he wasn’t having a good day.

Howey didn’t even bother googling the picture. Because I did, and that was the first link I found.

*slow clap*

skull_bearer: (Skull Bearer)
I got my results for my MA today. Pass with Merit. After all the hell I went through with this course, burning out and crashing and having full-blown anxiety meltdowns, I'm really pleased I actually managed to do pretty well. That ate several years off my life and I will never look on 2013 as being anything other than a hellish year, but- well, I did it. I have no idea what I'm supposed to do with this degree, or who to ask. Any ideas would be welcome.

Morgane Guillemot, MA.
skull_bearer: (Skull Bearer)
It's kinda wierd when you're trying to make the point that soemthing ended up being postmodernist Holocaust writing although ti was written at a time when postmodernism didn't exist, Holocaust literature didn't exist, and the Holocaust itself was more of a case of looking out of a window and seeing for yourself.
skull_bearer: (Skull Bearer)
It's a bit like standing on tracks, watching the train come and knowing exactly what's going to happen if not how. Not that it's too direct or obvious, but there are a number of themes that feel like Tournier is standing behind you with a hammer called Auschwitz and beating you over the head with it. It's really, really obvious how this is going to end. Those themes of Canada and Atmospheric density and twins are not heading to a good place.
skull_bearer: (Skull Bearer)
Films about your subject eliciate a 'meh', but a film about a leading light in your subject eleciates an 'ooh'

Hannah Arendt is finally getting a film.

I know she's a bit of a polarising figure, but I tend to lean more on her side than against.
skull_bearer: (Skull Bearer)
Just me being sad that I couldn't use the title I really wanted for my essay "The Sin of Silence and Claude Lanzmann', because I wasn't sure how to pad out a 5k word essay on how Lanzmann just doesn't let people shut up and will keep badgering them until they break down and talk, cry or both. Which makes him my favourite Holocaust historian Magnificent Bastard.

Anyway, my essay title is instead "Holocaust Now. The Use of Present Image in Clause Lanzmann's Shoah" Also known as "This is why when you watch Shoah you have this uncomfortable feeling that it's actually happening just off camera and Lanzmann is just too nice to show you." Which is the first time in recorded history Claude Lanzmann has been described as 'nice'
skull_bearer: (Skull Bearer)
I love Claude Lanzmann, he reminds me so much of my dad it's hilarious. Overly opinionated obliviously stubborn Frenchmen for the win!

I don't think Lanzmann ever quite realised what he'd done when he made Shoah, it's weird when someone does something that's so amazing, only for them to miss 98% of the point it made and the rest to go clean over their heads.

His interviews are hysterical, particularly the bit where he gets so crazily self-righteous about "If I ever found footage from inside a gas chamber I'd destroy it!", only to promptly film a section of Shoah where the camera pans into a revoltingly detailed model of a gas chamber completely with little screaming people models. You just want to go: 'Dude, the distance by which you missed the point is equal to the net distance between Earth and Mars. You fail so hard."

But at the end of the day he could probably eat a kitten live on TV and no one would care. Because Shoah? Is incredible. A film of that calibre can forgive almost any fault.
skull_bearer: (Skull Bearer)
I am so not watching this film because the idea of mixing Robin Williams and the Holocaust makes me want to be sick.
skull_bearer: (Skull Bearer)
Seriouly, Escape from Sobibor is in the running to be my favourite (non documentary) Holocaust film ever. It finally gets it right. Everything about that film is right. The characters are right, the setting is right, the Nazis are right (in that they fit the setting, not that- oh never mind). It all just works, and after watching one film after another that trips into the same pratfalls of Holocaust representation, it's a joy to see one that just does it right.

This isn't just an issue of films, books have the same problem. I call it the Narrative Space Problem. It come into effect because due to setting constraints, if you make your main characters Jews, it makes it really hard to have a working, satisfying story. The characters just don't have the Narrative Space and freedom necessary to be able to act and react ina way that makes them valid protagonists. They're too busy trying to stay alive, instead of having the time to do stuff to keep the plot going. The result is that either you have no plot per say (see Village of a Million Spirits and The Grey Zone for examples. Warning, incredibly depressing and ungodly boring is not a good combination), or, like most, they just steer clear of having Jewish main characters at all, with bring it's own metric ton of issues.

Escape From Sobibor somehow manages to avoid these pits and pulls out a really good, intruiging, heartwrenching, heartwarming story. It doesn't pull it's shots, one of the reasons it's got such a huge cast of characters was so some of them might be alive by the end! It has a great plot structure, with a slow and steady build up leading to one of the best fist-pumping YES! climaxes of any film I've seen for a long while. There was this great last shot of the acting-kommandant's face at the end, when you can see it's just sinking in that he's just so fucked up and Berlin is going to have his arse on a platter for this, and although half the cast just died in front of you you're just laughing because that basterd deserves it so. Damn. Much.

Also, apparently, this film was very concerned about historical accuracy, and had asked a survivor of Sobibor to work with them to tell them if they were getting it right. When they were filming the breakout scene, the poor sod suddenly had a flashback and went tearing off into the woods, thinking he was back forty years ago. They found him in the ditch the next morning having lost his glasses and not being too sure where (or when) he was.
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Also, if someone deliberately put in the subtext of viewing the Holocaust as the means by which a Bad Old World (Diaspora Judaism) gave way to a Good New World (Israel), instead of it being an Unfortunate Implication of spectacular scale, then that person deserves to be repeatedly shot in the groin.
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The historical fuck-ups are all the more bewildering for the actually pretty good respresentation of the Holocaust up to 1941. It got even kinda funny they way they were ticking off major events in chronology and I could pick out what they were referring to, but then they got to Auschwitz and it's as though eveyone making it was getting steadily more and more drunk to get away from how depressing it must have been, until they slapped a nonsensical happy ending on and stagged off to be sick in someone's flowerbeds.

C- Please see me.
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I've found that my Holocaust sudies have been suffering because I'm really not familiar with writing proper History form essays. Any orkshops/ guide books you could point me to?
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Am desperately trying to get this damn paper written on time. It's due Monday and I'm a drooling moron.

Yeah, melancholic reflections are not today.
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Why yes, I'm am choosing to use the French copy of Les Beinveillants for my essay entirely to get revenge on teachers who recommend marvellous Germany books I can't read.

That and I'm not re-readfing a 10,000 page book just to be able to quote it in English. Eat my French, redcoats.
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I'm looking for Holocaust novels for an essay. The books have to be:

a) fiction, no survivor testemonies.
b) set in a concentration camp, or have a significant part take place in a concentration camp.
c) involve characters who have a direct involvement in said concentration camp (no Boy in the Stripes Pyjamas, for example).

The ones I've got so far are Village of a Million Spirits' and 'Fateless', with 'This Way to the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen' as a maybe. Unfortunately, I don't think AIoM would be allowed, despite filling out the criteria :)

Any ideas, people?
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My next class in on memorials and museums. personally, I think the Majdanek memorial is the last word on the subject:

(the space under it is tall enough to stand in, reach up and be unable to touch the ceiling)

To me, it just says, "We know we can't even attempt to represent what happened here, so have a massive lump of granite instead."
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Normally I'm not one for Holocaust piety. Quite the opposite, Eli Weisel's philosophy of unimaginability, unknowbility, and a host of other negatives sometimes makes me want to rub his face in something smelly, but this one is sorta testing even me. A literaty interpretation of the Auschwitz Scrolls.

(for the mercifully unknowing, the Scrolls were written by the Auschwitz sonderkommando, a group of people who had to burn the bodies of those killed in the gas chambers, lead the latest deportees into the gas chambers, sort the belongings of the dead, and after three months they'd be gassed in turn... yeah, so they wrote them and buried them around the gas chambers. Fuck know how many there were, I think we've found about six or something.)

I mean, I'm not about say 'no damn, that's awful, try again' or anything like that. Actually, for a bunch of people who were living literally hell on earth, and barely had time to eat, and would have been shot if they'd been caught writing, and weren't sure if this time when they went in the gas chambers they wouldn't be locked in and killed, they writings are really, really good. Zalman could give Lovecraft a run for his money for the use of purple prose to illustrate the unimaginable, and I really love Leib, he writes as though these are just things he needs to remember for a future time, Loewenthal is an exercise in focus, since just about every other word is missing (you bury a manuscript in a tin can for nearly thirty years and see what happens), but is a brilliant example of proto-survivor testimony, the structure is almost identical - except, you know, the survivor bit :'(

Anyway, the thing is, these texts? Worthy of serious respect. I really, really don't want to put a foot wrong on this, because then it would be ugly. And that's bloody hard, ebcause for some unfathomable reason, these texts, which should be more important than Primo Levi, Weisel and Borowski combined (and I love Borowski) are almost impossible to find anything about. The British Library has one crumbling book (I managed to beg some photocopies from a tutor who sold his soul for a copy of the same book) and even the internet falls down on this. I think I'm going to have to email the bloody Auschwitz-Birkenau museum for more details. Maybe Yad vashem might help too.
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Those of you who aren't familiar with Ferretbrain (if you aren't, check it out, it's awesome) might have missed this post on the topic of The Dog King, an Alternate History novel founded on the premise that the sponateous fit of stupid that hit Germany in 1933-45 migrated to America after the war, resulting in the Morganthau plan being implemented.

This post is not going to be about the book: I haven't read it. Frankly, I think everyone has a right to draw a line when things become too depressing and this is mine. Anyhow, a bit about the Morganthau plan for those who don't know. All I can say about it is that the first time I heard about it, I thought it was some Neo-Nazi delusion a-la Holocaust denialism. The idea that there was an American plan after WW2 and the Holocaust to completely dismantly Germany as a modern country, forcibly booting it back to the stone age, was so phenomenally STUPID I just went 'Lol, no' and ignored it.

Probably a mistake is retrorespect. I mean, seriously, who could think genocidal stupidity (and it would have been, I can't see this being undertaken without millions of deaths) be confined to just Germany and the USSR? The Americans were totally in their rights to get in on it. Anyway, the fact that the guy who thought it up, Morganthau, was Jewish himself just cemeted the idea in my head that some bored neo-nazi made it up, like the real nazis said that random guy who wrote a Jewish version of the Turner Diaries abotu German extermination was totally in cahoots with Roosevelt, when he was really ... just a random guy. Who couldn't find a publisher.

It was only when I read a book on the historiography of Alternate History (The World Hitler Never Made. It's brilliant) and came across a reference to it (referencing The Dog King, in fact). That I realised it might not be entirely crackpot. I finally decided to ask one of my tutors, admitting that yeah, it wasn't an entirely reliable source, but it wasn't a neo-nazi pamphlet.

Yeah, it was true. WTF?

Anyway, thankfully unlike The Dog King, IRL the stupidity only went so far before someone with some sense went 'Uh... hell NO' and stomped on the idea. But yeah, wow. No wonder this is still kinda hushed up. No one likes to admit that the USA's reaction to the Holocaust could have been to try and top the nazis in deathtoll and sheer idiocy.
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If you've ever been to a meeting or a conference open to the public, You'll know what I'm talking about. It happens every time. That one person who asks an obvious/irrelevant/stupid/insulting question and will not shut up and keeps talking about it for five minutes while the speakers pretend to be taking it seriously and everyone else is quietly facepalming. This one took the cheese for not only being insulting, but also completely incomprehensible. It didn't help that this was at the tail end of a six hour conference which had mostly entailed four historians sniping at each other (mental note, never put an Israeli historian, two German historians and an opinionated English historian in the same room) and no air con, so everyone was pretty much falling asleep in their chairs.

I have no idea what the question was, only it started off with the guy trying to prove that Jews are a biological race, wandered into Richard Dawkin's The Selfish Gene and finally ended on the note that the Wannsee conference house was next door to a house by a famous Jewish expressionist painter. It took about ten minuters, during which I had the honour of seeing one fo my tutors doing a massive facepalm. Watching the historians trying to find a coherent responce to the words salad was also entertaining.

Seriously, that's the third time in a row that our conferences have been gatecrashed by at least one idiot. Can we have some sort of door policy? Screen for morons or something?

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