ABSTRACT

What address can be made to the Holocaust which does not contend with absence, exile and loss? Holocaust survivors live in an exilic condition, past and present permanently inscribed by an inexorable abyss. Those of us who come after the Holocaust live in a history scarred by the extreme evidence of inhumanity. Both Deborah Lefkowitz’s film Intervals of Silence: Being Jewish in Germany (1990), and Rebecca Horn’s Weimar installation, Concert for Buchenwald (1999), worked within the conditions of exile and loss, engendering history against the grain of a forgetfulness seeking to ‘unlearn’ the terrible lessons of the past. Intervals of Silence did not shrink from evoking the traumatic void expressed by silence and temporal discontinuity and Concert for Buchenwald intoned an ashen, voiceless performance. But if these works acknowledged the magnitude of the exilic chasm which was and is the Holocaust, they never implied that such devastation stands beyond history, a tremendum which leaves us mute and helpless. Arguing against the possibility of recovering what Jürgen Habermas termed

a ‘conventional’ history or identity,3 Intervals of Silence and Concert for Buchenwald offered the potential to reconstitute history and identity by other means. The work of this art enacts what Geoffrey Hartman called ‘a counterforce to manufactured and monolithic memory’,4 materialised by an attention to location, corporeal specificity and coextensive difference.