Constructive Distance: Nicole Krauss’s “Great House” as a Model for Third-Generation Holocaust Fiction
"The Holocaust and the Contemporary World" (Kraków, 23-24 April 2015)
Languages of publication
As the final Holocaust survivors pass, the urgent task of representing the atrocity in order to keep its memory alive passes to later generations. In the past ten to fifteen years, the third generation (defined here as the grandchildren of survivors) have begun producing inventive and celebrated works of literature that explore the Holocaust from a unique position of generational distance. While psychoanalytic theory has started examining the impact of inherited trauma on the third generation, there is currently little scholarship on the unique characteristics of third-generation fiction and the position from which it is written. As an author whose Jewish grandfather survived the Holocaust, I would suggest that the ethics of representing the atrocity poses particular challenges and opportunities for the third-generation writer. Authors of this generation face a unique ethical conundrum, I argue, in that they are simultaneously connected to and twice -distanced from the event they seek to explore. In this paper, I adapt Marianne Hirsch’s notion of second-generation postmemory to consider a particular third-generation novel, Nicole Krauss’s Great House. I suggest that Krauss’s text is ethically valid not despite but because of its author’s generational distance from the Holocaust. Krauss uses distancing techniques in the structure and content of her novel to highlight her twice-mediated knowledge of the atrocity. By drawing attention to her remoteness from the Holocaust, Krauss enables readers to compare their own dormant knowledge of the atrocity against the version being presented in the text. In this way, she leads readers away from a passive or complacent reading of history towards a more active one. Krauss’s model suggests that the post-generation author’s inevitable distance from the Holocaust is in fact a necessary and productive ingredient of contemporary Holocaust fiction.
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