A Holocaust Memorial or a Memorial to Germany’s Vicarious Trauma?

In: How Trauma Resonates: Art, Literature and Theoretical Practice
Mark Callaghan
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This chapter concentrates on the issue of creating a unitary memory for a country’s heinous past and the complexities of vicarious trauma for both artists and the public alike. As the medical definition of trauma refers not to the injury inflicted but to the blow that inflicted it, not to the state of mind that ensues but to the event that provoked it, my research asks whether designs for the Berlin Holocaust Memorial Competition were more concerned with the blow and the event rather than the injury itself. It is my contention that Peter Eisenman’s winning design does not represent the injury but instead aims to cause the visitor to feel disorientated and is therefore a reflection on the nature of death in the Final Solution – the blow and the event. According to Cathy Caruth traumatic events return to us even though we are vicarious witnesses because trauma itself cannot be fully understood, despite so many artistic attempts to do so. We should therefore consider the affects of trauma-related art, as we may appreciate why Eisenman’s design was favoured in the face of so many compelling proposals.

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