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Lanzmann, C. (1991). The Obscenity of Understanding: An Evening with Claude Lanzmann. Am. Imago, 48(4):473-495.

(1991). American Imago, 48(4):473-495

The Obscenity of Understanding: An Evening with Claude Lanzmann

Claude Lanzmann

Edited by:
Cathy Caruth

Assisted by:
David Rodowick

Prefatory Remarks

What follows is the literal record of an event, the provocative and controversial evening of Claude Lanzmann's appearance before the Western New England Institutes for Psychoanalysis (WNEIPA) in April of 1990. The specific circumstances of Mr. Lanzmann's appearance, as well as the discussion that unfolded on the occasion of his address, raise in a particularly acute way the complex issues surrounding the nature of understanding and of communication in relation to the Holocaust. Mr. Lanzmann's address and the exchange that took place demonstrate, in the singular encounter between the maker of Shoah and his analytic audience, the contradictory roles that understanding may play in gaining access to traumatic experience.

Mr. Lanzmann was invited to speak to the Western New England Institutes for Psychoanalysis on the occasion of his second visit to Yale. He was originally invited to participate in the showing and discussion of a film on the Nazi doctor Eduard Wirths, which had been made available by Dr. Louis Micheels, a psychoanalyst who is a survivor of Auschwitz and author of Dr. 117641: A Holocaust Memoir.1 Mr. Lanzmann accepted the invitation before he had seen the film. However, when he arrived in New Haven and viewed the film privately he refused to participate in its showing. He did agree, nevertheless, to appear before the WNEIPA, and his remarks addressed, precisely, his refusal to discuss the film, as well as the difference between the project of the Wirths film and that of Shoah.

The film (not publicly available), was made in Holland, and traces the life of Dr. Wirths through interviews, in Dutch and German, with family, friends, and survivors.

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