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Geller, J. (2002). Preface. Am. Imago, 59(3):249-252.

(2002). American Imago, 59(3):249-252


Jay Geller

In 1991, American Imago published two special issues under the editorship of Cathy Caruth devoted to interdisciplinary approaches in the study of trauma; their contents were collected and published by Caruth in 1995 as Trauma: Explorations in Memory. The seeming ubiquity of “trauma” as a topic in both scholarly and clinical writing in the past decade can in no small measure be traced to these landmark issues. No less inescapable during the same period have been studies of the Shoah, the exemplary atrocity of the twentieth century. Impelled by the dying out of those who survived the concentration and extermination camps—this last silencing of those whose presence bespeaks the unspeakable—and undeterred by the backlash reflected in such labels as “false memory syndrome” (Crews 1995) and “Holocaust industry” (Finkelstein 2000), the present special issue of American Imago on “Postmemories of the Holocaust” seeks to articulate the emerging convergence between these two fields of inquiry.

A generation passes on. Is their witness passed on as well? The double meaning of “passing on” lies at the heart of both trauma and Holocaust studies, just as understanding the necessary connection between death or loss and the often unconscious transmission of a heritage is no less fundamental to history than it is to psychoanalysis. If truth is contingent upon personal experience, and if truth—as opposed to falsehood—is the desideratum of both disciplines, how can either be practiced when its subjects are absent? Freud, writing on the eve of the Holocaust in Moses and Monotheism (1939), speculated about how the experiences of the generations in the wilderness and at Qades came to reinscribe themselves in the religion of the prophets some 600 years later. He drew an analogy between the workings of tradition and his model of individual trauma (“Early traumadefenselatency—outbreak of neurotic illness—partial return of the repressed”).

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