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Branaugh, K. Moss, D.B. (2004). Telling it and passing it on, rendering and remembering: On turning suffering into history—Conspiracy. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 85(5):1279-1285.

(2004). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 85(5):1279-1285

Telling it and passing it on, rendering and remembering: On turning suffering into history—Conspiracy

Review by:
Kenneth Branaugh

Donald B. Moss


Kenneth Branaugh's film Conspiracy dramatizes the infamous Wannsee Conference where the Nazis formulated their final solution to the Jewish question. The film raises important and complex issues about the place of cultural products in the ongoing work of constructing historical narratives—the tasks of solidifying both private and public memory. Before addressing the film directly, I mean to sketch out some tactics and strategies through which psychoanalysis might be put to use in illuminating some of these complex issues.

Psychoanalysis has greatly expanded its original focus on the relations binding adult subjectivity to repression and memory. Freud's still apt conclusion that hysterics suffer from reminiscences has undergone a conceptual explosion. It is now all of us who both suffer and benefit from reminiscences—suffering and benefit so thickly woven together that we may no longer even possess a reliable measure by which to distinguish them. This intermingling grows particularly thick when the reminiscences in question have us suffering at the hands of others. When such memories press upon us in the form of an imperative to tell and retell what has happened, they often yield narratives with a stable, and familiar form: a past shaped by suffering, a present shaped by the pursuit of justice, and a future shaped by the promise of redemption. The recollection of suffering, retold in the present tense, provides structure and form to certain important aspects of the narrators' contemporary lives, contributing mightily to an ongoing sense of the necessary, the possible, and the moral—given that we have suffered, these are our limits; these are our rights; these are our hopes.

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