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The Obscenity of Understanding

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Colm Cobb

on 15 October 2015

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Transcript of The Obscenity of Understanding

The Obscenity of Understanding
Claude Lanzmann
Born in Paris to a Jewish Family
Student resistance leader in France during WWII
Investigative reporter post war who reported on the Cold War
In 1970 Lanzmann was the chief editor of the journal "Les Temps Modernes" an important daily periodical
During his career he produced two films that gained attention :
"Pourquoi Israel?" (Why Israel) 1973
"Shoah" 1985

Testimony about the Holocaust; Victims and perpetrators

Simon Srebnik:"Singing Child" returns with Claude Lanzmann to Chelmno and retells his story through song.
Michael Podchlebnik: Only other Survivor from Chelmno, wants to "live and forget"
Jan Karski: "professor" asked by Jewish leaders in Warsaw Ghetto for help raising awareness of the atrocities committed against the Jews
Walter Stier: 'Special Train" Organizer, professes to have had no knowledge of Treblinka and the atrocities committed.
Joesph Oberhauser: operates bar, refuses to speak to Lanzmann about his involvement in camps
Introduction to Shoah
Referred to by critics as "The film Event of the Century"
Now commonly recognized as not only a film but a truly revolutionary artistic and cultural event.
Especially in Europe, Shoah is praised for the in depth psychoanalytical presence of Claude Lanzmann onscreen
The film incorporates the most revolutionary and radical psychoanalytical insights in a form that transcends a simple understanding.
Point 1: Film Search for Truth, Psychoanalysis as investigation of truth.
Both are a search for truth, through talking, dialogue and the act of inter-locution.
Extraordinary presence of Claude Lanzmann throughout the film.
Two types of presence in the process of generating the truth: Bodily and physical presence, and material presence
By : May Lem and Colm Cobb
Point 2: Both the film and psychoanalysis are a quest of memory
A quest for the past that chooses to take place in the present, through images and events of the present and through the contemporaneous eventfulness of speech
Something happens in the present that triggers a revelation of the past in both psychoanalysis and in the film

Point 3: The temporality of the film disrupts chronology and a certain kind of linear temporality, even though it deals with history
The film like psychoanalysis works through repetition and ever deepening circles
The temporality of the film is reminiscent of the process of psychoanalysis with regard to the factor of the tempo, necessity of prolonged time and the process of the revelation of truth that takes time and cannot take place without taking that time
The film lasts nine and a half hours but the psychoanalytical therapy took nine and a half years just to complete, Claude Lanzmann took 11 years to produce the film
the production of the film like psychoanalysis takes time and occurs slowly, and evolves over time

Point 4: Interest in details and specifics
• constant passage in the film from abstract questions to concrete, minutely detailed questions, and from historical events that are un-graspable in their generality to the physical presence of the particular, the concrete fragments of memory on the screen.
Point 5: Both the approach of the film and the approach of psychoanalysis work at the limit of understanding
• The relation to understanding is profound both in the film and in the discipline of psychoanalysis as a new and innovative discipline
• Psychoanalysis is inherently a new relation to understanding and to consciousness
• Both the film and psychoanalysis work through gaps in understanding and at the limit of understanding
• The film incorporates the most radical psychoanalytical insights it is important to note that it is not a psychological film and that it incorporates a refusal of psychological understanding and in a vaster sense a refusal of understanding as such
Point 5: Quotations from Jacques Lacan and Claude Lanzmann
Jacques Lacan:
"when one attempts to elaborate and experience, it is less what one understands than what one doesn’t understand.. We should be watching out for the idea that we should not understand more than what there is in the discourse of the subject. Interpreting is an altogether different thing from having the fancy of understanding…The basis of a certain refusal of understanding opens the door onto psychoanalytic understanding”.

Claude Lanzmann:
Describes an idea that allows us to understand so much more than what we had understood about the holocaust.

"In simplistic terms, we ask
Why have the Jews been killed
but for it to reveal right away is obscene. There is absolute obscenity in the project of understanding…I clung to this refusal of understanding as the only possible ethical and at the same time the only possible operative attitude”.
Pulitzer Prize winning graphic novel by Art Spiegelman. (1991)
Story details the experience of Art Spiegelman's mother and father in Auschwitz during WWII.
The novel uses animals or "masks" in the place of human faces, Polish Jews are Mice, German guards are cats, Non-Jewish Poles are Pigs.
The story was orignally released from 1980-1991, as a serious in Spiegelman's magazine Raw.
The novel is fairly lengthy for a Graphic novel, being 296 pages in length.
Spiegelman recently released Meta-Maus, a anthology of his data and collection of the material and interviews he used for the making of Maus.
Comparisons between Shoah and Maus
Maus was written with a "pinball machine way" of storytelling that incorporated various viewpoints creating a scatter plot of time.

Shoah displays various views of the Holocaust from the perpetrator, bystander, and victim perspective.
Discussion Question

What do you think about these two depictions of the Holocaust?

Claude Lanzmann researched for years attempting to find some sort of conclusive explanation as to why the Holocaust occurred.
Lanzmann reached the conclusion that whole idea of the Holocaust is obscene; beyond understanding.
We believe that Claude Lanzmann made this movie to show the world how vast and complex the Holocaust issue is. Because of this complexity, it is important that we as global citizens never stop researching and questioning what happened
We cannot normalize things that are not normal, but until we understand the deep causes of the Holocaust, we cannot stop searching for an answer.
The Obscenity of Understanding
Claude Lanzmann discusses a book written by a psychoanalyst whom writes about Hitler's life
This book attempts an explanation by describing the possible problems of Hitler's childhood and how this could explain why he initiated the Jewish genocide
This is what Lanzmann describes as obscenity, the gap between the originary scene in Hitler's life and the result
Lanzmann, "
simply not possible to engender one out of the other. there is no solution of continuity between the two; there is rather a gap, an abyss, and this abyss will never be bridged.
Shoshana Felman's Five key points of Psychoanalytical film making
Discussion Question
Do you agree with Lanzmann's idea that their is no scientific answer for the issue of the Holocaust?
Discussion Question
Discussion Questions
What medium/representation accurately describes the Holocaust in your opinion?
What do you think are the next steps for finding out more about the Holocaust?
How are we as global citizens going to find a conclusion to why this happened?

When talking about the limit of understanding which quote do you believe helps to comprehend the Holocaust?
Jacques Lacan
Claude Lanzmann
Full transcript