International Seminar Series: Our National Histories of Violence- Lessons From Germany’s Opportunistic Holocaust Commemoration
Title of Presentation: Our National Histories of Violence: Lessons From Germany’s Opportunistic Holocaust Commemoration
Speaker: Felix Fiedler, Dipl. Psych., M.A., Instructional Assistant Professor at the Center for the Visual Arts, Illinois State University
Presentation Overview: Germany has received much praise for the way it acknowledges its national crimes committed during World War II, from its war of annihilation in Eastern Europe to the systematic murder of six million Jews. The Holocaust Memorial in Berlin, dedicated in 2005, epitomizes this commemorative effort. According to Chancellor Merkel, it represents Germany’s new, self-critical “raison d’état”. And indeed, German society, by and large, seems to have overcome the conventional denial of guilt and the recurring narcissistic rage we encounter in other nations when confronted with their historical mass atrocities. Struggling with the USA’s own unresolved history of colonial, racist and military violence and its present repercussions, should cultural sciences and social justice movements draw lessons from Germany’s politics of memory? Yes, as this presentation argues, and they should be prepared to discover a commemorative opportunism that modernizes rather than overcomes conventional nationalist impulses. Germany’s apparent success in memorializing the Holocaust has injected a notion of redemption and moral integrity into recent updates of its hegemonic self-image, with problematic consequences all across the cultural and political fabric. It has opened the floodgates for new self-congratulatory projections of national history. At the same time, Holocaust commemoration itself has become a monumental screen memory, masking or smoothly absorbing Germany’s prior genocidal atrocities into an established template of atonement. This presentation will detail the politics, social psychology and aesthetics of this process. It will examine the paradigmatic status of the concept of collective memory in German social and cultural sciences, owed to a considerable degree to the influential writings of Jan and Aleida Assman. Referring back to Maurice Halbwachs’ original conception, it will try to recover its critical merit, and tentatively apply it to some of the USA’s current disputes – from Confederate monuments and Columbus Day to Black Lives Matter and a reinvigorated white nationalism.
Speaker Bio: Felix Fiedler is a Psychologist and Art Historian from Berlin. He is currently finishing his Ph.D. on German national monuments after the fall of the Berlin Wall. He teaches Art History at ISU’s Center for the Visual Arts.
Series Overview: The International Seminar Series offers the Illinois State campus and Bloomington-Normal communities weekly opportunities to learn about a wide range of international topics. Guest speakers are usually experts in their fields across a range of disciplines who cover a wide array of cultural, historical, political and social topics.
Series events have become one of the most popular internationally focused events on campus and continue to draw ever-growing crowds of students, faculty and community members. Audience members are given time at each event to raise questions to enable a two-way participation and learning.
International Seminar Series events are free and open to the public, and occur every Wednesday from noon to 1 p.m. in the Bone Student Center. The spring 2018 series will focus on Europe in a global context.