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Alumni to host lecture on holocaust, Paul Auster

It is the first, research-based, alumni event in English this Thursday and it has the title 'Holocaust Memory - and representations of the past'. We sent five quick questions to one of the speakers

The University of Copenhagen’s alumni association Kubulus is Thursday to host a thought-provoking lecture about the depiction of holocaust survivors in art and literature.

One of the speakers Claudia Welz, who has already been interviewed in the University Post here, will reflect on the role of language and hope in trauma adaptation. The other speaker, associate professor Inge-Birgitte Siegumfeldt, will be discussing American author Paul Auster’s representations of Holocaust survivors.

The University Post asked Inge-Birgitte Siegumfeldt about what we can expect.

Why this event?
“I was invited to join my co-speaker, Claudia Welz, who had already agreed to give a paper in the alumni association – partly, I believe, to draw attention to the fact that we are in the process of establishing an international home at the University of Copenhagen for Jewish thought with a view, specifically, to develop a post-Holocaust hermeneutics that may help us understand victims and perpetrators of atrocities across the globe. A hermeneutics that is sensitive also to the limits of understanding.”

Why have you chosen to speak about Paul Auster’s representation of Holocaust survivors?
“If you recall, the University of Copenhagen conferred the title of Honorary Alumnus on Paul Auster in May 2011. See the event webcast here. Since then, Auster and I have worked together on a ‘Œbiography’ [oeuvre – biography, ed.] of the entire body of his narrative prose, and so it made sense for me to talk about his work now I was invited back to the alumni association to speak.”

Big question

What do you expect from the debate following the lecture?
“An open and informal discussion about how to articulate and represent traumatic experiences which have destroyed hope and trust.”

What was the situation in art and literature like after WWII?
“I couldn’t even begin to answer this question in just a few lines. Adorno’s famous apothegm: “To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric” turns on the loss of hope and faith in civilization and the question of whether literature and art can possibly overcome the incomprehensible horrors of the concentration camps in WWII. Any artistic representation will inevitably reproduce the barbaric culture that produced Auschwitz ¬at least if it is mimetic.”

What post-WWII literature would you recommend students as introduction to this theme?
“On this occasion, I will be talking about Auster’s writing only, focussing on the novels, Timbuktu, 1999, The Book of Illusions, 2002, and Oracle Night, 2003. Naturally, for an introduction to literature about the experience of Holocaust, one should read, first and foremost, the books by Elie Wiesel and Primo Levi.”

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