Interrupting Auschwitz: Josh Cohen
Chair: Jacqueline Rose
Hitler, wrote Theodor Adorno, imposed a 'new categorical imperative on humankind to arrange thoughts and actions so that Auschwitz will not repeat itself.' Josh Cohen’s book Interrupting Auschwitz: Art, Religion, Philosophy is a sustained exploration of what this might mean. He argues that what gives the imperative its urgency is that it is paradoxical, impossible to fulfil; we can never be certain that it won’t happen again. In an intense and sometimes controversial session, Josh Cohen and Jacqueline Rose considered the implications of Cohen’s argument, and whether it is possible to write literature, make art or lead a political life today that can face up to the past and provide an ethics for the contemporary world.
Josh Cohen is Lecturer in English and Comparative Literature at Goldsmiths College and the author of Spectacular Allegories: Postmodern American Writing and the Politics of Seeing (1998). He has also written a wide range of articles on modern literature, continental philosophy and aesthetic theory.
Jacqueline Rose is Professor of English Literature at Queen Mary College, University of London. She is the author of many books, including The Haunting of Sylvia Plath, a novel, Albertine and the recent On Not Being Able to Sleep: Psychoanalysis in the Modern World (2003). In 2002, Channel 4 broadcast Dangerous Liaisons, her documentary on America’s relationship to Israel.
“So the book’s argument is that the trauma that Auschwitz introduces into our minds, into thought itself, cannot be resolved, cannot in Freud’s sense be ‘successfully mourned’, but is. There’s nothing that could integrate Auschwitz into a continuous private or public history. Auschwitz, the death camps, and this is where one of the resonances of the term I use in the title, Auschwitz ‘interrupts’ the possibility of a continuous narrative of history. So the task for thinking is to do justice to that irreducible sense of discontinuity, that irreducible sense of a trauma that can’t simply be integrated into consciousness.” [Josh Cohen]
“I think if we are talking about what is resistant to rational thought about Auschwitz, we must not fall into the trap of thinking therefore it is unintelligible. The unreasonable, the unredeemable is not necessarily, I would say, unintelligible. I do not think we should put Auschwitz into the category of the unprecedented essential, essential difference of Auschwitz. We risk making it precisely unintelligible. There is an intelligibility, I would argue, of unreason. It’s called psychoanalysis. That is its project.” [Jacqeline Rose]
Experience the event as it happened:Transcripts