Piotr Rawicz and the Shoah as metaphysics

On the french website iphilo.

 

 

 

Written a posteriori, and yet at the heart of the destruction, Piotr Rawicz’s Blood of Heaven (1961), deported in 1942 to Auschwitz, pounded all the ideas received on the Shoah, explains Didier Durmarque. For this specialist in the genocide of the Jews, the philosophical summit of this text is twofold: the author makes the Shoah a question of metaphysics, while making metaphysics the place of the collapse of God, of the commandment of the word its disintegration.

Professor of Philosophy in Normandy, Didier Durmarque also runs a seminar at the Popular University of Caen, where he will give his speech this year on the theme: « Metaphysical assessment after Auschwitz: incandescent writers ». A specialist in the Holocaust, he published La Liseuse (The Serpent’s Laugh, 2012) and Philosophy of the Holocaust (ed., The Age of Man, 2014).

On the Shoah, is a fictitious work legitimate, desirable and justified? Does it cover or reveal the event?

Is not the event inherent in the construction of history, in the necessary passage, but constructed, as a course of history, historiography as the writing of history? The question is not overrated. It is rather recurrent. As soon as you think you’re done with her, she comes back like a boomerang.

In the face of the question posed there is a dogma which is, as a dogma, its own foundation. The throbbing and insistent character of this dogma poses the idea of ​​a profanation of the historical event, from the moment when the Shoah is made anything but history.

The argument is either ontological, one can not testify to the heart of destruction; or morally, the victims are killed a second time by covering up their destruction with something else; or epistemological, there is knowledge of the Shoah only by and in history.

In short, the literature of the Holocaust when it does not take history as a necessary condition, that is, the writing of the castaways and survivors of the camps, to use an expression of Primo Levi, is impossible, displaced or unworthy of a real knowledge of the Shoah.

What is at stake is finally summed up by the formula that Claude Lanzmann addressed one day to Raul Hilberg: « Should there be a work of art to show the Shoah? Is it a creation that starts from the imaginary to show what the construction of the historical event can not show as such?

Read also – Why name the Shoah? To name a thing is to designate it in its being (Didier Durmarque)

In cinema, this dogma has recently been transgressed by Saul de Laszlo Nemés’ son. One can also see, in the critical success of this film, as a relief from a creative and artistic act that has sometimes been considered a desecration of the duty of memory, or even as a forbidden. Let us try to explain this prohibition and put it to the test.

This prohibition is laid down where history has assumed the passage of the fact, linked in the course of history, into an event, linked to the construction of the historical fact, and renounced to be built on the model of the natural sciences. This passage from the fact to the event shows that understanding, linked to the very idea of ​​human science, stumbles upon a central difficulty, that is to say, on the disproportion, on the power, both organizational and destructive, of a human event in which man must understand himself.

Moreover, this dogma and this historical understanding are hampered by new anthropological behaviors, which are therefore immediately incomprehensible, and which lead to a new idea of ​​man, in which acts are no longer based solely on individualities, on individual motives such as racism, antisemitism, but on an obedience to authority, conformity and segmentation of activities, where the one who acts is not the one who decides. The philosophical work of Günther Anders, the psychosociological experiments of Milgram and Zimbardo, have said the essential part of this passage, which, according to Anders’s expression, marks an obsolescence of man.

Read also – Günther Anders: the obsolescence of man and the question of modern nihilism (Didier Durmarque)

The character of Boris of the blood of heaven, who seeks to pass himself off as a goy, operated on by phimosis, and thus victim of a misunderstanding, is evidently not without echo with his personal journey, especially with the idea that the question of Being, a metaphysical question par excellence, is only a tail story. It is remarkable that the initial title of Rawicz’s work was the tail or the art of comparing, a title which frightened Gallimard.

Written a posteriori, and yet at the heart of destruction, taking place in an imaginary Ukraine, and yet immersed in the gaping hole of the persecution of European Jews, the blood of Rawicz’s sky pounded, one by one, all ideas received and recorded on the Shoah. Radically, it tests the structures of our relation to the world and to memory, namely the questions of identity, existence, the aesthetics of testimony and, ultimately, the idea of God.

The question of existence has as its fold that of infinity.

The character of Boris of the blood of heaven, who seeks to pass himself off as a goy, operated on by phimosis, and thus victim of a misunderstanding, is evidently not without echo with his personal journey, especially with the idea that the question of Being, a metaphysical question par excellence, is only a tail story. It is remarkable that the initial title of Rawicz’s work was the tail or the art of comparing, a title which frightened Gallimard.

Written a posteriori, and yet at the heart of destruction, taking place in an imaginary Ukraine, and yet immersed in the gaping hole of the persecution of European Jews, the blood of Rawicz’s sky pounded, one by one, all ideas received and recorded on the Shoah. Radically, it tests the structures of our relation to the world and to memory, namely the questions of identity, existence, the aesthetics of testimony and, ultimately, the idea of God.

The question of existence has as its fold that of infinity

This dogma around the Shoah, repeated by the greatest scholars, is based on the idea that the literature of the Shoah is an oxymoronic, even contradictory expression. What the passage of the historical fact into an event can not reveal, literature, a fortiori that which has no historical testimony, can not claim to overcome the epistemological difficulties inherent in knowing the destruction of the Jews of Europe.

In 1977, Elie Wiesel argued in favor of this prohibition, in a quasi-syllogistic, deductive form, so that the hypothesis and the expression of a literature of the Shoah has nothing for her:

« The literature of the Holocaust? The term itself is a contradiction. Who has not experienced the event will never know it. And who ever lived it will not reveal it. Not really, not to the bottom … Literature of the Holocaust does not exist and can not exist. Auschwitz denies all literature as he denies all systems, all doctrines.  »

Yet this prohibition was far from self-evident, intuitively obvious. It must be remembered that, as early as 1947, David Rousset chose the literary form, « by mistrust of words » to testify to the camps, the unthinkable, at the heart of destruction in The Days of Our Death.

Wiesel’s argument is not based on the absolute and incontrovertible respect for the historiography of the Shoah, but on the impossibility of testifying at the heart of the destruction, an impossibility which seems astonishing when one knows that many manuscripts of Sonderkommandos were found buried near the gas chambers of Birkenau.

This ontological impossibility of a literature of the Holocaust is repeated, in the same discursive movement, among others, by Jean-François Lyotard in 1983 and then by Annette Wievorka in her Doctoral Deportation and Genocide thesis of 1991.

The great text solves the problems posed after him: fulgurance of the blood of the sky of Rawicz

Everything happens as if this prohibition, posited, justified, deduced geometrically according to the order of the reasons, was swept in advance by the publication of Piotr Rawicz’s 1961 publication, The Blood of Heaven.

Tortured by the Gestapo, deported to Auschwitz in 1942, not as a Jew but as a Ukrainian, under the name of Peter Heller, with the registration number 102679, Piotr Rawicz is one of a group of deportees transferred in September 1944 , from Auschwitz to Leitmeritz, in Bohemia, until May 1945

The figure of the two infinites, God and Cockroach, is found in this long, almost unbearable passage where God’s silence faces the human corpses eaten by the pigs.

« There was once a cockroach. But his eyes were not those of a cockroach, or, if they were indeed those of a cockroach, less ignoble all the same than you would have imagined. Her past life was not unusually beautiful. All that is authentic: the life of a cockroach.
But lately, since his arrival at S., it was no longer the « life-of-a-cockroach, » but rather the process of crushing a cockroach. Every day and at all times – the process continues. The carapace cracks and tears. The whitish guts come out and begin an autonomous existence that would fill with fear even a cockroach … well.
If it were not for these perpetual cries: kill him, kill him!  »

His stammering turned into a veritable stammer, and I remembered only a few isolated words:
« The Body of History
Devastated by cockroaches
Cockroaches
That they are only cockroaches …
… But it is a high rank!  »

And even :
« Phenomena suck the filthy hour
(the hour fell without a crash)
Like red flies
Suck the corpse of a blind cat.  »
« Do you prefer another version, sir, » he said,
« Facts, facts, events
Glow on each of these filthy hours
Who fall, falling from the tree of time.
They swarm like flies
In the corpse of a blind cat … »
Why « blind », why « blind » did I ask myself, or did I ask the lieutenant who, panting and warmed by reading, expected me to answer or criticize. The bottle of bad cognac was empty.

Noemi, who until then had kept silent almost all the time, said with a sly smile: « You are like brothers.  »
The intimacy in the room was palpable. By a difficult and conscious effort, I rose from my seat, pushing aside the hand of the officer who was still trying to restrain me. I touched with my burning forehead the cold glass of the window overlooking the little courtyard. And suddenly, like a circus whip, a reflector illuminated the scene. The tiny, lunar landscape struck my temples like a club. I slowed down a sudden urge to vomit. It was not heads of cabbages that were licking and eating pigs. Five men were buried standing in the small garden adjacent to the canteen. Their dirty heads, covered with damp dust and unnameable things, their half-devoured heads came from the ground like giant mushrooms. One of these heads with empty orbits had just made a circular movement, clearly perceptible.

With a violent and inconsiderate gesture I broke the window and leaned out. And before I could feel the cold cannon of a revolver on my damp forehead, I managed to hear a damp, half-sung, half-sung speech that came from afar, farther than the stars: « Listen to my people, God is your Lord, God is unique …  »

Blood flowed from my wounded hand. With a strength and determination that seemed superhuman, the sub-lieutenant attracted me towards the middle of the room. Noemi had struggled with all his weight on the hand that held the revolver. It was the supreme and definitive difficulty, as for an impotent one to create a world.  »

The infinite or the metaphysics of the Shoah as « history of cocks »

The philosophical summit of Rawicz’s text is twofold: the author makes the Shoah a question of metaphysics, while making metaphysics, not the place of the power of thought in correspondence with Being, in an operation of unveiling, but the place where circumcision, the symbol of the Covenant, is the place of the collapse of God, the passage from the world to the unclean, passage from the commandment of the word to its disintegration. Everything happens as if the Rawiczian conception of the Shoah replaced the revelation of Sinai and announced the end of one civilization in favor of another, in which man and God are gone and end at the tail of Creation.

« Look at that tail! » With a machine like that, he wants to pretend to be one of ours, for a Yuri Goletz. Too much honor! Do you only make the sign of the cross? … kind of little wizard … Wait, do not hide it so quickly, your little tail. We’ll look at it. Like that. And where is your foreskin? Look at my cock, do not you see the difference?
Boris fixed the object of the dispute: was this the instrument, the poor instrument of all his past metaphysics? Of all his metaphysics which once seemed so personal to him, so unique, and which, to-day, were no more to him than the guts of a crushed cockroach are « individual » compared to the guts of another crushed cockroach?  »

Thus, what was Alliance becomes wound, tear of being, passing from a blessing to a curse. One can speak, without misunderstanding, of a-diction of Being, at once out of the Word and dependence, knowing that metaphysics no longer passes through speech, but through the neglect of the Jew, a metaphor for the human condition. By circumcision, this abandonment takes the form of a story of cock.

Rawicz shows by a phenomenology of circumcision that runs through the end of the novel, circumcision studied with scientific rigor, sprinkled abundantly with irony, that the sign of the Covenant has no content as object of perception, it may be related to a disease of Being, appearance without appearance, appearance without appearance, mesalliance or phimosis.

In all cases, the Being, including the Jewish being, is put to the test with uncommon virulence and paroxystic writing, which goes to the end of itself, so that the work of Rawicz remains, still today, relatively embarrassing and of a subversion patent. We note less that it posits the principles of a metaphysics of the Shoah. In the Shoah thought by Rawicz, God and the Word no longer play the locus of Being, so that metaphysics becomes ontologically a tail story.

Translation Mercedes Beatriz Demner.

Publié par

Didier Durmarque

Didier Durmarque est professeur de philosophie en Normandie. Il est l’auteur de plusieurs livres, dont la plupart sont des approches de la question de la Shoah. Moins que rien (2006), La Liseuse (2012) étaient des approches littéraires et romanesques de la question du néant, de l’identité et de la culture à partir de la Shoah. Philosophie de la Shoah (2014) Enseigner la Shoah: ce que la Shoah enseigne (2016) et Phénoménologie de la chambre à gaz (2018) constituent une tentative de faire de la Shoah un principe de la philosophie.

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