Saturday, November 05, 2011

about fictionally surviving the Holocaust

The key of “Sarah’s Key” is not the closet key that Sarah holds (which betrays her), but her character driving her to survive. The story is about Sarah’s key to surviving, in two senses: Firstly, her attachment to her brother that drives her escape from the Nazi camp before she’s shipped off to where her cohorts would be killed. This is a self-determination typical of persons who survived the Nazi camps. Afterward, she lives for many years fruitfully due to her self determination. The essentially human response to bearing witness to incomprehensible horror is to exemplify life—to go on well, partly in honor of those who were denied the chance, but essentially as expression of our ownmost participation in humanity, not as point in a living mass, but exactly the opposite: as singular gift of our nature, singular example of human potential, which might be the Simple Meaning of It All for us: that we are fruitful potentials able to thrive in love with life.

I’ve mentioned the research of psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton on the thriving character of survivors of great suffering, titled The Protean Self. I feel It in irreverent Jewish humor. (A Jewish friend—a psychotherapist—includes me on a private email list fed mainly by a Jewish psychiatrist, friend of hers.)

Secondly, Sarah’s key is her drive to record her story that gives her a continuity of identity across eras of later life that sustains her long enough to leave a legacy of a child of her own in good family. Though her writing is only diaries and letters, an implicit truth is the importance of articulation for the self-begetting life. Abundant research confirms the renewing power of finding one’s ownmost words—firstly, distancing trauma onto the page (or into a scene with another, e.g., the therapeutic alliance), making the trauma an Other that, secondly, documents what one valuably remains: a survivor beyond surviving, able to thrive, even beyond thriving: making a good life and a legacy of lastingness. Writing may mirror an everlastingness of what is no longer which altogether frees in terms of the potentials of life hereon.

Lastly, Sarah’s key is for the viewer/reader: It is a key for the reader/viewer to learn about what can be overcome and to not forget what is best in our humanity instanced by our lives. Sarah’s writing gives her son a way into the truth of her gift of Innocence to him. I’ve done as much as I can to understand the Holocaust. But, at the end of 10 hours of The Shoah in 1985, I felt that the Holocaust means Nothing. To try to give meaning to the Holocaust is an obscenity against the notion of meaning. There is no meaning to the Holocaust. A child deserves to grow into a world where suffering does not exist until one’s old enough to relativize the message. Our nature is not in any way signaled in what we have suffered, rather in what we are becoming. This is why excellent parenting is a horizon of fictionality for the child who gets to be the center of the world, given chances to bruise oneself in one’s own time, heal oneself in one’s own way, and find one’s ownmost place in a world whose reality emerges through one’s ownmost time. Yes, the world includes tragedy of incomprehensible proportion. But it’s ultimately irrelevant to flourishing, no matter how realistic our flourishing must grow to be.

So, this backgrounds why I will now say that “Sarah’s Key,” as novelist’s story, is basically phony by relying on Sarah’s suicide to move the story forward to its closure. That’s the work of a fictionist who doesn’t understand what she’s writing about. Everything in Sarah’s story “argues” against choosing suicide when she has a lovely life outside New York City, a lovely-hearted husband (we learn), and a lovely-hearted son (we learn) who was so on the road to a fruitful life while Sarah was still alive to be his mom, apparently very well. She has every reason to sustain the beautiful life she has. The viewer is given no reason for her suicide. The suicide is contrary to the reality of survivors who are already making good lives. The frictional suicide (a typo I’ll retain) is contrary to the details of the novelist’s own story. The viewer is supposed to project something unendurable in Sarah’s adult life? The novelist’s story has shown the falsity of such a projection. If the novelist’s contemporary journalist-inquirer’s later having a child named Sarah can preciously redeem the death of the adult Sarah, then adult Sarah’s earlier having a son redeemed her well-intentioned, childhood act of hiding her beloved brother in the closet. Sarah’s life (as fabricated by the novelist) redeemed the girl’s horror of discovering her brother in the closet rotting. Besides, hungry, scared kids locked in closets scream and pound to get out (in a building of little apartments in a dense neighborhood). The thin wooden door of the closet had a weak little lock for that key. Little boys don’t keep sibling promises to stay quiet when they are hungry and scared. The novelist has insulted human reality to make the viewer mourn some insurmountable suffering in the adult Sarah which is psychologically naïve and implausible. While the reality of Vichy France should be appreciated (especially by the French) and prospects of overcoming great suffering in a thriving life should be taken to heart, the novelist has exploited history and fictionalized psychology for the sake of a precious ending.