Question: Can we ever grasp [even in literature] the enormity of the Holocaust? Can we ever grasp, even in literature, the nature of an event/scene?
Answer/Quote: “On the third floor of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum…in Washington, D.C., inside a glass case, lie thousands of shoes. Old and mismatched, moldering after sixty years, they are what remains of countless Jews who were told to disrobe and who were subsequently murdered at Majdanek, Poland, during the final years of the Holocaust. Of the objects collected for display by the designers of [the museum], they are among the most powerful icons of the destruction commemorated at the museum, and they were chosen specifically to provide museum visitors the opportunity to identify with those who were destroyed, and to learn something about the events of the Holocaust, events that for most visitors, occurred before they were born. In figural terms, the shoes are meant to stand in for those events, to serve as a sign for what happened, and to evoke in museumgoers’ imaginations the enormity of the destruction. The shoes function as metonyms, parts standing in for the whole….” P. 417.
Quote: “The behemoth, the object in the museum, is only an instance—‘take, for example, this one’—and instance, after instance, after instance, doesn’t metonymically point to a whole, but indicates, as synecdoche the impossibility of seeing the whole, which, in the case I’ve been describing in this essay, is the Holocaust. It doesn’t mean the instance is inauthentic. It simply means that any attempt to render an event authentically will always be vexed by what cannot be integrated into history and memory, and by the impossibility of ever being able to point to an object or an image, and to finally say, ‘See? That’ what happened. Understand?’” p. 434.
Comment: Point made. RayS.
Title: “Synechdochic Memory at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.” Michael Bernard-Donals. College English (May 2012), 417-436.