ABSTRACT OF THE DISSERTATION

The Shadow of the Object: Mourning and Melancholia in Autobiographical Film and Video about the Holocaust

by Michaela Tork

Doctor of Philosophy in Film and Television University of California, Los Angeles, 2001

Professor Nicholas Browne, Chair

 

This dissertation is a psychoanalytic study of autobiographical films and videos about the Holocaust in which survivors and their descendents reminisce how this historical trauma has impacted their lives. Psychoanalysis - as a powerful account of the psychic repercussions of traumatic loss - proposes that the bereaved desperately preserve in fantasy ties with dead loved ones. In as much as individuals seek in others former significant love objects, they invest the present with the past unconsciously displacing and reviving affective connections - a phenomenon referred to as transference. Analytic treatment artificially cultivates an intense transferential relationship to initiate in the analysand the work of mourning. To this end the analytic situation preserves the relative anonymity of the analyst who is thought of as a mirror upon whom the analysand projects indelible charged images. Analogously to the analytic mirror, in the autobiographical cinematic elegies about the Nazi Genocide, the cinematic screen serves for the projection of affect-laden memories drawing the viewer into an unconscious scenario to experience by proxy devastating relationships.

This dissertation examines the different modes in which the films by survivors and the Second Generation implicate the inscribed viewer as overdetermined Other in a transferential drama of inconsolable grief. Some films by survivors implore the audience to resuscitate traces of persecutory phantoms. By contrast others infused with melancholia for an edenic pre-war world mesmerize the spectator in an effort to camouflage ambivalence. The filmmakers of the Second Generation depict the vicissitudes of the transmission of the Holocaust and the grave legacy that has formed their identity. Burdened by their parents' inadvertent projection of omnipresent haunting memories their filmic work is fuelled by the wish to work through tormenting attachments. Strikingly some of their films in soliciting an intimate familial gaze invite the viewer as witness into the domestic sphere to participate in dysfunctional family relations. In staging encounters with death the films of victims and their children bear engraved traces of intensely charged object ties. As such they stand as historical testimonies to the unrecoverable absence of the millions who perished in the concentration camps. <<<

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