Feb.15: The ‘Punctum’ and ‘Ostalgie’

Posted: February 15, 2012 by sanahashmidts403 in Uncategorized

Hirsch, M. & L. Spitzer (2006)

This article asks the reader to consider how a feminist analysis of Holocaust mementoes can be useful for an understanding of historical events and traumas. The reader is provided with Roland Barthe’s image of “punctum” (punching holes) through the following description; “while some remnants merely give information about the past…others prick and wound and grab and puncture…unsettling assumptions..” (pg. 358). This image provides an interpretive strategy through which to consider how an analysis of gender can contribute to both a particularized and a paradoxically more ‘wide’ view of historical events.Through a very concise analysis of both the cookbook and the miniature graphics book, the authors effectively demonstrate how a feminist/gender analysis of these objects shed light on the interpellation between the individual and collective memory, but more importantly, the emphasis on an individual subjectivity during a time when the very lives of those interned in the camps are being denied by the authority of the state.

The placing of the cookbook as the first example is quite useful in introducing the argument, as the cookbook provides an opaque instance of a clearly gendered production and transmission of an object (i.e. the ex- domesticated women writing down the recipes from back home, handing them down to their female offspring, etc.). However, I found the example of the miniature graphic book as the more interesting example of the two, perhaps because of the important subtleties in the production, transmission and interpretation that the authors closely interact with. By firstly looking at the graphics in this book, the authors demonstrate how the images allow for an insight into the oft-forgotten role of women in the medical practice of Dr. Arthur Kessler, as is evidenced by the work if the head of the nursing staff Dora Bercouvici. Then, by an evaluation of how gender in the images themselves are often irrelevant (i.e. the happy stick people, the back of the mysterious woman), the authors go on to explain how it is not just the medium of representation but the physicality of the smallness of the miniature book that allows for an interpretation of the role of femininity vs. masculinity (emasculation), interiority—the fantasy of hiding and escape, and also the opportunity for individual subjectivity.

I think this is a very interesting argument and it was very effectively conveyed. It was also the first time that we are dealing with an analysis of the material properties and physicality of books which adds another dimension of interest to this reading.

Question#1:  How can we speak to a potential feminist/gender analysis of the hierarchy of placing the tattoo over the teapot in the Palestinian diaspora reading we did during the first week of class?


Berdahl, Daphne(1999)

This reading is very straightforward and to the point. The article speaks to the “ostalgie” versus the “nostalgia of the East Germany community in a post 1990 “re-unified” Germany. The author argues that instead of viewing the turn to the past by the East Germany community through the lens of nostalgia, regionalism or the work of ‘resistance fighters’, it would be more useful to examine the asymmetrical history power relations through which East Germany existed in relation to West Germany and also how it was re-unified with the rest of Germany after 1990. For example, an analysis of how labour was an intrinsic element of social life within the East Germany community, shows how levels of unemployment and de-industrialization experienced in a re-unified Germany has potentially undermined a sense of identity and therefore signified a noted turn to the past. Despite the examples of board games which help recall these memories, or the consumption of food, music and culture associated with a lost life style, the author warns of corresponding commoditisation of resistance produced and distributed by West German firms.

Below is a question related to a problem I experienced during my reading of this article:

Question#2: Berdahl seems to provide two contradicting definitions of “ostalgie”. When describing nostalgia, the author explains that it is more focused on the production of a present rather than a reproduction of the past –pg 202(we can assume the latter would be ostalgie). However, towards the end of the article, the author writes; “ostalgie tells us more about the present than the past” (pg. 207). What do you think about this contradiction?

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