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Geoffrey Hartman

Geoffrey Hartman
Geoffrey Hartman
Pieter Vermeulen
p. 173-174

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1Geoffrey Hartman (1929- ) is a Jewish American literary critic and theorist, who has since the beginning of the 1980s made important contributions in the domains of Holocaust studies, cultural memory studies, trauma theory, as well as Jewish studies. Hartman was centrally involved in establishing what is now the Fortunoff Video Archive at Yale University in the early 1980s, and in developing it into an important initiative for the visual recording of Holocaust testimony. Much of his writing in the last three decades has reflected on the place of testimony in a rapidly changing media ecology. Counteracting what Hartman perceives as an excessive drive for immediacy and transparency in visual media, the video testimonies are filmed in a sober style that foregrounds the bodily presence and the voice of the witnesses and survivors. This emphasis on embodiment avoids both a tendency toward ghostliness and abstraction and the “retraumatization” of the viewers, and instead enables audiences to absorb and process historical knowledge. Hartman’s double concern for the precariousness of historical transmission and for the vital importance of artistic and literary form can be understood in light of his long career as a leading critic of romantic literature, and especially of the work of William Wordsworth. Hartman encountered Wordsworth’s poetry when a Kindertransport brought him from Germany, his native country, to the English countryside and allowed him to escape the Holocaust. After moving on to the States, Hartman was educated at Yale, where he later taught for more than four decades. In the 1970s and 1980s, he was associated with the rise of deconstruction, a literary critical approach that foregrounds the limits of textual understanding and the instability of linguistic constructs. For Hartman, deconstruction nourished his interest in teasing out unexpected and oblique meanings and resonances in literary texts (an approach he also connected to the Judaic interpretive tradition of midrash). The patient attention to the unobtrusive undertones of language and to elements that resist foregrounding persists in Hartman’s work on Holocaust testimonies, as well as in his influential writings on trauma. Whether dealing with literary texts, Holocaust testimonies, or traumatic discourse more generally, Hartman’s practice is one of carefully “reading the wound” rather than sealing it.

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Pieter Vermeulen, « Geoffrey Hartman », Témoigner. Entre histoire et mémoire, 119 | 2014, 173-174.

Référence électronique

Pieter Vermeulen, « Geoffrey Hartman », Témoigner. Entre histoire et mémoire [En ligne], 119 | 2014, mis en ligne le 01 janvier 2016, consulté le 23 mai 2017. URL : http://temoigner.revues.org/1488 ; DOI : 10.4000/temoigner.1488

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Auteur

Pieter Vermeulen

University of Leuven.

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