Transmitted Wounds: Media and the Mediation of Trauma with Amit Pinchevski

Transmitted Wounds: Media and the Mediation of Trauma with Amit Pinchevski


(upbeat music) – So in my talk today, I would
like to present one thread of the argument I develop in
my book, “Transmitted Wounds”. And in the book, in general, I explore the relation
between media and trauma and the way trauma, logic, and technology inform the conception and understanding of trauma and traumatic memory. It includes a number of case studies from the role of radio broadcasts
during the Eichmann trial to videotape and testimony,
television on 9/11, virtual reality and testimony, and virtual therapy for post-trauma. Each of these cases represent different
instantiations of the tension that is encapsulated in the book’s title. It is the imparting of
painful personal experience, which by definition, resists imparting. And in the time available to me today, I will be able to touch upon a discussion running through roughly
two chapters of the book, which concern specifically the
media of Holocaust testimony. So let me begin by
clarifying how I understand the role of media technology
in the context of testimony. The media of testimony,
be that audio recording, film, video, or digital media, are more than just carriers of testimony. They are the operational platforms
that make the documenting and the seminating of
testimonies possible. As such, the media of testimony
are not simply conduits of already shaped narratives, but themselves participate
in the shaping of narratives. Not simply deliverers of experience, but creating the conditions of possibility for the living of experience. Media shape that which they convey. And in this sense, can be said to be productive
of meaning and experience as much as conductive of
meaning and experience. The media of testimony, that is, the technical devices
for recording, storing, and dissemination, have a defining role in
how testimonies come to be. What I will be focusing on today is the manifestation of traumatic memory in Holocaust testimony. The way traumatic memory
figures in testimony has been a consistent
preoccupation in recent debates in, and research on, the
memory of the Holocaust. Often, traumatic memory is
described as a failed memory. As the inability to express
and recount an experience so overwhelming that it resists, or defies, its own narration. What gets expressed in testimonies is not only the individual
memory of survivors, but sometimes also their inability to fully express what
they had experienced. What I want to argue is that the specific
manifestation of traumatic memory, as arising in testimony, is a function of the media of testimony. In other words, media
technology plays the key role in shaping the performance
of traumatic memory. And so, different media would give rise to different configurations
of traumatic memory, or may even altogether
preclude its expression. I will try to explicate
and demonstrate this claim by tracing the changing
status of traumatic memory in testimony, from analog to digital media and from audio recording
and video recording to virtual reality and
algorithmic-holographic witnessing. And one additional
qualification about media before diving in. My concern here is with
audio and visual media, and one may justifiably say that written testimony is
also media, namely, textually. And this is evidently true,
but as I will suggest, the specific configuration of
traumatic memory in testimony could’ve only arisen in the
context of audio visual media, specifically, videotape recording. This is because audio and visual media capture not only the
testimonial narrative, as recounted by the survivor, but also the very event of recounting. The performing of testimony. And this proves critical in my analysis of the status of traumatic
memory in testimony to follow. Now, at the base of all
Holocaust testimony projects lies a common commitment. To record and preserve the stories of those who survived the catastrophe, as told in their own voices. When it comes to survivor’s testimony, the messenger is as
important as the message. The first to subscribe to this reasoning was the American psychologist David Boder, who in 1946 set out to interview
survivors in refugee camps across western Europe. Equipped with what was then the
state of the art technology, an Armour Model 50 Wire Recorder, Boder went on to produce what
was the first audio testimony of the Holocaust. As Boder later commented, and I quote, “Through the wire recorder, “the displaced person could
relate in his own language “and in his own voice “the story of his
concentration camp life.” Studying wire recorded
narratives led him to devise what he called a traumatic index, by means of which, quote, “Each narrative may be
assessed as to the category “and number of experiences “bound to have a traumatizing
effect upon the victim.” Boder’s 1949 monograph, “I
Did Not Interview the Dead”, invites readers to find
indications of trauma implicit in selected transcripts
of recorded narratives. The premise seems to be that, to the extent that such
traumatic impact exists, it should be discoverable
textually in the narratives. Yet the same technology that
made Boder’s project ingenuous was also the reason for
its relative obscurity. Wire recording was soon to
give way to tape recording, consequently condemning Boder’s
wire spools to obsolescence and the testimonies they
held to near oblivion. The short-lived medium precluded access to the recorded material. To be sure, access was
never a concern for Boder, who saw no problem in adducing transcripts as equivalent to recordings. Today however, we seem to
have different expectations of the media of testimony. Preservation is no longer enough. Access and availability are the norm, and appropriately enough, Boder’s wire recordings
have been recently digitized and made available online. So if you’re interested, you
can actually listen to them. Moreover, testimony is now expected to reach out and address,
to touch the audience. No longer only about
documentation and preservation, testimony is now increasingly
about connection and dialogue. And insofar as traumatic
memory is concerned, its impact has become
entangled with the performance of bearing witness itself. And especially with
performing the inner ability to fully bear witness. The way we have come to engage with the Holocaust testimonies owes much to the first video archive, initiated in the late 1970’s
around Yale University. And this is not to say that
there were no significant intersections of media and
testimony before that time. In fact, in the book I
explore at some length the radio broadcasting of the testimonies during the Eichmann trial in 1961. And at the time, radio was the only
broadcasting medium in Israel. Television became available only in 1969. And as such, had a tremendous impact on public perception of
the Holocaust in Israel, giving voice, literally,
to the previously silent, and some would say silenced survivors and their agonizing memories. Time does not allow me to elaborate more, so let me just say that while
a few precedents do exist, I believe that the Yale archive, now known as the Fortunoff Video Archive
for Holocaust Testimonies, constitutes a paradigm shift insofar as the media of
testimony is concerned. It began as a collaboration
between Laurel Vlock, a television producer and a commentarian, and Dori Laub, the psychoanalyst
and child survivor. This combination is already suggestive of the testimony genre
they were to produce, a cross between a psychoanalytic session and a television interview. From the outset, the archive was a videotape based operation. And presumably, the
documenting of testimonies could’ve been undertaken
by means of transcription, audio recording, or even film. Videotape technology
had two main advantages for a project like the Yale archive. It provided a cheap solution for in-house filming and production, but more importantly, the
videotape, unlike film, could be easily pre configured
for television broadcasting. The videotape constitutes at
once a medium of archiving and a medium of potential broadcasting. As affirmed by Geoffrey Hartman, who served as the director of the archive for more than 30 years, and I quote this, “The principal of giving
survivors their voice “has been a sustaining one. “also that of giving a face to that voice; “of choosing video over audio, “because of the immediacy “and evidentiality it
added to the interview. “The embodiment of the survivors, “their gestures and bearing,
is part of the testimony. “Audiences”, he continues, “Audiences now and in the future “would surely be audiovisual. “We decided to make video recordings “of public broadcast quality, “to build an archive of conscience
on which future educators “and filmmakers might rely.” The video testimonies collected at Yale were meant to be more than
mere archival material. They were to transcend the
cold storage of history, to reach an audience. Dori Laub’s psychoanalytic
approach to testimony and trauma provided a model for
the interviews conducted with survivors at Yale. According to Laub, bearing witness involved coming to grips
with the traumatic memory of loss and survival, a process that can only take
place with an empathic listener who accompanies the survivor in reliving the traumatic experience. As Laub puts it, “The listener
takes on the responsibility “for bearing witness that
previously the narrator “felt he bore alone, and
therefore could not carry out.” The listener has a facilitating
role in bearing witness, providing the survivor with
the support of addressee, possibly for the first time. But there is another witnessing party at the witnessing scene, one that Laub curiously leaves out. The video camera. Bearing witness, indeed, bearing witness to the traumatic
memory of the Holocaust, is not a dyadic but a triadic process. The camera’s role is not
unlike that of the listener. In fact, it may even be said to anticipate the listener’s bearing
witness to the witness. If the listener is the
facilitator of testimony, as Laub suggests, the camera facilitates the
listener’s facilitating. It serves as a technological surrogate for a potential audience, the audience for which
many survivors have been or had been waiting for a lifetime, providing them with
the holding environment that is unattainable in the solitude of an off camera interview. The act of recording itself constitutes another equally fundamental
factor in witnessing. Here is how Laub describes
massive trauma, and I quote, “The observing and recording
mechanisms of the human mind “are temporarily knocked out, malfunction. “Hence the challenge of the listener “is searching for an
experience whose registration “is still pending.” And I quote again, “A record
that has yet to be made.” That’s Laub. And record stands both for the outcome of a psychoanalytic
process by which an event is to be retroactively restored, be equally, albeit implicitly,
as the actual record, the video recording, capturing the process of restoring the missing mental record, a record by which the testimony may also be retroactively replayed. Indeed, the two senses of
record are inescapably linked. The technological observing
and recording mechanisms work as a restorative
prosthetic, if you will, for the once blocked mental observing and recording mechanisms. Testimony is the search for
remissing record, on record. It was not immediately clear
what might be the best way to record survivors bearing witness. As Hartman affirms, after experimenting with
different types of camera work, the decision was to give up what he calls “the expressive potential, “and remain fixed,
except for enough motion “to satisfy more naturally
the viewer’s eye. “We were not filmmakers”,
Hartman continues, “our technique, or lack
of it, was homeopathic. “It used television to cure television, “to turn the medium against itself, “limiting even while exploiting
its visualizing power.” While using television technology, the recording of testimonies was not to be completely televisual. It was, rather, to make the
image an extension of the voice, to act as an audiovisual amplification of the testimonial narrative, along with the incidentals of speech. Gestures, facial expressions,
pauses, silences, all markers of what Hartman calls the survivor’s embodied voice. The audiovisual serves to register the performing of testimony, capturing the witnessing body
as its ultimate reference. Consider Laub’s often-cited depiction of a woman recounting her memories of the uprising in Auschwitz. Laub describes her as, and I quote, “Slight, self-effacing,
almost talking in whispers, “mostly to herself. “But then a sudden
intensity, passion, and color “were infused into the narrative. “She was fully there. “All of a sudden she said, “‘We saw four chimney going
up in flames, exploding.'” Laub then recounts a debate
following the screening of this testimony at a conference, where attending historians
disqualified the testimony, claiming that historically, only one chimney had
been blown up, not four. Insisting on its importance, Laub argued that what the woman was testifying to was not empirical history,
but something more radical: as he puts it, “an event that broke the
all-compelling frame of Auschwitz.” What the historians failed to acknowledge is the performative aspect of testimony, the tone and cadence
of the voice, gesture, and nonverbal cues, which arguably convey
a more profound meaning than the mere historical. In challenging the historians’ judgment, Laub effectively
challenges their conception of what constitutes a
legitimate historical record, a position that relies on
the technological capability to record and reproduce spoken words together with their
accompanying emotive markers. The debate between the
psychoanalysts and the historians can therefore be read as underwritten by their respective media of record. Several Holocaust scholars have noted the special expressive potential
of audiovisual testimonies. Lawrence Langer, for instance,
suggests, and I quote, that “a written narrative is finished “when we begin to read it, “its opening, middle, and
end already established “between the covers of the book. “In videotape oral testimony, by contrast, “narrative is produced in real time.” And I quote again, “It unfolds
before our eyes and ears. “We are present at the invention of what, “when we speak of written
texts, we call style. “Whereas written accounts
draw on literary conventions “and devices to engage the audience, “videotaped testimonies draw
on the mediated presence “of the speaker,” which, quote, “in addition to language,
includes gesture, “a periodic silence, whose
effect cannot be duplicated “on the printed page.” Of particular significance
is what Langer calls, following survivor and
author Charlotte Delbo, “deep memory”. Whereas common memory, what
he calls common memory, and I quote, “restores the self “to it normal pre and post camp routines, “while offering detached portraits “from the vantage point of today. “Deep memory, by contrast, tries to recall “the Auschwitz self as it was then. “It suspects and depends on common memory, “knowing what common memory cannot know, “but tries nonetheless to express. “Deep memories, therefore,
the subterranean memory “that lurks beneath common
memory, the traumatic den, “infecting and intruding
the habitual now.” Langer makes much of a testimony
by a woman survivor who, while telling her memories, suddenly pauses as if hypnotized and says, “Forgive me, I was kind of back there.” This, according to Langer, is an instance of how deep memory manifests itself by intruding into conscious narrative and common memory. Now, although Langer is clearly aware of the videotape medium, he nevertheless misses its
fundamental significance to his understanding of
traumatic memory in testimony. For how could it be possible to detect and locate deep memory, without the ability to
pause, rewind, and replay? How else would it be possible
to analyze the moments where deep memory intrudes
into the narrative without being able to
reproduce these memories, or these moments, time and again? These telltale moments of traumatic memory can be rendered meaningful only as they are audio
visually reproduced, which means that deep memory is in fact an offshoot of video testimony. Holocaust historian Saul Friedländer asks whether, on the collective
level, and I quote him, “an event like the (mumbles) may, “after all the survivors have disappeared, “leave traces of a deep memory
beyond individual recall, “which will defy any
attempt to give it meaning.” Now, to the extent that
deep memory is a byproduct of the audiovisual archive, this question seems only
partially relevant to me. For deep memory is not
properly an individual memory, within the reach of personal recall, it is rather a mediated
form of that memory. It’s recorded after life, which makes it not only
safe from oblivion, but also infinitely reproducible. And far from disappearing
with the survivors, the audiovisual archive
is the ultimate depository of deep memory. So let me now make kind of
an intermediate conclusion. What video recording
provided for testimony is capturing not only the
testimonial narrative, but also the event of telling. The details of survival, together with the incidentals of speaking, halts, silences, slips,
gestures, timbre and tone. By recording the
punctures and punctuations accompanying the flow of narrative, video testimony captures something that can never be fully narrativized: the gap between the
spoken and the unspoken. It bears witness to and
archives the attempts and failures of narrative
in giving an account of the traumatic past, the expression of the
inability to express. It is therefore possible
to point out the emergence of a distinctive audiovisual manifestation of traumatic memory, one
that is made possible by videography. Now, audiovisual testimony
has become the standard for other Holocaust memory projects, as you may all know, and for commemorative projects of genocide and persecution war generally. A most notable example, of course, is the visual history archive
of the Shoah Foundation, which has multiplied the
production of video testimonies and also extended them to new platforms, most importantly, to the internet. And others, sooner or later,
let’s put it this way, followed suit. Here you see a similar project from the Yad Vashem Collections, and also making video
testimonies accessible to viewers online. While these digital platforms
are clearly game changers, as far as accessibility and spread go, I think they still subscribe
to the original Yale format, namely, recording a
linear personal account with an interviewer and camera on sight. Yet there is one recent testimony project that poses a completely new
model of Holocaust testimony, and one which redefines
the relation between media and witnessing. And I’m talking about this project, Dimensions in Testimony. It used to be called New
Dimensions in Testimony, the “New” was dropped for whatever reason, I don’t know why. Now it’s Dimensions in Testimony. And Dimensions in Testimony,
a project developed at the Institute for Creative Technologies at the University of South California sees its aim as, and I quote, “continuing the dialogue
between Holocaust survivors “and learners far into the future, “combining human-computer
speech interaction “with three dimensional
holographic imaging.” The project promises to
create an immersive experience of a live conversation with the survivor. What makes this project worthy
of serious consideration is not only its high-tech
(mumbles) of testimony, but more importantly
the way it reconfigures the testimony genre altogether. If Boder’s wire recorder
represents the first generation of the media of Holocaust testimony, whose primary concern was preservation, and if video recording (mumbles) represents the second generation, which combined preservation
and audience reception, Dimensions of Testimony
represents, perhaps, the third generation of
the media of testimony, which is clearly about interaction. This reconfiguration of
testimony, I suggest, marks the uncoupling of traumatic memory from the testimonial
narrative as its carrier. And what was a defining
feature of bearing witness in the context of the
video archive, namely, the acting out of traumatic
memory upon testimony, becomes extraneous in the
context of the digital database. This shift might have some
important consequences for the future of Holocaust
memory, as I will suggest. Now, some background on
Dimensions in Testimony, on this project. The first to partake in the project was Pinchas Gutter, a survivor
that you can see here. A survivor of six concentration camps, born in Lodz, and currently
living in Toronto. And to date, about 20 other
survivors have been filmed to this project. And Gutter spent five
days of filmed interviews answering several hundred questions collected from both experts and laypeople. His responses were then integrated into a human-computer interface, which consists of two main components: speech recognition module and natural language processing module. So this is roughly how it works, without being too technical. Not that I understand it too much. But this is basically the idea. When the system receives
a question, basically, someone would speak out and
ask a question into a mic, it converts it into a
textual representation, which is then processed
by a statistical algorithm that predicts the most likely
words to appear in an answer. It then ranks all stored responses according to their
closeness to the prediction and selects the most appropriate. Thus, the system must
have a representation of the answer’s main variables before proceeding to
locate the best match. During interviews, Gutter was filmed sitting at the center of a geodesic dome, mounted with some 50 or even more high resolution digital cameras. The system then utilizes
multiple projectors to produce a three-dimensional
hologram of the survivor that can adapt to different settings and lighting conditions,
as you can see here. And there are different
iterations of this project, some with an actual hologram, some are on a screen, a big
screen, a smaller screen, different types of
configuration of the same idea. And designers of Dimensions in Testimony are well aware of the
previous audiovisual projects, and are keen to break from that tradition. In their view, earlier employment
of technology in testimony was largely about documentation. Their declared goal is to
replace the documentary model with the conversational one, based on a simulation
of face to face dialogue with the survivor. And I would like to make four points, in order to explicate my
claim as to the uncoupling of traumatic memory from testimony and the problems I
think this might entail. So the first point I want to
make about this new technology and this new project concerns
the temporality of testimony. And as said, the Yale
archive was the context for the emergence of a distinctive
audiovisual manifestation of traumatic memory. This is because video
recording captures not only the testimonial narrative,
but also the event of telling, and in this sense can
be said to be a medium for the performing of
trauma upon testimony. The digital basis of virtual testimony, if we want to call it like that, produces an entirely
different media temporality of witnessing. All digital processing, be
they textual, visual, or audio, is underpinned by micro
temporal calculations taking place well below human perception. This is also the case with the algorithm at the core of Dimensions in Testimony, determining the most probable
outcome to any given question. Gutter’s testimony, quote
un-quote “testimony”, is based on statistical probability, its media temporality
being micro processural rather than chronological. Non linear. Since the system already
knows all the possible answers before receiving any question, the result is what may be
called narrative ex-machina. At each run time, a different
stringing of responses, depending on the queries presented. If video testimony provides a repository of narrative bound incidents that are ripe with interpretive possibilities, the virtual testimony is based on discreet semantically pre-classified
narrative units that are unsusceptible to
real time irregularities. What is lost? This is, I think, the important point, is the precariousness of
the testimonial narrative, which no longer operates as the carrier of lapses and parapraxis as
telltale of traumatic memory. Second point I want to
make about this project has to do with presence and absence. According to designers of
the Dimensions in Testimony, what distinguishes their
project, and I quote, is “the ability to connect
on a personal level “with the survivor and the history, “even when that survivor is not present.” While every kind of
technological memorization is in one way or another about
making the absent present, the Dimensions in Testimony version proceeds to take the extra step of denying the absence of
that which is made present. Virtual testimony
simulates the co-presence of witness and audience, producing just enough
suspension of disbelief so as to keep the interaction going. In a promotional clip,
Dimensions in Testimony designers expressed the wish, and I quote it here, to “break away this frame that puts them”, that is, survivors, “in one place, “and put you”, that is,
audience, “in another, “seeking instead to put
both in the same place, “which is where all great
storytelling can happen.” What this expulsion of the frame, the iconic metaphor for the screen, which supposedly separates
witness and audience (mumbles) of course, is that (stutters) the frame does not simply
separate, but also connects. Indeed, it connects
because it also separates. In retaining this
tension within testimony, between connection and separation, and between absence and presence, has been an enduring concern for Holocaust testimony
scholars such as Dori Laub and Shoshana Felman and Geoffrey Hartman and Lawrence Langer and others, all associated with
the Yale video archive. What they all emphasize in different ways is the importance of
upholding the incommunicable and inarticulate aspect of testimony, as these corroborate the impossibility of full reception, and the irrecusable gap between survivors’ experiences
and those of their audiences. Dimensions in Testimony seems to operate under the opposite assumption. Namely, that absence and separation are technologically
resolvable predicaments. Third point. I call it from witness to witnessee, a new word, I guess. Dimensions in Testimony can be placed within a broader context of contemporary Holocaust memory projects, which put the emphasis on
the side of the recipients. Memory study scholars have already noted the role of media technologies in producing new experiential dimensions for remembering publics and individuals. And when it comes to testimony, however, there seems to be a trend encompassing a range of
digital media platforms of involving recipients
in the very production and reproduction of testimony. Such platforms typically
consist of user-centered design, which shifts the emphasis from the witness as the deliverer of testimony, to what might be called the witnessee, the digitally enabled
participatory recipient. Thus, for example, I have
a couple of examples here. A mobile application under development offers to deliver audiovisual testimonies related to the location of the user. So, let’s say when visiting
Auschwitz-Birkenau, relevant camp survivors’ testimonies can be played automatically based on the visitors’ GPS position. This would be played through a
cellular phone, for instance. Another project is an
augmented reality project at Bergen-Belsen, I think
it’s already operational, which utilizes tablets to
simulate, for visitors, camp buildings that no longer exist. So you would raise the tablet, and it would show you where buildings and other structures used to be. And another example is a 2013 campaign, you can see it on the left here, called People. Not Numbers., for raising Holocaust awareness
among Israeli adolescents, which involved distributing
removable tattoos, coupled with postcards
displaying a QR code that when scanned by a mobile device, links to an audiovisual
testimony by a survivor marked with the same tattoo. And a most, I guess, recent example, is a virtual reality tour
which we can see a short clip. The whole thing, I guess,
is about 20 minutes, and it features, again, Pinchas Gutter, the first one to be
filmed for the hologram. – [Pinchas] I come back to my barrack, to this camp, to convey the
truth of what actually happened. This place, this camp,
was a place of torture. I think that you have to confront pain to be able to heal it. Unless you have somebody
that can say, “I was here, “I saw this, this was done to me,” I don’t think people would
accept it as the gospel truth. – So the way that that works, is you would wear virtual reality goggles, and would virtually follow a survivor walking around the camp, and
would be able to look around and feel as if, being there. So these are different examples of what I think is happening
in the shift of the emphasis. All these examples, in all
these examples, I think, technology invites users to
assert their own presence, themselves, as a way to invoke
and perhaps compensate for the increasing disappearance of survivors. The Dimensions in Testimony
project takes this trend even further by completely
customizing testimony to fit the recipient’s context from conversation topics all
through lighting conditions. In this new arrangement of
technology and embodiment, what is being forefronted
is the intervention of those observing, rather than the interpolation
of those depicted. It is as though the
embodiment of the witnessee comes to replace that of the witness, and with it, the removal of the mediation of traumatic memory. Fourth and last point on this,
digitizing traumatic memory. So here is a speculative question. The processing of testimony into database invites the following speculation. What if the audiovisual
markers of traumatic memory, those that came out of the videotape, the slips, the silences, the
gaps, and all those things, could somehow be coded by an algorithm? Would that serve to recreate the traumatic dimension of
testimony under digitization? In order to be coded, such latent content would first have to be made
definable and identifiable. But this would further mean
not only classification but also discretization, making the coded content
classifiable only as discretes. And digitization of
audiovisual markers of trauma, to the extent that it is even possible, would result in itemization
of such markers. And once itemized, these
markers are no longer imbricated within the unfolding of
the testimonial narrative. They become detached from
narrative as their carrier, and as such, recast from
latent to explicit contact and from symptom, if you will, to sense. Saul Friedländer is worried
about the disappearance of deep memory, a worry that
was largely unwarranted, in my mind. In the context of the videotape, might become justified again
if we follow the speculation in the context of digitization, though for a different reason. At stake is not the loss of
what I called deep memory, but its reification, not
oblivion, but objectification. Indexing testimonial
instances as traumatic, as defying meaning, as
resisting experience, cannot but collect them
under a concrete designation. And thereby turning them
into a semantic formula, in turning the inarticulate
into a concrete category, sacrifices its expressive precariousness. What was incidental in the
performing of narrative on videotape will become overdetermined in the coding of narrative by algorithm So, let me start concluding. So having said all that, my intention here is not
to lament the obsolescence or the disappearance of videotape, nor the loss of the analog
traces of traumatic memory in the digital age. Indeed, it may well be
that what was particular to one technology becomes
apparent when it is replaced by a new one. Nostalgia for the old might
disguise fear of the new. Yet at the same time, I am suspicious of the impulse to scrap the old ways in favor of complete revamp
of the media of testimony. My position, therefore, is of
partial release of the past and partial embrace of the future, which I think is the
preferable position to hold in order to assess the present. Recall that the Yale
archive had also set itself as channel for relaying
Holocaust testimony into the future, similarly
attempting to do this by using the latest technology available, which at the time was
television and videotape. Each generation
justifiably wants to employ the most advanced means to
advance Holocaust memory. And so, on the one hand,
it would be problematic to continue subscribing
to the logic of television and attempt to recreate the
effects of the analog videotape within digital platforms, just as it would have been problematic to recreate Boder’s traumatic index, what he called in the 40’s, which had been drawn from wire recording in the context of the videotape. Each media would have
its own manifestation. Yet on the other hand, it
would be equally problematic to do away with the lessons of
previous testimony projects, specifically the fraught
relation between then and now, experience and expression. Witness and audience. All this in favor of a model that reconfigures
testimony as a simulation of free flowing conversation
with a survivor. Dimensions in Testimony
celebrates the technical ability of rectifying the loss of survivors by simulating their presence. That survivors will soon be
gone is indeed a challenge, but not so much as a problem to overcome, but as a condition to be reckoned with. Their disappearance in and of itself does not necessarily bode ill for the future of Holocaust memory. Acknowledging loss does
not amount to forgetting, but may instead encourage
developing alternative ways of remembering that embrace,
the unbridgeable gap between those who were there
and those who are here. Especially given today’s
technological capabilities, Holocaust remembrance calls
for a modicum of release. Survivors should be allowed to pass on so as to be survived by their testimonies. Nowadays, we’re surrounded
by digital applications that are geared to the
personalization of content from new items to shopping options. New digital platforms also
encourage user involvement and participation, including
what is now called UGC, or user generated content. All these capabilities are now evident in the use of digital
media for Holocaust memory. And it remains to be
determined how best to use them in order to serve the cause. Now, I do not mean to
sound like the older man that I guess I am, disparaging
the cherished devices of the young. Memory is necessarily tied to
the media of its transference, and that has always been the case. But when it comes, reaching into the future
demands embracing the best means that can get us there. But when it comes to Holocaust testimony, I worry that the push to user involvement and personalization of content, what I referred to as the
shift to the witnessee, might sacrifice something essential to the duty of remembering. No technology can compensate for the disappearance of
survivors, nor should it. The question is how to
both acknowledge loss and incorporate its
absence in whatever shape digital testimony might take. Absence may be a creative possibility involving not only the
relaying of experience, but also the relating of the impossibility of relating certain experiences. To be sure, it is not
traumatic memory itself as a specific kind of content that necessarily demands preservation. Rather, it is the function that
traumatic memory has served under videography, namely, the insertion of absence into presence as a reminder of the
incommensurability of past and present. This, I think, is perhaps
the greatest challenge for the future of testimony on the conditions of digitization. Thank you very much. (audience applauds) – Thank you, that was
extremely illuminating. I have some subversive questions for you, and I’ll just go to them. So the first one has to do with, what is the purpose of
remembering the Holocaust? Is it to defeat Holocaust deniers? Is it a Jewish act of preserving
a unique Jewish suffering? Clearly, the aim to help the survivor, as you talked about in the psychoanalytic, is going to be out of the
question in the future. And what disturbs me
about the balance here between feeling and
thinking, it seems to me that all of the testimonies, and you know, I co-founded this project, so I’m deeply committed to it. But it seems that the focus is on, how does what you call the witnessee feel about the Holocaust, when we’re siting in the library, we have a room this
size, filled with books that try to explain
fascism, explain Hitler. Is this the best use of our resources, as compared to writing
books, reading books, teaching courses? – Well, clearly not, I guess. I think the fascination
with the technology here is part of the problem, in a way. Right? Technology is cast as the answer to a perennial question, right? How to convey that memory. And I think we haven’t done enough studying and getting what
we can from the actual traditional testimonies. There are hundreds, well,
I guess tens of thousands of recorded, either audio
or videotaped testimonies of which only a fraction has
been studied or acknowledged. And I think there’s a lot to be done, even with the old material, before we try to configure
a new way of doing it. And I completely agree
that it puts the emphasis on how you feel, or I guess,
the way they would put it, it would be the experience. So it’s an experiential process, rather than an intellectual
or cognitive one, right? The fascination with the
ability to ask any question that you would like,
and then get an answer, which of course, most, I guess, kids, would try to mess with the system, right? Ask, so what is the weather today? So they would have specific answers to try to deal with that, right? The hologram would say, “Well, I don’t have an answer for that”, or “Let’s keep to the topic”, whatever. Anyway, the point here, I think, it’s an incredibly sophisticated, technologically, project. But I think it’s wrong headed. I think it puts the emphasis
in the wrong direction. Putting the focus on how
the recipient, the user, feels and experiences a live conversation. It’s all about what interests me. Certainly we can’t get the big questions that you referred to there. – Everything you have
here is telling the story from the victim’s side,
from the survivor’s side. Is there any work being done on capturing testimony and
experience of the perpetrators, the Sonderkommandos, the Einsatzgruppen, and maybe even more difficult than that, the Jewish collaborators, the one that formed the police forces, and pushed Jews into the trains
that took them to Auschwitz. So is anything being done to get a sense of these people, why
they did what they did? Was it compulsion, their
family would be taken away if they didn’t cooperate? What’s the story on the
opposite side of the coin? – This is a very good question, and I don’t know if I
have the whole answer, but it’s a complicated one, for sure. Because for a long time,
there was resistance, I think a justified one,
not to put survivors and perpetrators on the same level and take testimonies in
the same way from both. That would be kind of, you
know, counterproductive, in terms of justifying,
ethically, the cause. There were some instances in which most people would not
be willing to interview, to begin with, right? That’s not something that you would be, even if you were part of it, you would not be willing to partake in it. So I don’t know of any
project that is using it, but there is one recent case,
which is kind of interesting, that uses virtual reality
in a recent court case. I think it was in Germany, where there was, I think he was a guard, I can’t remember which camp that was. – [Audience Member] Sobibór? – Probably, yes. And he denied the fact that he was, he didn’t deny the fact that he was there, but he denied his ability
to be able to see, from where he was posted, from his position, to see what
was going on in the barracks and in the camp. So it was really a
question of if he was even, he was there, but he was not a
witness to what was going on. So they built a whole
virtual reality environment to prove that from where he stood, he could definitely see
what was going on, right? So I guess the biggest challenge
with this type of testimony is that it would not even take place. Most people would not
want to be interviewed. – I’ve never heard of
the hologram process, so I’m still spinning with that. But I’m wondering, when we talk about how
you are separate from and how the video or the
hologram creates that, the breaking of the frame, I’m wondering then what
place might actors have when we talk about taking these stories and these transcripts, and
then when we captivate, what is more captivating than a live body? So especially a performance
within museum spaces or these different contexts, where maybe is your
opinion that the live actor who could potentially interact? I know that there’s a
number of children’s museums throughout the country
that have these programs, and so while we keep moving toward this, the digital, at the same time I think that we’re just gonna
end up back to the real. – Could be. I know of one project that
used something like that. I think it was, it wasn’t in the context
of Holocaust memory, I think it was in the context of refugees. And they were using actors
to retell their experiences and that was, what I saw
of it was quite interesting and compelling. Because, precisely because,
it involved someone acting it and using someone else’s words. The point, since the 40s,
in recording testimonies, was precisely to have
people tell their stories in their own voice. Even if it were, you know, jumbled, it made no sense, whatever. It was about capturing
their own experiences in their own voice, and as they speak. I’m not sure if that could
be conveyed with actors. That’s a question. If that could be reenacted, I’m not sure. – This is all fascinating, and all I keep thinking
through the presentation was when you look at,
the Holocaust deniers kept saying this was all made up. Is there a danger, with
the use of this technology, the Holocaust deniers say, “See? “They just all made it up? “You know, they put it in the computer, “they Photoshopped it, and
then look, it was never real.” – So the thing with deniers
is that they will always say, I mean, they’ll find what
to say that will deny it. And it was before, and it would still be. Personally I think the
best way to deal with that is just to ignore it. Because if you engage in
a kind of an old debate and conversation, you only feed into the denying kind of argument. It’s manufactured. This testimony is manufactured, certainly. It’s not a story that someone
told and then was cut up into pieces and then reprocessed. Not even that. It’s just single answers
and single questions that now are being put into the computer, and the computer finds the best match to the question that you would ask. So you would come up and ask, “Well, “how was it to have no food?” And it would pick up a question that was closest to what you, right? Someone else would ask, “Were you hungry?” And it will come up with the same answer. Someone else would say,
“What do you remember mostly “from the ghetto?” And it would come up with the same thing. So it means that every time you would ask, someone would come up and ask questions, it would come up with a
different narrative, as it were. So there’s no real testimony there. It’s just different segments
that come up together. Now if that, that would be
helpful to deniers or not, I’m not sure. I’m sure they will be able
to deal with everything that comes up, and find ways to deny. I’m not so much concerned about that. I don’t think the technology,
this technology at least, works either way, in that respect. – [Susanne] Please join me to thank Professor Amit Pinchevski for a wonderful lecture.
– Thank you so much. Thank you. (gentle music)

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  1. So you can imagine what trauma both clinically and culturally you did to the Palestinians, that is beyond our imagination.

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