Literature cannot but witness the origin from which it comes, but it may or may not take cognizance of these origins. In the case of collective trauma, the midrashic impulse reveals a more ethical mode of responding to tragedies. I suggest that the midrashic mode is more ethical because it sidesteps the potential pitfalls of representation (which always claims to know) by relying instead on extensional logic, which implicitly acknowledges the convergence of what can never be known or understood and the imperative that we have to continue to try.
In just the comparison of the midrashic mode to the literary/representational mode, Monica has already created the premise of an argument worth listening to. I hope I'm not wrong to suggest that Monica understands midrash as being a kind of narrow and tenuous path between silence and narrative, and to identify the point about "extensional logic" as being a key part of the foundation of her argument.
But I'm most struck by the very last half-sentence of that excerpt: "...the imperative that we have to continue to try [to know... what some trauma was like, psychologically/historically]."
I don't have a counter-argument for any of this, but I am drawn to the distinctions that Monica is making. I have some questions, the kind I would've asked if I had been the only person in Monica's audience on the day she delievered the talk:
- What is it that creates the imperative to keep trying?--the magnitude of a trauma? Its uniqueness? The "depth" of the tragedy? What would happen if we stopped trying?
- It seems to me that there is a danger in turning to "extensional logic" that I think would be opposed by "revelatory writing" (or something like that). Is there a risk that we become mired in history at the expense of the present? Remember Emerson's first words: "Our age is retrospective. It builds sepulchres of the fathers. It writes biographies, histories, and criticism. The foregoing generations beheld God and nature face to face." [Emerson's "God" here may be interepreted as just "other people," and I include this excerpt as a direct challenge to your inclusion of Levinas. I've always read Levinas' "other" as a living being, and the "Face" as existing in the present, not in the past. What if these claims conflict? What if the inconsistencies of history make us choose between being responsible for our living neighbors and our dead ancestors? It seems you're making victims of the Holocaust into "neighbors" for whom we should/must be responsible. Hmmm.... thoughts? Or are you saying that our midrashic response may encourage midrashic response from our living neighbors?]
- To turn to midrash in the wake of the Holocaust has the effect of turning the Holocaust into a kind of "holy text" -- isn't that problematic?: the Holocaust as G-d's latest prophet?
- You say later in the talk that 20th century language and theology have been inadequate. What would adequate look like? Is joy any more capable of being adequately communicated? Or even something as mundane as the ennui of the French existentialists: do Camus' essays/stories/plays do an adequate job? Could midrash have helped Camus to express his angst better? In other words, is the problem of representation that you have identified not limited to responding to atrocities?