The Legacy (Das Vermächtnis): the role of cultural production in the reprocessing of collective experiences that are equivalent to trauma

Dinkelbach, Stefanie
This project attempts to address and raise awareness of a loss of social and emotional connection (Bezugsverlust) that has developed over time in German society and explains how this disconnection can, and has, led to collective violence. Cultural productions - works of art, music, literature, film, etc - have the potential to facilitate a mental and emotional reconnection and thereby contribute towards the need to 'address and process the violent legacy of Germany's recent past' (Vergangenheitsbewältigung). This thesis explores the role of cultural productions both theoretically and practically in this context. A large proportion of German post-war cultural productions directly or indirectly relate to the collective violence of the National Socialist regime. However, a lack of empathy with the victims of the Holocaust has repeatedly been observed within German post-war literature and film (e.g., Schlant 2001, Hahn 2005). The theory-based part of this research attempts to explain this phenomenon, while the film The Legacy, as the practice-based element, addresses this lack of empathy by offering opportunities by which an emotional connection with the victims can be experienced. An interdisciplinary approach was employed that integrated studies from neurobiology, psychotherapy and sociology to explain Bezugsverlust theoretically. Sample cultural productions that responded to various experiences of social crises from different periods of German history were subject to detailed analysis. The lack of empathy with the victims of the Holocaust that can be found in post-war German cultural productions is read as a sign that Bezugsverlust developed in German society as a result of insufficiently processed experiences of social crises. Since society as a whole repeatedly experienced trauma-like events, that were not satisfactorily addressed and processed at the time, the experience of Bezugsverlust increased over time and led to the facilitation of extreme racist ideologies. The loss of social and emotional interconnection to those outsider groups that became the victims of the Holocaust persists to this day. The Legacy attempts to address this issue and to raise awareness of the connection between Bezugsverlust and violence and to offer opportunities for the viewer to re-establish the emotional bond to the victims of the Holocaust that was lost. The film uses a format that deconstructs existing conventions through form in which archive footage, documentary sequences, text and music are brought together. A survey of three small sample screenings assesses to what extent the film contributed to the process of Vergangenheitsbewältigung. The findings of the survey confirmed that while the unconventional format of the film restricted its reception, it also encouraged an active mental and emotional response in which reprocessing could occur. The response of some viewers showed that empathy with the victims and a sense of mourning and loss was experienced. The potential of cultural productions to assist in what can be called ' the reprocessing of collective experiences that are equivalent to trauma' is thereby exemplified.
Publisher DOI
Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Ireland