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Between Victim and Perpetrator Imaginary: The Implicated Subject in Works by Rachel Seiffert and Cate Shortland


The future of Germany’s murderous past is now being reconsidered by a new generation of artists who have to navigate an increasing distance to the Third Reich and its remaining witnesses. Thus it is not surprising that recent postmemory work registers shifts, both with respect to mnemonic perspective and representational strategy. This article considers “Lore,” a story published in the trilogy The Dark Room (2001) by the British-German author Rachel Seiffert, and its cinematic adaptation by the Australian filmmaker Cate Shortland (2012) as two examples of such shifts. The mnemonic perspective of both works offers a productive tension. On the one hand they present the emotionally charged perspective of children of Nazi perpetrators, yet on the other hand they employ representational modes that are bare, impassive and minimalist. What are we to make of material that invites identification with protagonists born into a perpetrator legacy, particularly when these historical witnesses are aesthetically reconceived as ‘innocent children’? Seiffert’s and Shortland’s reconfiguration of the historical witness raises the question of whether the victim/perpetrator imaginary can be a constructive lens through which to understand historical agency and its legacies across multiple generations. This article argues that recent re-conceptualizations of historical subject positions, such as the ‘implicated subject’ (Michael Rothberg), offer a more nuanced exploration of historical agency. In different ways and to different degrees, both Seiffert’s and Shortland’s work engage with contradictions of historical subject positions by probing and acknowledging inadvertent, yet persistent, implications in legacies of historical violence.

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