"Problem Texts of the Holocaust: Controversy and Cultural Memory in the U.S."
R. Clifton Spargo is Associate Professor of English at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He received a Ph.D. in American literature and culture from Yale University, an M.A.R. in Bible from Yale Divinity School, an M.S. in English and Scottish literature from Edinburgh University, and a B.A. in English and creative writing from the University of Illinois, Urbana. For his Leon Milman Memorial Fellowship, Dr. Spargo conducted research on and finished a draft of a manuscript tentatively titled “Problem Texts of the Holocaust: Controversy and Cultural Memory in the United States.”
Dr. Spargo is the author of Vigilant Memory: Emmanuel Levinas, the Holocaust, and the Unjust Death (2006) and The Ethics of Mourning: Grief and Responsibility in Elegiac Literature (2004), and is co-editor with Robert Ehrenreich of After Representation?: The Holocaust, Literature, and Culture (2009), and co-editor of a special issue of Genre on “Literary Approaches to the Bible, Old and New.” He has published articles and review-essays on American literature and culture and/or Holocaust memory in PMLA, Representations, The Yale Review, and Raritan, among other journals. A recent finalist for the Flannery O’Connor Award in Fiction, he has published short stories in Glimmer Train Stories, FICTION, The Connecticut Review, SOMA, The Antioch Review, and The Kenyon Review (forthcoming), many of which can be read on the author’s website www.rcliftonspargo.com. Dr. Spargo is the recipient of numerous awards, honors, and grants, including, most recently, the Jackson Fellowship from Yale University, Glimmer Train’s 7th Fiction Open Contest, and the Pearl Resnick Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. He is currently completing two monographs: “Problem Texts of the Holocaust” and “The Culture of Cliché: Mid-Twentieth-Century American Literature and the Allure of Consensus.”
During his tenure at the Museum, Dr. Spargo researched the reception of the Holocaust in American culture through the lens of specific literary or otherwise important cultural texts. He focused the problem of cultural memory – which can be a hard-to-identify phenomenon – through texts mired in some degree of controversy (what he calls “problem texts”) because such texts reveal the workings of memory in a concrete, rhetorically discernible form. To consider texts from Anne Frank’s diary and its dramatic and cinematic adaptations to Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem to William Styron’s Sophie’s Choice under the rubric of the “problem text” is to elicit their status as historically controversial texts. Dr. Spargo examined texts produced by Jewish and non-Jewish Americans, or by Americanized international figures, and so revealed how majority and minority cultures reproduce the structures of belonging of the dominant public sphere, even as they (in some cases) intuit resistant or counter-public modes of belonging.
Dr. Spargo was in residence at the Mandel Center from February 1 to May 30, 2010.