Historical Narrative, Movies and Meaning. The problem of Interpretation and Representation in Saul Friedländer’s Historiography

Maciej Sawicki


Saul Friedlander’s reflection on studying and writing history referred in many aspects to understanding the difference and relation between historical worlds, both real and possible ones. He tried to preserve the meanings of these worlds in his writings while trying to situate them in a horizon of the whole. In this overall context, the problem of interpretation of the Nazi transgression becomes particularly important in the case of representation of historical world in movies, because for a historian their form seems to transform—in a more or less subtle way—the meaning of limits between fiction and reality. Insensitivity towards these limits is particularly dangerous for historical studies, because the structure of cinematographic images confuses historical thinking (especially by the illusion of immediacy) and might, in consequence, dominate our space of discourse on the past. The aim of this article is to present Saul Friedländer’s considerations on the work of historical imagination in the context of dilemmas of making knowledge and meaning. In the first part, I sketched the development of the historian’s methodological awareness, as he discovers a strange meaning of the Nazi anomaly, especially in movies. The second part is devoted to the diagnosis of historical self-knowledge toward the representations of the Nazi epoch, as well as their relationship to the cinematographic imagination and postmodernism. In the third part, I will try to show how the historian resolved the problem of representing the anomaly in his project of “integrated and integrative” history.

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