Volume 13, Issue 1 (January 2015) : 57-71|
“The Benevolent Self Was a Disgrace Beyond Measure for Every Argentine Jew”
Between the Need to Remember and the Desire to Forget in Nathan Englander’s The Ministry of Special Cases
Gustavo Sánchez Canales
Rubric A: Collective Memory
Rubric B: American Novel
Nathan Englander’s The Ministry of Special Cases (2007) is a novel structured around two interconnected plots. One of them is the tragedy of the desaparecidos — the disappeared — that began in 1976, the year when general Jorge Rafael Videla came to power after deposing María Estela Martínez de Perón; until early 1981 Videla’s junta was responsible for the disappearance of thousands of students and political opponents to his dictatorship. The other plot is the contradictory personal life of Kaddish Poznan, a Jew who, during the day, tries to keep alive the memory of his mother Favorita’s Argentine-Jewish past but at night works to destroy it by chiseling names off the gravestones of former members of the Society of the Benevolent Self, such as Favorita. Unlike Poznan, his wife Lillian, who has been laying a glass and a plate on the dinner table for her son Pato since his disappearance, refuses to acknowledge his death, In order to address the implications of this traumatic event in her life, I will resort to Cathy Caruth’s Trauma: Explorations in Memory (1995) and Unclaimed Experience: Trauma, Narrative, and History (1996), and Dominick LaCapra’s Writing History, Writing Trauma (2001). This article draws upon the significance of collective memory throughout Jewish history as discussed in Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi’s Zakhor: Jewish History and Jewish Memory (1982), explores the struggle between memory and forgetting, and ponders the dangers of forgetting — and erasing — the past and of transforming one’s identity.