ABSTRACT

Daniel Libeskind’s concept and design for the Jewish Museum Berlin attempts to move beyond the conventional purpose that has long been assigned to history in European culture––a purpose that Hannah Arendt traces back to Homer. Can there be a different form of history that confronts rather than turns away from suffering and death? This question has animated a range of thinkers, historians, and artists since the late 19th century. Among them is Daniel Libeskind, whose concept and design for the Berlin Jewish Museum represents an ambitious attempt to nourish a different relationship to the catastrophes of the past, a relationship that seeks to reflect on the suffering of the victims. This chapter explores Libeskind’s notion of history in three parts. The first outlines in some depth the “conventional” approach of history to the issues of suffering and death. The second examines Libeskind’s writings on his museum concept, discerning the basic content and purpose of his approach to history. The final part situates Libeskind within the “postcatastrophic” moment of the postwar era. Specifically, it contextualizes his project in light of Theodor W. Adorno’s enduring concern with the issue of suffering and history. Like Libeskind, Adorno seeks to develop a philosophical-historical approach to the past that reflects on the suffering and catastrophe of the Holocaust. Although the work of Adorno and Libeskind has received extensive scholarly attention, the originality of the chapter lies in bringing out the broader implications of their focus on suffering in regards to the conventions of writing history in European thought and culture.