Wolfgang Sofsky's Terrorarbeit and the Auschwitz Borderland in Peter Weiss's the Investigation

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Peter Weiss’s The Investigation is an inherently interdisciplinary text that blurs distinctions between history and literature, between historical documentation and legal documentation, and between distinct historical figures and stage personages. Weiss’s play, which is composed of the testimony of victims and perpetrators in the Auschwitz War Crimes Trials, not only details a horrifying spectrum of atrocities perpetrated at Auschwitz, but also creates a representation of the organizational structure of the largest death camp created by National Socialism. Although an increasing number of critics have recognized The Investigation as the most powerful play about Auschwitz ever written or staged, a number of scholars have condemned the play as a one-dimensional Marxist critique that attempts to reduce fascism in general and the Holocaust in particular to an extreme form of capitalism. Utilizing Wolfgang Sofsky’s theorization of Terrorarbeit and Michael Rothberg and Neil Levi’s concept of the Auschwitz borderland, this paper will argue that Weiss’s play does not present a crudely simplistic Marxist critique of capitalism that eliminates or obscures the history and specificity of the atrocities perpetrated by National Socialism but instead represents an Auschwitz borderland of conjoined violence and profit. The theoretical framework of this interdisciplinary analysis will be grounded in Primo Levi’s theorization of “useless violence” and his configuration of the Nazi camp system as an “open universe” of conjoined profit and violence.


Keywords: Terrorarbeit, Auschwitz, Sociology, Literature
Stream: Anthropology, Archaeology, Cultural Studies, Humanities
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: Useless Violence and Useful Profit


Dr. Tammis Thomas

Associate Professor of English, Department of English, University of Houston-Downntown
Houston, Texas, USA

Tammis Thomas is an associate professor of English at the University of Houston-Downtown. Her scholarship and teaching focus on the construction of modern masculinity in German and English literature and culture. She also teaches interdisciplinary courses on the problem of evil in the Holocaust. Her previous publications focused on the Lesbian Gothic.

Ref: I08P0301