Thursday 19 July 2012

Revisiting the Holocaust – which works best, visiting a museum or engaging the imagination through fiction?

Revisiting the Holocaust – which works best, visiting a  museum or engaging the imagination through fiction?
As I’ve intended for some time, I visited the Holocaust Exhibition at the ImperialWar Museum yesterday. It was a little surreal, anyway, as in the morning I worked with the Ministry of Stories, at their Children’s Republic of Shoreditch. All that is fun and zany. The IWM is more serious.
I suppose my intention in visiting the IWM was to make sure I hadn’t missed anything. I hadn’t, and in fact I found I knew more about each aspect of the topic than the exhibits showed me. I have after all used much of the IWM’s online archived material and as well as many other online resources. I’ve read a great deal and have a 40 page bibliography of books yet to read. Although the novel is finished I still wish to contextualize it.  
Nevertheless, the visit was fruitful. I found another half dozen books I’d like to read sometime. I was also able to visit the “A Family in War Time Exhibition” which was pertinent to the “Renate in England” strand of the project. Again, there was little I didn’t already know. However, it was useful to sit in an Anderson shelter and experience what it might fell like during an air-raid and also to have a close look at a Morrison shelter. I didn’t have time to visit the Blitz Experience. That is something I will do another day.
In another way the visit was extremely relevant: I realised that although the exhibition is informative for those who know little about the Holocaust it doesn’t quite get to the heart of the matter as some of the other materials and accounts I’ve studied. It doesn’t have the emotional impact of the creatively written texts I’ve read to support my research: - those by John Boyne, Emma Craigie, Charlotte Delbo, Marcus Zusak and Jake Wallis Simons. A really important aspect of this project for me, the creative writing academic researcher, is the opportunity it offers to examine that relationship between fact and fiction and how fiction and writing fiction can investigate what actually happens in a different way from how a bare laying down of facts informs us. Perhaps I need to assess how much my beta and beta+ readers understand of what I have written.
And a final advantage of the visit is that the receipt for my coffee included an invitation to hold my next important event at the IWM London. Now that would be grand: launching Potatoes in Spring at IWM London and perhaps at IWM North as well.        

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