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The Sense of Semblance:Philosophical Analyses of Holocaust Art

Philosophical Analyses of Holocaust Art

Henry W. Pickford

Publication Year: 2013

Holocaust artworks intuitively must fulfill at least two criteria: artistic (lest they be merely historical documents) and historical (lest they distort the Holocaust or become merely artworks). The Sense of Semblance locates this problematic within philosophical aesthetics, as a version of the conflict between aesthetic autonomy and heteronomy, and argues that Adorno's dialectic of aesthetic semblance describes the normative demand that artworks maintain a dynamic tension between the two. The Sense of Semblance aims to move beyond familiar debates surrounding postmodernism by demonstrating the usefulness of contemporary theories of meaning and understanding, including those from the analytic tradition. Pickford shows how the causal theory of names, the philosophy of tacit knowledge, the analytic philosophy of quotation, Sartre's theory of the imaginary, the epistemology of testimony, and Walter Benjamin's dialectical image can help explicate how individual artworks fulfill artistic and historical desiderata. In close readings of Celan's poetry, Holocaust memorials in Berlin, the quotational artist Heimrad Backer, Claude Lanzmann's film Shoah, and Art Spiegelman's graphic novel Maus, Pickford offers interpretations that, in their precision, specificity, and clarity, inaugurate a dialogue between contemporary analytic philosophy and contemporary art. The Sense of Semblance is the first book to incorporate contemporary analytic philosophy in interpretations of art and architecture, literature, and film about the Holocaust.

Published by: Fordham University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-x


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pp. xi-xii

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pp. 1-16

Political controversies surrounding Holocaust memorials and museums, and critical debates regarding Holocaust testimonies, films, and literature, rely on an often unarticulated assumption: the possibility of successful and unsuccessful Holocaust artworks. If that is the case...

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1. Mandelshtam’s Meridian: On Paul Celan’s Aesthetic-Historical Materialism

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pp. 17-73

The poetry of Paul Celan has played a salient role in the ongoing debate surrounding linguistic meaning and interpretation, even when the stakes of that debate extend beyond the experience or interpretation of artworks altogether. Thus both Jacques Derrida...

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2. Conflict and Commemoration: Two Berlin Memorials

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pp. 74-136

On the afternoon of November 14, 1993, the so-called People’s Day of Mourning (Volkstrauertag), the Central Commemorative Site of the Federal Republic of Germany (Zentrale Gedenkstätte der Bundesrepublik Deutschland) was unveiled in the modest, neoclassical...

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3. The Aesthetics of Historical Quotation: On Heimrad Bäcker’s “System nachschrift

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pp. 137-159

The editor and poet Heimrad Bäcker (1925–2003) earned his early fame and literary reputation as one of the most active adherents of the avant-garde tradition in Austria, as founded by the Vienna Group of writers.3 In the 1950s and 1960s they created individual and...

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4. The Aesthetic-Historical Imaginary: On Shoah and Maus

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pp. 160-203

In this final chapter I consider two works in two different media that have often occupied center stage in discussions of Holocaust art and historical understanding: Claude Lanzmann’s nine-hour film Shoah and Art Spiegelman’s two-volume graphic novel Maus. Although...

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Conclusion: The Morality of Holocaust Art

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pp. 204-210

The preceding chapters have offered philosophical analyses of specific Holocaust artworks as fulfilling, in different but exemplary ways, the dual desiderata of the normatively minimalist framework by maintaining both a historical and an aesthetic relation, the two...


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pp. 211-252


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pp. 253-272


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pp. 273-280

E-ISBN-13: 9780823250318
Print-ISBN-13: 9780823245406
Print-ISBN-10: 0823245403

Page Count: 296
Illustrations: 41 b/w
Publication Year: 2013

Edition: Text