- Image and Remembrance: Representation of the Holocaust
In a recent discussion with students about Adorno's repudiated dictum of "No poetry after Auschwitz," several respondents suggested that they thought such a pronouncement, no matter how horrible the event, smacked of an authoritarian impulse or worse. The issue, it seems, will be with us for while, and necessitates perhaps applicability of the issue of "unrepresentabilty" to other genocides of the latter part of the twentieth century.
In this work, the authors suggest that the problems of representation, even realism "are not insurmountable" (p. 3). They also suggest the problem of representation of the Holocaust "demands a firm grounding in truth and facticity" (p. 3) and must reflect an ethical framework. In dealing with these issues, the anthology is designed to function as a "commemorative text" and deals with four themes: Commemoration and Sites of Mourning, Personal Responses and Familial Legacies, Atrocity and Aesthethics, and National Expressions of Remembrance. These themes are designed to make the collection reflective.
In a certain sense, with a few reservations, the volume succeeds in doing this. However, some of the subjects may be too well known from prior critical analysis. Thus, articles on Lanzmann's Shoah (which contains an error regarding place—the scene on the church steps is in the village of Grabow, near Chelmno, but not in Chelmno), Shimon Attie's projections, Daniel Libeskind's concept of "trauma" as applied to architecture, and James Young's reflections on counter memory and monuments seem useful. [End Page 143] However, some readers may find them too familiar. The case that Young makes for counter-monuments may have become old history already with the culmination and current construction of Eisenman's Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin, which relies on a more traditional and less gimmicky form, for which Young played a critical role in the selection process. This trend is perhaps reflective of the intersection of memory and monument questions connected with the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attack on the United States and the public's need for more rooted affirmations in monuments.
What I consider the most interesting articles in the anthology deal with reflections on works by painters and artists who use mixed media. Thus, Andrea Liss's article on Arie Galles "14 Stations" suggests a new way of looking at the Holocaust that raises the question of creativity and mimesis. Marianne Hirsch and Susan Sulieman have written a useful article on an artist's book by Tatiana Kellner and raises the question of whether an artist, in trying to avoid realism, can remove the visual text too far from the actual story. Ernst Van Alphen's article about Charlotte Delbo is important, although its direction is in the literary response, as he suggests that "Auschwitz is the ultimate point of reference. It is a spot or event with which imaginative representations correspond or fail to do so" (p. 110). Janet Wolff's article on allusive realism, which covers artists like Morris Louis, Ben Shahn, and R. B. Kitaj is useful for understanding deflected images, while Mark Godfrey has written an incisive text on Morris Louis' "Firewritten Series" of images.
Carol Zemel writes about Holocaust liberation photos in "Emblems of Atrocity." She accepts the idea that this type of representation is useful and that such images should not be set aside too easily and labeled as pornography. Rather, her approach, which I believe is useful and correct, is to "consider the pictures' fascinations, their presentations of evil and excess, and their cultural force as icons" (p. 205). Her contention that Margaret Bourke-White's photos have the impact of exposing the "forbidden and the unknown" is correct and necessitates that we revisit Bourke-White, while Lee Miller's photos, while "unsettling," "break through the iconoclasm of the 'unrepresentable'" (p. 216). Monica Bohm-Duchen also confirms the power of photography with a survey of successful, near-successful, and failed works involving photography and painting. The unanswered question, however, is the durability of those...