The Sense of Semblance: Philosophical Analyses of Holocaust Art
Henry W. Pickford
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Holocaust artworks intuitively must fulfill at least two criteria: artistic (lest they be merely historical documents) and historical (lest they distort the Holocaust or become merely artworks).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.
island from the Mandelshtam radio broadcast: These poems are the poems of someone perceiving and attentive, towards what appears, querying and addressing what appears [that is, phenomena]; they are a conversation [Gespräch]. In the space of this conversation that which is addressed constitutes itself, comes to presence, gathers about the I who addresses and names it. But in this presence that which is addressed and that which, as it were, has become a Thou [Du] through the act of naming brings
discovers within itself its own [dialectical] pre-history and posthistory” [N 10, 3], then the Neue Wache is a preeminent monad, for this modest memorial more than any other state building has been Conflict and Commemoration 85 programmatically used in each of its concrete historical forms to provide the then current German state with a unifying image of national legitimation. If “to write history means giving dates their physiognomy” [N 11, 2], then the incarnations of the Neue Wache amount
consequences that arise from this double-character of art, which he also calls art’s “riddle character” (Rätselcharakter).33 Classical hermeneutics moves from the artwork or text to its meaning, but precisely that movement is suspended by aesthetic experience understood as the irreconcilable conflict between the elements of the artwork and its pretension to coherent sense. The artwork appears to make sense, elicits interpretation, Introduction 8 while refusing its remainderless translation
subsuming reunion. The specularization enacted by the reciprocal gaze of mother and child itself figures the imaginary reintegration into a mythic unity, satisfying the “historical need” Nietzsche located in “the loss of myth, of the mythical homeland, the mythical maternal womb.”68 But the other pole of the opposition, the memorials of nonrepresentability of the late 1970s and 1980s, is also open to critique. The assumption here is that what is to be remembered, what is to be gestured toward or
concept lower-case, the concept The Aesthetics of Historical Quotation 146 word-that-begins-and-ends-with-a-curved-letter, and so on. 30 “One realizes that the displayed token has those properties when one realizes that it is (intended) as a token of the relevant type. Identifying the demonstrated type is therefore like identifying the referent in an act of demonstrative reference: it is a full-fledged process of interpretation, possibly involving an assessment of the [quoter’s] communicative