Raul Hillberg

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Rob Fitterman's "Holocaust Museum," Heimrad Backer's "Transcript," Christian Boltanski's "To be a Jew in Paris in 1939," and the documentary poetics of Raul Hilberg

coverRobert Fitterman's Holocaust Museum (Veer Books, 2011) is composed of sets of  captions from photographs in The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.  The absence of the images has a powerful effect, evoking the erasure of a people and a culture through the Systematic Extermination Process. Over the course of Fitterman's book, lists become litanies, with intricate and horrific repetitions rippling through what simultaneously seems like dryasdust clippings. Fitterman's work is exemplary in its apparently inexpressive, understated approach. Page after page of catalog entries without photographs, names without faces, deeds without doers creates a work  more chilling than the original installation, from which the captions are derived. Loss – erasure and absence – is made palpable by the marked suppression of the missing photographs.

The problems with representations "after Auschwitz" are well-rehearsed, hovering, like an angry hornet, around the crisis for representation posed by this particular series of catastrophic events and processes.  Images, no matter how disfigured, mask the unseen, unspoken, and inexplicable but always -- here's the hardest part -- imaginable, reality: imaginable in consequence of being real.  Imaginable yet ungraspable. Imaginable yet apparently out images' reach. Imaginable because we have no choice but to imagine, no matter how resistant our imaginations may be to the task. Imgined, in other words, through the not that Adorno called negative dialectics.

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