As Walter Benjamin, Roland Barthes, and Susan Sontag amongst others have told us, when it comes to photographs, the caption is essential in relation to what we think we see: if the contextualizing text is changed, the meaning of the work as such will change significantly. In this light, it might be interesting to ask: what happens to the caption when there is no longer a photograph to contextualize? When the caption is isolated, it now refers to a referent that is no longer there. That is one of the issues raised by the American writer Robert Fitterman in his book Holocaust Museum, first published in 2011 and reprinted several times since in the US and in Great Britain.
Earlier this year I wrote about 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 in a commentary called "The Picture Intentionally Left Blank." Like many, I resist the expressive deceptions of traditional memorials, which is why Maya Lin's Vietnam memorial is for me the more perfect embodiment of what is possible, not so much negative capability as negative dialectics.