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Philosophy of the Arts


Lanzmann and Lang

Claude Lanzmann argued (a.o.) that the Shoah cannot be represented (photographically, I would want to add). He states this clearly in explaining what he would do had he found documentary footage.

Now if something cannot be represented, then surely it can be misrepresented. (Rather, every representation of it would be a misrepresentation.) This leads to the question Berel Lang addressed: Is it possible to Misrepresent the Holocaust? Lang critically responds to positions, defended at a symposium, that the nature of historical representations does not depend on facts but on the narrative chosen by the writer, because, arguably, there are no facts and everything in this area depends on interpretation. Lang disagrees with this relativism, and tries to defend some sort of historical realism. His thesis: yes, the holocaust can be misrepresented; some representations are bound to be wrong.

Perhaps now we can ask whether Lanzmann’s resistance to representation of the shoah can be qualified. Perhaps, we can represent the holocaust (and is it too farfetched to say that Lanzmann himself proved the point: surely, he represented the holocaust), although, perhaps not by photographic footage (perhaps that is what Lanzmann meant, to begin with, when he said that he believed that there is a ban on depiction).

We see further corroboration (not: proof, of course) of this thesis in how Hotel Modern chose puppets in “Kamp”; how Art Spiegelman chose to draw a comic book, depicting Jews as mice and Nazis as cats; and how Roberto Benigni used comedy in La vita e bella.

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