Philosophy of the Arts


Representing a token of a type

“But how can he tell what the holocaust was, if he is telling the story of a German who saved 1300 jews, while the overwhelming majority of the jews was not saved? Even when he shows the moment of the deportation to the Cracau ghetto, or the camp officer shooting at the deported, how can he do justice, even then, to the normalcy of the procedure of murder, the machinery of the extermination? It did not go like that for everyone. In Treblinka, or in Auschwitz, the possibility of salvation was inconceivable.” (Lanzmann).

This concerns the following issue: is a representation of one particular event necessarily representative for its universalised variety, in our case the whole story of the holocaust? What is it that makes us think that, in the present case, our answer should be “no”?
Surely, a film about a particular love affair (say, Kramer vs. Kramer) is not automatically held to be representative for all love affairs, nor even only for all affairs in Western, or even, Norh American culture? We treat it as the depiction of the affair of two individuals.
What would our response be if someone were to critique Kramer vs. Kramer for giving the wrong picture of other love affairs, or of love, generally. To us, that might seem overstated. Yet, with regard to the shoah, this kind of critique does seem to be appropriate.

What is the conceptual relation between representing a token of a type, and being representative for the type?

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