Philosophy of the Arts


Iconising the Holocaust

Perhaps, Claude Lanzmann, in his review of Spielberg’s Schindler’s List, assumes that representations of the Holocaust of necessity become iconic images, assuming, also, that some images shouldn’t be allowed to: photos and films of real events shouldn’t (but why?), nor should pictures of stereotypical Jews (most of these stereotypes stem from Nazi propaganda films), or pictures of good Germans. Lanzmann’s Shoah can then be viewed as motivated by the safer approach of not providing any images whatsoever so as to prevent the iconicisation of any. Etc.
What did Lanzmann mean when he criticises Spielberg that he “cannot tell the story about Schindler without also telling what the holocaust has been”. The notion of iconic images might help understand what he did. Iconic images are images, often but not necessarily photos, of particular events or persons (saints), which somehow got to stand for whatever these events of persons are embedded in. The Viet Nam girl fleeing a napalm attack thus got to stand for the horrors of the Viet Nam war, and as such, not as the depiction of this one particular girl, it acquired a huge political effect, and assisted in ending that war.

Apparently, Lanzmann thinks (and others might agree) that every single representation of every single event to do with the holocaust has a tendency to become iconic for the whole of it.

One would want to select images that are candidates for such iconisation under the assumption that the nature of the image has an impact on the interpretation of the situation it gets to stand for.

Lanzmann, Claude. 1994. “Schindler’s List: een onmogelijk verhaal (Schindler’s List is an impossible story—my tr.).” NRC Handelsblad 26/03/1994:11.

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