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The Sense of SemblancePhilosophical Analyses of Holocaust Art$
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Henry W. Pickford

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780823245406

Published to Fordham Scholarship Online: September 2013

DOI: 10.5422/fordham/9780823245406.001.0001

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The Aesthetic-Historical Imaginary

The Aesthetic-Historical Imaginary

On Shoah and Maus

(p.160) Chapter Four The Aesthetic-Historical Imaginary
The Sense of Semblance

Henry W. Pickford

Fordham University Press

This chapter considers Lanzmann’s film Shoah and Spiegelman’s graphic novel Maus in light of the epistemology of testimony. Two epistemic dimensions are involved: (a) propositional knowledge, conveyed by reports from speaker to listener; and (b) expressive knowledge, which under proper circumstances elicits appropriate responsiveness from the listener. The justification of testimonial knowledge is developed by considering work by Wittgenstein and Richard Moran. Shoah and Maus exhibit contrasting but complementary asymmetries in their aesthetic presentations of testimonies: Shoah eschews all historical illustration of the narratives (propositional knowledge) being recounted by the witnesses, but does focus, at times invasively, on the faces of the witnesses as they recount their narratives. By contrast, Maus eschews the portrayal of human faces (instead they are imaged as various kinds of animals) while illustrating the content of the eyewitness’s testimony (the story of Spiegelman’s father during the Holocaust). Sartre’s theory of the imaginary, suitably modified in light of subsequent criticisms of it, explicates the witness’s and viewer’s distinctive roles in these works as required by the aesthetic presentation. In this way both artworks, each in its own way, fulfill the dual desiderata of Holocaust artworks.

Keywords:   Claude Lanzmann/Shoah, Art Spiegelman/Maus, Jean-Paul Sartre, Richard Moran, Testimony, Dori Laub, Gotthold Ephraim Lessing/Laocoön, Film, Comics/graphic novel

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