We are often convinced we are looking at a seamless and accurate depiction of reality and the shock involved is the realization that it is not quite so obvious as we thought…
What are the boundaries of artistic representation and the limits, if any, of cultural criticism? This past week marked the forty-forth anniversary of the Six Day War, which was in a sense established by Jabotinsky, a fulfillment of Jewish Revisionism of land based on historical biblical claims. Running parallel to the notion of Israel, haunting like a furtive shadow has been the holocaust, the subtext for national identity and a symbol of existential threat. the genocide which has been institutionalized in the collective consciousness and represented artistically as a taboo subject. The question is whether Holocaust manipulation is fair game for art and can it ever be separated from the political.
Does critical art of the holocaust diminish and banalize the magnitude of the genocide or does it function to re-energize debate over a subject that has attained ad nauseum status and after everyone has pulled moral profit and consensual illusion from it, has simply stopped shocking. Obviously, its an unstable process of reinterpretation and re-contexting “authenticity” and it opens the door to artists such as Gottfried Helnwein to become authoritative and slip in some questionable subtexts that appear to aesthetize neo-nazism. Borrowing from Walter Benjamin, “Fascism introduces aesthetics into political life as a way of giving the masses “a chance to express themselves” -Richard Kazis
…Following the publication of the Mirroring Evil exhibition catalogue in January 2002, newspapers, Jewish organizations as well as other groups singled out Schechner’s image for criticism and leveled accusations of ‘obscenity’, Holocaust manipulation and moral indignation. The Real Thing is a digital photomontage in which Schechner inserted an image of himself into a photo by Margaret Bourke-White (1945) of emaciated survivors of the Buchenwald concentration camp. Schechner looks like a well-fed fashion model as he holds a can of Diet Coke with a sparkling highlight lens flare:
The holocaust has almost developed its own aesthetic through incremental moves away from its original context. In this sense it has been culturally repackaged to serve different ends which often ultimately serve commercial purposes within a broader consumerist culture. It has become a mass critique of society, which in a misguided but by no means random effort, has only served to reinforce the forces which brought it about.
To the evidence available, the holocaust does not seem to be “indigenous” to any of these aesthetics that have arisen, but individuals and organizations seem to have skillfully learned them and incorporated them into new personas and are able to invoke the appropriate emotional responses when necessary. Nonetheless, such appropriations are emotionally volatile and become charged with lost meanings, partial-meanings, selective misinterpretations, misuse, and supplemental risks of expropriating elements of an aesthetic, which is unspeakable, from its original context.
Because of an unfamiliarity with these original contexts, most in the mainstream audience will not recognize these risks. They will just simply marvel at a multicontextual “phenomenon” of appearance and sound. Its “sad” but its only Schindler’s List, and Auschwitz is open to the public and yes, you can get a shake and a burger. In the same sense that the Weimar of an Otto Dix can be Disneyfied in Cabaret, so goes the Holocaust as it is time lapsed into the derivative and generic. However, for those whose cultural practices are still rooted in these original contexts, they will recognize the lapses and the gaps created by the expropriation. In this sense we are right to criticizes a partial appropriation of an element of Jewish culture while ignoring or omitting other parts that are are just as crucial. The result is a kind of “Jew kicks” and superficial cultural slumming, while mentally, we can return home for our R
egular” lives. Ultimately what happens is the use of oppositional elements of the Jewish cultural aesthetic are used to figuratively represent dissent within a broader social context and contributing to the consumerist project, of which Israel’s militarism and racism reflects these western values to which it has been so deeply embedded at present.
In its most insidious and narcissistic form, Jennifer Peto has termed this the “victimhood of the powerful.” Although there are practical and utilitarian benefits to this approach does it not create a class of deluxe, Jewish “pets”?
Jennifer Peto: I argue that today, Jewish people of European descent enjoy white privilege and are among the most socio-economically advantaged groups in the West. Despite this privilege, the organized Jewish community makes claims about Jewish victimhood that are widely accepted within that community and within popular discourse in the West. I propose that these claims to victimhood are no longer based in a reality of oppression, but continue to be propagated because a victimized Jewish identity can produce certain effects that are beneficial to the organized Jewish community and the Israeli nation-state. I focus on two related Holocaust education projects – the March of the Living and the March of Remembrance and Hope – to show how Jewish victimhood is instrumentalized in ways that obscure Jewish privilege, deny Jewish racism and promote the interests of the Israeli nation-state. Read More:https://tspace.library.utoronto.ca/bitstream/1807/24619/1/Peto_Jennifer_201006_MA_thesis.pdf aaa
Jennifer Peto:That Lerner criticizes Israel, but then quickly uses the Holocaust as an excuse for Jewish support of Israeli violence, demonstrates how histories of anti-Semitism can be abused to deflect criticism of Israel. “Jews Are Not White” is replete with examples of how denying that Jews are white and insisting on a never-ending Jewish victimhood can be used to excuse Jewish racism and Israeli violence. It is for these reasons that critical studies of Jews and whiteness are so important for exposing and fighting the violence of Jewish racism and Zionism. Without this analysis, Jews can remain focused on their own victimization, even as they continue to participate in and benefit from the oppression of others. Read More:https://tspace.library.utoronto.ca/bitstream/1807/24619/1/Peto_Jennifer_201006_MA_thesis.pdf
Taking back from society and re-using these fragments is an important principle of the montagist’s strategy. Who owns and controls representations of the world is determined by who is prepared to fight and struggle against the control of dominant representational systems. Texts exist in shared systems of signification and a dispersed inter-textual transaction of culture and history. Attempts to limit this interaction of information whether via the censorship of an exhibition or individual works has consequences for practices involved in critiquing dominant Capitalist media representations of the world in general and interpretations of history and the Holocaust specifically.Read More:http://www.drainmag.com/contentFEBRUARY/RELATED_ESSAYS/boundaries.htm aaa