After Adorno : the essayistic impulse in Holocaust-related art / by Andrew G. Weinstein.
This dissertation argues that Holocaust-related art is best understood not as a product of limits arising from ethical concerns about Holocaust representation, but instead within a contemporary art context. It explores the epistemological approach common to much Holocaust-related and "mainstream" contemporary art, and it investigates how neither Holocaust scholars nor art world professionals generally acknowledge the commonality.To demonstrate commonality, this dissertation engages Theodor W. Adorno's philosophy's primary concern, the subversion of positivist identity thinking. (Indeed, such subversion can be understood as a central concern of recent Holocaust-related and mainstream art.) Identity thinking defines the other with reductive terms (i.e. valuable/valueless), and Adorno recognizes its pervasive presence in society, most notoriously in Nazi death camps. Through the conceptual approach and literary style of his philosophy as exemplified by "The Essay as Form," Adorno presents an alternative model of thinking which combines the exactitude of research with the freedom of imagination. This dissertation argues that many Holocaust-related and mainstream artworks since the mid-1970s may be regarded as Adornian essays.Chapter 1 examines the marginalization of Holocaust-related art by Holocaust scholars because of beliefs about ethical exclusivity. Chapter 2 tentatively accepts this exclusivity by introducing Adorno's largely Holocaust-inspired model. Chapter 3 analyzes two pioneering Adornian essayistic artworks, Claude Lanzmann's Shoah and Art Spiegelman's Maus, while Chapter 4 considers later Holocaust-related works by Judy Chicago, Melissa Gould and Aharon Gluska from Adornian and feminist perspectives. With models from art world theorists Hal Foster, Fredric Jameson and others, Chapter 5 offers a survey of contemporary art that accommodates Holocaust representation. Then, toward explaining the marginalization of Holocaust-related art by art world professionals, Chapter 6 examines an apparent art world discomfort with public displays of Jewish ethnicity. Representing the attitudes of two mutually exclusive communities, Chapters 1 and 6 bracket the study, while material between them aims to demonstrate how each community conceptually approaches the other. The Conclusion regards a danger of the essayistic approach, the tendency to sacralize its material, and considers how, since the early 1990s, a new strategy of abjection in both Holocaust-related and "mainstream" art avoids that risk.
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