Films of Genocide and Ethnic Cleansing
Atom Egoyan’s Ararat (2002) and the Critique of Diplomatic Reason: Devin O. Pendas
Devin O. Pendas
It has become something of a cliché to argue that the Holocaust is “unrepresentable,” or, at least, in Saul Friedlander’s words, that it constitutes “an event which tests our traditional conceptual and representational categories, an ‘event at the limits.’”1 It is an open question whether the challenges of representing such “limit events” is a difference in kind, or merely a difference of degrees, from representations of other more “mundane” events.2 Because a representation is, by definition, never the thing represented, there is always some level of an epistemological gap. The problem with representing “limit events” is, therefore, not mainly an epistemological one; it is a problem of ethics. “Adequate” representations are ones which meaningfully incorporate the moral dimensions of whatever is represented. In the case of “limit events,” the argument is that no representation can possibly fully address the moral problems raised by violence committed on such a scale and with such a totalizing intent. There is no prima facie reason to presume this would be any less true for genocides other than the Holocaust.
While the issue of representability pertains to virtually all areas of cultural production—visual art, literature, historiography, philosophy—it is perhaps nowhere more acute than in film. More than virtually any other medium, film tends to lay claim to a mimetic verisimilitude, to re-present events “as they really were.”3 As a result, film also offers a particularly enticing medium for eliciting audience identification and staging desire....
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