The Most Sublime of all Laws. Strange Resurgences of a Kantian Motiv in Contemporary Image Politics
In recent years, the claim of the unrepresentability of the Shoah has stirred vivid debates, especially following the strong positions taken by the French filmmaker Claude Lanzmann and author of Shoah (1986). This claim of unrepresentability, it can be shown, draws part of its attraction from the fact that it oscillates undecidedly between a claim of logical impossibility ("the Shoah can't be represented") and a normative demand ("the Shoah shouldn't be represented"). This essay analyzes the argumentative structure of the advocates of the unrepresentability and shows why the often made connection to Kant is flawed. Although his Critique of the Power of Judgment affirms indeed that the prohibition of representation is the "perhaps most sublime passage in the Jewish Law", turning the prohibition of representation into a supposedly Kantian claim does not hold grounds. The essay reconstructs the political framework of the debate, situates the Kantian passage in its precise philosophical context and then successively assesses the main arguments put forward by Jean-Luc Nancy, Jacques Rancière and Georges Didi-Huberman in their critique of Lanzmann's categorical imperative. While showing why the rhetoric of the "unrepresentable" bear troubling structural analogies to what they want to fight (i.e. the politics of erasure, which always also include the erasure of the traces of erasure), a certain notion of the "unrepresentable" is rescued nevertheless at the end of the essay. Representation, so it is argued by returning to a Kantian distinction, is not a matter of Kanon, but a matter of Organon, which then puts the debate about the Sublime (which took place between Lyotard and RanciÃ¨re in the 90's) into a new perspective.
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University of Chicago Press