Foundations of Science

, Volume 23, Issue 2, pp 245–254 | Cite as

The Documentary Real and the Shoah

  • Marc De Kesel


Without the support of imagination, one would not have the slightest idea of the cruel ‘real’ that has occurred in the Nazi extermination camps. Yet, in documentaries imaging the events of the Shoah, one runs the risk of missing their most basic property, namely their unimaginability. The mere idea that one is able to imagine the unimaginable comes down to a denial of the Shoah’s status as an event that defies our understanding. The unimaginable ‘real’ of the Shoah, however, is not simply located in its object, in the cruelty of what happened in the camp. The Shoah makes us at the same time facing the unimaginable ‘real’ of the modern subject—the blind spot in our own identity. If we need imagination to deal with the Shoah, it is also because of an ungraspable ‘real’ in ourselves. This is why adequate Shoah representations, acknowledging their object as being beyond representation, include the same ‘beyond’ concerning the subject of the Holocaust memory. The essay makes this clear in an elaborated comparison of Claude Lanzmann’s 1985 film, Shoah, with some conceptual works of art from the late nineties—all of this ‘fine-tuned’ in a reflection upon Ingmar Bergman’s Persona.


Holocaust Shoah Representation Subject theory Imagination The unimaginable 


  1. De Kesel, M. (2009). Eros and ethics: Reading Jacques Lacan’s Seminar VII. Albany: State University of New York Press.Google Scholar
  2. Des Pres, T. (1988). Holocaust laughter? In B. Lang (Ed.), Writing and the Holocaust: Conference: Papers. New York: Holmes & Meier.Google Scholar
  3. Feinstein, S. (2000). Zbigniew Libera’s Lego concentration camp: Iconoclasm in conceptual art about the Shoah. Other Voices 2(1):2 (Web).Google Scholar
  4. Hegel, G. (1955). Ästhetik. In F. Bassenge (ed), (p. 57). Berlin: Aufbau (Print).Google Scholar
  5. Liebman, S. (2007). Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah: Key essays. New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  6. Michaels, L. (2000). Ingmar Bergman’s Persona. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Titus Brandsma InstituutRadboud UniversitetNijmegenThe Netherlands

Personalised recommendations