Representing the Catastrophic

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When attempting to represent a catastrophic event in history the tendency is to disavowal the event by referring to it as “unimaginable,” or otherwise such events are assigned to the domain of “fiction” or “fantasy.” For example, in response to 9/11 and the images of the planes flying into buildings, many responded “it was like I was watching a movie.” How then, when our knee-jerk response is to assign catastrophic events to the “incomprehensible” or the domain of utter fantasy, do we convey the reality of these events? What rhetorical strategies are at our disposal? How are catastrophic events, such as the Holocaust or Hiroshima represented, when we no longer have an immediate relationship to them? When the last survivors of these catastrophic events are gone, how will we relate to representations of these events? What rhetorical strategies will prove most useful in conveying the historical significance of these events, even when the physical traces are gone? This book addresses these questions.


“Dr. Kerner demonstrates originality and insight in his investigation of a crucial problem: by what means might we represent catastrophic events that are of human origin, and in what ways do such events compel us to confront the deeply-rooted and far-reaching issues of abjection? ... This is a genuinely exceptional book, both in the intense ethical seriousness of its purpose, and in the highly unusual structure of its development. It challenges us to rethink the safety of categories, the limits of reason, the power of catastrophe, the force of abjection, and the ethics of representation. Its arguments and implication will resonate for some time to come.” – Dr. Bill Nichols, Professor of Cinema, San Francisco State University

“Dr. Kerner’s work brings together art history, film studies, cultural studies, and psychoanalysis into a thoughtful explanation of the ways in which catastrophe figures into a variety of cultural and artistic practices. From September 11 to Godzilla ... Professor Kerner offers a framework through which we can understand the various ways in which cultures represent and make sense of catastrophic experiences. This book raises important and timely questions about representation, national identity, colonialism and ethics.” – Dr. Brent Malin, Assistant Professor of Broadcast and Electronic Communication Arts, San Francisco State University

Table of Contents

1 Introduction: Representing the Catastrophic
2 Catastrophic History: The Qualities of Catastrophe
3 Witness and the Historical Process: Testifying to the Catastrophic
4 Allegory: History as Palimpsest
5 Gojira vs. Godzilla: Allegories of a Catastrophic Event
6 Marquis de Sade: The Allegories of a Catastrophic Historian
7 Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Salò: The 120 Days of Sodom: Cinema that Speaks Abjection
8 Documentary: Documenting Cinema
9 Catastrophic Comics
10 Conclusion: Reconstructing Memories

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