The Holocaust and the Nonrepresentable

Literary and Photographic Transcendence

By David Patterson

Subjects: Holocaust Studies, Jewish Studies, Religion, Philosophy, Continental Philosophy
Series: SUNY series in Contemporary Jewish Thought
Hardcover : 9781438470054, 340 pages, June 2018
Paperback : 9781438470047, 340 pages, January 2019

Alternative formats available from:

Table of contents

List of Photographs
Part I. Reflections on Holocaust Representation and the Nonrepresentable: Theoretical Considerations

By Way of a Prologue

Naming It

Naming Auschwitz

Post-Auschwitz Implications for an Understanding of Language

The Nonrepresentable and the Murder of the Mother

The Silent Scream

The Nonrepresentable Site of Silence

Naming the Name, the Nameless, and the Assault on the Name

The Nonrepresentable Assault on the Nonrepresentable Good

The Assault on Time, the Death of Death, and Holocaust Representation

A Memory and a Name
Part II. The Literary Transcendence of Holocaust Representation: Speaking the Ineffable

Opening Thoughts: Epiphany and the Ultimate

A Word about Method: Substitution and the Transcendent

The Extermination of the Eternal

The Annihilation of the Father

The Obliteration of the Mother

The Collapse of Human Relation

The Disintegration of Knowledge

The Devastation of the Word

The Demolition of Meaning

The Desolation of the Soul

The Death of Death

The Eradication of the Child
Part III. The Photographic Transcendence of Holocaust Representation: Revealing the Invisible

The Legacy of Lot’s Wife


The Glory under Assault

The Mothers of Israel

The Child

The Face

The Edge of the Anti-World

The Grave without a Cemetery

The Muselmann

Selection: No Judge and No Judgment

A View from the Gas Chambers


Argues that Holocaust representation has ethical implications fundamentally linked to questions of good and evil.


Many books focus on issues of Holocaust representation, but few address why the Holocaust in particular poses such a representational problem. David Patterson draws from Emmanuel Levinas's contention that the Good cannot be represented. He argues that the assault on the Good is equally nonrepresentable and this nonrepresentable aspect of the Holocaust is its distinguishing feature. Utilizing Jewish religious thought, Patterson examines how the literary word expresses the ineffable and how the photographic image manifests the invisible. Where the Holocaust is concerned, representation is a matter not of imagination but of ethical implication, not of what it was like but of what must be done. Ultimately Patterson provides a deeper understanding of why the Holocaust itself is indefinable—not only as an evil but also as a fundamental assault on the very categories of good and evil affirmed over centuries of Jewish teaching and testimony.

David Patterson is Hillel A. Feinberg Chair in Holocaust Studies at the University of Texas at Dallas. His many books include Anti-Semitism and Its Metaphysical Origins.


"This book commands respect, both for the author's immense and intimate knowledge of what has become a vast body of work and for his unconditional commitment to the subject. I am in awe of what I have just read." — Dorota Glowacka, coeditor of Between Ethics and Aesthetics: Crossing the Boundaries