The War in the Empty Air: Victims, Perpetrators, and Postwar Germans

Dagmar Barnouw, Author
Dagmar Barnouw, Author Indiana University Press $39.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-253-33046-8
Reviewed on: 12/30/1996
Release date: 01/01/1997
Hardcover - 303 pages - 978-0-253-34651-3
Paperback - 303 pages - 978-0-253-22040-0
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It is important to understand that this is a work of cultural criticism rather than of history. Barnouw (Critical Realism: History, Photography, and the Work of Siegfried Kracauer), a professor of German at the a University of Southern California, collects 129 b&w photographs taken in Germany in 1945 and then analyzes how they reflectedDintentionally or notDthe photographers' perceptions. While the photographs are interesting and contain many images that will be new to readers, Barnouw's analyses illustrate the problem of much postmodern cultural criticism. Not only is her book a collection of historical objects assembled with insufficient context, but it fails on its own terms. The author is aware of the difficulty and states it well in different ways in several places. The point is that it is by no means certain that we are seeing in these photographs what the photographer understood to be the point; indeed, we may even be seeing what is not happening. In the end, Barnouw doesn't satisfactorily address the question she raises, and we are left to wonder what the value is of contemplating our contemplation of uncertain information. There are also some unfortunate factual errors (e.g., Barnouw describes Robert Capa's famous photo of ""a Spanish Republican militia man struck by a Loyalist bullet""; Republicans were Loyalists). Furthermore, the author seems to have emptied the drawer of her writing desk in compiling this. The last chapter, for example, contains fore reasons not readily apparent a long explication of a novel by Amos Oz. The selection of photographs is excellent, but the analysis of them, will be of interest only to those who are enamored of hermeneutics. (Feb.)
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