By Anne Fuchs (auth.)
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Additional info for After the Dresden Bombing: Pathways of Memory, 1945 to the Present
The Romantic epistemology of transcendence was an aesthetic antidote to the experience of violence, displacement and loss. In Richard Peter’s photograph, it is above all the presence of bonitas that achieves the conversion of the dreadful wreckage of history into a meaningful ruination. By tapping into the readily available convention of the Romantic ruin, the photograph mobilises a melancholic sensibility that allowed postwar Germans to process the experience of excessive historical loss. The figure’s melancholic gesture appears to display the ruination not just of Dresden but of all human history.
38 After the Dresden Bombing The next set of photographs is organised around iconic buildings and themes, thus enhancing a universal topography of ruination that culminates in an allegory of death that carries the caption ‘Death above Dresden’. 38 The skeleton is the first direct reminder of the loss of human life; it points the viewer to the next full-page photo, showing the exterior wall of a house with graffiti from survivors who were looking for their loved ones. As we turn over, the photographer exploits once more the aesthetic of shock: we are now confronted with two full-sized, close-up photographs of mummified corpses, a woman on the left and a man with a swastika on his arm on the right.
Calling up an already established sensibility that understands modern history as a series of violent dispossessions, the picture adopts the perspective of after our own death. By using bonitas as a frame for the ultimately unrepresentable idea of excess, it encouraged postwar Germans to contemplate the enormity of their losses. And so this photograph did indeed invite the German postwar audience to recognise each other as fellow victims. While this may be viewed as a tendentious displacement of guilt, the lasting impact of the image can also be seen more positively as an affective working through of an event that cannot be grasped merely on the cognitive level.
After the Dresden Bombing: Pathways of Memory, 1945 to the Present by Anne Fuchs (auth.)