This thesis is concerned with the gaze at catastrophe, the politics of seeing, and the aesthetics of catastrophe. One such aesthetics is formed by the practices that functionalise the Holocaust trope. "The Holocaust", as the series of events of Nazi genocidal practices has come to be called, has become the catastrophe in our modern Western consciousness. In numberless variations, the Holocaust has been called the “greatest crime in the history of humanity" (Levi), the "new categorical imperative" for humans to think and act in such a way that Auschwitz could never be repeated (Adorno), "the defining event of the twentieth century" (Bartov), the "signature of a whole era" (Habermas), and, ultimately, as the climax of modernity and the rational and emotional catastrophe that led to the unhealable "wound which Nazism has made in Western civilization" (Bauman).
The thesis problematises this image of the Holocaust as the catastrophe that can be invoked for all "other" incidents of violence, destruction, and suffering. I am concerned with the implications and pragmatics of the spread of the images of the Holocaust. Holocaust imagery is resurfacing everywhere-in critical thinking and philosophy, as well as all areas of popular culture. The extent to which "the Holocaust" has gained centre stage in the global fascination with catastrophe and atrocity-and has become a benchmark against which other events are judged-is astonishing. At the same time the most commonly expressed grievance over Holocaust references still is the use of the words "holocaust" or "genocide" to describe other events. With this contradiction in mind, the thesis examines the practice of using the Holocaust for representing and recording contemporary catastrophes in the news media; a practice still widespread and not showing any signs of decrease, notwithstanding the increasing time gap since the events occurred. The Holocaust has become a representational convention for the framing of catastrophe within contemporary media representations. Within it, a transfer of Holocaust imagery and theory into completely different contexts occurs on a large scale, but this practice is not yet theorised in itself.
Therefore, the thesis examines the pragmatics of global Holocaust representations: why the Holocaust has been turned into such a dominant narrative. To do so, the thesis traces the visual rhetoric of Holocaust imagery used for events other than the Jewish genocide. Chapter One opens up the questions addressed and introduces the main argument, which is concerned with the political and cultural significance of global Holocaust representations, of how the "Holocaust image" is moved around within a global public sphere. It establishes that the Holocaust is used as a representational convention for the framing of catastrophe within contemporary media representation. Chapter Two examines what happens when the Holocaust moves across space and time. Focusing on its uses for "other" genocides, this chapter analyses the work the Holocaust image is made to perform in the instance of the Rwandan genocide, and the significance and consequences of this work. Chapter Three continues this inquiry, this time examining cases in which the Holocaust image is pushed even further beyond its original context as it moves from human to animal issues. With these examples I show that this pattern of repetition constitutes an epistemological move: it is a constitutive part in the development of an aesthetics of catastrophe whose function it is to construct certain understandings of events as we11 as an understanding of how to represent these events best in order to disseminate them successfully within the media industries. Chapter Four probes the question of how we can speak, express, or represent the overwhelmingly catastrophic or traumatising, and addresses the creation of images, tropes, and metaphors proliferating in the representations and critical discourses of the Holocaust or other catastrophic events. It summarises the significance of the Holocaust transferrals and the implications of the Holocaust as an aesthetic possibility within the aesthetics of catastrophe. The appendix, finally, puts together more of the image material that reflects Holocaust transferrals and has not been analysed in detail, but is nonetheless important to the visual rhetoric of Holocaust imagery and the question of how this imagery haunts the visual coverage of so many current events.