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Catalog Archive / Spring 2024

Surreal Geographies
A New History of Holocaust Consciousness

George L. Mosse Series in the History of European Culture, Sexuality, and Ideas
Steven E. Aschheim, Skye Doney, Mary Louise Roberts, and David J. Sorkin, Series Editors

“An erudite, beautifully written book that journeys from the Yiddish poetry of Avrom Sutzkever to Donna Haraway’s manifesto on the ‘Chthulucene.’ Brackney shows how artists have not always deemed the Holocaust ‘unrepresentable.’ Rather, through surrealist articulations including science fiction and abstraction, representations of the Shoah have been unapologetically produced from the very beginning.”
—Sheila Jelen, author of Salvage Poetics: Post-Holocaust American Jewish Folk Ethnographies

Winner of the George L. Mosse First Book Prize

Surreal Geographies recovers a forgotten archive of Holocaust representation. Examining art, literature, and film produced from the immediate postwar period up to the present moment, Kathryn L. Brackney investigates changing portrayals of Jewish victims and survivors. In so doing, she demonstrates that the Holocaust has been understood not only through the documentary realism and postmodern fragmentation familiar to scholars but also through a surreal mode of meaning making. From an otherworldly “Planet Auschwitz” to the spare, intimate spaces of documentary interviews, Brackney shows that the humanity of victims has been produced, undermined, and guaranteed through evolving scripts for acknowledging and mourning mass violence.

Brackney offers a new look at familiar works by authors and artists such as Claude Lanzmann, W. G. Sebald, and Paul Celan, while making surprising connections to contemporary scholars like Timothy Snyder and Donna Haraway, and events such as the Space Race. In the process, she maps out a decades-long process through which transnational conventions of mourning have emerged in Western Europe, North America, and Israel, functioning to constitute Jewish victimization as “grievable life.” Ultimately, she shows how the Holocaust has developed into a figure for the destabilization and reformulation of the category of humanity and the problem of mourning across difference.


Author. Photo credit, Mal Ahern. Kathryn L. Brackney is an assistant professor of history at Leiden University. Her research explores how aesthetic norms have developed for remembering the Holocaust and other crimes against humanity.




“Ambitious, provocative, and important. Through creative readings of a wealth of texts, from survivor testimonies and documentary films to science fiction, Brackney ‘denaturalizes’ current canonical representations of the Holocaust, while remembering and reconstructing other, less well-known—and more disturbing—interpretations.”
—Kirsten Fermaglich, author of American Dreams and Nazi Nightmares



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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations

Chapter 1. Beyond Bearing Witness: Early Art and Literature of Holocaust Remembrance
Chapter 2. Remembering “Planet Auschwitz” during the Cold War
Chapter 3. Testimony and Transformation
Chapter 4. Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah: Historicizing the Limits of Representation
Chapter 5. The Holocaust in Natural History
Conclusion. New Shapes of Holocaust Memory in the Anthropocene



Of Related Interest


Propaganda and Persecution
The French Resistance and the “Jewish Question”
Renée Poznanski


Contemporary Europe in the Historical Imagination
Edited by Darcy Buerkle and Skye Doney

Surreal Geographies: Cover depicting a painting made of yellows, greys, and blacks abstracted by warping it into a spiral. The title text is written in bold white font over a section of the image that has been further blurred.

Larger images

August 2024
248 pp. 6 x 9
36 b/w illus.

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Cloth $79.95 S
ISBN 9780299346003
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