Cloth $35.00 ISBN: 9780226625638 Published September 2019
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Dark Lens

Imaging Germany, 1945

Françoise Meltzer

Dark Lens

Françoise Meltzer

256 pages | 4 color plates, 41 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2019
Cloth $35.00 ISBN: 9780226625638 Published September 2019
E-book $10.00 to $35.00 About E-books ISBN: 9780226625775 Published September 2019
The ruins of war have long held the power to stupefy and appall. Can such ruins ever be persuasively depicted and comprehended? Can images of them force us to identify with the suffering of the enemy and raise uncomfortable questions about forgiveness and revenge?
Françoise Meltzer explores those questions in Dark Lens, which uses the images of war ruins in Nazi Germany to investigate problems of aestheticization, the representation of catastrophe, and the targeting of civilians in war. Through texts that give accounts of bombed-out towns in Germany in the last years of the war, painters’ attempts to depict the destruction, and her own mother’s photographs taken in Berlin and other cities in 1945, Meltzer asks if any medium offers a direct experience of war ruins for the viewer. Ultimately, she concludes that while the viewer cannot help reimaging the devastation through the lenses of history, aestheticization, or voyeurism, these images at least allow us to approach the reality of ruins and grasp the larger issue of targeting civilians in modern warfare for what it is. Refreshingly accessible and deeply personal, Dark Lens is a compelling look at the role images play in constructing memories of war.
What I Remember
By Way of Beginning
1 When Words Fail: Writing Disaster
2 Ruination in Painting: Making the Unspeakable Visible
3 Through a Lens, Darkly: Texts and Images
4 Suffering and Victimization
Foregone and Other Conclusions

Review Quotes
Nathan Goldman | Lapham's Quarterly

“It is the ‘righteous pleasure in retribution’ that worries Meltzer in Dark Lens, a work of scholarship organized around a collection of previously unpublished amateur photographs, taken by Jeanne Dumilieu (the author’s mother), that feature ruins in the wake of the Allied bombings of Germany. . . . Our gaze is precisely what Meltzer is interested in investigating. What and how do we see when we see these photos? Can we even see the ruin as such? This proposition suggests a provocative way of rereading the history of interest in and representation of ruins. Perhaps our enduring obsession with them—and our drive to depict and behold them—is fueled by our very inability to reckon with destruction.”

James Hawes | The Spectator
“Meltzer’s Dark Lens is based around a couple of dozen snaps which her mother, a Frenchwoman who had been in the Resistance, took of ruined German cities immediately after the war. This personal angle whets the reader’s appetite, as does the reminder of just how strangely fascinated we all are by ruins.” 
Jas Elsner, University of Oxford
“Meltzer has written a masterpiece—an intensely personal, beautifully expressed, and reflective critical interrogation of transgenerational haunting in relation to the ruins that dominated her own childhood in post-War Germany. One special feature of Meltzer's writing is the subtle and riveting range of perspectives she brings. It is rare to find such voices so superbly melded in so urgent and important a text."
Werner Sollors, author of The Temptation of Despair: Tales of the 1940s
“Can catastrophe and the suffering of others be persuasively represented so as to reduce human suffering? In Dark Lens, Meltzer addresses this question fully, with a theoretically versatile examination of attempts to capture catastrophes in words and images. Meltzer stresses the historical and ethical contexts in which these texts demand to be read but recognizes that no amount of theorizing or moralizing will domesticate the upsetting incongruities she lays bare.”
Ulrich C. Baer, New York University
"Meltzer’s meditation on her mother’s searing photographs of German ruins is bold yet subtle. Dark Lens tears these images out of the continuum of history to examine civilian suffering. Meltzer suggests a way of looking at pictures of destruction without lapsing into either moral relativism or another cycle of blame and retribution."
Julia Hell, co-editor of Ruins of Modernity and author of The Conquest of Ruins: The Third Reich and the Fall of Rome
"Can we escape the Romantics’ aesthetization of ruins when we 'read' Germany’s ruins? Do the texts, paintings and photographs allow us to 'see' the suffering of civilians – then and now? No other ruin scholar has raised the ethical questions provoked by these haunting ruinscapes as subtly and rigorously as Meltzer. When she leaves us alone with her mother’s photographs, Meltzer’s probing reflections have prepared us to think about what a concept of ruin art might mean in this politically treacherous context."
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