Unveiling Organizational Visions
Edited by Christina Garsten and Monica Lindh de Montoya
Chapter 1: Truth in 3D: Displaying Historical Evidence at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Bodil Birkebæk Olesen In an essay from 1967 Roland Barthes discussed what he termed the transparency eﬀect, a representational strategy found in conventional historical discourse that sustains an illusionary direct link between past reality and its historiographical representation: ‘that paradox which governs the entire pertinence of historical discourse . . . facts never have any but a linguistic existence . . . yet everything happens as if this linguistic existence were merely a pure and simple “copy” of another existence, situated in an extrastructural ﬁeld, the “real” ’ (Barthes, 1986, p. 138).1 Echoing Nietzsche, Barthes argued that facts do not exist as such until a meaning, a narrative framework, is introduced to establish the signiﬁcance of the facts. Therefore, any historical account has an inescapably textual nature. But the anonymous and impersonal style of the historical text diverts attention away from the existence of this narrative framework and creates the illusion that the text simply mirrors the referent, the real. What makes Barthes’s essay even more interesting in relation to this volume is his suggestion that this primacy attached to ‘the real’ in historical discourse reﬂects a fundamental characteristic of Western civilization, which he claimed: [is] attested to by the development of speciﬁc genres such as the realistic novel, the private diary, documentary literature, the news items, the historical museum, the exhibition of ancient objects, and, above all, the massive development of photography, whose sole pertinent feature (in relation to drawing) is precisely to signify that the event represented has...
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