Visualizing Atrocity

Arendt, Evil, and the Optics of Thoughtlessness

205 pages

15 halftones

August, 2012

ISBN: 9780814769768



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Valerie Hartouni is Professor of Communication at the University of California, San Diego, and author of Cultural Conceptions: On Reproductive Technologies and the Remaking of Life.

All books by Valerie Hartouni

Visualizing Atrocity takes Hannah Arendt’s provocative and polarizing account of the 1961 trial of Nazi official Adolf Eichmann as its point of departure for reassessing some of the serviceable myths that have come to shape and limit our understanding both of the Nazi genocide and totalitarianism’s broader, constitutive, and recurrent features. These myths are inextricably tied to and reinforced viscerally by the atrocity imagery that emerged with the liberation of the concentration camps at the war’s end and played an especially important, evidentiary role in the postwar trials of perpetrators.
At the 1945 Nuremberg Tribunal, particular practices of looking and seeing were first established with respect to these images that were later reinforced and institutionalized through Eichmann’s trial in Jerusalem as simply part of the fabric of historical fact. They have come to constitute a certain visual rhetoric that now circumscribes the moral and political fields and powerfully assists in contemporary mythmaking about how we know genocide and what is permitted to count as such. In contrast, Arendt’s claims about the “banality of evil” work to disrupt this visual rhetoric. More significantly still, they direct our attention well beyond the figure of Eichmann to a world organized now as then by practices and processes that while designed to sustain and even enhance life work as well to efface it. 


  • “A compelling and broad-reaching manuscript that will be of great interest not only to scholars of Arendt and Eichmann, but to those who want to think more generally about the interrelationship of political judgment and visual culture.”

    —Judith Butler, University of California, Berkeley

  • "By relating the visual to the criminal and political issues of the Nazi genocide, Eichmann, and Arendt, Hartouni poses critical questions on justice and morality that resonant in other genocides and in our time."

    —Lia Deromedi, Dialogues on Historical Justice and Memory

  • "Hartouni provides simply the finest analysis of the issues involved in Arendt’s reading of Eichmann and the failure of the trial to recognize a new crime, the crime of the bureaucracy and ‘the optics of thoughtlessness’. Visualizing Atrocity is a masterful accomplishment and should take its place as the leading work at the intersection of political and normative judgement with visual projection."

    —Wayne Morrison, Theoretical Criminality

  • "Visualizing Atrocity is a masterful accomplishment and should take its place as the leading work at the intersection of political and normative judgement with visual projection."

    Theoretical Crimonology

  • “Valerie Hartouni’s volume reinterprets Hannah Arendt’s controversial reflections on political evil in the twentieth century. […]  It should be apparent that there is a great of continuity in Arendt’s thought in regard to her conception of the system of rule that rendered human beings superfluous.  And it is in this regard that Hartouni makes her greatest contribution, both stressing and reinterpreting Arendt’s insight that ‘totalitarian solutions’ did not end with the demise of the German totalitarian dictatorship and that ‘the Nazi project…had changed the conditions of the lifeworld or the living-together of people.’”

    Holocaust and Genocide Studies