The Libeskind Jewish Museum in Berlin, the unpresentable and experience
Keywords:Libeskind, Jewish museum, the 'real', Holocaust, sublime, 'earth', the unrepresentable
This paper is an attempt to interpret the design or spatial modulation of an important work of architecture in Berlin, Germany, namely Daniel Libeskind’s Jewish Museum. This is done by activating the heuristic potential of a number of relevant concepts from a variety of thinkers. After a brief introduction on modern architecture in Berlin, the focus shifts to this specific building, which is briefly described before interpretively introducing the notions of the ‘real’ in the work of Jacques Lacan – which denotes that which surpasses symbolisation, and is encountered in traumatic experiences – and correlatively, of ‘earth’ in that of Heidegger, which suggests something that only manifests itself in so far as it withdraws from scrutiny. The hermeneutic significance of these concepts for the Jewish Museum is explored, followed by a similar examination of the interpretive relevance of the notions of the ‘unpresentable’, ‘unsayable’ and sublime (Lyotard, Kant) for Libeskind’s building. Given the enormity and unpresentable horror of the event (the Holocaust) indexed by the Jewish Museum, any analysis of the meaning of this building would be incomplete without focusing specifically on the experience(s) afforded to visitors. In this regard the work of Arleen Ionescu on the Jewish Museum – on the significance of its ‘voids’, for example – and the (written) work of Libeskind himself (on the relevance of light, for instance) prove to be invaluable. Finally, Karsten Harries’s insights concerning the ‘ethical function of architecture’, ‘a sense of place’ and ‘community’ are employed to draw together the strands of the present interpretive essay
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