Beyond punctum and studium: trauma and photography in Rachel Seiffert’s "The dark room"

P-U. Rau

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In her novella triptych The Dark Room (2001) the Australo-German Rachel Seiffert uses the motif of photography to problematize the ways in which Germans of various generations deal with the Nazi era and their implication in it. In this essay I argue that Seiffert demonstrates the limitations of photography in assisting us with accessing the past or any simplified notion of ‘truth’ or ‘reality’, especially when this medium carries the mandates of historical evidence and moral imperatives. Drawing on the historical contexts of Holocaust photography and recent critical readings of their use, I test the helpfulness of Barthes’ notions of punctum and studium. In pitching photographs of traumatic history against photography’s potential to produce trauma-like experiences or at least disturb the spectator, Seiffert places the true burden of the photograph on its temporal and connotative contingency that may lead to a ‘spectral punctum’ - a subjective affect caused by something that the image does not record but that nonetheless conditions its reading as traumatic, a negative supplement signifying loss or absence.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)295-325
Number of pages31
JournalJournal of European Studies
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2006


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