Which option then, for the artist, is more aesthetically and morally responsible when confronting a horrifying event such as war: to make the most thoughtful, deeply felt and expressive artwork one can, or to insist that no art should be made at all? Inadvertently, Stockhausen's notorious quote echoed a famous epigram coined by German philosopher Theodore Adorno and cited in the title of Zamudio's essay: "To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric." And yet poetry was written, plays were staged, movies were made, paintings were painted, music was performed after Auschwitz. Some of these works were even about Auschwitz.
Surely something more than mere prurient interest lies behind our compulsion to look and record, to contemplate even as we recoil, to marvel even as we mourn. One person's exploitation of tragedy, after all, can be another's attempt to understand, to make peace, to make amends. And as critic and journalist Henry Allen wrote in a June 2000 article in the New Yorker, it's an irony worthy of Oscar Wilde that "we can worry about people being exploited with photography after they've been bombed, starved, exiled, mutilated and hacked to pieces with machetes."