Figures of History
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In this important new book the leading philosopher Jacques Rancière continues his reflections on the representative power of works of art. How does art render events that have spanned an era? What roles does it assign to those who enacted them or those who were the victims of such events?
Rancière considers these questions in relation to the works of Claude Lanzmann, Goya, Manet, Kandinsky and Barnett Newman, among others, and demonstrates that these issues are not only confined to the spectator but have greater ramifications for the history of art itself.
For Rancière, every image, in what it shows and what it hides, says something about what it is permissible to show and what must be hidden in any given place and time. Indeed the image, in its act of showing and hiding, can reopen debates that the official historical record had supposedly determined once and for all. He argues that representing the past can imprison history, but it can also liberate its true meaning.
What is specific to the Nazi extermination of the Jews of Europe was the rigorous planning of both the extermination and its invisibility. It is the challenge of this nothingness that history and art need to take up together: revealing the process by which disappearance is produced, right down to its own disappearance. We know that Holocaust denial has two possibilities, one of which is not seeing what is, in fact, no longer visible, the other of which is making so much of the context of the
matter-of-factly, wonderfully, as the raw material in which light plays on the water and games of seduction play out on river banks, in canoes or on sunny terraces, as the living principle of the equality of every subject under the sun. 2 History and representation: three poetics of modernity Anthology of examples; arrangement of fables; historial power of necessary, common destiny; historicized fabric of the sensible. Four different types of ‘history’, at least, come together or come apart,
and Claude Lorrain. But it is to that landscape that the combatants of the Great War also returned, when they were made vegetal and mineral under the brush of Otto Dix. Just as Chirico's mannequins and ‘metaphysical’ urban views come alive in Prague Street and a host of other pictures that marry expressionist fury and the coldness of the ‘new objectivity’ to mark the monstrousness of a society. Just as they will be figured again in magic realism and surrealism to produce the history paintings of
come to steal the workers' pay. Against the backdrop of this original parcelling out of the visible and the invisible, the heard and the unheard, certain sequences of history stand out at the boundary between two spaces and two sets of meaning – scenes such as the Hamburg dockers' strike, for instance, as filmed by Pudovkin. In these scenes we see the imperturbable face of the picket watching the strike breaker buckling under his load while other strike breakers are already lined up behind the
only the words of commemorative plaques remember, and say, without showing it, the blood that once stained these oblivious lands. Against tell-all Romantic poetics and the see-all information-world machine, we must pit the loneliness of the voice, its resonance alone confronting the mutism of the earth that says and shows nothing. Gilles Deleuze: ‘It must be simultaneously maintained that speech creates the event, makes it rise up, and that the silent event is covered over by the earth. The event