Georges Didi-Huberman; To Render Sensible

 

Representable People, Imaginary People?

Representation of the people comes up against a double difficulty, if not a double aporia, that comes from the impossibility of our subsuming each of the two terms, “representation” and “people,” into the unity of one concept. Hannah Arendt said that we will never manage to think about the political dimension as long as we stubbornly persist in speaking of man, since politics is interested precisely in something else, which is men, whose multiplicity is modulated differently each time, whether it be in conflict or community. (1) Likewise we must say, and forcefully, that we will never manage to think about the aesthetic dimension — or the world of the “sensible” to which we are reacting at every moment — as long as we speak of the representation or the image: there are only images, images whose very multiplicity, whether it be in conflict or connivance, resists any synthesis.

That is why we can say that the people, quite simply — “the people” as a unity identity totality or generality — that it quite simply does not exist. Supposing there was still a fully autochthonous population somewhere — as we see, but it is no doubt one of the last known examples, in the documentary images of First Contact where the first exchanges, in 1930, were recorded between a group of adventurers and a New Guinea population cut off from the rest of the world since the dawn of time (2) — “the people” do not exist because even in such a case of isolation, the term assumes a minimum of complexity, of impurity represented by the heterogeneous composition of those multiple and various peoples that are the living and their dead, the bodies and their spirits, those of the clan and the others, the males and the females, the humans and their gods or even their animals. . . . There is not a people; there are only coexistent peoples, not only from one population to another but even within — the social or mental interior of— the same population, no matter how coherent we would like to imagine it to be, which, moreover, is never the case. (3) It is always possible to hypostatize “the people” into identity or even into generality . But the first is a sham, devoted to glorifying populisms of all kinds, while the second is not to be found, a central aporia for all the “political” or historical sciences. (4)

It is not surprising that Pierre Rosanvallon entitled his historical inquiry on democratic representation in France Le Peuple introuvable. From the very beginning of this book appears “malaise,” spelled out: the malaise of a democracy — that is, literally, the “power of the people” — extended between the obviousness of its horizon as “political good” and the glaring, often scandalous, incompletion of its reality as “political disappointment.” It is very interesting, moreover, that this malaise or this part of “obscurity” inherent to our democratic history then comes back to the question of representation as the most necessary but also the thorniest paradigm: “It is around the question of repre- sentation, in its two senses as mandate and as figuration, that the difficulties take shape.” But it seems odd — even disturbing — that Pierre Rosanvallon, whose subject is democracy, only evokes this dialectic of representation through an immediate reference to Carl Schmitt, for whom political representation as Repräsentation or “symbolic figuration” must indeed be distinguished from political representation as Stellvertretung or “mandate.” (5)

We know that in his nostalgia for monarchic power, Carl Schmitt could only play symbolic figuration against democratic mandate. In his Verfassungslehre of 1928— one of his fundamental works—Carl Schmitt does not fail to specify that representation

is not possible with just any type of being, and it presupposes a special [exceptional] type of being (eine besondere Art Sein) . Something dead, of lesser or no value, or vile (etwas Totes, etwas Minderwertiges oder Wertloses, etwas Niedriges) cannot be represented. It lacks that superior type of being (gesteigerte Art Sein) that is capable of being elevated to public being, of having an existence (Existenz). Words like grandeur, eminence, majesty, glory, dignity and honor attempt to convey that specialness [or exceptionality] (Besonderheit) of an elevated being capable of being represented. (6)

From that angle, we cannot see how “the people” or “the peoples” could be in any way representable. Carl Schmitt, we know, wanted to unify the notion of the people in its very negativity and powerlessness; for him, the people is not. It is not this (not a magistracy or an administration, for example) ; it is not that (not a political actor in the full sense, for example); all that it knows how to do, according to him, is acclaim the representation of power that is presented to it as Führertum, as supreme “guidance.” (7) Pierre Rosanvallon obviously restrains himself from the extremes of loathing displayed by Carl Schmitt toward “democratic obviousness,” (8) But he find himself prisoner of the disjunctive model established by the author of Political Theology between Stellvertretung and Repräsentation. He no doubt inverts the hierarchy- mandate taking precedence henceforth over symbol — but this is once again to play the representation of the peoples against themselves. It is as if, figured, the peoples necessarily became imaginary, as if vowed to the image, they inevitably became illusory.

Three “imaginary peoples” thus appear in the eyes of Pierre Rosanvallon: the opinion-people, when public opinion is defined as that “inorganic way by which a people makes known what it wants and what it thinks” (according to Hegel) or as the “modern form of acclamation” (according to Carl Schmitt, once again); the nation-people that is obsessed with the “populist celebration” to the point of making it an operator of exclusion of everyone from the barbarian to the immigrant; and finally the emotion-people, where “the modern masses’ quest for identity” is expressed “in a pathetic mode. Lacking in content, these communities of emotion weave no solid bonds. They only bring about fleeting ties and involve no obligations between men. Nor do they involve any future. Far from embodying any promise for change or power for action, as the event-people of the Revolution did in the past, the emotion-people is not inscribed in history It is only the fleeting shadow of a lack and a difficulty” (9)

No doubt Pierre Rosanvallon’s targets here are above all the “stadiums,” the “television screens,” and the “magazine columns.” (10) But his very expression, the “emotion-people,” committed as it is to so harsh a diagnosis, is not without consequences for the two notions it combines, that of the people and that of emotion, through that third notion, which is, precisely, representation. Of course we understand that representation can serve as a vehicle for the artificial emotions of the television screens and the magazine columns; it can even serve, undoubtedly, as a vehicle for the great totalitarian “guidances” to which Carl Schmitt subscribed in 1933. But representation is precisely like the people: it is something multiple, heterogeneous, and complex. Representation — and we know this a little more precisely since Nietzsche and Warburg — brings with it antagonistic or paradoxical structural effects, which could be called “syncopes” on the level at which they function semiotically, or symptomal “rips” on the metapsychological or anthropological level . (11) Thus the peoples and their emotions ask much more of us than this condescending critique that amounts to dismissal: a philosophically convenient dismissal — essentially Platonic — of the perceptible world in general, of its own motions and thus of its possible resources.

 

Rubbing One’s Eyes Before the Dialectical Images

 

Thus we must return a little less haughtily — a little less scornfully — to what Hegel called, with regard to the people, that “inorganic way of making known what it wants and what it thinks,” or to what Carl Schmitt conceded to the masses under the category of “acclamation” (obviously Carl Schmitt would have spoken much less of the peoples’ protest, their “demonstrations” or their calls for emancipation) . If the emotion-people is an imaginary people, as Pierre Rosanvallon maintains, that nevertheless does not mean that it would be “lacking in content,” “without any solid bonds,” doomed to “fleeting ties,” and “involving no future [or any] power for action.” It only means that it “is not inscribed in history” — and the simplest reason for that is that that emotions themselves, like images, are inscriptions of history, its crystals of legibility (Lesbarkeit) , to adopt here a notion common to a whole constellation of thinkers who were reconsidering the fundamental relationships between historicity and visibility of bodies in the third and fourth decades of the twentieth century, that is to say in a context of struggles against fascism (I am thinking of course of Walter Benjamin, Aby Warburg, Carl Einstein, Ernst Bloch, Siegfried Kracauer, even Theodor Adorno) (12) Because the emotions themselves — like images, according to the brilliant concept framed by Walter Benjamin — are dialectical. That means first of all that they maintain a very specific relationship with representations: a relationship of inherence and disjunction at the  same time, a relationship of expression and conflict at the same time. At the very moment when Aby Warburg began to observe the play of “polarizations” and “depolarizations” in “formulas of pathos” over the long duration of images, (13) Sigmund Freud was insisting, in his Traumdeutung , on a major point that he had already recognized in observing symptoms of hysteria: that the existence of the unconscious implies that a complex dialectic exists — here expression and there conflict, here congruence and there discordance — between affects and representations . (14) If it is true that the history of societies depends upon the unconscious as well, then we must to bow to the evidence formulated by Walter Benjamin in his Passagenwerk. “In the dialectical image, the Past . . . can only be revealed as such at a very specific period: the one in which humanity, rubbing its eyes, perceives precisely as such this dream image (Traumbild) . It is at that moment that the historian assumes, for that image, the task of interpreting dreams (die Aufgabe der Traumdeutung) .” (15)

When humanity does not rub its eyes — when its images, its emotions, and its political acts find themselves divided by nothing — then the images are not dialectical, the emotions are “lacking in content,” and the political acts themselves “involve no future.” What makes the people “not to be found” is thus to be sought in the crisis of their figuration, as well as that of their mandate. That is what Walter Benjamin understood perfectly clearly in his 1935 essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” “The crisis of democracies,” he wrote, “can be understood as a crisis of the conditions of exposure of the political man.” There, where “the champion, the star, and the dictator emerge as victors” in the stadiums or on the screens of commercial cinema, it would thus be necessary to dialecticize the visible. (16) That is, to make other images, other montages; to look at them differently; to introduce into them division and movement combined, emotion and thought combined. In short, to rub one’s eyes, to rub the representation with the affect, the ideal with the repressed, the sublimated with the symptomal.  

A representation of the peoples becomes possible again beginning from the moment we agree to introduce the dialectical division into the representation of powers. It is not sufficient to do as Pierre Rosanvallon does and retrace the history of the political mandate beginning from the democratic premises of Tocqueville; nor is it sufficient to do what Giorgio Agamben does and rethink the archaeology of “reign” and “glory” beginning first with the theological premises of the church fathers, and then with the anti-democratic premises of Carl Schmitt. On the contrary for Walter Benjamin, to dialecticize consisted of making appear in each fragment of history that “image” that “passes into a flash of lightning,” that “arises and vanishes at the moment when it reveals itself to knowledge,” but that, in its very fragility, engages the memory and the desire of the peoples, that is to say, the configuration of an emancipated future. (17) This is a way of admitting that in such a domain, the historian must know how to turn his gaze to the least “passing things” or fragilities that, counter to the “sense of history” — in which our “current events” wants so much to believe — arise as if they were coming from very far away and immediately vanish, like signals bearing a historicity unconceived of until then.

Those signals or “dialectical images” are of course fragile. Such is the fragility of the collective emotions as well, and that is nevertheless their great dialectical resource. “On the evening of the first day of fighting [during the Revolution of July 1830],” Benjamin reminds us, “in many places in Paris, at the same moment and without consulting one another, men were seen firing at the clocks.” Wasn’t that a way, a very “affective” way no doubt, of making “homogeneous and empty time” explode, and of replacing it, through this interposed signal, with a model of “materialist historiography” characterized by the dismantling and rewinding of all temporality? 18 Such is, in any case, the fragility of the peoples themselves; the destruction of some public clocks and the death of some eight hundred July insurgents would not prevent the bourgeois and monarchist take-over of the movement. But Walter Benjamin — who was writing these lines at the moment of greatest danger for himself that is in 1940 — would have wanted to conjure this sort of “dream image” in which all the clocks would be shot, to rub his eyes before it, and to reformulate in this very gesture of awakening the task of the historian that falls to us still today in sentences that, for a long time now, I have not let myself recopy:

To do the work of the historian does not mean knowing “how things really happened.” It means seizing upon a memory (sich einer Erinnerung bemächtigen) , just as it arises at the moment of danger (wie sie im Augenblick einer Gefahr aufblitzt). It is a matter for historical materialism to retain an image of the past (ein Bild der Vergangenheit) that reveals itself unexpectedly to the historical subject at the moment of danger. This danger threatens the contents of the tradition as much as its addressees. It is the same for them both, and consists for them of being made the instrument of the dominant class. In each period, it is necessary to seek to wrench the tradition once again from the conformism that is on the verge of subjugating it. (19)

This insistence on the “tradition” — as distinguished from all cultural “conformism” — ought not to surprise us in a context nevertheless dominated by immediate danger and the urgency of responding to it politically. Benjamin shared with Freud and Warburg the acute awareness of the anthropological effectiveness of relics ; he shared with Bataille and Eisenstein the cheerful perception of a political effective- ness of relics, which came of rubbing one’s eyes before the animal carcasses at the Villette slaughterhouses or before the skeletons moving in a Mexican procession, and as later filmmakers such as Jean Rouch, Pier Paolo Pasolini, or Glauber Rocha had to show with perfect clarity. But that historical perception — and transhistorical as well, since it grants a decisive place to the long durations and to the missing links,  to the heterochronies and to the returns of the repressed — depended upon the division that supports and sustains any representation of the peoples. Where Carl Schmitt was only interested in the tradition of power, Benjamin firmly opposes to it the tradition of the oppressed: “The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the ‘state of exception’ in which we live is the rule. We must achieve a conception of history that is aware of this situation .” (20)

 

We understand better that Walter Benjamin was at the same time locating the task of the historian — and no doubt of the artist as well— through his desire to make the peoples represented, that is to say to give a worthy representation to the “nameless” of history: “It is more difficult to honor the memory of the nameless (das Gedachtnis der Namenlosen) than the memory of the recognized [passage crossed out: celebrated, the poets and thinkers are not an exception] . The construction of history is dedicated to the memory of the nameless .” (21) This task is all at once philological — or “micrological” as Benjamin liked to say — and philosophical. It requires exploring the archives into which the “conformists” of history never stick their noses (or open their eyes); at the same time it requires a “theoretical framework” (theoretische Armatur) and a “constructive principle” (konstructiv Prinzip) that positivist history lacks completely. (22)

This “theoretical framework” presupposes not pledging the allegiance of images to ideas, or ideas to facts. When, for exam- ple, Benjamin speaks of the “tradition of the oppressed” (Tradition der Unterdrückten), he is no doubt using a Marxist vocabulary referring directly to the class struggle, but he knows just as well that the word Unterdrückung is part of the conceptual vocabulary of Freudian psychoanalysis. Translated into French as répression, it designates a type of psychological process for which refoulement (Verdrängung) appears as a particular subcategory. Répression can be conscious, while refoulement is always unconscious; repression can be applied to affects, while refoulement operates only on representations. (23) Thus it falls to the historian to render the peoples “representable” by making  represented exactly that which is found to be “repressed” in their traditional or, more accurately, conformist representations. Now, what is “repressed” in such representations involves not only their status of social invisibility — what Hannah Arendt wanted to exam- ine, for example, in The Jew as Pariah: A Hidden Tradition, through the figure of the pariah — but once again what Hegel called the “inor- ganic way by which a people makes known what it wants and what it thinks” by expressing affects through the intermediary of gestures of the body and motions of the soul. 24

 

Lifting the Lid, Making the Heterotopias Visible

The best historians are those who contribute most effectively to lifting the lid— the lid of the repression, of the Unterdrückung, of the peoples. It is not part of my intention here, of course, to offer a litany of the masterpieces of the discipline of history, from Burckhardt and Michelet to contemporary writings. But I would like to mention briefly three oeu- vres thanks to which, it seems to me in an exemplary fashion, the lid was not only lifted but smashed to pieces. The first is that of Michel de Certeau: beginning with a history of solitudes — mystical solitudes in particular— Michel de Certeau touched upon the “absent” in conventional history and went so far as to explore the acts of social resistance inherent to certain “arts of living” among the most “ordinary” people. (25)

As for Michel Foucault, he began, as we know, with a history of defiances and their institutional treatments: psychological deviances and the asylum, somatic deviances and the clinic, criminal deviances and the prison, sexual and indeed even literary deviances (in the work of Raymond Roussel, for example). (26) Whereas he also finished, according to his archivist (that is to say philological) inquiries equipped with a critical (that is to say philosophical) framework and “constructive principle,” by distinguishing certain places where such a “tradi- tion of the oppressed” could be recognized, assembled, organized, united. These places he called heterotopias. Not that such places can exist as the functional settings of a fully guaranteed liberty:

I do not believe in the existence of something that would be functionally — by its true nature— radically liberating. Liberty is a practice. Thus there can exist, in fact, a certain number of projects that aim at altering certain constraints, at making them more flexible or even at breaking them, but none of those projects can, simply by its nature, guarantee that people will automatically be free, human freedom is never ensured by the institutions and the laws whose function it is to guarantee it. . . . If one found a place — and perhaps it exists— where liberty is effectively exercise, one would discover that that is not thanks to the nature of the objects, but once again, thanks to the practice of freedom. Which does not mean that after all one can also just leave people in slums, thinking that they only have to exercise their rights. . . . There are not, by definition, machines of freedom. . . . There are only reciprocal relationships, and constant gaps between them. (27)

Heterotopias define the very space of these possible gaps — where the lid trembles, moves a little, and lets escape the scalding steam of freedom. Utopias function perfectly, but in an unreal way — and a comforting way adds Foucault elsewhere — whereas heterotopias function in a very real way although at the price of functioning in a shaky patched together, imperfect, never complete way. Heterotopias bring into play “a space of dispute both mythical and real in the space where we live,” says Foucault. They have “the power to juxtapose in a single real place many spaces, many locations that are in themselves incompatible,” indeed even many heterogeneous temporalities (one would say in this sense that archives, museums, and libraries are, in Michel Foucault’s eyes, heterotopias hidden beneath their own institutional paneling). As such they appear as a “great reserve of imagination,” and it is up to us to make liberal use of them. (28)

It is on this school of freedom that Arlette Farge would also draw for book after book with elegance and obstinacy. For her, the archives would be the almost unhoped-for — but immediately inexhaustible — opportunity for lifting the lid that the archivists themselves no doubt believed to be irremovable. (29) She laid claim to a sensation, which is also a methodological principle, well described in the past by Aby Warburg at the time of his tireless explorations into the ricordanze of the Florentine archive of the Renaissance: “The voices of the deceased echo still in the hundreds of deciphered archival documents, and in the thousands of others that are not yet deciphered; the historian’s devotion can restore the timbre of those inaudible voices (historische Pietat vermag der unhörbaren Stimmen weider Klangfarbe zu verleihen), if he does not shrink from effort of restoring the natural link between word and image (die natürliche Zusammengehörigkeit von Wort und Bild).” (30)

It is equipped with this kind of methodical intuition that a history of the peoples could commence or recommence. Arlette Farge renewed one of Karl Marx’s gestures — his legal defense of those who stole wood in 1842 — by working first on the food thefts in eighteenth-century Paris. (31) She has renewed Benjamin’s injunction regarding the “tradition of the oppressed” by dedicating a large portion of her work to the Parisian street peoples, but also to the heterogeneous dimensions that are, on the one hand, “public opinion” and, on the other, “writing of oneself” or “on oneself.” (32) She has accompanied and extended the work of Michel Foucault by interrogating the “fragile life” of the poor, the marginal, and the oppressed. (33) In doing so, she has lifted the lid of the discourse generally held over — that is to say hanging over — social conditions and allowed to escape in the representation of the peoples, their symptoms and their affects , what she has described so well in her book Effusion et tourment, whose preamble ventures this impossible feat:

It is the breath of the anonymous and hardly well-off bodies of the eighteenth century that will be retranscribed here, those that think and shake themselves, are charmed, disturbed, become violent.  There exist in the most destitute bodies (as in those of others) the will and the dream of multiple escapes, the invention of gestures created or hinted at for them to succeed and words to name them, thus to appropriate them. The mute physical and bodily power of the anonymous, activated by the hope of the future and easily remembering what was, encounters power, responds to it, and speaks with it to be integrated into it or to alter it. . . .

Something shivers there. The bodies hum and elaborate their fates. Men and women, beings of the flesh, are “affectively in the world.” They struggle constantly against their own bodies and are in inevitable symbiosis with them, in order to banish not only cold, hunger, and fatigue but also injustice, hatred, and violence. Activated by history and acting upon it, they are ordinary beings. . . . This is a long way from wanting to define (as was often done) the weakest ones solely by the primary needs and desires of their bodies, which have elsewhere been called uncultivated. On the contrary attempting to approach historically and politically the “material part of animate beings” [the usual definition of the body] confirms the body’s infinite nobility, its rational and passionate ability to create with history and despite it, since it is the seat of and party to sensations, feelings, and perceptions. Ductile, it includes itself in the world as much as that is possible for it. The price is laughter and cries, gestures and loves, blood and sorrows, fatigue as well. The body, its history, and history itself make up only one thing . (34)

To say, first of all, that bodies — bodies singular and multiple, not “the body” in general — are “activated by history and act upon it” is to adopt a historical position that was inaugurated by Jacob Burkhardt, defended by Nietzsche, and confirmed by Warburg, as well as by Marc Bloch and a number of great ethnologists and sociologists: a position according to which history is not recounted solely through a sequence of human actions but also through an entire constellation of passions and emotions felt by the peoples. To say next that bodies are “affectively in the world” is to assume a philosophical position informed by the phenomenology of the sensible that is found in an exemplary way in Erwin Straus, Jean -Paul Sartre, or Maurice Merleau- Ponty It is to open history to a whole anthropology of affected bodies, affective bodies . (35) To say finally that “something shivers there” is to enter into a literary position, since to write history so well is first of all to write; this engages the historian in formal, stylistic, narrative, and even poetic choices, choices that determine the content as well as the style of one’s production of knowledge. These three stances act indissociably in each attempt to give the peoples a worthy historical representation. We find them, for exam- ple, in the works of Jacques Rancière, where the historical position is conveyed through his work on the archives of the peoples — a modesty very rare in the practices of the philosophical community to which Rancière belongs first — as seen for instance in the collection assembled in collaboration with Alain Faure on La Parole ouvrière, as well as the large book of archives entitled La Nuit des prolétaires ? (36) Now this choice of method very much involves a literary position characterized by a concern for material detail and a respect for documents and their concomitant editing. To do this, Rancière would draw on the sources of French realism of the nineteenth century, from the “micrologies” of Gustave Flaubert (this exact contemporary of Karl Marx) to the Carnets d’enquêtes of Emile Zola, or from the texts of Michelet to the Paris writings of Rainer Maria Rilke. (37) He would only lack, in all these ventures in historical immanence, the audacity of a supplementary operation, precisely the one that a Walter Benjamin or a Georges Bataille knew how to put to work — with the help of Proustian memoire, surrealist encounter, or Freudian metapsychology — in each historical document by detecting in it a symptomal enactment requiring of the historian that “task of interpreting dreams” of which the Passagenwerk speaks. (38)

Jacques Rancière has nonetheless lifted a few heavy “lids” off historicist conformism, guided in that by a philosophical position that owes much to the reading of Karl Marx most certainly, but also in a quieter way — and perhaps byway of that other great political philosopher in France, Claude Lefort (39) — by all that, in the work of Maurice Merleau-Ponty, could render evident the points of contact between the dialectical, from which would proceed a philosophy of history, and the sensible, upon which is founded all phenomenol- ogy of the body. (40) Isn’t thinking about the relationships between the political and the aesthetic from the angle of an “allotment of the sensible,” as Jacques Rancière does, in effect rediscovering the dialectical operations of the work in that “domain of the sensible” that so many aesthetes would like to imagine pure of all conflictu- ality and all negativity? (41) By the same token, don’t we need to recognize in any political demonstration — this word may be understood more concretely or more philosophically as one pleases — the very encounter of a dialectical relationship and a sensible relationship, as these lines by Rancière on the distinction between the political and the police clearly remind us:

“Move on! There’s nothing to see.” The police says that there’s nothing to see on a road, nothing to do but keep moving. Says that the space of traffic is only the space of traffic. The political consists of transforming that traffic space into a demonstration space of a subject: the people, the workers, the citizens. It consists of refiguring the space, what there is to do there, to see there, to name there. It is the litigation introduced over the allotment of the sensible. . . . The essence of the political is dissensus. Dissensus is not the confrontation of interests or opinions. It is the demonstration of a gap in the sensible itself. The political demonstration makes visible what had no reasons for being seen, it lodges one world within another, for example the world where the factory is a public place within the one where it is a private place, the world where the workers speak, and speak of the community, within the one in which they cry out to express their single pain. (42)

Thus the demonstration is what happens when citizens declare themselves oppressed by daring to declare their powerlessness, their pain, and their concomitant emotions. It is what happens when a sensible event touches the community in its history, that is to say, in the dialectic of its evolving. Thus the affective and the effective are deployed in it together. Where Alain Badiou wanted to postulate a sense of history in which this concomitance would be “saturated, terminated” and would have to give way to a “nonexpressive conception of the philosophical dialectic,” we can, on the contrary, observe everywhere the survival and effectiveness of the very oldest “formulas of pathos”: lamentations that rise and become imprecations, screamed curses that become actions. There is no “politics of the truth” as Badiou says — qualifying it as “real and logical” to better disqualify, in an entirely Platonic fashion, what would be on the order of the imaginary or the emotional— without the truth of the sensible. (43) At the very moment when I write these lines (June 2012), all that Eisenstein put into images in the scenes of lamentations in Battleship Potemkin is finding a new value of urgency in the concomitance of tears shed at all the funerals of the victims of the Syrian regime of Bachar el-Assad, the cries hurled in the face of the police, and the arms that it is becoming necessary to procure to ensure a future — now that it is impossible to have dialogue — to such protest.

 

Approaching, Documenting, Rendering Sensible

To approach politics through the multiple opportunities of a “litigation introduced over the allotment of the sensible,” as Jacques Rancière would have it: isn’t this to end up by “aestheticizing the political”— the worst thing in the eyes of Walter Benjamin (because that was what the fascist regimes of his time did, with great pomp) , something for which we can, in any case, occasionally reproach the author of Partage du sensible? The answer to this question is very simple: it is that aesthetics itself designates a field of conflicts, a division that many other words have crossed over, for example when we want to hear in the word people (the famous, the overrepresented in the glitter market) all those from which the peoples are, rightly, excluded; or when we want to hear in the word image (the medium for fame, for overrepresentation in glitter) all that the images know, rightly, to contest. What is the meaning then of the word aesthetic when Jacques Rancière does not hesitate to write that “the emancipation of workers was first of all an aesthetic revolution: the gap opened in relationship to the sensible universe ‘imposed’ by a condition’’? (44)

We are a long way here from the aesthetic that chooses for its sub- jects the “criteria of art” or of beauty — what Carl Einstein denounces as the ridiculous “beauty contests” — dear to academic institutions. The aesthetic we are talking about from now on is a kind of knowledge that chooses for subjects the events of the sensible, regardless of whether or not they are “artistic.” Now, to better describe them, we need not only that philosophical criticism developed by Jacques Rancière, among others, but also a true anthropology that would benefit from being informed by the “techniques of the body” (according to the lesson of Marcel Mauss), the “formulas of pathos” (according to the lesson of Aby Warburg), or the “thymic moments” (according to the lesson of phenomenological descriptions, like those of Ludwig Binswanger for example). But in order to describe, one must first know how to write, that is, to take a position — literary, aesthetic, ethical — in the language, that vast field of conflicts where the most reductive and most open usages are encountered, the worst slo- gans and the best questionings. An anthropology of sensible events begins from the moment when one agrees to approach through looking, through listening, through writing, even if it means renouncing the apodictic claims of the metaphysics of school:

Classical metaphysics was able to pass through a specialty where only literature had done so because it functioned on a basis of undisputed rationalism and because it was convinced of being able to make the world and human life understood through an organization of concepts. . . . That all changed when phenomenological or existential philosophy chose for its task not to explain the world or to discover its “conditions of possibility” but to formulate an experience of the world, a contact with the world that precedes all thinking about the world. . . From then on the task of literature and the task of philosophy could no longer be separated. When it is a matter of articulating the experience of the world and of showing how consciousness escapes into the world, we can no longer profess to achieve a perfect transparency of expression. Philosophical expression assumes the same ambiguities as literary expression, if the world is made in such a way that it can only be expressed in “stories” and pointed to with the finger. (45)

In order to speak as I do of this “dialectic of the sensible,” I do not know if Jacques Rancière would accept such a philosophical intervention (intervention from a phenomenological perspective in Merleau-Ponty’s sense, or even from an anthropological perspective in Mauss’s sense, revisited by Georges Bataille). But it is clear that, right up to his recent work, Aisthesis , Rancière often proceeds by “scenes” that are so many singular “stories” or objects “pointed to with the finger” according to the characteristic gesture of an approach that is as descriptive as it is problematized. (46) If the last chapter of this book is devoted to James Agee and his extraordinary study of impoverished Alabama in the 1930s, it is obvious that the philosophical position claimed here is inseparable from a literary position meant to approach sensible phenomena (as a philologist or a historian could do before a document, as an ethnologist would do before a ritual gesture) as much as to discern in them the force lines or the front lines (as a philosopher of the dialectic could do before any given situation). (47)

This literary position has a long history henceforth, Walter Benjamin and Ernst Bloch having known better than anyone in the 1930s how to understand the full political as well as poetic scope of it: from Louis Aragon’s Le Paysan de Paris and Andre Breton’s Nadja to Alfred Doblin’s Alexanderplatz, from Brechtian montages to the scenaristic writing of Moholy-Nagy, from Blaise Cendrars, Ilya Ehrenburg, or Vladimir Mayakovsky — I am thinking for example of the extraordinary “poem-reports” of 1925— 1929 (48) — it is all a literary constellation that, beyond the novelistic writings of the nineteenth century, would seek to adopt the principle of documentary montage that we find later in the works of W G, Sebald, Charles Reznikoff, or closer to us, Jean- Christophe Bailly. (49)

 

Now this principle of documentary montage — or remontage — is inseparable from a cultural history profoundly marked, prior to the cinema, by a certain use of photography. (50) That was how the dialectic encountered the sensible and how the political was embodied in the new resources, including visual ones, of poetry. In 1924, for example, Blaise Cendrars published a book entitled Kodak (documentaire) the American firm having in the meantime asserted its rights, Cendrars had to reduce his title for the complete edition of his poems in 1944 to simply Documentaires. (51) In 1928, this principle entered into the very poetics of the dreamy, amorous course of Nadja, the text of which was punctuated by the urban photographs of Jacques-Andrè Boiffard and Man Ray. (52) It was also necessary that the enterprise of theoretical demontage conducted by Georges Bataille in the journal Documents in 1929-1930 was not illustrated but very much supported and required by the documentary iconography of Boiffard himself, of Eli Lotar, and of many others as well. (53) In those same years, the sensible images of Germaine Krull came again to require the dialectical thinking of Walter Benjamin on the Paris arcades (we can rediscover some of those images in the archives of another great dialectician, Theodor Adorno). (54) When Ilya Ehrenburg published his book Mon Paris in Moscow in 1933, he had his Leica photographed by El Lissitzky — who was also the book’s designer — first facing forward with himself in profile, then immediately photographed close up, a way of saying that perhaps the Leica was the main author of this book composed of an admirable series of images showing the diverse peoples of Paris. (55) And finally — to cut short this list that could go on very much longer — how are we to understand Bertolt Brecht’s Work Journals or ABC of the War without their photographic montages, or James Agee’s study without Walker Evans’s implacable photographs? (56)

 

Implacable images indeed. (57) But not “insensible” for all that, not in the least, these images that do not leave us insensible either. Of course no one is crying in these images of poverty, in which unemployment, hunger, and death as well lurk everywhere. One wife almost seems to be biting her lower lip precisely in order not to cry; a frantic child, squatting on ground, unable to play, looks into the void; looking carefully, isn’t that other baby crying in its mother’s arms? Thus in these images there is all possible dereliction and at the same time all remaining dignity in the bond established with the photographer. As with August Sander, nothing was shot hastily, everything results from a shared consideration, a mutual respect that took time to be established. And that is how Walker Evans “renders sensible” to us something crucial — and not only apparent — in the condition of the American peoples of the Great Depression, something that remains inseparable from the account James Agee would give of them.

In such a context then, what does the gesture of rendering sensible mean? It does not mean to render unintelligible, whether the strict versions of Platonism or of contemporary rationalism like it or not. If Walter Benjamin constructed his whole approach of the “legibility of history” around the notion of dialectical image — and not, for example, on those of “dialectical idea,” or even “idea of the dialectic” — it is very much because historical and anthropological intelligibility can- not do without a dialectic of images, appearances, apparitions, gestures, looks … all that could be called sensible events. As for the power of legibility for which these events are the bearers, it is effective only because it involves the very effectiveness of images to render accessible, to call up, not only aspects of things or states of phenomena but also their sensible points, their “sore points,” as we so accurately say to locate where sensitivity functions to excess, where something may be wrong, where everything divides into the dialectical deployment of memories, desires, and conflicts.

    

 

Thus to render sensible is also to render accessible that dialectic of the symptom crossing through all history, usually without the knowledge of official observers (I mean, for example, that James Agee and Walker Evans would lay out before us certain aspects of the economic crisis that the economists or historians of that era undoubtedly did not see so precisely). This could be a way of understanding what Maurice Blanchot was saying when he evoked the “presence of the people . . . not as the whole of social forces, ready for particular political decisions, but in its , . . declaration of powerlessness.” 58 In such a way that “to render sensible” would mean, strictly speaking, to ren- der sensible the faults, places, or moments through which, declaring themselves “powerless,” the peoples affirm both what they lack and what they desire. Walker Evans’s images (dry and yet so moving), like James Agee’s descriptions (literal and yet so poetic), thus appear as the rendering sensible and the declaration of powerlessness of those peoples grappling with a historical and political situation that threatens to destroy them. (59)

To render sensible thus would be to render accessible to the senses, even to render accessible what our senses, like our intelligences, do not always know how to perceive as “making sense”: something that appears only as a flaw in the meaning, sign, or symptom. But in a third sense, “to render sensible” also means that we ourselves, before these flaws or symptoms, suddenly become “sensible” to something of the life of the peoples — to something of the history — that escaped us until then but that “regards” us directly. Thus, here we are “rendered sensible” or sensitive to something new in the history of the peoples that we desire, consequently, to know, to understand, and to accompany Elere our senses, but also our significative productions on the historical world, are moved by this “rendering sensible”: moved  in the double sense of putting into emotion and putting into movement of thought.

Thus, here we are before the “declaration of powerlessness” of the peoples — as it can be rendered sensible to us in the montages of James Agee’s texts and Walker Evans’s images — left grappling with a whole world of dialectical emotions, as if the legibility of history necessitated that particular affective disposition that seizes us before such dialectical images: the formula with the pathos that nevertheless divides it, the intelligible with the sensible that nevertheless turns it upside down.


  1. H. Arendt, Qu’est-ce que la politique? (1950— 1959), trans. S. Courtine-Denamy (Paris: Le Seuil, 1995), 39-43. [Trans.: — See Arendt, The Promise of Politics, ed. J. Kohn, trans. J. Woods (New York: Random House, 2005).]

  2. First Contact, directed by B. Connolly and R. Anderson (New York: Filmmakers Library, 1982). See F. Niney, L’Epreuve du reel a I’ecran: Essai sur le principe de realite documentaire (Brussels: De Boeck Universite, 2000), 283.

  3. I have already tried to justify this plural in Peuples exposes, peuples figurants, L’oeil de l’histoire 4 (Paris: Les Editions de Minuit, 2012).

  4. See “Populisms,” special issue, Critique 68, no. 776-77 (2012).

  5. P. Rosanvallon, Le Peuple introuvable: Histoire de la representation democratique en France (Paris: Gallimard, 1998), 11, 13, with a reference to the article by O. Beaud,  “Repräsentation et Stellvertretung: Sur une distinction de Carl Schmitt,” Droits : Revue francaise de theorie juridique, no. 6 (1987): 11—20.

  6. C. Schmitt, Theorie de la Constitution (1928), trans. L. Deroche (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1993), 347 (translation slightly modified). [Trans.: — See Schmitt, Constitutional Theory, J. Seitzer (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2008).]

  7. Ibid., 218, 381, 419-20, and so on. See also C. Schmitt, Etat, mouvement, peuple: V organisation triadique de l’ unite politique (1933) , trans. A. Pilleul (Paris: Editions Kime, 1997), 48-63. [Trans.: — See Schmitt, State, Movement, People, trans. S. Draghici (Corvallis, Ore.: Plutarch Press, 2001).] I have discussed the use of these Carl Schmitt texts by Giorgio Agamben (in Le Regne et la gloire : Pour une geneologie theologique de l’ economie et du gouvernement [Homo sacer II, 2] [2007], trans. J. Gayraud and M. Rueff [Paris: Le Seuil, 2008]) in Survivance des lucioles (Paris: Les Editions de Minuit, 2009), 77-97

  8. See C. Schmitt, Parlementarism et democratic (1924— 1931), trans. J.-L. Schle-gel (Paris: Le Seuil, 1988). [Trans.: — See Schmitt, The Crisis of Parlimentary Democracy, trans. E. Kennedy (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1998).]

  9. Rosanvallon, Le Peuple introuvahle, 440-41, 445—46, 447-48.

  10. Ibid., 447.

  11. For “syncopes,” see L. Marin, “Ruptures, interruptions, syncopes dans la representation de peinture” (1992), in De la representation, ed. D. Arasse, A. Cantillon, G. Careri, D. Cohn, P.-A. Fabre, and F. Marin (Paris: Le Seuil- Gallimard, 1994), 364-76. For “rips,” see G. Didi-Huberman, Devant l’ image: Question posee aux fins d’une histoire de l’ art (Paris: Les Editions de Minuit, 1990), 169-269 (“L’image comme dechirure”). [Trans.: — See Didi- Huberman, Confronting Images: Questioning the Ends of a Certain History of Art, trans. J. Goodman (University Park: Penn State University Press, 2005).]

  12. See G. Didi- Huberman, Devant le temps: Histoire de I’art et anachronisme des images (Paris: Les Editions de Minuit, 2000). Also see the recent issue of the online journal Trivium no. 10 (2012), edited by M. Pic and E. Alloa.

  13. See G. Didi-Huberman, Vintage survivante: Histoire del’ art et temps des fantomes selon Aby Warburg (Paris: Les Editions de Minuit, 2002), 115-270.

  14. S. Freud, L’lnterpretation du reve (1900), trans. J. Altounian, P. Cotet, R. Laine, A. Rauzy, and F. Robert (2003; repr., Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 2010), 509-11. [Trans.: — See Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams, trans. J. Strachey (New York: Basic Books, 1955) .]

  15. W Benjamin, Paris, capitale du XIX e siecle: Le Livre des passages (1927—1940), trans. J. Lacoste (Paris: Editions de Cerf, 1989), 48in4.i. [Trans.: — See Benjamin, The Arcades Project, trans. H. Eiland and K. McLaughlin (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2002).]

  16. W Benjamin, “L’oeuvre dart a l’ere de sa reproductibilite technique” (first version, 1935), trans. R. Rochlitz, Oeuvres III (Paris: Gailimard, 2000), 93-94. [Trans.: — See Benjamin, Illuminations, trans. H. Zohn (New York: Random House, 1968).]

  17. W Benjamin, “Sur le concept d’histoire” (1940), trans. M. de Gandillac revised by P. Rusch, in Oeuvres III, 430. [Trans.: — See Benjamin, Illuminations .]

  18. Ibid., 440-41.

  19. Ibid , 431.

  20. Ibid., 433.

  21. W Benjamin, “Paralipomenes et variantes des ‘Theses sur le concept d’histoire’” (1940), trans. J.-M. Monnoyer, in Ecrits francais (Paris: Gallimard, 1991), 346.

  22. Benjamin, “Sur le concept d’histoire,” 441.

  23. See S. Freud, Metapsychologie (1915), trans. J. Laplanche and J.-B. Pontalis (Paris: Gallimard, 1968), 45-63. [Trans.: — See Freud, On Metapsychology, trans. J. Strachey (New York: Penguin Books, 1991).]

  24. See H. Arendt, La Tradition cachee: Le Juif comme paria (1944—1948), trans. S. Courtine-Demany (1987; repr., Paris: Christian Bourgois, 1997). [Trans.: — See Arendt, The Jew as Pariah, ed. R. Feldman (New York: Grove Press, 1978).]

  25. M. de Certeau, La Solitude, une verite oubliee de la communication (with F. Roustang et al.) (Paris: Desclee de Brouwer, 1967); L’Absent de I’histoire (Tours: Mame, 1973); L’Invention du quotidien (Paris: Union generate d’Editions, 1980; Paris: Gailimard, 1990-1994). [Trans.: — See Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, trans. S. Rendall (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984).]

  26. M. Foucault, Folie et deraison: Histoire de lafolie a I’age classique (Paris: Plon, 1961; Paris: Gailimard, 1972); Naissance de la clinique: Une archeologie du regard medical (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1963); Raymond Roussel (Paris: Gailimard, 1963); Surveiller et punir: Naissance de la prison (Paris: Gailimard, 1975); Histoire de la sexualite (Paris: Gailimard, 1976—1994).

  27. M. Foucault, “Espace, savoir et pouvoir” (1982), in Dits et ecrits 1954-1988, IV: 1980-1988, ed. D. Defert, F, Ewald, and J. Lagrange (Paris: Gallimard, 1994), 273-77

  28. Foucault, “Des espaces autres” (1984), in Ditset ecrits, 756, 758-59, 762.

  29. A. Farge, Le Gout de l’archive (Paris: Le Seuil, 1989), [Trans.: — See Farge, The Allure of the Archives, trans. T. Scott-Railton (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2013).]

  30. A. Warburg, “L’art du portrait et la bourgeoissie florentine: Domenico Ghirlandaio a Santa Trinita: Les portraits de Laurent de Medicis et de son entourage” (1902), trans. S. Muller, in Essaisfforentins (Paris: Klincksieck, 1990), 106. [Trans.: — See Warburg, “The Art of Portraiture and the Florentine Bourgeoisie,” in The Renewal of Pagan Antiquity, trans. D. Britt (Los Angeles: Getty Research Institute for the History of Art and the Humanities, 1999).]

  31. A. Farge, Le Vol d’aliments a Paris au XVIII e siecle (Paris: Plon, 1974).

  32. A. Farge, Dire et mal dire: l’ opinion publique au XVIII e siecle (Paris: Le Seuil, 1992) ; Le Bracelet et le parchemin: I’ecrit sur soi au XVIII s siecle (Paris: Bayard, 2003); “Walter Benjamin et le derangement des habitudes historiennes,” in “Walter Benjamin: la tradition des vaincus,” special issue, Cahiers d’anthropologie sociale, no. 4 (2008) 27-32.

  33. A. Farge, Vivre dans la rue a Paris au VXIII e siecle (Paris: Gallimard- Julliard, 1979; Paris: Gallimard, 1992); (with M. Foucault), Le Desordre des families: Lettres de cachet des archives de la Bastille au XVIII e siecle (Paris: Gallimard- Julliard, 1982); LaViefragile: Violence, pouvoirs et solidartes a Paris au XVIII siecles (Paris: Hachette, 1986; Paris: Le Seuil, 1992). [Trans.: — See A. Farge and C. Shelton, Fragile Lives: Violence, Power, and Solidarity in Eighteenth-CenturyParis (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1993).]

  34. A. Farge, Effusion et tourment, le recit des corps: Histoire du peuple au XVIII e sie- cle (Paris: Odile Jacob, 2007), 9—10. See more recently, Essai pour une histoire des voix au dix-huitieme siecle (Paris: Bayard, 2009). A continuation of these problematics is found in the work collected by the Maurice Florence Collective, Archives de I’infamie (Paris: Les Prairies ordinaire, 2009).

  35. Arlette Farge refers here to the book by D. Le Breton, Les Passions ordinaires: Anthropologie des emotions (Paris: Armand Colin- Massion, 1998; Paris: Payot & Rivages, 2004).

  36. A. Faure and J. Ranciere, La Parole ouvriere (Paris: Union generate d’Editions, 1976; Paris: La Fabrique, 2007); J. Ranciere, La Nuit des proletaires: Archives du reve ouvrier (Paris: Fayard, 1981; Paris: Hachette Litteratures, 2009). See also Les Scenes du peuple (Les Revoltes logiques, 1975—1985) (Lyons: Horlieu Editions, 2003). [Trans.: — See Ranciere, Proletariat Nights: The Workers’ Dream in the Nineteenth Century, trans. J. Drury (London: Verso, 2012); Staging the People: The Proletariat and His Double, trans. D. Fernbach (London: Verso, 2011) .]

  37. See E. Zola, Carnets d’enquetes: Une ethnographic inedite de la France (1871-1890), ed. H. Mitterand (Paris: Plon, 1986); J. Ranciere, Courts Voyages au pays du peuple (Paris: Le Seuil, 1990), 89-135. [Trans.: — See Ranciere, Short Voyages to the Land of the People, trans. J. Swenson (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2003).]

  38. Benjamin, Paris, capital du XIX e siecle, 481.

  39. See C. Lefort, “La politique et la pensee de la politique” (1963), in Sur une colonne absent: Ecrits autour de Merleau-Ponty (Paris: Gallimard, 1978), 45-104; Les Formes de I’histoire: Essais d’ anthropologie politique (1978; repr., Paris: Gallimard, 2000); and Essais sur le politique, XIX e —XX e siecles (1986; repr., Paris: Le Seuil, 2001).

  40. See M. Merleau-Ponty, Les Aventures dela dialectique (1955; repr., Paris: Gallimard, 2000), 17-45 (“La crise de l’entendement”); “Partout et nulle part” (1956), in Signes (Paris: Gallimard, i960), 194-200 (“Existence et dialectique”); Le Visible et l’ invisible (1959-1961), ed. C. Lefort (1964; repr., Paris: Gallimard, 1983), 75-141 (“Interrogation et dialectique”). For a recent philosophic rehabilitation of the sensible, see the fine book by E, Coccia, La Vie sensible, trans. M. Reuff (Paris: Payot & Ravages, 2010). [Trans.: — See Merleau-Ponty, Adventures in the Dialectic, trans. ). Bien (Evanston, 111 .: Northwestern University Press, 1973); Signs, trans. R. McCleary (Evanston, 111 .: Northwestern University Press, 1964); and The Visible and the Invisible, trans. A. Lingis (Evanston, 111 .: Northwestern University Press, 1968).]

  41. J. Ranciere, Le Partage du sensible: Esthetique et politique (Paris: La Fabrique, 2000). [Trans.: — See Ranciere, Dissensus: On Politics and Aesthetics, trans. S. Corcoran (New York: Continuum, 2010).]

  42. J. Ranciere, Auxbords du politique (Paris: La Fabrique, 1998; Paris: Gallli- mard, 2004), 242, 244. [Trans.: — See Ranciere, On the Shores of Politics, trans. L. Heron (London: Verso, 2007).]

  43. A. Badiou, “La politique: Une dialectique non expressive” (2005), in La Relation enigmatique entre philosophic et politique (Meaux: Editions Germina, 2011), 70-71.

  44. J. Ranciere, Le Philosophe et ses pauvres (Paris: Fayard, 1983; Paris: Flammarion, 2007), vi (2006 preface). [Trans.: — See Ranciere, The Philosopher and His Poor, trans. A. Parker, J. Drury, and C. Oster (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2004).]

  45. M. Merleau-Ponty, “Le roman de la metaphysique” (1945), in Sens et non-sens (Paris: Editions Nagel, 1948; Paris: Gallimard, 1996), 35-37. [Trans.: — See Merleau-Ponty, Sense and Non-Sense, trans. H. and P. A. Dreyfus (Evanston, 111 .: Northwestern University Press, 1964).]

  46. J. Ranciere, Aisthesis: Scenes du regime esthetique de I’art (Paris: Editions Galilee, 2011). [Trans.: — See Ranciere, Aiethesis: Scenes from the Aesthetic Regime of Art, trans. Z. Paul (London: Verso, 2013).]

  47. Ibid.. 287—307. See J. Agee and W Evans, Louons maintenant les grands hommes: Alabama, trois families de metayers en 1936 (1941), trans. J. Queval (1977; repr., Paris: Plon, 2002). [Trans.: — See Agee and Evans, Now Let Us Praise Lamous Men (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1941).]

  48. See V Maiakovski, L’Universel Reportage (1913-1929), trans. H. Deluy (Tours: Farrago, 2001).

  49. See esp. C. Reznikoff, Temoignage: Les Etats-Unis (1885-1915), recitatif (1965), trans. M. Cholodenko (Paris: P.O.L., 2012); W G. Sebald, Austerlitz (2001), trans. P. Charbonneau (Arles: Actes Sud, 2002); and J.-C. Badly, Le Depaysement: Voyages en Prance (Paris: Le Seuil, 2011). See the studies of M. Pic, “Du montage de temoignages dans le litterature: Holocauste de Charles Reznikoff,” Critique, no, 736 (2008): 878- 88; “Elegies documentaires,” Europe no. 1033 (2012): “***. [Trans,: — See Reznikoff, Testimony: The United States (1885-1915) Recitative (New York; New Directions, 1965) ; Sebald, Austerlitz, trans. A. Bell (New York: Random House, 2001).]

  50. See G. Didi-Huberman, Atlas ou legal savoir inquiet, L’oeil de lhistoire 3 (Paris: Les Editions de Minuit, 2011).

  51. B. Cendrars, Kodak (documentaire) (Paris: Stock, 1924 ); Poesies completes (Paris: Denoel, 1944), 151—89 (“Documentaires”). [Trans,: — See Blaise Cendrars: Complete Poems, trans. R. Padgett (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992).] See D. Grojnowski, Photographie etlangage: Fictions, illustrations, informations, visions, theories (Paris: Librairie Jose Corti, 2002), 45— 66.

  52. A. Breton, N adja (1928), Oeuvres completes 1, ed. M. Bonnet (Paris: Gallimard, 1988), 643-753. [Trans.: — See Breton, Nadja, trans. R. Howard (New York: Grove Press, i960).]

  53. See G. Didi-Huberman, La Ressemhlance inform, or le gai savoir visuel selon Georges Bataille (Paris: Macula, 1995).

  54. See U. Marx, G. Schwarz, M. Schwarz, and E. Wizisla, Walter Benjamin: Archives; images, textes et signes (2006), ed. F. Perrier, trans. P. Ivernel (Paris: Klincksieck, 2011), 272-93.

  55. I. Ehrenbourg, [ Mon Paris] (Moscow: Izogiz, 1933; Paris: Editions 7L, 2005).

  56. See O. Lugon, Le Style documentaire: dAugust Sander a Walker Evans, 1920-1945 (2001; repr., Paris: Macula, 2011). G. Didi-Huberman, Quand les images prennent position, L’oeil de l’histoire 1 (Paris, Les Editions de Minuit, 2009).

  57. Agee and Evans, Now Let Us Praise, unpaginated photos.

  58. M. Blanchot, La Communaute inavouahle (Paris: Les Editions de Minuit, 1983), 54- [Trans.: — See Blanchot, The Unavowable Community, trans. P. Jorris (Barrytown, N.Y.: Station Hill Books, 2006).]

  59. I have altered Maurice Blanchot’s expression in the French here because of the distinction, which seems to me necessary (one will find it, notably, in the commentaries on Nietzsche by Gilles Deleuze), between puissance (power, strength) and pouvoir (power, ability) . Thus one could say that a “declaration of powerlessness” (inability) is not exactly deprived of its power (strength) of declaration.


What is a People?

New Directions in Critical Theory

Translated by Jody Gladding

© 2016 Columbia University Press

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