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Athens, Still Remains

The Photographs of Jean-Franois Bonhomme

Jacques Derrida

Publication Year: 2010

Athens, Still Remains is an extended commentary on a series of photographs of contemporary Athens by the French photographer Jean-Franois Bonhomme. But in Derrida's hands commentary always has a way of unfolding or, better, developing in several unexpected and mutually illuminating directions.First published in French and Greek in 1996, Athens, Still Remains is Derrida's most sustained analysis of the photographic medium in relationship to the history of philosophy and his most personal reflection on that medium. At once photographic analysis, philosophical essay, and autobiographical narrative, Athens, Still Remains presents an original theory of photography and throws a fascinating light on Derrida's life and work.The book begins with a sort of verbal snapshot or aphorism that haunts the entire book: we owe ourselves to death.Reading this phrase through Bonhomme's photographs of both the ruins of ancient Athens and contemporary scenes of a still-living Athens that is also on its way to ruin and death, Derrida interrogates a philosophical tradition that runs from Socrates to Heidegger in which the human-and especially the philosopher-is thought to owe himself to death, to a certain thought of death or comportment with regard to death. Combining philosophical speculations on mourning and death, event and repetition, and time and difference with incisive commentary on Bonhomme's photographs and a narrative of Derrida's 1995 trip to Greece, Athens, Still Remains is one of Derrida's most accessible, personal, and moving works without being, for all that, any less philosophical. As Derrida reminds us, the word photography-an eminently Greek word-means the writing of light,and it brings together today into a single frame contemporary questions about the work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction and much older questions about the relationship between light, revelation, and truth-in other words, an entire philosophical tradition that first came to light in the shadow of the Acropolis.

Published by: Fordham University Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. vii-viii

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Translators’ Note

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pp. ix-xi

Athens, Still Remains (Demeure, Athènes) was first published in 1996 by Editions olkos (Athens) in a bilingual French–Modern Greek edition. It appeared there as the preface to a collection of photographs by Jean- François Bonhomme published under the title Athens—in the Shadow of...

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Nous nous devons à la mort.

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pp. 1-3

Nous nous devons à la mort.1
We owe ourselves to death.
It was this past July 3, right around noon, close to Athens. It was then that this sentence took me by surprise, in the light—“we owe ourselves to death”—and the desire immediately overcame me to engrave it in stone, without delay: a snapshot [un instantané], I said to...

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Still I

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pp. 4-5

We owe ourselves to death.
What a sentence. Will it be more or less sententious for being fixed or focused on in this way by a lens or objective, as if one were to let it sink back just as soon, without any celebration, into the nocturnal anonymity of its origin? We owe ourselves to death. Once and for all, one...

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Still II

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p. 6-6

But just who is death? The question can be posed at each and every step in this photographic journey through Athens, and not only in the cemeteries, in front of the amassed tombstones, the funeral steles, the columns and the crosses, the archaeological sites, the decapitated statues, the temples in ruins, the chapels, the antique dealers in a flea market...

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Still III

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pp. 7-8

We owe ourselves to death. I had in any case to pay my debt toward this sentence. No matter the cost. It had taken me, taken me by surprise (as if it had photographed me without my knowledge, unexpectedly, exaiphnēs); it had overtaken me, outstripped me, perhaps like death...

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Still IV

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p. 9-9

I was taking a plane a few hours later, and I was having a hard time separating myself from everything, and especially from it, and so I began to dream of a camera equipped with a “delay mechanism”: after setting up the camera, after adjusting the time of the pose and activating...

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Still V

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pp. 9-11

À demeure, he says. There is nothing here that is not already lodged, that is, à demeure, in the French demeure, from the house to the temple, along with everything that happens to be [se trouve] photographed here, right up to la dernière demeure, the final resting place: everything...

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Still VI

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pp. 11-13

For I had already sensed, through these photographs, a patient meditation, one that would take its time along the way, giving itself the time for a slow and leisurely stroll through Athens (fifteen years!), the pace of a meditation on being and time, being-and-time in its Greek tradition...

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Still VII

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pp. 13-15

We owe ourselves to death. This sentence was right away, as we have come to understand, greater than the instant, whence the desire to photograph it without delay in the noonday sun. Without letting any more time pass, but for a later time. Why this time delay? An untranslatable...

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Still VIII

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pp. 15-16

Prendre une photographie, to take a photograph, prendre en photographie, to take a photograph but also to take in photography: is this translatable? At what moment does a photograph come to be taken? And taken by whom? I am perhaps in the process, with my words, of making off...

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Still IX

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p. 17-17

I was coming back that day with friends from Brauron to Athens. It was around noon, and we were on our way to go swimming, after having paid our respects to the young girls walking in a procession toward the altar of Artemis. The day before I had already returned, yet again to...

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Still X

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pp. 17-20

I have always associated such delayed action [retardement] with the experience of the photographer. Not with photography but with the photographic experience of an “image hunter.” Before the snapshot or instamatic [instantané] that, from the lens or objective, freezes for near eternity what is naively called an image, there would thus be this...

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Still XI

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pp. 21-24

Let’s go back to the Photographer on the Acropolis, whom you can see meditating or sleeping, his head slouched down, in the middle of this book. Has he not set up in front of him, in front of you, an archaic figure of this delay mechanism? Did he not decide, after some reflection...

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Still XII

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pp. 25-26

When, exactly, does a shot [prise de vue] take place? When, exactly, is it taken? And thus where? Given the workings of a delay mechanism, given the “time lag” or “time difference,” if I can put it this way, is the photograph taken when the photographer takes the thing in view...

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Still XIII

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pp. 27-29

Imagine him, yes him, through the images he has “taken.” Walking along the edge, as I said just a moment ago, of the abyss of his images, I am retracing the footsteps of the photographer. He bears in advance the mourning for Athens, for a city owed to death, a city due for death...

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Still XIV

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pp. 29-34

We know what Cape Sounion meant for the death of Socrates. It is from there, in short, that Athens saw it coming—his death, that is. By ship. From the temple of Poseidon, at the tip of the cape, during my first visit (it was the day before the sentence “we owe ourselves to death”), I imagined a photograph, and I saw it before me. It eternalized, in a snapshot...

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Still XV

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pp. 35-50

Meeting with a Photographer on the Acropolis. He seems to be sleeping, dreaming perhaps, unless he has died, struck down right there by a sun stroke, his head slouched down on his chest. He is perhaps the author of this book. He would have photographed himself, in full sunlight. Here, then, is the heliograph: he wears a hat on his head, but he...

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Still XVI

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pp. 51-56

To photograph Socrates as a musical instrument. And musical instruments as so many Socrateses. For what does Socrates do? He waits, but without waiting; he awaits death and dreams of annulling its delay by composing a sacrificial hymn. Death is indeed slow in coming, but he...

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Still XVII

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pp. 57-65

We owe ourselves to death. To commemorate the arrival of this sentence into my language, I would have to dedicate centuries of books to this memory. I immediately declared it to be untranslatable, turning to Myrto (who was behind me, to my left, beautiful like her name...

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p. 65-65

Is not this impassioned denunciation the last sign of mourning, the sunniest of all steles, the weightiest denial, the honor of life in its wounded photograph?

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Still XIX

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pp. 65-68

So many hypotheses! What could have been going through the head of this photographer on the Acropolis? Was he sleeping? Dreaming? Was he simply pretending, feigning the whole thing? Was he playing dead? Or playing a living being who knows he has to die? Was he thinking of...

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Still XX

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pp. 69-72

Return to Athens. Let one not hasten to conclude that photography does away with words and can do without translation, as if an art of silence would no longer be indebted to a language. “After all,” the tourist of photographs will say, “these images of Athens are all the more...


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pp. 73-74

E-ISBN-13: 9780823249008
Print-ISBN-13: 9780823232055
Print-ISBN-10: 0823232050

Page Count: 88
Publication Year: 2010

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Death.
  • Grief.
  • Sepulchral monuments -- Greece -- Athens -- Pictorial works.
  • Athens (Greece) -- Antiquities -- Pictorial works.
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