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Book Review Georges Didi-Huberman. Images malgré tout. Paris: Éditions de Minuit, 2003. Pp. 235. 22.50 €. In 2001 in Paris, an exhibit displayed photographs of Nazi concentration and extermination camps ("Mémoire des camps," organized by Clément Chéroux). Among them were four snapshots secretly taken in August 1944 by members of the Sonderkommando at Auschwitz's crematory V. The film survived its authors by being successfully conveyed outside the camp in a toothpaste tube. It eventually reached the Polish Resistance. Two pictures, taken from within the crematory, show the incineration of gassed bodies. The two next pictures are taken as the unidentified photographer walks out of the crematory and snaps two shots without looking. The art historian and leading Renaissance scholar Georges Didi-Huberman proposed a phenomenological reading of these four previously published photographs. This reading stirred up a violent outburst in Les Temps modernes, ajournai currently edited by Claude Lanzmann. Because the gruesome snapshots were taken despite SS prohibition of photographs and films, in a desperate effort to rescue a visual fragment of the event and to warn the world of Nazi barbarity, DidiHuberman entitled the catalogue of the exhibition Images malgré tout. The catalogue forms the first section of the book published two years after the exhibition. The second section of the book, entitled Malgré l'image toute, is a long and scrupulous response to the accusations launched in Les Temps modernes (56:613 [2001]: 47-108). Didi-Huberman's book explores the ontological, ethical, psychoanalytical and historical status of images in an era of visual bulimia and the destruction of experience, in the wake of Walter Benjamin's reflections on war, trauma and modern life. The author builds upon twenty years of thorough reflection on the visible informed by phenomenology and psychoanalysis and grounded in a superb mastery of ancient, Renaissance and modern aesthetics. This breathtaking inquiry concerning images, as well as the objections expressed by his opponents, help to raise timely and urgent issues. Are we making too much of images? Are we lured by our own voyeurism and iconophilia, numbed as we are by the democracy of the spectacle? Or, on the contrary , do images open the eyes of our conscience? In other words do images merely entertain and anesthetize us or do they shame us and awake our conscience? Such are some of the questions that Didi-Huberman's book addresses. The work ends on a dazzling re-reading of the myth of Medusa, which Primo Levi uses to refer to the horror of Auschwitz and which Giorgio Agamben reads, in Remnants of Auschwitz, as a trope of the impossibility of seeing. Didi-Huberman challenges Agamben's reading of Primo Levi's recourse to the myth of Medusa. By so doing, not only does he invite us to reconsider the question of testimony with respect to Auschwitz and to shatter the dogma of the "unimaginable" promoted in the wake of Lanzmann's film, he also redefines altogether our relation to the real and the visible. This book is probably the most original reflection on our relation to history and representation published in many years. Like all of Didi-Huberman's previous works, this one is informed by an encyclopedic knowledge of ancient and modern aesthetics, phenomenology, psychoanalysis and literature. This knowledge extends from Pliny to Lacan via Vasari, Kant, Hegel. Winckelman , Warburg, Freud and Benjamin. Moreover, the author has a comprehensive awareness of the most recent work on Holocaust studies in Europe and the U.S. References to traditional historians and to postmodern Holocaust theorists abound (Serge Klarsfeld, Pierre Vidal-Naquet, Annette Wieviorka, Raul Hillberg, Shoshana Felman, Maurice Blanchot, Jean-François Lyotard, etc.). More important, they are discussed in a way that is refreshingly critical, provocative and polemical. 110 Spring 2005 Book Review The stakes involved in this study pertain to a wide range of fields of inquiry: post-Holocaust ethics of art, post-Holocaust philosophy and theology, the experience of history in the age of mechanical reproduction and virtual reality, trauma studies, testimony theory. Finally, at a moment when post-Heideggerianism and what is called "French thought" seem to have exhausted themselves, Georges Didi-Huberman heralds with this book...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1931-0234
Print ISSN
0014-0767
Pages
pp. 110-111
Launched on MUSE
2010-06-24
Open Access
No
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