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Reviewed by:
  • The Man Who Walked in Color by Georges Didi-Huberman
  • Susan Harrow
Georges Didi-Huberman, The Man Who Walked in Color. Translated by Drew S. Burk Minneapolis: Univocal, 2017. 85 pp., ill.

Drew S. Burk leaps into colour—James Turrell's and Georges Didi-Huberman's—as he embraces the mesmeric difficulty of the artist's intellectual and material adventure, and translates the art writer's complex response to the painter's treatment of presence and vacancy in culturally shaped spaces. Those spaces range from archaic landscapes, through medieval and Renaissance church art and architecture, to sites of secular modernity. The journey is relayed through the 'fable(s)' of Western thought, from Plato's chora, via the story of Moses in the desert, to Heidegger, Freud, and Derrida. Burk's translation of Didi-Huberman's L'Homme qui marchait dans la couleur (Paris: Minuit, 2001), like the source essay, allows the flesh of words to express the flesh of colour and light, the solidity and volume of fabled spaces, and the quickness and the obdurateness of material objects and surfaces. Burk's translation captures the limitless yellow of Didi-Huberman's verbal palette as it responds to the limitless yellow of Turrell's Arizona crater landscapes. Whether it is art that creates volcanic visuality, that reaches towards the haptic luminosity of the Venetian Renaissance basilica, or sounds the vacancy of the Mendota Hotel room, Burk's translation reaches deep into the texture of Didi-Huberman's thought and his writerly style, as it travels the unfathomable spaces of Turrell's art. The reader's journey is immersive, visually (through high-quality monochrome reproductions of Turrell's work) and textually, intellectually and affectively. As with any journey, the traveller accepts minor inconveniences. There is the superfluous repetition of '[pan]' after every instance of its uncontroversial translation as 'patch', and the original French of other 'visual' terms is similarly repeated ('[visualité]', for example); whilst this might be appropriate for first instances, subsequent repetition feels over-cautious and becomes slightly obtrusive. 'At bottom' (p. 63) is rarely an optimal translation for 'au fond'. But these are petty annoyances. Burk creates an empathic translation: he is at ease in the transcultural and trans-historical spaces of Didi-Huberman's reflection and Turrell's practice; his crafting of philosophical thought and creative action in English translation is lucid and supple. Beautifully produced, this book is an elegant visual complement to the original Minuit edition of Didi-Huberman's essay. Departing from the imageless sobriety of the Minuit design, the book's letter-press covers reprise one of Turrell's azure–white skyspaces, inviting us to enter the fathomless art before we encounter the essay. In conceptual and material terms, the book emerges from the creative partnership of translator Burk and philosopher Jason Wagner, founders of Univocal (2011–17), the independent, artisan press that has made available English-language translations of a number of essays in critical thought and cultural theory (Siegfried Zielinski, Jacques Rancière, Philippe [End Page 466] Beck, Michel Serres). This translation was one of the final projects of Univocal before it was absorbed by University of Minnesota Press.

Susan Harrow
University of Bristol


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pp. 466-467
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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