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.
the recent past and where they may well put them again in the near future. (Words and Death. Prague in the Days of Stalin). And so faithfully did it reproduce the defendants in the Prague trials, confessing and explaining their guilt, that the rolls of film had to be consigned to the cupboard and concealed even from those who had attended the trials and been convinced by what they had heard. The mechanical eye of the camera calls for an ‘honest artist’ (Epstein) and unmasks the one who has only
(histoire) – one a history, one a story; between the exemplary value of subjects and the appropriate forms of their dispositio. But the opposite of the representational system is not the unrepresentable. The system is not, in fact, based on the sole imperative to imitate and make the image like the model. It is based on two fundamental propositions. One defines the relationships between what is represented and the forms its representation takes; the other defines the relationship between those
was nevertheless no common fate, shared between the man of glory subject to glory's reversals and the ‘ignoble’ man, excluded from glory's order; between generals fallen on hard times and the ill-born, who had already ‘sunk into anonymity’, in Mallarmé's phrase. The old soldier's image could share the canvas with that of Belisarius. But he did not share the story of the honest Belisarius's greatness and decline. That particular history belonged to Belisarius's peers alone, and for them it was
soliders on leave and civilian volunteers, the collective show of taking part in a shared fate that begins with the equal power of all to interest both the eye of an artist and the eye of a machine at the same time. The ordinary life that is the stuff of absolutized art, the uninspiring subject who passively commands the light machine's recording and the nondescript historical agent who actively makes shared history are here made identical. So, what prevents this nondescript subject from getting
out of the station, he found the same mud that the young Konstantin Paustovsky met with, in February 1917, when sent on an assignment by his newspaper. ‘Funny sort of town’, the young man said at the time to his coachman. ‘There's nothing to see.’ That earned this unanswerable question as a riposte: ‘What on earth would you want to see?’ That question-and-answer of days gone by is echoed, more recently, in the question-and-answer of young local journalists when asked about Efremov as communism