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.
does in his Future Pilots, where the boys are represented from behind, facing the aeronautical epic that the oldest boy's arm points to, but where the interest is wholly centred on the boys' bare backs, while the seaplanes, in front of them, turn into birds in a surrealist landscape. ‘What I like’, the painter said simply, ‘is man making expansive gestures’. Symmetrically, the political value given to the monumentality of the forms and the very static nature of the composition allows Mario Sironi
Manessier's ‘political’ paintings would no doubt stand somewhere between these two kinds of symbolism. In those paintings, a host of small regular luminous splotches of colour are spread in rows over a dark background, at will, figuring the spiritual tension of an abstract homage to the soldier priest Helder Camarra, or sketching the teeming favelas of his homeland. 3.2 A second manner in which art stands up to history is opposed to this construction of symbols or analoga of history. This
or Nussbaum's newly anonymous face of Hitler melting into the crowd (Storm). It was the ‘apolitical’ Chirico who further named one of the major processes of ‘(sur)realist’ history painting: the ‘plastic solitude’ of figures, that is to say the deliberate dissociation of their disposition and their exemplary value. Painting the ‘inhuman’ means setting out places and figures in a kind of history painting that declines to make any comment. In Nussbaum's Prisoners in Saint-Cyprien, all the elements
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is to know about ‘nature’ and its secrets. The camera, however, has moved. Against the same sea background, it presents us with another backlit silhouette. But the helmet covering the man's head makes us realize that these two idlers are actually two English coastguards observing not the limitless sea but the ever-possible arrival of the German enemy. The film is called Listen to Britain. It is especially intended for the Canadians. And its object is to show, from the other side of the Atlantic,