Georges Didi-Huberman, Confronting Images: Questioning the Ends of a Certain History of Art



Georges Didi-Huberman, Confronting Images: Questioning the Ends of a Certain History of Art
When the French edition of Confronting Images appeared in 1990, it won immediate acclaim because of its far-reaching arguments about the structure of images and the histories ascribed to them by scholars and critics working in the tradition of Vasari and Panofsky. According to Didi-Huberman, visual representation has an underside in which seemingly intelligible forms lose their clarity and defy rational understanding. Art historians, he goes on to contend, have failed to engage this 'underside,' where images harbor limits and contradictions, because their discipline is based upon the assumption that visual representation is made up of legible signs and lends itself to rational scholarly cognition epitomized in the science of iconology.
To escape from this cul-de-sac, Didi-Huberman suggests that art historians look to Freud's concept of the dreamwork, not for a code of interpretation, but rather to begin to think of representation as a mobile process that often involves substitution and contradiction. Confronting Images also offers brilliant, historically grounded readings of images ranging from the Shroud of Turin to Vermeer's Lacemaker.
Art history, Didi-Huberman argues, has had to kill the symptomatic image, deny its violence and its dissembling, in order to preserve its true object, art. Confronting Images is arguably the most important book-length analysis of the conceptual foundations of the discipline, and critique of the discipline, in any language. --Christopher Wood, Yale University
I cannot think of any more important book in the recent history of art. Confronting Images is just what the English-speaking art-historical community needs to help it out of the impasse of debates around cultural studies and visual literacy. --James Elkins, School of the Art Institute of Chicago
Though Devant l'image resembles The Pleasure of the Text in its central dialectic, it actually does what Barthes never did: it makes the essential move toward historicizing the text (or image) that builds representational failure into itself, looking for historical reason both for a particular image's failure to represent, and for art history's own insensitivity or blindness to this aspect of depiction. --Norman Bryson, Art Bulletin (review of the French edition)
I cannot think of any more important book in the recent history of art. Confronting Images is just what the English-speaking art-historical community needs to help it out of the impasse of debates around cultural studies and visual literacy. --James Elkins, School of the Art Institute of Chicago
Though Devant l'image resembles The Pleasure of the Text in its central dialectic, it actually does what Barthes never did: it makes the essential move toward historicizing the text (or image) that builds representational failure into itself, looking for historical reason both for a particular image's failure to represent, and for art history's own insensitivity or blindness to this aspect of depiction. --Norman Bryson, Art Bulletin (review of the French edition)
Georges Didi-Huberman is on the faculty of the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris. His books include Fra Angelico: Dissemblance and Figuration (1995), Invention of Hysteria: Charcot and the Photographic Iconography of the Salpêtriére (2003), and L'image survivante: Histoire de l'art et temps des fantômes selon Aby Warburg (English edition forthcoming from Penn State Press).

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