Politicizing history of art, breaking free from the absolute origin: Two pending issues

Jaime Vindel


Diana Wechsler’s curatorial essay entitled “Images between reality and utopia. Art and history in Argentina” offers a penetrating gaze into two centuries of artistic production in this southern country. In her history, Wechsler reconciles the encompassing whole with the sharpness of each episode that comprises the book of charts with which she invokes Aby Warburg’s figure. Rather than a replication of her approach, the following words refer to provisional answers that —as I consider myself politically a historian— I have reached through my doctoral research of the relations between art and politics in Argentina from the 1960s until the 2001 crisis —two of the moments that Wechsler examines more closely. I do not think I am mistaken if I say that they are possible answers to shared questions. Even on the basis of a general coincidence of our viewpoints, I hope that their presentation will either arouse dialogue or else humbly complement the ideas so solidly expressed in Wechsler’s text.

Palabras clave

assay; art; criticism;

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In contrast to this model, Benjamin claimed a future epistemology consisting in “finding a sphere of total neutrality of knowledge regarding the concepts of object and subject”, in “finding one’s primordially own sphere of knowledge, so that this concept will no longer indicate the relation between two metaphysical entities”, W. Benjamin, “Sobre el programa de la filosofía venidera” [About the future program of philosophy], Iluminaciones VI. For a critique of violence and other essays. Madrid, Taurus, 1998, p. 80. In his recent analysis of the concept of experience in Benjamin, Federico Galende has indicated that, for the German author, the classic subject of knowledge and experience are mutually exclusive notions. For Benjamin, the “paradox of experience” consists of the fact that, in experience, the subject is absent, resigning himself to precede or to follow it, F. Galende, Walter Benjamin and destruction. Santiago de Chile, Metales Pesados, 2009, p. 40.

“[Sadness] is not a subjective property, nor does it refer [...] to a particular psychological trait, but instead the name of co-belonging between a feeling that has become disconnected from the subject and has fused with the object until it loses its way [...]. Far from an affectivity of the subject causally determined by an object, sadness is like a co-belonging that cannot be established in terms of a hierarchical relation”. Ibid., p. 106.

For Benjamin, the representation of the laws of the German baroque drama “is not dedicated either to the state of the poet’s feelings or to that of the public, but perhaps to a feeling that is separate from the empirical subject while it is internally linked to the fullness of an object [...] whereas, in the sphere of affectivity, it is not surprising that attraction alternates with aloofness, in the relation of an intention with the object, mourning is shown to be capable of a particular intensification, of a continuous deepening of its intention. Thus, intellectual deepness is, above all, typical of the sad person”. Walter Benjamin, “El origen del Trauerspiel alemán” [The origin of the German Trauerspiel], Obras, libro I, vol. 1. Madrid, Abada, 2006, pp. 352-353.

Georges Didi-Huberman, Cuando las imágenes toman posición. Madrid, Antonio Machado Libros, 2008, pp. 11-12.

Cfr. W. Benjamin, “Sobre el concepto de historia” [About the concept of history], Obras, libro I, vol. 2. Madrid, Abada, 2008, pp. 303- 318. Theses VI (partially cited here), XVI, and Thesis A of the Appendix deserve special attention.

Benjamin articulates this distinction in a dialogue with Bergson from Materia y memoria (1896) [Matter and memory] with Proust from En busca del tiempo perdido [In search of lost time] (1913-1927) and with Freud from Más allá del principio de placer [Beyond the principle of pleasure] (1921). Cfr. W. Benjamin, “Sobre algunos motivos en Baudelaire” [About some motives in Baudelaire], Obras, libro II, vol. 2. Madrid, Abada, pp. 207-217. A much more detailed description of feelings, sometimes contradictory, that the terms Erlebnis and Erfahrung have had in German modern philosophy can be found in Martin Jay, “La crisis de la experiencia en la era pos-subjetiva” [The crisis of experience in the post-subjective era], Prismas, Revista de historia de historia intelectual, 6, 2002, pp. 9-20. Faced with the “poverty of experience” diagnosed by Benjamin in contemporary life, Jay makes an effort to clarify first its concept, which, due to the proliferation of uses, would have become unintelligible.

As known, Benjamin wondered what experience could promote lyrical poetry when the shock had become a norm. This recurrence of shock is no doubt a characteristic of the current world, whose experience is guided by the paralyzing effects of the mediatic universe on subjectivity. It is impossible to determine the extent to which the estrangement proposed by Wechsler’s assembling of images can return us to Benjamin’s longed-for sphere of experience. One could, in any event, ask how much of its possible success is due to its appearance in a context with a presumably differential perceptive impermanence like the one provided by the space of the museum.

Cfr. Ernst Van Alphen, “¿Qué historia, la historia de quién, historia con qué propósito? Nociones de historia en historia del arte y estudios de cultura visual” [What history, whose history, history with what purpose? Notions of History in History of Art and Studies of Visual Culture], http://www.estudiosvisuales.net/revista/index.htm

This issue is central in two of the most well-known of Benjamin’s essays: “El autor como productor” [The author as producer] and “La obra de arte en la época de su reproductibilidad técnica” [The work of art in the epoch of its technical reproducibility] (1936). In the former, he stated that “the concept of technique provides a dialectic starting point from which to overcome the sterile antithesis of form and content”. Cfr. W. Benjamin, “El autor como productor” [The author as producer], B. Wallis, Arte después de la modernidad [Art after modernity]. Madrid, Akal, 2001, p. 299.

G. Didi-Huberman, Ante el tiempo. Historia del arte y anacronismo de las imágenes [In the face of time. History of art and anachronism of images]. Buenos Aires, Adriana Hidalgo, 2008, pp. 139-140.

Hal Foster, “Contra el pluralismo” [Against pluralism], Episteme, Eutopías, Documentos de trabajo [Epistema, Utopias, Work Documents], Valencia, vol. 186, 1998, p. 3.

G. Didi-Huberman, Ante el tiempo. Historia del arte y anacronismo de las imágenes [In the face of time. History of art and anachronism of images]. Op. cit., p. 73.

Cfr. M. Foucault, Nietzsche, la genealogía, la historia [Nietzsche, genealogy, history]. Valencia, Pre-Textos, 2000.

Sloterdijk remembers the critique of the critique carried out by Benjamin: “Critique is a question of the correct distance. It is at home in a world in which everything depends on the perspectives and the set and in which it is still possible to adopt a viewpoint. Meanwhile things have caustically approached human society”, to add: “If things have come close enough to scorch us, a critique will have to emerge that expresses that scorching. It is not so much a question of correct distance as of correct proximity. The success of the word ’involvement’ grows on this ground; it is the seed of the Critical Theory that emerges under new forms” P. Sloterdijk, Crítica de la razón cínica [Critique of cynical reasoning]. Madrid, p. 23.

“I think the Critical Theory has found [...] a “situation point” that provides perspectives of a really incisive critique; a situation point that the traditional theory of knowledge did not have [...]. It is not the base of an elevated and distanced critique that achieves great general perspectives, but an attitude of the most extreme approach: micrology”. Ibid., p. 23.

“The object of the critique is never the truth. Not even the interpretation, the good interpretation; this does not exist. Any critique misinterprets or -what amounts to the same thing[-] disperses the meaning. We should think of critique only as a disseminating device, a machine to proliferate meaning. As such, its work is to generate abrasions, frictions, the stormy encounter of the strange with the strange that originates the counter-inductive finding. Its task is to always say the opposite of a firm conviction, of any implicit convention. Thus, its presence should always be uncomfortable: its speech is contra-diction, the agon, stating the contrary”. www.joseluisbrea.net/articulos/criticaeck.pdf. Retrieved on December 23, 2009. The author presented “The critique in the era of cultural capitalism”, as a conference in the Encuentros sobre crítica de arte, organized by the Associació Catalana de Crítics d´Art at the MACBA (Museu d´Art Contemporani de Barcelona) in November 2005.

Cfr. C. Mouffe, Prácticas artísticas y democracia agonística. Barcelona, MACBA, 2007, pp. 11-23.

Cfr. M. Garcés, “¿Qué podemos? De la conciencia a la encarnación en el pensamiento crítico actual” [What can we do? From awareness to the incarnation in current critical thinking], http://eipcp.net/ transversal/0808/garces/es. Retrieved on December 13, 2009. This dialogue has borne fruit in the publications like the dossier published by the journal ramona under the title “Vanguardias polémicas: la herencia de los sesenta” [Polemic vanguards: the inheritance of the sixties], cfr. ramona. revista de artes visuales, Buenos Aires, 82, July 2008. In it, we find texts by Ana Longoni, Fernando Davis, Miguel López, and Jaime Vindel.

A. Gorelik, “Preguntas sobre la eficacia: vanguardias, arte y política” [Questions about efficacy: vanguards, art, and politics], Punto de vista. Revista de cultura. 82, August 2005, p. 9.

’Map’ and ’transfer’ correspond, respectively, to the figures of the ’rhizome’ and the ’root’. The rhizome is “foreign to any idea of genetic axis. A genetic axis is like an objective pivotal unit about which successive stages are organized [...]. Thus, we maintain the representative model of the tree of the pivotal or fasciculate root [...]. It is only a variation of the outmoded way of thinking [...]. The logic of the tree is the logic of transfer and of reproduction [...]. Very different is the rhizome, map and not transfer [...]. If map opposes transfer, it is precisely because it is completely oriented towards an experimentation that acts upon what is real [...]. The map is open, connectible in all its dimensions, detachable, alterable, able to receive constant modifications. A map is a question of performance, whereas the transfer always refers to a supposed competence. G. Deleuze & F. Guattari, Mil Mesetas: capitalismo y esquizofrenia [One thousand plateaus: capitalism and schizophrenia]. Valencia, Pre-Textos, 1994, pp. 17 & 18.

“no automatism links both gestures: the demand of recovering the past [...] still does not tell us what use will be made of it”. T. Todorov, Los abusos de la memoria [The abuses of memory]. Barcelona, Paidós, 2000, p. 17.

The origin will be that “completely distanced point, prior to any positive knowledge, that would lead to knowledge that, nevertheless, overlies it, and does not cease, in its idle patter, to disown it; it is in this inevitably lost articulation in which the truth of things is inseparable from the truth of the discourse that immediately obscures and loses it”. Michel Foucault, Nietzsche, la genealogía, la historia [Nietzche, genealogy, history]. Op. cit., p. 21.

Ibid, pp. 24-42.

“[Genealogy] cannot expect to go back in time to reestablish a great continuity beyond the dispersion of oblivion; its task is not to show that the past is still there, quite alive in the present, still encouraging it secretly, after having imposed a form traced from the start on all the obstacles in the pathway [...]. To follow the complex thread of provenance is, in contrast, to conserve what occurred in its own dispersion: to locate the accidents, the minimum deviations -or, to the contrary, the complete turns-, the errors, the lack of appreciation, the poor calculations that have given birth to what is and what is valid for us; it is to discover that, at the root of what we know and of what we are, there is neither being nor truth, but instead the outward appearance of the accident”. Ibid, pp. 27-28.

About this particular, see Didi-Huberman’s reflections on the concept of origin-whirlpool taken from Benjamin in contrast to the historicism of the source origin. G. Didi-Huberman, Ante el tiempo. Historia del arte y anacronismo de las imágenes [In the face of time. History of art and anachronism of images]. Op. cit., pp. 101-129. It is feasible to establish a parallelism between this conception of the origin and the one that Didi-Huberman tracks down in Aby Warburg. Cfr. G. Didi-Huberman, La imagen superviviente. Historia del arte y tiempo de los fantasmas [The surviving image. History of art and time of the phantoms]. Madrid, Abada, 2009, pp. 284-301.

Here, I echo the fortunate expression of Ana Longoni in her study of the experimental vanguard in Chile. Cfr. A. Longoni, “Puentes cancelados: lecturas acerca de los inicios de la experimentación visual en Chile” [Cancelled bridges: readings on the beginnings of visual experimentation in Chile], Nelly Richard & Alberto Moreiras (Eds.), Pensar en/ la postdictadura [Thinking about the post-dictatorship]. Santiago de Chile, Cuarto Propio, 2001, pp. 223-238.

P. Calveiro, “Antiguos y nuevos sentidos de la política y la violencia”[Ancient and new meanings of politics and violence]. Lucha armada en la Argentina [Armed fighting in Argentina], September-November 2005, I, 4, pp. 6-7.

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Re-visiones - ISSN 2143-0040
HAR2013-43016-P I+D Visualidades críticas, reescritura de las narrativas a través de las imágenes