# Four
- 2014

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Pueblos expuestos, pueblos figurantes

Centro de Arte 2 de Mayo (CA2M) y Universidad Complutense de Madrid (UCM)

DIDI-HUBERMAN, G., (2014), Pueblos expuestos, pueblos figurantes, Ed. Manantial, Buenos Aires

During the first months of the Spanish Civil War the “Sindicato Único de Espectáculos Públicos” [1] ” of the CNT produced a significant number of propaganda films, in which an account was constructed from an amateur perspective about the progress of the libertarian revolution. Scenes of enthusiasm and spontaneity from an Arcadia in war, where individuals and collectives carry out their everyday tasks without being objectified: they were subjects, not objects, of propaganda. These films employed a technique of longs takes, close-ups, and slow rhythms, strongly recalling the “naturalist technique” employed by Pier Paolo Pasolini when he used to interpret reality in accordance with a political morality able to transform the object of the image into something already existing (Pasolini, 2005, 265-67). Pasolini’s “political” cinema, just like the images of CNT propaganda, provide access to a world already disappeared, where peoples display their forms of life and cultures at the same time they are exposed to their own disappearance as peoples. These films constitute authentic “poems of peoples” like those described by Georges Didi-Huberman in his book, recently translated into Spanish, Pueblos expuestos, pueblos figurantes [People Exposed, People as Extras]. Without referring directly to the anarchist films, Georges Didi-Huberman describes the work of “political” filmmakers in tune with a tradition that from “Homer to Villon, Baudelaire, or Brecht” (2014, 163) has depicted peoples in the most diverse conditions of exposure. His montage-based writing, in which he displays diverse heterogeneous materials evading any temporal linearity has the powerful capacity of awakening the reader’s imagination and evoking new images that join a narrative already replete with them.

Starting from the fact that since the beginning of the 19th century the participation of peoples in their aesthetic representation has advanced parallel to the evolution of their relevance in political representation –whether as a public with the faculty of judgement in the Salons in the former, whether as an electorate in the latter– Georges Didi-Huberman addresses the issue of the modern representation of peoples. To this end, he invokes the thought of those such as Walter Benjamin, Giorgio Agamben, or Jacques Rancière who have reflected on the space that aesthetics and politics share in the configuration of the common. A matter that, as Rancière vividly demonstrated, implies a distribution of the sensible, which in the majority of cases, denotes an unequal distribution of the rights of reproduction. Celebrities, the “people” in the American version that even usurp the common people of their name, as Didi-Huberman explains, enjoy rights of reproduction that are inscribed in a regime of private property whose legal status empowers them to make decisions about its use. In contrast, other groups such as that of refugees, to use Rancière’s example, are deprived of owning their image as well as of their control of their exposure. Roma, “illegal” immigrants, domestic workers, as peoples that do not qualify as a “people”, are generally condemned to an invisibility and dispossession of their image that prevents them from appearing in the public sphere, making any type of political representation impossible, and condemning them to disappearance.

Georges Didi-Huberman rightly carries out the analysis of the political and aesthetic representation of peoples in the plural form, rather than in the singular of “the people” which implicitly suggests a desire for a certain essentialist unity. In the plurality of peoples, diverse images of distinct groups appear and with them, their differences. Nevertheless, not all the forms in which peoples make their appearances operate in the same manner. The spectator/reader is left in each case with the task of questioning the way in which peoples have been depicted: whether framing, montage, narration “encloses them (that is, alienating them and ultimately exposing them to disappearance) or instead they are set free (that is, freed when they are exposed to become visible, thus rewarding them with their own power of appearance)” (2014, 252). This point reveals Didi-Huberman’s method, his need to approach images in their specificity, case by case. The uniqueness of each body, each sign, each face eludes any confinement in a totalising concept: the disciplined masses, choreographed by the power, that appear in The Triumph of the Will by Leni Riefenstahl are not identical with the agitated movement of the bodies in the libertarian masses of the anarchist films mentioned above, or that of the workers in Sergei Eisenstein’s October. The movement of these images, of these bodies, is therefore a physical but also a political movement; one denotes the other. Because on this occasion the body –or rather, once more, in its plural form– the bodies play a fundamental role. Bodies that are carriers of singularity as well as spaces of resistance, and which in their contiguity make up those peoples who, as Judith Butler (2013) recently reminded us, expose in the streets their vulnerability to the violence of police states in their demands for social justice. They are bodies of mourning and resistance, of weakness and strength at the same time, that channel the expression of the peoples.

In the case of film, as Didi-Huberman tells us, the bodies of the peoples usually appear played by those “extras” against whom the silhouette of the principle characters – who in the Hollywood tradition are represented by the interpersonal drama of the bourgeoisie subject – are cut out. Nevertheless, filmmakers such as Eisenstein, Rossellini, or Pasolini have known how to give back to those usually portrayed as faceless their leading role in social representation. For the author, it seems clear that it was Pasolini who most successfully achieved a dialectic vision midway between the documental and the lyrical, a vision at the same time political as well as poetic, by means of the elaboration of images in which the “popular” strives to be rescued, not to be redeemed, but rather to expose itself before its extinction. Popular cultures – once again in plural – are the ones captured in each face and in each gesture, expressed by a people that confronts, in their mere existence, the order of power and resists the levelling culture of capitalism. Pasolini’s relationship with the vibrant strength of dialectical language, the tradition of painting, and his personal interest in the sub-proletariat of Rome in his first films, as well as in other cultures in his later works, makes his filmography the privileged space in which Didi-Huberman finds those “poems of the peoples” mentioned above. In Pasolini the people are represented by means of that “figurative brilliance” in which the poet puts into play his heretical mimesis as well as the tradition of Italian painting received from his teacher Roberto Longhi. From Accatone to La ricotta Pasolini’s cinema is a collection of poems in which, far from the use of a language self-absorbed in cinematographic tradition, simplicity is revealed in the forms inherited from Masaccio, from Masolino, and his filmic language is contaminated with the vital energy of the dialectical, following a tradition that goes back to Dante. In Didi-Huberman’s words, mimesis, figura, and passio, or what amounts to the same, film as a recording of reality, a formal operation, or the registering of gestures and emotions, are condensed in Pasolini’s films in order to demonstrate that the poetics of the popular that form the local also participate in global affairs.

The entire book, from the analysis on the first pages of the work of Philippe Bazin, to the last chapter focused on the film by the Chinese director Wang Bing Man with No Name, extends an invitation to consider the social fate of images as well as the challenge of avoiding the image being turned into a commonplace, instead of maintaining its potential of being a place for the common. After reading the book it becomes necessary to create, find, and think of (and with) images that, in response to the political urgency of the peoples, configure new spaces of the common and are capable of shattering the unequal order of the rights of reproduction. Didi-Huberman extracts from The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction the passage in which Benjamin passes political judgment on modern democracies according to their power of exhibition. Peoples threatened with disappearance decided themselves to become visible. Since 2011, injustice and precariousness have generated a global wave of demonstrations in which peoples have exposed themselves in the squares and streets to demand a different form of political representation, and with this, they have created new forms of appearing in images, of using and re-configuring the public space, calling for a renewal of democracy. The new forms of distribution of information and the traffic of images is configuring a new stage on which peoples are making their appearances in the form of a global multitude, as Susan Buck-Morss affirms in an interview with Aurora Fernández Polanco in this issue of Re-Visiones. A post-identity world in which, in Didi-Huberman’s words, “the appearance – or the shared exhibition of the community – obliges us to rethink existence, from the top to the bottom. Today, one no longer has to say ego sum, but ego cum” (2014, 104).


- BUTLER, J., (2013) «“Nous, le peuple” : Réflexions sur la liberté de réunion», en VV. AA., Qu’est-ce qu’un peuple?, París: Ed. La Fabrique.

- DIDI-HUBERMAN, G., (2014), Pueblos expuestos, pueblos figurantes, Buenos Aires: ed. Manantial.

- PASOLINI, P. P., (2005), Pasiones heréticas. Correspondencia 1940-1975, Buenos Aires: El Cuenco de Plata.

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[1Translators note: The “Single Union of Public Spectacles” belonged to the anarchist union CNT (National Confederation of Workers).