Georges Didi-Huberman Seminar One: The Legacy of Aby Warburg


Time: 12.10.2014, 10am-5pm

Venue: OCAT Institute, Jinchanxilu, Chaoyang District, Beijing

Organizer: OCAT Institute

Supported by: Beijing Century Overseas Chinese Town Industrial Co., Ltd.

For more information please contact:         (10) 6737 5418



The 2014-2015 Georges Didi-Huberman Seminar Series is a public program organized by the OCAT Institute. It is divided into four installments, each related to different research themes and contexts, and takes place between October 2014 and June 2015.


The Seminar Series seeks to present and discuss the intellectual landscape of Georges Didi-Huberman by exploring his written works, curatorial practices, and their significance for art historical research in China.


The structure of the Series has three interconnected aspects: disciplinary overview, thematic research, and open discussion. Disciplinary overview examines the interaction and confluence between the history of art and other human sciences and critical discourses, such as philosophy, theology, mythology, anthropology, linguistics, biology, psychoanalysis, and feminism. Thematic research seeks to trace the transformation, significance, and impact that ideas, methodologies, and theoretical paradigms generate as they move across different disciplines, historical periods, and geographical locations. Open discussion encourages the audience and participating scholars to share their insights and locate points of connectivity that animate the historical context of the seminar materials as well as their contemporary significance. Taken together, the Seminar Series hopes to reexamine the development of the history of art by allowing anomalies, contingencies, and anachronistic returns characteristic of the movement of images themselves.


The first seminar, The Legacy of Aby Warburg, will take place at OCAT Institute on October 12, 2014. It follows two currents operative in Didi-Huberman’s research: the “nameless science” of Aby Warburg, and art history under the influence of psychoanalysis, semiotics, deconstructionism, and other discourses. As an art historian and cultural theorist, Warburg focuses on the meaning and historical importance of the Italian Renaissance by identifying the survival or afterlife of pictorial motifs from pagan antiquity. Treating images as vessels of social memory and transversal components of knowledge formation, Warburg also methodologically expands the thematic and geographical borders of art history, emphasizes the responsibility intrinsic to any historical confrontation, and paves the road for the iconology of Erwin Panofsky and its subsequent revision by Ernst Gombrich.

At the same time, Warburg’s unique intellectual vision was shadowed by Panofsky’s ratiocination of art historical research, to the extent that recent reevaluations of Warburg’s legacy have to steer between the Scylla of Panofsky’s rational humanism and the Charybdis of Gombrich’s expurgation of psychic elements from Warburg’s biography. Under this context, Didi-Huberman explicates, in a timely manner, Warburg’s connection to Nietzsche, Freud, Ludwig Binswanger, and other thinkers essential to the development of twentieth century French thought. Applying Warburg’s insight that images are vessels of social memory and the anachronistic temporality implied therein to the interpretation of moving images and contemporary works of art, the “nameless science” of Warburg reemerges under a contemporary context like the arrow of Zeno that penetrates historical epochs.


Schedule of Seminar 1

10am - 12am

Li Benzheng, Associate Senior Editor of Northern Art, Tianjin Academy of Fine Arts Journal

The Life of Aby Warburg


Wu Qiong, Professor of Philosophy at Renmin University of China
Details and Symptoms: Bridging Iconology and Psychoanalysis


2pm - 5pm

Li Jun, Professor of Art History at Central Academy of Fine Arts
Eye and Mind: Case Studies


Zhao Wen, Associate Professor at Shaanxi Normal University
Nachleben: Toward a Temporal Paradigm of Images


Fan Baiding, Lecturer at China Academy of Art
Erwin Panofsky and Warburg’s Circle


Moderator: Ouyang Xiao, Fan Baiding


Georges Didi-Huberman

Georges Didi-Huberman is Professor of Art History and Theory at the École des Haute études en Sciences Sociales. He is the author of Invention de l’hystérie: Charot et l’iconographie photographique de la Salpêtrière (1982), Devant l’image: questions posées aux fins d’une histoire de l’art (1990), L’image survivante: Histoire de l’art et temps des fantômes selon Aby Warburg (2002) and other works. He has also curated several exhibitions of contemporary art, including L’Empreinte at the Centre Pompidou (1997), Fables du lieu at Le Fresnoy (2001), and Atlas: How to Carry the World on One’s Back at Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Spain (2013).


Following in the footsteps of Warburg’s “historical psychology,” Didi-Huberman’s work can be characterized as a psychopathology of cultures. For him, what Warburg intended to address through the notion pathosformeln is the visible symptom of an anachronistic temporal order, as conflicting psychic energies intertwine, dissimulate, and stalk chronological orderings. Drawing from Freud, Didi-Huberman considers symptoms to be both the repression of a conflict and its imminent return. Thus rather than rehabilitating certain historical narratives, the symptom demands the exposure of psychic time, or that which has been concealed or presupposed in the act of representing as such. This investigation requires a methodology and intellectual genealogy that differs from the canonized iconological repertoire. On the one hand, Didi-Huberman looks at Goethe’s morphology, the principles of human expression by Darwin, the Dionysian spirit by Friedrich Nietzsche, Jean-Martin Charot’s research on hysteria, and Freud’s theory of the unconscious. On the other hand, he draws from seminal figures of French thought such as Foucault, Barthes, Benjamin, Artaud, Deleuze, and others. This unique combination of influences not only distances his philosophy of image form the Anglo-Saxon tradition, but bolsters his symptomatology to pose new possibilities beyond semiotics. Furthermore, by treating Warburg’s Mnemosyne Atlas as a form of montage, Didi-Huberman challenges our established modes of seeing, knowing and co-habitation as he returns the question of the image back to the reflection of our ethos.