Georges Didi-Huberman Seminar Two: Montage and the Unconscious Archive

2015.3.29 (Sunday) 10am-5pm

Venue: OCAT Institute, Jinchanxilu, Chaoyang District, Beijing.

(100 meters North from Subway Line7 Happy valley Scenic Area Station )

Organizer: OCAT Institute

Support: Century OCT (Beijing) Industrial Co., Ltd.

Media Contact:  8610 - 6737 5418

Participation Requirement: Please provide your name, ID number and education background.  8610 - 6737 5418


Following the subjects and key issues brought up during the first installment of the Georges Didi-Huberman Seminar Series “Legacy of Aby Warburg,” the second installment “Montage and Unconscious Archives” interrogates the relationship between image and truth related to “unimaginable” and “unthinkable” historical fractures. Fractures pertain to occurrences in history that threaten to subvert the linearity or narrative consistency of chronological time, while the unimaginable designates both the original constitution of this disruption and its subsequent retrieval. Using Auschwitz as an example, the combination of its atrocious violence and the systematic destruction of documents by the Nazis not only renders the reconstruction of facts impossible, but also transforms representation into a moral offense. The prevailing attitude toward Auschwitz thus becomes close to a negative theology that can never say what it is, but only what it is not. The image, due to its inability to represent the “whole truth,” gives way to verbal testimony and recollections of the survivors. Yet, just as Hannah Arendt has pointed out, the unthinkable poses the most daunting task of thinking, especially when its inconceivability constitutes the ultimate intention of its perpetrators. How to envision an approach free of negativity? What significance does this have in relation to the reflection of our own history? Under the context of globalization, how do we realize possibilities of being-with among historical fractures that occur in different times, at different spaces and in different ways ?


Didi-Huberman gives his answer in Images In Spite of All: just as that which is unthinkable must be thought, the unimaginable also calls for the rehabilitation of the vital link between imagination and knowledge, image and memory. On the one hand, Didi-Huberman addresses the pertinent theme of testimony raised by Giorgio Agamben in Remnants of Auschwitz, and foregrounds the relationship between the presence of the image and the absence of life through four photographs taken by the members of Sonderkommando. Combining the cinematic montage of Kracauer and the dialectical image of Walter Benjamin, Didi-Huberman presents montage as a critical paradigm that connects with Aby Warburg’s fundamental determination of image as dynamogram, or a vessel of conflicting historical and psychical energies that drive the dialectical interplay between remembrance and forgetting. Contrasting Claude Lanzmann’s adamant refusal of using archival images in his film Shoah and Godard’s critical reassessment of the image in Histoire(s) du cinema, Didi-Huberman critiques the absolutism of absence, or the maintenance of the fiction of total truth through negation. As a response, Didi-Huberman poses the notion of lacuna-image: a possibility that does not claim all but is nevertheless not nothing, a unconscious archive that survives in spite of all, e.g., the unimaginable violence, the destruction of documents, and spectacular distortion of mass media.


Finally, the seminar intends to further supplement Didi-Huberman’s critique from the perspective of biopolitics: approaches that emphasize “objectivity” and “reality” of history neglect the crucial role negativity plays in the constitution of language and the founding of political power. Both language and polis capture life within itself by presupposing negativity as limit but only in order to cross it in a state of exception. Under this context, the photos taken by the Sonderkommando are the only way into their body and our world after Auschwitz.



Georges Didi-Huberman Seminar Series

Seminar 2: Montage and the Unconscious Archive

 2015.3.29 (Sunday)


Yan Wang, Professor of Foreign Literature Research Institute at Beijing Foreign Studies University

The Spatiality of Visual Images and the Temporality of Memories: the Dialectic of Photographic and Verbal Testimony of the Holocaust



Song-yong SingAssociate Professor of Graduate Institute of Animation and Film Art at Tainan National University of the Arts

A Variation of Montage Method: The Migration of Images from Art History to Film History



Jianlin Zou, Associate Professor of Art History at Sichuan Fine Arts Institute

“Poor Men Reverse the World”: Individual and Collective Imagination about the People's Commune



Hongsheng Jiang, Associate Professor of Comparative Literature at Peking University

Walter Benjamin as a Cultural Historian



Tianqi Yu, Assistant Professor of Film and Media Studies, University of Nottingham

Through Private Lens: Amateur Image and Memory Construction



Ouyang Xiao, Head of Public Programs, OCAT Institute



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.


OCAT Institute


The OCAT Institute is a non-profit research center dedicated to modern and contemporary art practices. It is also a member of the OCT Contemporary Art Museum Group. The Institute has three main areas of activity: publication, archives, and exhibition. The scope of its research encompasses the investigation of artists, artworks, schools of art production, exhibitions, art discourses, as well as art institutions, publications and other aspects of art’s overall ecology. It will establish a research archives and facilitate dialogue and exchange between China and abroad. In addition, it will serve as an exhibition platform in Beijing.


The OCAT Institute aims to establish a paradigm of valuation, a system of academic investigation, and modes of applying historical research methodologies to modern and contemporary Chinese art. Through an interdisciplinary approach that bridges contemporary art research, critical theory, and the history of ideas and culture, it promotes an integrated methodology that seeks to cultivate an open spirit of academic research.


The OCAT Institute will open to the public in 2015.