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Confronting Images


Product Description
Product Details

Table of Contents


List of Illustrations

Translator's Preface

Question Posed

When we pose our gaze to an art image (1) Question posed to a tone of certainty (2) Question posed to a Kantian tone, to some magic words, and to the status of a knowledge (5) The very old requirement of figurability (7)

1. The History of Art Within the Limits of Its Simple Practice

Looking intently at a patch/whack of white wall: the visible, the legible, the visual, the virtual

The requirement of the visual, or how incarnation "opens" imitation

Where the discipline is wary of theory as of not-knowledge. The illusion of specificity, the illusion of exactitude, and the "historian's blow"

Where the past screens the past. The indispensable find and the unthinkable loss. Where history and art come to impede the history of art

First platitude: art is over . . . since the existence of the history of art. Metaphysical trap and positivist trap

Second platitude: everything is visible . . . since art is dead

2. Art as Rebirth and the Immortality of the Ideal Man

Where art was invented as renascent from its ashes, and where the history of art invented itself along with it

The four legitimations of Vasari's Lives: obedience to the prince, the social body of art, the appeal to origins, and the appeal to ends

Where Vasari saves artists from oblivion and "renames/renowns" them in eterna fama.

The history of art as second religion, devoted to the immortality of ideal men

Metaphysical ends and courtly ends. Where the crack is closed in the ideal and realism: a magic writing-pad operation

The first three magic words: rinascita, imitazione, idea (89). The fourth magic word: disegno. Where art legitimates itself as unified object, noble practice, and intellectual knowledge. The metaphysics of Federico Zuccari. Where the history of art creates art in its own image

3. The History of Art Within the Limits of Its Simple Reason

The ends that Vasari bequeathed to us. Simple reason, or how discourse invents its object

Metamorphoses of the Vasarian thesis, emergences from the moment of antithesis: the Kantian tone adopted by the history of art

Where Erwin Panofsky develops the moment of antithesis and critique. How the visible takes on meaning. Interpretive violence

From antithesis to synthesis. Kantian ends, metaphysical ends. Synthesis as magical operation

First magic word: humanism. Where object of knowledge becomes form of knowledge.

Vasari as Kantian and Kant as humanist. Powers of consciousness and return to the ideal man

Second magic word: iconology. Return to Cesare Ripa. Visible, legible, invisible. The notion of iconological content as transcendental synthesis. Panofsky's retreat

Farther, too far: the idealist constraint. Third magic word: symbolic form. Where the sensible sign is absorbed by the intelligible. The pertinence of function, the idealism of "functional unity"

From image to concept and from concept to image. Fourth magic word: schematism. The final unity of synthesis in representation. The image monogrammed, cut short, made "pure." A science of art under constraint to logic and metaphysics

4. The Image as Rend and the Death of God Incarnate

First approximation to renounce the schematism of the history of art: the rend. To open the image, to open logic

Where the dream-work smashes the box of representation. Work is not function. The power of the negative. Where resemblance works, plays, inverts, and dissembles. Where figuring equals disfiguring

Extent and limits of the dream paradigm. Seeing and looking. Where dream and symptom decenter the subject of knowledge

Second approximation to renounce the idealism of the history of art: the symptom.

Panofsky the metapsychologist? On questioning the denial of the symptom. There is no Panofskian unconscious

The Panofskian model of deduction faced with the Freudian paradigm of over-determination. The example of melancholy. Symbol and symptom. Constructed share, cursed share

Third approximation to renounce the iconographism of the history of art and the tyranny of imitation: the Incarnation. Flesh and body. The double economy: mimetic fabric and "upholstery buttons." The prototypical images of Christianity and the index of incarnation

For a history of symptomatic intensities. Some examples. Dissemblance and unction. Where figuring equals modifying figures equals disfiguring

Fourth approximation to renounce the humanism of the history of art: death. Resemblance as drama. Two medieval treatises facing Vasari: the rent subject facing the man of humanism. The history of art is a history of imbroglios

Resemblance to life, resemblance to death. The economy of death in Christianity: the ruse and the risk. Where death insists in the image. And us, before the image?

Appendix: The Detail and the Pan

The aporia of the detail

To paint or to depict

The accident: material radiance

The symptom: slippage of meaning

Beyond the detail principle



About the Author

Georges Didi-Huberman is on the faculty of the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris. He is the 2009 recipient of the Distinguished Lifetime Achievement Award for Writing on Art from the College Art Association.


"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

"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 reasons 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

"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

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