In the fourth chapter I connect the biopolitical archive to a number of films related to WWII and concentration camps The Train (dir. John Frankenheimer, 1964), Mr. Klein (dir. Joseph Losey, 1976), Lifeboat (dir. Alfred Hitchcock, 1944), Lucien Lacombe (dir. Louis Malle, 1974), Army of Shadows (dir. Jean-Pierre Melville, 1969), and The Counterfeiters (dir. Stefan Ruzowitzky, 2007). I show how biopolitics is lived through various kinds of filing and archivalization by putting these films in dialogue with Derrida’s commentary on Maurice Blanchot’s autobiographical short story “The Instant of My Death” (set during WWII) in Demeures: Fiction and Testimony. I elaborate on Derrida’s insight that “no truthful testimony would be possible” were it not for the “fragmentation of truth” and the “spectral virtuality of life.” The archive resists reading not because it is incomplete, but because it is in some crucial ways yet to be read. Archiving involves philosophical questions about the book, the work of art, and audiovisual media that tend to get bypassed in linear, positivistic historicist narratives of a book’s or film’s storage, publication, and republication. Instead of recognizing hidden variations of concentration camps after the fact, as Agamben does, I show that the camps themselves are biopolitical archives: the history of biopolitics constitues a problem not only of reading the past in the archive but of future possible readings yet to come.
Reading in Reverse:
Transporting the Missing Jewish Corpus and the Work of Art in Post-WWII Film1
Bresson's L'Argent from the UF library. The story sounds like the sequel to Baudelaire's "Counterfeit Money" short story. Will watch it tonight.
A young man, Norbert (Marc-Ernest Fourneau), unsuccessfully asks his father for an advance in his allowance. He visits his friend, Martial (Bruno Lapeyre), and is goaded into passing a forged 500 franc note at a photography shop. The photographer (Didier Baussy) censures his business partner (Beatrice Tabourin) for accepting the forged banknote - the third counterfeit bill for the week - and decides to pass off the forged notes to an unsuspecting victim. When the serviceman from the oil company, Yvon Targe (Christian Patey), arrives to resupply their fuel tank, he is paid with the counterfeit bills. Yvon attempts to use the money to pay for a meal, and is detained by the police for forgery. In order to clear his name, Yvon hires an attorney to sue the photographer for fraud. But the photographer, unwilling to recant his false testimony despite the dire consequences it bears on the innocent Yvon, enlists his assistant, Lucien (Vincent Risterucci), to validate his claim and deny recognition of the serviceman as well. As a result of their perjured testimony, Yvon loses his job. Unable to find another job because of his tainted employment history, he descends into a life of crime, despair, and eventually, murder.
Also film called L’Argent (silent) but about stock fraud and insider trading.
This counterfeting htread might be another one that could be expanded---Nazi Vermeer art forgeies. But doonthave the space.
Didi-Huberman observes acutely the difficulty of reading images, including their reverse sides: “All this cries out the need for ‘a genuine archaeology of photographic documents,’ as Clement Cheroux suggests. It could only be done by ‘examining the conditions of their creation, by studying the documentary content, and by questioning their use.’ It is a tough program. It would require, for example, access to the reverse side of images—which recent digitalization projects often forget about—in order to glean the slightest sign, the slightest inscription that might better situate the image and identity, as far as possible, of the person who took the photograph: the question of viewpoint (undoubtedly, Nazi, for the most part) is capital in this domain” (67). Contrary to our account of Walter Benjamin’s briefcase, Didi-Huberman’s model of the archive is one of reassembly: We know that in 1940, just before committing suicide, Walter Benjamin was able to reformulate, to retrace and reassemble all of his sources, from the Kabala to Kafka, from Karl Marx to Rosenzweig, in a notion of Erlosung [redemption] understood from the point of view of the catastrophe and in the absence of any “salvation” either historical (definitive victory over the forces of totalitarianism) or religious (resurrection, definitive victory over the forces of death)” (169). Didi-Huberman cites no evidence about Benjamin here, and he has to miss the briefcase in order to conceptualize Benjamin’s self-archivalization as a total retracing and reassemblage, as a redemption that redeems the dialectic of enlightenment (“’redemption’ is . . . that which enlightens us regarding the dialectical manner in which both of these states exist on the foundation or possibility of the other” (170).2
Retracing and reassemblage is less a matter of readability, however, as it is a map of the archive made geographically specific. The central point of the debate over the four Sonderkommando photographs taken in Auschwitz turns out not to be the veracity of the photos (everyone agres they are not fakes) but the place from where they were taken. Didi-Huberman says they were taken from within a gas chamber, looking out from a door. His critics wonder if that is the case; one critic says the photographer looks through a window, not a door. This positivist debate is of less interest to us, however, than the fact that the photos are doubles. Did-Huberman astutely notes that “we are not dealing with one image. In each case of his locations, the clandestine photographer of Birkenau pressed the shutter release twice, the minimal condition for his testimony to account, from two angles at least, for the time that he took to observe. (123).” Rather than critically examine this uncanny doubling, Didi-Huberman reproduces and manufactures it in the way it reproduces the four photos on two pages, in opposite and reverse orders: “To maintain the chronology of the testimony [of David Szmulewski] would suppose the contact prints from the Auschwitz museum were produced from an inverted negative, a lack of technical attention all the more banal since the films in this format carry no single permanent inscription allowing us to distinguish the between the obverse and the inverse of the negative. If such were the case, it would be necessary—while keeping the chronology—to reverse the shots that we are shown in the prints conserved at Auschwitz. The question then remains open” (110). Yet right after acknowledging that we are left with an open question, Didi-Huberman labels the four photos as he thinks they were taken (117), not the ways they may be. The captions the four photos on page immediately following showing says they are “reversed” (118). Retracing, reassemblage, rethinking and turn out to be slightly different instances, then, of the sheer repetition.