Dialectical Thinking: Truth, Imagination and the Politics of Historical Memory: Godard, Benjamin and Warburg.

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Godard’s assertion that the historian must “provide an accurate description of what has never happened” speaks eloquently to Benjamin’s equally provocative idea (taken from Hofmannsthal) that history allows one “to read what was never written”. For both  as well as for Warburg, who envisioned a “psychological history” capable of reproducing the latencies and survivals of the images of art history  historical knowledge is invaded by the irrational and the imagistic. But, for all of them, the potentiality of historical imagination is reciprocal to the requirement of truth, consubstantiated in the privilege commonly conceded to the categories of image and memory. The article examines the tripartite relationship between truth, imagination (the space of formation of dialectical images) and historical memory within a constellation of complementary philosophical references  from Proust’s involuntary memory and Bergson’s durée, to Deleuze’s thought of the outside, Derrida’s hauntology and Ricoeur’s epistemology of history  in order to reassess Godard’s documentary and political cinema. By proposing a shift in emphasis from methodological aspects to conceptual, philosophical and epistemological confluences, the article opens up the cinematography of Godard and the historiographies of both Benjamin and Warburg to new comparative analysis. The article’s last sections focus on the sequence of Histoire(s) 1A relating Giotto’s Magdalene and Elizabeth Taylor in George Stevens’ A Place in the Sun, in order to (re)discover issues of religion, art, nymphal impulse and historical trauma, which prove to be fundamental in the analysis of the political and ethical resonances of memory in the projects of the commented artist-historians.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-28
Number of pages28
JournalQuarterly Review of Film and Video
Publication statusPublished - 4 Dec 2021


  • Jean-Luc Godard
  • Aby Warburb
  • Walter Benjamin
  • Film and History
  • Memory


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