Panel 61-64

Introduction | Guide: Lisa Robertson

“. . . thrice round the ship was tossed,
Then bulged at once, and in the deep was lost;
And here and there above the waves were seen
Arms, pictures, precious goods, and floating men.”
               Aeneid, Book I, 166-169 (Dryden trans.)

I wonder if each panel of Warburg’s Atlas is itself a storm— the swirling of men, images, gods, conflicting forces on a dark fabric. [images 9, 11]The clear signs of the hasty application of the images to the cloth-stretched panel, the energetic irregularity of repetition and variations and difference, amplify the sense of the photographic image of the panel as a passing instant in a passionately willed thinking. But if the surface of the panels remain charged with a stormy agitation, this is not just a trace of Warburg and his assistants’ haste, their shared intellectual excitement, and not only a screen-shot-like capture of the sometimes tattered reproductions which were indeed in an extreme of movement during the composition of the panels. Their agitation reveals that Antiquity itself was, and remains, the storm. South and North, East and West: the mythologized cardinal oppositions that constitute the ancient cosmological compass remain the forces that keep the concept of Antiquity active in the present. Ambivalence, transformation, and conflict define not only Antiquity’s historical communication and transmission as a concept, but the inner structure of the political and historical concept itself, which remains necessarily veiled to maintain the putative stability of the heritage. But the storm, even now in the neoliberal era, is still the war of East versus West, North versus South, and its shipwrecks are the ones we continuously struggle to survive, politically and psychically. Antiquity is a screen memory, a retrospective projection of volatile nodes and deeply resonant, and resistant, cultural images and syntheses. We are tossed on its dangerously heaving surface whether or not we believe.

But if the panel is a storm, it is also a face. The OED says the etymology of facies is uncertain; some scholars refer it to facere, to make, and others to the root fa, to appear, to shine. A face’s particularity appears when it orients itself to another face. That shine is a co-perception. There isn’t ever only one face. The subjectification bestowed by somebody else’s perception of the face of a person, a form, or a phenomena, natural or political, is returned, altered perhaps, to the face of the perceiver, and so on, much like the mutual exchange and ignition of subjectivity described by Benveniste in the dyadic relationship of the pronouns I and you, which necessarily face one another. In this description facing is an epistemological stance.