Crisis and Collection
This study traces how the art historian Aby Warburg, the writer W. G. Sebald, and the artist Gerhard Richter explore collective cultural memory embedded in contemporary visual symbols. The work establishes previously unnoted intellectual connections between their respective visual memory archives and the intellectual traditions that inform them. Diagnosing and describing how the reinvention of the album and the atlas as organizational models of narrative and pictorial presentation coincide with the contemporary fascination with social networks supplied by platforms such as Facebook, this study argues that the hybridity of the models allows the association of disparate fi elds of knowledge and memory that speaks to contemporary audiences and explains the persistent fascination with the memory archives at hand.
In examining the presence of the past as mediated in images, and in collecting in particular those images that bespeak a silent history of Germany and Europe, Warburg, Sebald, and Richter all engage in rescuing projects in response to acute “memory crises,” a concept coined by Richard Terdiman to designate historic circumstances that are particularly apt to generate the theorization and enactment of mnemonic efforts. This concept becomes the theoretical prism for understanding the preoccupation with memory that marks the work of Warburg, Sebald, and Richter, and an analysis that identifi es their memory projects as exemplary, symptomatic, and diagnostic at the same time.