Relays, signals, actuality: a return to Focillon
Annamaria Ducci, Henri Focillon en son temps. La liberté des forms, Strasbourg: Presses Universitaires de Strasbourg, 2021, 391 pp., 20 col. plates, 10 b. & w. illus, 26,00 €, ISBN 979-10-344-0079-9.
Jae Emerling (University of North Carolina, Charlotte) 27/JE1
Abstract: A review-essay on Annamaria Ducci’s intellectual biography Henri Focillon en son temps. La liberté des forms (2021) that extends this work by presenting a call for a ‘return to Focillon’ within art historical thought that begins with his ability to refocus us on the artwork itself and its capabilities to magnetize content both within and without its historical milieu. Focillon’s real interest in the concept of a milieu and in the artwork’s ability to escape this originary context instigates a rethinking of the ontology, historiography, and the temporality of art. He challenges us to think and write through problematics, to experiment with both aesthetic agency and historical reception; to create new linkages between art and life, history and becoming, along the ἀκμή of the vie des formes—thus conceiving an artwork as a past-future event, as a ‘great ensemble’. Focillon posits that if the work of art is an event, then history is a modulated and controlled form of time as such, which itself is an actual-virtual movement or ‘becoming’. Ontologically art ‘goes further than…illustrate history’, he argues, which is why art historians must learn to encounter ‘modalities of life’ in order to write about how it creates ‘worlds’. Our ‘return to Focillon’ takes place within a threshold wherein the event of art is what matters most, that is, the capacities of a given formal property to harness and magnetize forces within and outside of itself in order to render humanist and post-humanist forces perceptible, sensible, and thinkable.
Keywords: Henri Focillon, Walter Benjamin, Gilles Deleuze, historiography, aesthetics, formalism, art history, temporality, George Kubler, modernism, affect, agency