Join us on Monday, October 30th at 6 pm!
I walked among the birches of Birkenau on a beautiful day in June.
On a visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau, Georges Didi-Huberman tears three pieces of bark from birch trees on the edge of the site. Looking at these pieces after his return home, he sees them as letters, a flood, a path, time, memory, flesh. The bark serves as a springboard to Didi-Huberman’s meditations on his visit, recorded in this spare, poetic, and powerful book. Bark is a personal account, drawing not on the theoretical apparatus of scholarship but on Didi-Huberman’s own history, memory, and knowledge.
The text proceeds as a series of reflections, accompanied by Didi-Huberman’s photographs of the visit. The photographs are not meant to be art—Didi-Huberman confesses that he “photographed practically everything without looking”—but approach it nevertheless. Didi-Huberman tells us that his grandparents died at Auschwitz, but his account is more universal than biographical. As he walks from place to place, he observes that in German birches are birken; Birkenau designates the meadow where the birches grow. Didi-Huberman sees and photographs the “reconstructed” execution wall; the floors of the crematorium, forgotten witnesses to killing; and the birch trees, lovely but also resembling prison bars. Taking his own photographs, he thinks of the famous photographs taken in 1944 by a member of the Sonderkommando,the only photographic documentation of the camp before the Germans destroyed it, hoping to hide the evidence of their crimes. Didi-Huberman notices a “bizarre proliferation of white flowers on the exact spot of the cremation pits.” The dead are not departed.
About the author (who will NOT be in attendance):
Georges Didi-Huberman, a philosopher and art historian based in Paris, teaches at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales. Recipient of the 2015 Adorno Prize, he is the author of more than forty books on the history and theory of images, including Invention of Hysteria: Charcot and the Photographic Iconography of the Salpêtrière (MIT Press) and Images in Spite of All: Four Photographs from Auschwitz, and The Surviving Image.
About the translator:
Samuel Martin is a Lecturer in French and Francophone Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, where he completed his doctoral studies on modern and contemporary French poetry. His translations include works by Georges Didi-Huberman, Jean-Christophe Bailly, and Gérard Macé, as well as François Dominique's award-winning novel Solène (2011), forthcoming this winter.
Lucie Petitjean is a lecturer in French at the University of Pennsylvania. She completed her doctorate on American literature at Université Paris 7. Her research interests include literary translation, modernist literature and the relation between text and image.
Monday, October 30, 2017 - 6:00pm
130 S. 34th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6304