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“You Live and Do Not Harm Me!”: Shifts in Approaches to Objects in Turn-of-the-Century Anthropology

Thursday Lecture Series, Animation

dateApril 18, 2013 timeThursday, 12:15pm EDT location The Heyman Center, Columbia University

“Du lebst und thust mir nichts! [You live and do not harm me!]”: a statement in which a human subject, specifically an art historian, addresses an object as if it were a living being. But how much confidence can we bestow upon this “nothing”? Is it not the object’s status as a living entity that enables it to do something? Could the subject’s denial then be a form of exorcism against all the things that objects can do, the harm that they are capable of inflicting? And would not this refutation ultimately provoke a response by that interlocutor who is condemned to say or do “nothing”?
Drawing from a number of aphorisms included in Aby Warburg’s incomplete project on aesthetics originally titled “Foundational Fragments for a Monistic Psychology of Art (1888–1903)” (from which the motto in the title of this lecture is excerpted), Professor Papapetros described how turn-of-the-century art history projected ethnographic theories of animistic practices on Renaissance and modern artworks while endowing inert images with the semblance of liveliness (Lebendigkeit) and animation (Belebung).