– Summer 2014

Images that Haunt Us

Muriel Combes

‘Partial vue, 28 March 2008, Valence-le-Haut.' Photograph reproduced from the image plate ‘Mohamed Ben Ftima', in Enquête sur le/notre dehors (Valence-le-Haut) < 2007— ... > à la date du 24 avril 2012 (Valence: Captures éditions and Art3, 2012), p.247. All images courtesy Alejandra Riera

When I first met Alejandra Riera before a seminar in Seville, she gave me a book in French, whose title could be translated as:

Enquiry on the/our outside (Valence-le-Haut) ‹2007— ...› dated 24 April 2012
 an image of collective thought on the place people inhabit with the inhabitants of the neighbourhood Fontbarlettes.1

It is a book that defies categorisation, and that in fact does not ask to be categorised, only to be read. I hesitated to accept the invitation, explaining to Alejandra that I am no longer a philosopher: I stopped teaching philosophy ten years ago and practising it two years later. She replied: ‘That’s perfect. I’m not an artist either.’
I let myself be persuaded by this sophism, and, carried along by faith, I accepted
 the invitation and opened the book.

She had also given me the two-hour video Enquête sur le/notre dehors (Valence-le-Haut) ‹ 2007—... › (Enquiry on the/ouroutside(Valence-le-Haut)‹2007— ...›), a version dated 15 July 2012 and
 made together with the inhabitants of Fontbarlettes. But I waited to finish the book before watching

  1. Enquête sur le/notre dehors (Valence-le-Haut) < 2007 — ... > à la date du 24 avril 2012 is a response to the commission received by Alejandra Riera from a group of inhabitants of the Fontbarlettes neighbourhood who, following the initiative of Valérie Cudel, applied to funds from the Fondation de France’s programme ‘New Commissioners’. Initiated in 2009, the commission was intended to last for one year, but exceeded its original framework, as this core group of participants invited other inhabitants to take part, eventually resulting in a 352-page-long book including 12 conversations, numerous footnotes and 39 image plates and captions, with the participation of Jo and Naïma Pino, Hafida Kada, Marion Barras, Amel, Mohamad-Ali Osman and their children, Pierre Pellet, Catherine (Marie-Jeannette) Lacoste, Ahmad Qamouch, Luc Fontaine, Rachid and Rachida Zahri, Michèle and Éliane Blache, Daniel and Suzanne Anquetil, Mohamed Ben Ftima, Meriem Fradj and Xavier Hubert, Mireille Baudron, Alain Nivon, Luc Baylion and Marc Papillon. See Alejandra Riera, Enquête sur le/notre dehors (Valence-le-Haut) < 2007 — ... > à la date du 24 avril 2012 une image de pensée collective du lieu que l’on habite menée avec des habitants/es du quartier de Fontbarlettes (ed. Valérie Cudel), Valence: Captures éditions and Art3, 2012. The publication is accompanied by a film initiated in 2009 and dated 15 July 2012.

  2. See Walter Benjamin, Images de pensée (trans. Jean-François Poirier and Jean Lacoste), Paris: Christian Bourgois, 2011; and Gerhard Richter, Thought-Images: Frankfurt School Writers’ Reflections from Damaged Life, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2007.

  3. A. Riera, Enquête sur le/notre dehors, op. cit., pp.120—21.

  4. Ibid., p.2.

  5. Ibid.

  6. Ibid.

  7. Ibid.

  8. Ibid., p.12.

  9. See Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, ‘Percept, Affect and Concept’, What Is Philosophy? (1991, trans. Graham Burchell and Hugh Tomlinson), New York: Columbia University Press, pp.163—99.

  10. Rudolf Borchardt, quoted in W. Benjamin, ‘N [On the Theory of Knowledge, Theory of Progress]’,
The Arcades Project (trans. Howard Eiland and Kevin McLaughlin), Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999, N1, 8, p.458.

  11. W. Benjamin, ‘N [On the Theory of Knowledge, Theory of Progress]’, op. cit., N3, 4, p.463.

  12. Ibid., N1, 10, p.458.

  13. Ibid., N2a, 3, p.462. Emphasis the author’s.

  14. Ibid., N3, 4, p.463.

  15. A. Riera, Enquête sur le/notre dehors, op. cit., p.105.

  16. Jorge Luis Borges, ‘Averroes’ Search’ (trans. James E. Irby), Labyrinths: Selected Stories and OtherWritings (ed. Donald A. Yates and James E. Irby), New York: New Directions, 1964, pp.153—54.

  17. A. Riera, Enquête sur le/notre dehors, op. cit., p.79.

  18. Ibid.

  19. Giorgio Agamben, quoted in ibid., p.54.

  20. A. Riera, Enquête sur le/notre dehors, op. cit.

  21. M. Heidegger, ‘Building Dwelling Thinking’, Poetry, Language, Thought (1951, trans. Albert 
Hofstadter), New York: Harper & Row, 1971, p.57.

  22. A. Riera, Enquête sur le/notre dehors, op. cit., pp.66—67. Emphasis the author’s. The footnote continues 
as follows and clarifies: ‘Rather [Martin Heidegger] writes: “Mortals dwell in that they save the earth. [...] Saving does not only snatch something from a danger. To save properly means to set something free into its own essence.” And in a footnote in [Heidegger’s] “The Question Concerning Technology” [1954] we can read: “Retten, to save from a danger, originally to snatch or remove, is also used in the broader sense of helping or assisting.” And, further, in the body of the text: “To save is to fetch something home into its essence, in order to bring the essence for the first time into its genuine appearing.” I don’t understand what is the “genuine” being, which would only be genuine for a specific “we”. In contrast, I think I understand something about singular forms of being, or about the odour and consistency of 
the earth they save, which are not always those that we would recognise as “genuine” or “belonging to our heritage”, those of “the origins”. And I still ask myself how to return the earth to the earth, since it doesn’t speak our language and doesn’t claim anything as genuine, that is, as its full property.’

  23. Ibid., p.105.

  24. See ibid.

  25. See ibid., pp.34—35.

  26. Ibid.

  27. See ibid., p.65.

  28. See ibid., p.33.

  29. Carl Gustav Jung, ‘Approaching the Unconscious’, Man and His Symbols, New York: Doubleday, 1964, p.98.

  30. A. Riera, Enquête sur le/notre dehors, op. cit., p.42.

  31. Ibid., p.44.

  32. The Enquête, with reference to Georges Bataille and Michel Leiris’s ‘critical dictionary’, speaks 
of the goal of ‘creating a counter-model of an encyclopaedia’. A. Riera, Enquête sur le/notre dehors, op. cit.

  33. Translated from the French by Timothy Barnard.

    This essay is an abridged and edited version of a presentation given by Muriel Combes at the seminar ‘Histor(ies) of the Present’, co-organised by UNIA arteypensamiento and Afterall at UNIA, Seville on 30 October 2013.