Aby Warburg’s Mnemosyne Atlas (1925–1929) is a prescient work of mixed media assemblage, made up of hundreds of images culled from antiquity to the Renaissance and arranged into startling juxtapositions. Warburg’s allusive atlas sought to illuminate the pains of his final years, after he had suffered a breakdown and been institutionalized. It continues to influence contemporary artists today, including Gerhard Richter and Mark Dion.
In this illustrated exploration of Warburg and his great work, Georges Didi-Huberman leaps from Mnemosyne Atlas into a set of musings on the relation between suffering and knowledge in Western thought, and on the creative results of associative thinking. Deploying writing that delights in dramatic jump cuts reminiscent of Warburg’s idiosyncratic juxtapositions, and drawing on a set of sources that ranges from ancient Babylon to Walter Benjamin, Atlas, or the Anxious Gay Science is rich in Didi-Huberman’s trademark combination of elan and insight.