- Longlisted for the 2018 PEN Translation Prize
- Bark was named a winner of the 2018 French-American Foundation Translation Prize
136 pp., 5 x 7 in, 19 b&w illus.
- Published: October 20, 2017
- Publisher: The MIT Press
- Published: October 13, 2017
- Publisher: The MIT Press
A noted French thinker's poignant reflections, in words and photographs, on his visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau.
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.
What can mere photographs tell us about the Holocaust, photographs in this case taken by the author during a visit to the remains of the Auschwitz-Birkenau complex? Ruminating on surfaces and details, then and now, aesthetics and barbarism, life and death, Georges Didi-Huberman evokes a dialogue between his images and texts that powerfully persuades us that 'culture is not the cherry on the cake of history: it remains ever a place of conflict, where history itself acquires form and visibility.'
Geoffrey Batchen, Professor, Art History, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand
Bark is a slim, poignant, controlled narrative, yet is presented as an irrepressible and unpremeditated stream of writing.
Bark is the exploration of a gaze, and the exploration, through looking, of what is looked at. What is looked at are photographs, as well as a place: Auschwitz-Birkenau.