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The Politics of Images

by Cristelle Terroni , 26 December 2015

How do images respond to political events and how do they shape them ? What is the political power of images ? Should images of violence be shown in the media ? Through its winter selection, Books&Ideas offers to rediscover a group of four essays and reviews, all published in 2015, which have tackled these questions through the prism of history, philosophy, aesthetics and political sciences.

In one of his last books (Conjurer la peur. Sienne 1338. Essai sur la force politique des images, Seuil, 2013) French historian Patrick Boucheron analyses the strength of the famous fresco known as “Allegory of Good Government”, painted by Ambrogio Lorenzetti in the Palazzo Pubblico of Siena between 1338 and 1339. Far from being the illustration of a philosophical discourse or a “view” of Siena in 1338, Boucheron shows that Lorenzetti’s fresco possesses its own persuasive effect.

In her recent book Femmes en métier d’hommes, cartes postales 1890-1930 (Bleu Autour, 2013, Juliette Rennes presents a visual history of women’s emancipation during the Belle Époque through the spread of postcards representing (and mocking) women who took on “men’s work”. By re-appropriating their image, women turned the postcard into a medium through which they could stake a claim.

A combined review of the most recent books of Georges Didi-Huberman (Peuples exposés, peuples figurants. L’œil de l’histoire, Les Éditions de Minuit, 2012) and Jacques Rancière (Figures de l’histoire, PUF, 2012) explains how these two philosophers envision the visual representations of the people: each in his own way claims that representations of the people smother its inherent diversity and its particularity, thus erasing individual faces and replacing them with “types.”

Finally, French political scientist Emmanuel Taieb offers a reflection on images of violence (Scenes of lynching, beheadings, corpses… ), asking if some forms of violence are unfit to be seen and why some of them although easily accessible on the Internet are often occulted in the French media. Instead of their concealment, he claims that giving viewers details on what they are watching does not mean obstructing their gaze but confronting them with the unbearable, so that the unrepresentable may never be mixed up with the unimaginable.

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by Cristelle Terroni, 26 December 2015

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Cristelle Terroni, « The Politics of Images », Books and Ideas , 26 December 2015. ISSN : 2105-3030. URL :

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