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Lecture: Totentanz. Operationalizing Aby Warburg’s Pathosformel

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King's College London

Anatomy Lecture Theatre (K.6.29)

King's Building, Strand Campus

London, WC2R 2LS

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Totentanz. Operationaliziong Aby Warburg’s Pathosformel

Professor Franco Moretti (Danily C. and Laura Louise Bell Professor and Professor of Comparative Literature in the Department of English (and, by courtesy, of German Studies) at Stanford University)

The object of this study is one of the most ambitious projects of twentieth-century art history: Aby Warburg’s Atlas Mnemosyne, conceived in the summer of 1926 – when the first mention of a Bilderatlas, or “atlas of images”, occurs in his journal – and truncated three years later, unfinished, by his sudden death in October 1929. Mnemosyne consisted in a series of large black panels,on which were attached about 1,000 black-and-white photographs of paintings, sculptures, book pages, stamps, newspaper clippings, tarot cards, coins, and other types of images. For Warburg, these thousand images were connected by morphological similarity and historical continuity. But the texts that accompany Mnemosyne are few and short, and the logic of his gigantic montage remains unclear. Often compared to Benjamin’s Passagenwerk, Warburg’s work is, in truth, much more elusive. One thread to orient oneself in the maze is however offered by the concept of the Pathosformel, or formula for (the expression of) passion. Turning this concept into a series of quantitative measurements – “operationalising” Pathosformeln – throws a new light on Warburg’s project, and opens the possibility to further develop it.


Organised by the Department of Comparative Literature, King's College London

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King's College London

Anatomy Lecture Theatre (K.6.29)

King's Building, Strand Campus

London, WC2R 2LS

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