Art during War and the Potentialities
of Decolonial Representation
DÉCHIREMENT/LACERATION (cruel, painful).— This term helps accredit the notion of
History’s irresponsibility. The state of war is masked under the noble garment of tragedy,
as if the conflict were essentially Evil, and not a (remediable) evil. Colonization evaporates,
engulfed in the halo of an impotent lament, which recognizes the misfortune in order to
establish it only the more successfully.
GUERRE/WAR.— The goal is to deny the thing. For this, two means are available: either
to name it as little as possible (most frequent procedure); or else to give it the meaning of
its contrary (more cunning procedure, which is at the basis of almost all the mystiﬁcations
of bourgeois discourse).
— Roland Barthes, “African Grammar,” The Eiffel Tower and Other Mythologies,
his is a book about war, although it will make no reference to specific battles, or
really anything of much military concern. Instead, it is a book that proposes to
the ways in which the experience of war motivates the production and
justification of culture, as well as why we have been unable to see this effect. It focuses
on the development and deployment of aesthetic practices and theories in France from
the late 1940s throughout the 1960s, a place and a period about which we already
sume we know a great deal. This assumption notwithstanding, the impetus to write
about the specific intersections of spatial and visual culture during this period arises
from a simple fact: whereas the field of modern European art history circumscribes
these decades as being “post- war,” their reality was anything but, especially in France.
Indeed, it was during these decades that France fought the longest wars of the
tieth century, wars that were, not coincidentally for the arguments I make in these