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John Latham, Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1971, still from a black-and-white film in 16 mm, 6 minutes. From “Atlas.

“Atlas”

Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía

John Latham, Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1971, still from a black-and-white film in 16 mm, 6 minutes. From “Atlas.

“Atlas: How to Carry the World on One’s Back?” is a project conceived by Georges Didi-Huberman for the Reina Sofía (it will travel to the ZKM in Karlsruhe and the Sammlung Falckenberg in Hamburg). The operation underlying the project is ambitious, yet simple and plausible: to use the panels of Aby Warburg’s “Mnemosyne Atlas, 1925–29, to define what might be called the “atlas drive,” a voracious strain of archive fever (to borrow Jacques Derrida’s phrase) that has spread throughout Western culture since what Karl Kraus called “the last days of mankind,” and to illustrate this argument with a selection of 365 works, mostly from the twentieth century.

Indeed, since World War I brought an end to people’s trust in language, as evidenced by avant-garde poetry such as that of the Dadaists (long before Adorno’s denial that there could be poetry after Auschwitz), there has been an endless

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