Concentrationary Art and the Reading of Everyday Life

In this lecture I will discuss the concepts of the ‘concentrationary’ and ‘concentrationary art’ elaborated in the wake of the camps of the Second World War. In the first part of the paper I consider the links between the concentrationary and everyday life in the post-war period in France. For the French post-war theorist of the everyday, Henri Lefebvre, the concentrationary was the hidden matrix of modern life and, hence, the site on which the new disfigurement of humanity was taking place. The task was therefore to demystify everyday life in order to combat alienation. In two essays collected under the title Lazare parmi nous (Lazarus Amongst Us, 1950), the French poet, novelist and former inmate of Mauthausen concentration camp, Jean Cayrol, wrote of the urgent need for an art which could depict the hidden ‘concentrationary plague’ in everyday life. Cayrol wrote the spoken text for Alain Resnais’s film Nuit et brouillard (Night and Fog, 1955) which was, and still is, the most significant example of concentrationary art. Later, the same method was taken up by a number of sociologists, anthropologists, cultural critics and others to re-evaluate the notion of habitable (or inhabitable) spaces in the modern consumer city, conceived as a new ‘concentrationnat’. In a project on ‘concentrationary memories’, my colleague Griselda Pollock and I have written about the need today to renew Cayrol’s call for an art which can detect and challenge the ways in which  the concentrationary has ‘seeped’ invisibly into contemporary politics and culture. In the second part of the paper I apply the reading of everyday life through a concentrationary lens to Chantal Akerman’s celebrated 1975 film Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles. I focus in particular on her treatment of domestic space, objects and the body. I suggest that Akerman’s filmic style, like Cayrol’s concentrationary style, allows us to perceive these as both signs of disfigurement of the human and also, paradoxically, the conduits through which a re-humanisation may emerge in terms of memory, desire and the affective life.

Max Silverman is Professor of French at the University of Leeds, UK, working across French, Literary, Cinema and Memory Studies. Professor Silverman has published widely on cultural memory and the Holocaust, trauma and violence, colonial and post-colonial theory and cultures, immigration, race, nation and citizenship. Among others, his books include Deconstructing the Nation: Immigration, Racism and Citizenship in Modern France, Facing Postmodernity: Contemporary French Thought on Culture and Society, Palimpsestic Memory: the Holocaust and Colonialism in French and Francophone Fiction and Film, and the volumes Concentrationary Cinema, Concentrationary Memories, Concentrationary Imaginaries and the forthcoming Concentrationary Art.


Date & time

Mon 20 Aug 2018, 4–6pm


Milgate Room, AD Hope Building


Professor Max Silverman (University of Leeds)


Humanities Research Centre
+61 2 6125 4357


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