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The Cube and the Face

Georges Didi-Huberman

The Cube and the Face

Around a Sculpture by Alberto GiacOluetti

Eclited by Mira Fliescher und Elena Vogman

Translated by Shane B. Lillis


French Edition:
Le cube et le visage. Autour d'une sculpture d'Alberto Giacometti
© Editions Macula, Paris 1993

Published with the kind support of the French Ministry of Culture -

Centre national du livre
Ouvrage publie avec l'aide du Ministère français de la Culture-
Centre national du livre

Published with funds of the Institute for Critical Theory (ith)

of the Zurich University of the Arts

Series THINK ART of the Institute for Critical Theory (ith)

Zurich University ofthe Arts and the Centre for Arts
and Cultural Theory (ZKK) University of Zurich

AIl works by Alberto Giacometti: © Succession Alberto Giacometti

(Fondation Alberto et Annette Giacometti, Paris + ADAGP, Paris) 2015

1St edition
ISBN 978-3-03734-520-7
© diaphanes, Zurich-Berlin 2015

AIl rights reserved. No part ofthis publication

may be reproduced or transmitted, in any form
or by any means, electronic or mechanical,
including photocopy, recording or any other
information storage and retrieval system
without prior permission in writing
from the publisher.

Layout: 2edit, Zurich

Printed in Germany

Note 9
Buried Face 11
Face of the Orientation that Cannot Be Found 15
Face of the Drawing that Seeks its Volume 25
Face of the Cage and the Transparent Crystal 37
Face of the Bodies that COlIle Apart 43
Face of the Irrlpossible Dirnension 49
Face of the Dead Heads 63
Lost Face, Face of the Father 87
Face of Opacity and the Blind Crystal 103
Face of Shadow and Spacing 123
Melancholic Face 133
Face of the Drawing that Seeks its Notch 137
Face for Finishingwith the Object 147
Buried Face 157

Notes 199

Elena Vogman and Mira Fliescher

In the Face of the Unface 225

Credits 247
Blank planes touch close sheer white aIl gone from
mind. Little body ash grey locked rigid heart beating
face to endlessness. [... ]. Four square true refuge long
last four walls over backwards no sound. [... ] Little body
little block heart beating ash grey only upright.

Sarnuel Beckett, "Lessness".l


An earlier version of these rernarks was conceived for the

Giacornetti exhibition at the Musée d'Art moderne de la Ville de
Paris, but it had to be reduced to the publication of a small sketch
("Sur les treize faces du Cube," inAlberto Giacometti, Sculptures,
peintures, dessins, ed. Suzanne Pagé, Paris: Musée d'Art Inod-
erne de la Ville, 1991, p. 43-46). Beyond the opportunity created
by this retrospective exhibition, and before that by a visit to the
Kunsthaus in Zurich the following text owes a great deal to two
recently published works aInong Inany other studies on Giaco-
InettÏ. The first is the collection of his own writings, published
in French under the direction of M. Leiris and J. Dupin (Écrits,
edited by Mary L. Pahner and François Chaussende); the sec-
ond is the monulllentallllonograph by Yves Bonnefoy entitled
Alberto Giacometti. Biographie d'une œuvre.
My own reInarks, as we shaH see, are in a constant dialogue
with, or even a critique of, these two texts. The second was dis-
cussed orally, following the warm invitation of Yves Bonnefoy,
at the Collège de France in Novelllber 1991.
These pages also constitute a kind of test of certain pro-
positions froIn a work written in parallel, and entitled Ce que
nous voyons, ce qui nous regarde, Paris, Minuit, 1992. Dominique
Boudou, Pascal Convert, Christian Klemm, Rosalind Krauss,
JaInes Lord and Margit Rowell all offered suggestions, infonna-
tion, or challenging questions. 1 wish to thank each oftheln very

Fig. 1: The Cube (1934), bronze, 94,00 x 54,00 x 59,00 cm. Kunsthaus
Zurich (Alberto Giacometti Foundation), photographed by Denis Bernard.

Buried Face

The Cube, as we can see, isn't one (fig. 1-5). It is an irregular poly-
hedron which catalogues describe as having twelve sides-that
nice figure, twelve, a destinaI figure if ever there was one, which
willfully evokes Mallarmé' s throw of the dice, at the very mOluent
that the dock strikes twelve at midnight, in the dark house of
Igitur. One can iIuagine that GiacOluetti wanted to give a unique
volume 2 to the twelve facets-six and six-of two cubes added
together: a unique architecture for two dice thrown, as though
the rislzy act of throwing had additionally irnposed the turrnoil
of the suddenly irregular facets.
There is perhaps sOlue truth in this perception, but there
is also something inexact. Giacmnetti did not siIuply double
the nunlber of sides of a die or of a normal cube lnerely to
make the six-sided geOluetry more complex. The object was
created in pl aster probably in early 1934 (fig. 6). Much later,
between 1954 and 1962, it was cast in bronze by the foundry
worker Susse. 3 It is far frOIu having the exactness of an object
of pure geOluetrical denlonstration. Its planes often show a
slight curve, having a certain roughness in spite of their inevi-
tably clear-cut character, and the hand did not try to correct its
nurnerous traces, which are either intentional or accidentaI,
that disturb the surface. Near the anterior base, we can detect
a fold, as though GiacOluetti hesitated to unfold that face, to
break the unity of the surface and to subject it to that inevita-
bly duplicitous operation-the cOlnplex, equivocal operation,
already bearing a latency or a virtuality-of the formula one plus
one, or of the "12 + 1".
Observers forget, above aIl, about the face which is in a
sense the first and the la st of the polyhedron: it is the under-
side, the face that faces the ground. It suggests to us the oper-
ation of a destinaI nurnber which leans-beyond looking
downwards-towards the rnost inevitable, the IUOSt sinister,

Buried Face

Fig. 2-5: The Cube (1934), bronze, 94,00 x 54,00 x 59,00 cm. Kunsthaus
Zurich (Alberto Giacometti Foundation), photographed by Denis Bernard.

Buried Face

Fig. 6: The Cube (1934), plaster, 94,00 x 54,00 x 59,00 cm.

Kunstmuseum Basel (Deposit of the Alberto Giacometti
Foundation Kunsthaus Zurich).

and the lnost seriolls value of the number thirteen, giving us

"12 + 1 = 13". We would need to start with that thirteenth face
and return to it as to a blind face which probably holds the
other twelve together. We would need to start froll1 that thir-
teenth face and then return to it, as we would to that which,
in the beautiful visible volurne of that sculpture, misses being
seen. Beyond the ide a of a destiny curled up in the architecture
of the visible facets, it suggests that this object is erected on
a hollowed-ollt face, which 11lakes sculpture, not a colossus
with clay feet, but a solid erected on sornething rnissing, the
contour of an absence, a loss, the loss of a face. Does this bur-
ied or lost face have a nanle? We should note, first of aIl, the
blind character of this object that is neither sufficiently rigor-
ous to be "constructivist," nor sufficiently analytical to be "cub-
ist," and is too geometrical to tell any story. We should note,

Buried Face

furthermore, its reclusion, if not its foreclosing, upon itself. Its

"private" diInension, which is still elusive, even if it does give
the predominant inlpression that it is deprived of something.
But ofwhat?

Face of the Orientation that Cannot Be Found

If, regarding this sculpture, we can slide so quickly from the

objective observation that one of its faces is "blind" against
the ground, towards the s01newhat subjective metaphorization
of a general value of blindness, or even of burial, it is because
the metaphorization of these values actually accompanied, but
with different orientations, the discussions by the exegetes on
the work, as weIl as bythe artist himself. It seelns that the object
c10sed up, within its great Inass, values of signification that must
escape us, or that no longer exist, or that perhaps never existed
at aIl. We must therefore begin with the paradox that for aIl of
us the Cube is an object whose signification seems well-buried
indeecl. In any case, it is buried for anyone who approaches and
discovers this essentially mute or even condemned lnass, con-
den1ned to a bronze silence.
Giacometti was the first, almost thirty years after its cre-
ation, to try to recluce this sculpture to something that had to
be buried InentaIly, because for hiIn, in fact, it was not sculpture
at aIl. In a passage from his interview with André Parinaucl in
1962, he evokes his perpetuaI difficulty in producinga sculpture
that would give the al! of a he ad for example. He repeats, like so
often, the topos of artistic literature in which we see the "pas-
sionate quests," the "subIÎl11e failures" and the "n1irac1es" with
which so many artists, both real and 111ythical, were credited,
fr0111 the Greek Apelles to Balzac's Frenhofer, frorn Leonardo
to Cézanne, whose famous anxiety Giacometti c1early wished to
prolong or to re-enlbody. In this passage, in any case, he evokes
his unfruitful searches fr0111 the usual-but painfully experi-
enced-perspective of a discontinuity that 111ade hÎln lose the
detail when he "grasped" the whole, and lose the whole when
he "grasped" the detail. He even said that "if 1 look at you face
to face, 1 forget the profile, if 1 look at the profile, 1 forget the
face. Everything becomes discontinuous. That is the fact of the

Face of the Orientation that Cannot Be Found

matter. 1 never again succeed in grasping the whole. Too lnany

floors! Too rnany levels! [... ] The mystery thickens.,,4 And, in
front of this lnystery, the artist tried everything, he says, until
that Cube which he evokes here, without nalning it, as a unique
mOlnent-and a failed one-of a detour through abstraction:

"Around 1925, 1 began to understand that it was impossi-

ble to lnake a painting or a sculpture as 1 saw it, and that
1 had to abandon the real. So 1 tried to translate, if worst
carne to worst, the rnemory that 1 had of it. 1 made every
possible attelnpt at construction until around 1935. Even to

- What did abstraction bring that was new to your endeavor?

It was the last step before reaching 'the wall'! The building
of volumes that were Inerely objects. But an object is not a
sculpture! No more progress could be lnade at all."5

We can sense here, without its being spelt out, that the Cube
was, for Giacometti in 1962, no rnore than an "object": an object
that was abstract and esthetic to the point of nonsense. An
object that he evenjuxtaposed implicitly, a few lines later, with
his work done in conjunction with the decorator Jean-Michel
Frank. "It was therefore a failure,"6 he would finally daÏIn, while
at the saIne tirne he accepted its production in bronze and its
being exhibited-he, who, it is said, never hesitated to destroy
anything that he thought was no good. The pejorative sÏInpli-
fication with which GiacOlnetti treated this sculpture already
revealed, therefore, a secret cOll1plexity, an evidence, a predis-
position for the confused and the unsaid, and even for denial.
The artist knowingly confused things by giving the title Cube to
an object that wasn't one, but he lnade it even worse, less know-
ingly perhaps by refusing that this sculpture be thought of or
even be thinkable as "sculpture" at aIl.

Face of the Orientation that Cannot Be Found

What then? Critics of the work, in their efforts to c1arify its

historical or esthetic meanings and orientations, found theln-
selves rnore often than not dragged into this spiral of confusion
and denial of rneaning and orientation. They were all aware of
the place that this object occupied in the chronology ofhis work
in general: 1934-or the end of 1933ï-is already no longer the
era of those stupefying objects where the conventional space of
sculpture was ceaselessly reinvented and mistreated in every
sense (the era of the Cage, or of Point to the Eye the very testing
Woman with her Throat Cut, for example, fig. 21-22); and it is
Just before the faInous break with the surrealists and the avant-
gardists in general, just before the well-known and too quickly
narned "return" to "reality" and to "presence".8
This chronologically intervening situation can be inter-
preted in different ways. The rnost comrnon is to see it as a mere
parenthesis, or sÏInply a "weak tiIne" obeying the privative logic
of neither/nor: fronl this point ofview, the Cube would have nei-
ther the fantaslnatic audacity of the surrealist works, nor the
existential depth of works in which for so long one sought a
resemblance of 11l11nan faces. This, in GiacOlnetti's iInlnense
œuvre, would be nlerely an abstract parenthesis, and therefore
sornething quite atyp ic al , the word "abstraction" having here
the pejorative sense of a "stylization" with no living reference,
with no depth, basically a fOflnalist impoverishment, or dry
reduction to estheticisrn. The body of the Cube, says Reinhold
Hohl for eXaInple, is so abstract that it fails to invest itselfwith
a "content of experience," the kind that "in reality conceals
a hUlnan encounter"; and so it is inhuman, and its extrelne
"stylization" takes away its existential "force" which the Cub-
ist Head, sOlnething far nlore figurative, manages to maintain
(fig. 41-44).9 The body of the Cube is so abstract that it is simply
not a body, and as such it has nothing to say, not even syrnboli-
cally, at least in the nlanner in which it makes its appearance. 10
If we were to consider this a testiInony of a cubist pm'en-
thesis-a second cubist parenthesis, after the series of works

Face of the Orientation that Cannot Be Found

created between 1925 and 1927-then the work would quickly

return to the darkness of a transitory m01nent without any real
stylistic consequences, and so without any real significance.
Moreover, what is particularly "cu bist" in this heavy polyhedron,
if it is not the improbable playon the ward of its title? Visually,
stylistically, the Cube is not cubist. It owes nothing in its form
and in its procedure to the sculptures of Picasso which, fron1
1910 onwards, developed a spatiality that came from the prob-
lems of collage, adding and assembling their elelnents accord-
ing to a frontality brought about by hollowing out, lamination/
stratification rfeuilletage], concavity, and the split relief. None
ofthis is found in the purely convex monolith of the Cube, where
Giacometti did not want to articulate any single autonon10US
"part". The Waman's Head (1910) by Picasso, the Head (1913)
by Archipenko, the Man'sHead (1914) by Joseph Csaky, the Man
with a Pipe (1919) by Henri Laurens or the Waman's Head (1919)
by Otto Gutfreund, aIl treated the simple volun1etry of the heads
according to a complex play of lnasses and counter-lnasses
whose internaI profiles-the cracks, the anfractuosities-are
enough to distance us frorn the Inere block that the Cube is con-
tent to show us. l1
Even the sharp obelisk byJacques Lipchitz (fig. 7), created in
1916 in the SaIne mate rial as the Cube and with sirnilar dÏlnen-
sions, seems an unfavorable choice for a real stylistic c01npari-
son (not to lnention the problelll of the respective procedures
offonnal creation, which have no relation). Lipchitz's sculpture
is certainly sharp and rnonolithic like the Cube; like the latter,
it is made to be walked around. Yet, its quite visible counter-
Inass, the great geornetrical excavation that holds it in its cen-
ter, its pilaster-like ornaInentation, the explieitly architectural
character (in a srnall-scale mode!) of its stature, aIl of the above
relnoves it even n10re fr01n the rnerely organically-erected and
folded-up n1ass of the Cube, and proposes a phenomenology of
the gaze, and therefore an attention to the work, that is incom-
Inensurable with that imposed by the work of Giacometti. 12

Face of the Orientation that Cannot Be Found

Fig. 7:J. Lipchitz, Personnage and Sculpture (1916),

109,20 x 27,40 X 20,20 cm and 94 x 28, x 21,9 cm. Musée national d'Art
moderne, Paris. Photography from Documents.

Because it is a rnass, or a geometrical massification of vol-

urne as sculpture in the round, that the Cube makes us under-
stand that we should think of Constantin Brancusi, the domi-
nant figure of sculptural art until the 1930s. For massification
was indeed, and for a long tilne in Brancusi's work, a fundalnen-
tal operator of that "purification" of forn1s which he undertook
in his TOI·sos (in 1907, in 1909, then in 1922-1923) as well as in
hisHeads, forexalnple in the Head ofa Young Girlfrom 1907, the
Portrait de Madame Meyer of 1916 or even The Chief(Le Chef) of
1925. In that Saine year, 1925, Giacornetti himselfhad sculpted a
Torso that was explicitly indebted to those by Brancusi (fig. 8-9).
And when, in 1933, he began to create the Cube, the Surrealist
Table, which he had only just finished, contained an allnost
verbatin1 quotation from Endless Column. It is enough to take
a single 1110duie from Brancusi's famous "tote111" to find once

Face of the Orientation that Cannot Be Found

Fig. 8-9: Alberto Giacometti: Torso (1925), bronze, 56,50 x 24,50 x 23,00 cm.
Kunsthaus Zurich (Alberto Giacometti Foundation),
photographed by Denis Bernard.

again this sort of polyhedral enclosure that gives the Cube its
initial fonnal character. Yet this comparison will show us noth-
ing IIlOre th an that. For the question, as weIl as the nature of the
process of creation, lies elsewhere as does the n1eaning or ori-
entation. The story of the styles seerns quite incapable, in this
case, of inducing the very possibility of the Cube as a singular
form. The rneaning lies elsewhere, and the paradox of the title
(according to a n10re surrealist than "cubist" gesture, one that
is identifiable with the proposition: "1 calI this a Cube because,
basicalIy, it is not a simple polyhedron"; or, inversely: "If 1 calI
this a Cube, while you can clearly see that it is l10t a simple cube,
it is, in fact, because 1 have tried to produce an object thatwould

Face of the Orientation that Cannot Be Found

be unnaIneable, one that would be unnameable par excellence,

for its narne is buried ... "), this paradox alone does not help us to
overcome the double stopping, ofboth form and oflanguage, in
front ofwhich the sculpture places us. The meaning or orienta-
tion lie elsewhere, or rather, remain obscure and folded in the
mass itself, in the 111aSS'S very simplicity.
Sorne critics, as though trying to save this decidedly Inys-
terious work, have sought to give it an iconology at aIl costs, a
secret one even; and, through a sort of objective irony, it was
to the originary rnotif of the discipline of iconology itself-that
of Warburg, after 1902,13 before the rnore famous one of
Panofsky-that they felt obliged to return in order to ÏInag-
ine the Cube. Sculpture, for the art historian, then becarne an
object ofhennetic nleaningpar excellence: an object-a "tool,"
clai111S M. F. Brenson-that was astrological, and then germ-
inely mystical, while nothing in the words, nor the preoccupa-
tions, nor even in Giacornetti's work in general supports the
hypothesis regarding any such "astral" obsession in the creator
of the Cube. 14 The meaning and orientation were so lacking that
one wished to consider it an unfinished work, even though it
was already signed. 15
One should therefore, perhaps, change the logic of one's
gaze as a historian or an iconologist, and in particular avoid
judging this work in tenns of the aIl too well-known "pursuit
ofreality" that Giacometti himself claÏIned fr01n1935 onwards.
Even ifwe were to damage the presuppositions upon which the
luajority o(texts on Giacornetti are based-including the rnost
beautiful texts, which despite my reservations 1 find beautiful
and specifically relevant in their very beauty-we should start
here with the hypothesis that the words reality or presence,
words that are eternally joined to the search for the grand sculp-
tor (for the reason that this search concerned above aIl the ques-
tion of the portrait), are, in fact, ideal obstacles against looking
directly at such a work, and the Cube in particular. The words
reality or presence do not appear to be adequate responses or

Face of the Orientation that Cannot Be Found

interpretative keys to Giacometti's work, they are rather to be

taken as words that rnust be interpreted theinseives, in the same
way as visible objects are. For they come, Inore or less directly,
frOIn the artist himself, who transn1itted thein so weIl and sug-
gested then1 to aIl the notable critics who were also, as we know,
quite often his closest friends. This point of methodology is
essential. 16 1t should make it possible, not to reject these tenns
as being irrelevant-which is what a modernist critic would
be tempted to do-but to keep thein while questioning thern,
which Ineans by critiquing them at the risk of splitting theln,
cracking their screen, but also perhaps deepening thern.
It has often been said or suggested that the Cube was an
object devoid of any n1eaning and force merely because it turned
its back, so to speak, on reality (that of a head, for exan1ple) and
on presence (that of a gaze, for example). Yet, this amounted to
turning those two words into adequate responses or interpreta-
tive keys, turning them in reality into appeals to principles and
retrospective illusions regarding this obviously singular work
within the œuvre of Giacometti. Appeals to principles because
they are, on the whole, Inerely theoretical Inythologies: pres-
ence and reality define this "quest for the absolute" by an artist
whose mnazed conternporaries saw him as a Inetaphysical hero,
the archetypal "creator," the adventurer of existence always run-
ning the risk-just like Balzac's Frenhofer-offailure; in short,
the rnan of the ultiInate origins and the ends of art. 1ï Then we
understand that the words reality and presence went into the
writings of GiacOInetti's exegetes as a kind of tautology, a cir-
cular argurnent, as the statelnent of the obvious, even as the
definition of its Inost general and Inost pennanent quality. It is
with the French phrase "surgissement d'une presence," rneaning
"sudden appearance of a presence" that]acques Dupin's beau-
tifullnonograph begins. 18 But it is on the criteria value of such
a phrase that he based hiInself in order to see the Cube as "no
Inore than an esthetic object without content" .19

Face of the Orientation that Cannot Be Found

Closer to US is Yves Bonnefoy who, in his monurnental

monograph, also uses the word presence, but in order to sug-
gest also a mornent of "synthesis" .20 Yet the very personal move-
ment of his analyses reveals a deeper theoretical anxiety, one
that is therefore rnore just, which often makes the word tremble
to the point that only its opposite can confirm it: "this presence,
or absence" he says regarding the Cube. 21 What do we learn from
this paradox, before we even have to explain it? That the status
of the work, as weIl as its telnporal determination (the particu-
lar rnOlnent at which it was born), must be seen as coming frorn
afald and no longer from a parenthesis: it is the lllOment when
two contradictory things are pulled one over the other-face to
face or in the foid of an angulation that is more or less large,
more or less tight-crystallizing before perhaps separating
anew. A nloment which follows the more interesting, lnore pro-
ductive Iogic of bath this and that...: not a more or less hollow
episode in the history of a work, but the facetted crystal, the
prism of a whole artistic destiny.
ln this way the Cube, as a singular, and even lnodest, object
obliges us to rethink the very categories in which this wode,
and perhaps any wode in general, is considered spontaneously,
between figurative representation and abstraction, between
abstraction and symbolisnl ... Of aIl of this, the Cube will nlake
another configuration, perhaps a precious stone of a new kind,
the prisnl, as 1 said, of a whole artistic destiny which constantly
looked for itself, and perhaps at that moment rnore than any

Face of the Drawing that Seeks its Volume

1 speak of a prisln because, strangely, the polyhedron of the

Cube refracts, condenses and defIects, in its singularity as an
object, an impressive nurnber of motifs that are essential to
GiacOlnetti's search in the long tenn. That is why the ternporal
status of this "fold-object," this "crystal-object," will shine for
us with at least two contradictory fIanles: that of the singular
exception-a hapax legornenon, a syrnptom, an unexpected
passage in the development of the work-and that of penna-
nence or structural persistence. Yet, it is an anxious penna-
nence: a bundle of fixed ideas, filled with illunobile threats in
which the artist nonetheless was able to find the energy and
dynarnics for his dogged search.
It is through drawing that Giacometti began his search.
"This wonderful rnedium," he said, was to inspire hiIn one day
to "see clearly like no one else."22 It was always an idealized
mediuln therefore, even when the ideal showed its inability to
take shape or to be created. For the ideal found its source in
the utopia which was itself anchored in the history of ancient
art and the rnythologies or the metaphysics that founded itz 3
according to which drawing was situated or evolved half-way
between the soul and a sheet of paper, as though fonns were
etched somewhere behind the gaze just as surely as on a physi-
cal block. There has often been a discussion about drawing in
GiaC0111etti's œuvre according to this ide al of a psychical or
sensorial etching: "Each thing is drawn in him" wrote Jacques
Dupin, who saw in the artist's graphie works a procedure that
was directly "based on the movement of the eye in nornlal
perception".24 Later, Diego would give a very lnoving account of
how his brother, dying in his bed, drew him with his eyes. He did
not interpret this last gaze either as an entreaty for prolonged
contact, or as the unhappy atternpt of mute speech but rather

Face of the Drawing that Seeks its Volume

as the still living work of the rnental drawing being done over
and again for the thousandth timeY
Jean Genet was Inore sensitive to the visual nature of
Giacornetti's drawings-he evoked for exainple, with great
relevance, their layout as a "typographic layout: 'Coup de dés",26
and ended up comparing them, significantly, with Clystals,
jewels, and diamonds:

"His Drawings. He only draws with fountain pen or with

hard pencil; the paper is often pierced, ripped. The
curves are hard, without softness, without gentleness. It
seelns to n1e that for hÎln a line is a man: he treats it on
an equal footing. The broken lines are acute and give to
his drawing-thanks to the granitic, and paradoxically
rnuted materiality of crayon-a scintillating appearance.
Dian10nds. Diamonds aIl the lllOre so because of his way of
using whites. [... ] This gives us extraordinary jewels-one
thinks of Cézanne's watercolours-thanks to these whites,
where an invisible kind of drawing finds itself implied, the
sensation of space is obtained with a force that makes of
that space one ahnost able to be paced and Ineasured. [... ]
Extraordinary chiselled [sic]jewels. And it's the white-the
white page-that GiacOlnetti would have chiselled."2ï

It is difficult, reading these lines, not to think of the eut

blankness with which we could perhaps define the Cube in its
original and principal version, white plaster cut into a crys-
tal (fig. 6). The Cube was, in Giacon1etti's hands in 1934, that
n10nochrOlne Inaterial, the white of the page with folded fac-
ets, that the act of drawing, according to Jean Genet, reinvented
every tüne. What, rnoreover, is a crystal other than the physical
being of an exernplary conjunction of drawing and volume? The
crystal can be looked at as an architecture of ridges (the out-
lines are visible, as are the folds in the interior of its mass) at the
san1e tiIne as it shows its plans, its visually appreciable surfaces

Face of the Drawing that Seeks its Volume

whose articulation will be circumvented as volume in space.

This is exactly what Giacornetti asked of drawing in general: a
construction of lines or profiles that caB for or demand a con-
struction of solid bodies or masses:

"Different elernents together can shape the work of art:

1. Masses.
II. Directions of rnasses; relations between them, contrasts,
direction of the one in relation to the other in the atn10-
III. Construction in the rnasses, clarity of the drawing, and
construction that are logical to the very last centÏIneter
IV. Lines or arabesques, profiles of masses in space and
profiles of elnpty spaces created by the construction, and
plenitude in relation to contrary lines.
V. Harmony of the whole and of the construction by the
rnasses, of the lnasses by drawing, of the drawing in the
whole, general harmony.,,28

These notes by GiacOlnetti, beyond being presented as

a list, reveal a profoundly dialectical way of thinking: in the
beginning were the masses, we could say, and in the end was
that "general hannony" whose relations were reinvented by the
work of art. Between the two we would find the endless work
of a construction of masses by me ans of drawing and of draw-
ing by rneans of 111asses-their directions, their relations, and
even their ways of figuring out ernpty spaces. Drawing aIl10unts
to constructing, and constructing aIl10unts to finding the ade-
quate volume in which a figure could beCOll1e inscribed and
could live-for it is indeed a question of the figure understood
in the traditional sense: the human body, and above all the head
in the text of 1924 entitled "A wayofmaking a figure" ("Manière
de faire une figure"). Much later, in 1964, Giacometti returned
to this lnotif, a very traditional one, by considering the sketch

Face of the Drawing that Seeks its Volume

Fig. 10: Nu debout (1922-1923), pencil on paper, 50,50 x 32,80 cm (detail).

Private collection.

of his portrait of JaInes Lord: "The head isn't too bad. It has
We need also to reread those words written in 1924 in light
of Giacometti's acadelnic work, in that period, in the studio
of the Grande ChauInière where his father had spoken to him
and where the sculptor Bourdelle, another paternal figure, was
absolute n1aster. 30 Bourdelle taught a conception of drawing
which was also centered on the ide a of a "well-designed build-
ing of the skeletal fraIne"; in the "order" and "spirit" of drawing
he saw the way to construct Inasses, for exaluple to "see with
claritywhere the nose is attached to the bottOln of the forehead,
and its exact relation to the eyes" in the vohllnetry of a head; he
taught also a graphic technique consisting in outlining a figure
as a totality "surrounding it with straight lines leading frOlu one
contour point to another by dividing the volulues into facets"j
but, aIl things considered, he asked his young student-Alberto

Face of the Drawingthat Seeks its Volume

Fig. 11:Study for The Sitting Writer (1922-1923), ink on paper,

26,50 x 21,00 cm (detail). Priva te collection.

was barely twentyyears old-to "avoid those breaks that are too
sharply defined" which covered his drawings. 31
Indeed, during those years-sonle ten years before the
Cube-GiacOllletti's drawings tended to construct their "fig-
ures" according to the heuristic forrnula or the experinlen-
tal search for cOlllplex polygons, or even erratic, blurred ones,
which, little by little, albeit always nervously, outlined the vol-
ume of the bodies. In the polygonal constructions that were
insensitive to the play of light or shade, and here we can see
a skill of drawing cOlllpletely oriented towards sculptural cre-
ation, the volllllle of the body was erected, then, progressively,
like an irregular polyhedron. This is clearly seen in the studies of
nudes duringthe period froIn 1922 to 1924 (fig. 10).32 But, little
by little, this "polygonal-polyhedral" approach to the volume
was to focus more on heads, the contours of which GiacOllletti
refused to outline by l11eans of a mere oval or curved lines in

Face of the Drawing-that Seeks its Volume

Fig. 12: Alberto Giacometti: Selfportrait (1923-1924), penciI on paper,

2ï,50 x 23,00 cm. Kunsthaus Zurich (Alberto Giacometti Foundation).

Face of the Drawing that Seeks its Volume

Fig. 13: Alberto Giacometti: Selfportrait (1935), chalk on paper,

38,00 x 32,00 cm.
Fig. 14: Alberto Giacometti: Selfportrait (1937), pencil on paper,
49,00 x 31,50 crn. Private collection.

general. A portrait of Ottilia sewing, dated 1922, shows exactly

this approach:B A little over a decade later-at the tÎlne of the
Gube-we see the same procedure in action in a drawing that
shows a woman on a sofa (Femme sur un canapé) in which Gia-
cometti, significantly, added the marginalia of two sketches for
his Gubist Head. 34 We should not forget, on the other hand, that
in the SaIne period GiacOlnetti returned to a detailed study of
Egyptian statues, copying for example the head of the faInous
Kneeling Scribe at the Louvre, in order to reduce the rnass of the
face to a strictly polyhedral build (fig. 11).
In this way, through drawing he constructed his cOlnplex
polygons as the best way to attain an initial grasp of the body
of the volumes to be drawn-heads above aIl, and above aIl
we should note, his own head. It is indeed in the entire series
of self-portraits drawn between 1922 and 1940, a series which

Face of the Drawing that Seeks its Volume

Wie .tttgejirot l'I'il i.-b nculftlll t"c'?/J ittl34Î!fmu 'l'nrltcrl1cq IIWCnll:i

IidJ ~Irfidj \mUO vlmfidJ ",ie OU ft!)c Omm \1~: !Urgelf /id>t •

Fig. 15: Erhard Schon: The Other Figure (not until1491-1542),

from: UnnderweisSlll1g der proportziol1 und Stellwzg derpossen, liegent und
stehent ab gestolen wie man ... , 1540, size ofpage: 18,5 x 13,5 cm.

is rigorous and hardheaded, that the polygons are stubbornly

organized in internaI facets in which a polyhedral volurne
begins to vibrate, like the always anxious approxhuation of the
luass of the face (fig. 12-14). These self-portraits present there-
fore, a continuous polygonal contour that tapers towards the
bOttOlU, then increases, and becomes luore cOluplex with inter-
nai facets, offering a variety of forrns of the strange and obses-
sive thelue of a "portrait of the artist as a polyhedron" .35
Yet the status of this heuristics of volmue by drawing
reluains probleluatic. We can sense, on the one hand, the aca-
demism that such drawing continuously concealed in GiacOluet-
ti's work. The artist followed here in the footsteps of his fore-

Face of the Drawing that Seeks its Volume

Fig 16: Albrecht Dürer: Stereometrie Upper Body_and largerwritten part

(before 1519). Drawing from the Dresden Sketchbook, 29,30 x 20,80 cm.

fathers; his real father, Giovanni, the great drawer, the painter
who planted his easel in front of every rllodel to be drawn/ 6 and
his syrnbolic fathers, for exarnple Bourdelle. But this choice of
walking in the footsteps of the forefathers was not without anxi-
ety as we know-that fundanlental anxiety that would be Giaco-
metti's own inheritance. The creator of the Cube never ceased to
feel inapt and to feel tied up in the most standard problerlls of
representation, problems forwhich, he claimed, his forefathers
(Giovanni, first of aIl) had an unattainable skill. One of these
no doubt concerns the polyhedral reduction of bodies and
faces-it is the very old problerll ofproportions. 37 We rnight see,
then, in this process of "making into facets" a kind of unhappy

Face of the Drawing that Seeks its Volume

reminiscence Crevisited by modern art) of the old approaches

to proportion, that artists of the 16th century-Dürer above
all-showed in their treatises through prodigious figures that
had already "cubist" appearances (fig. 15-16).38
But the Cube's specifie horizon does not yet becorne clear.
We no longer doubt the importance of the question of drawing.
It is corroborated in any case bya series of contemporary notes
in his notebooks-Inade between 1931 and 1935-in whieh
GiacOInetti, constantly returns to his calling to make sculp-
tures and drawings-and ahnost nothing else Ca little etching
perhaps, perhaps a little poetry, both of theln arts of the page;
but painting, he said, remained, in any case forbidden to him 39 ).
Does this reference shnply define a "figurative" horizon for the
sculpture of 1934? One could be telnpted to think this-and
therefore to return to the hypothesis of "stylization" for the
Cube-when we read one of the very rare instances in which
GiacOInetti spoke of his hapax-worle

{{Have you ever made a sculpture thatwas really abstract?

Never, except the big cube [sic] 1 did in 1934, and yet 1 con-
sidered that one as a head. So 1 have never done anything
that was really abstract."40

It is enough to be sensitive to the profoundly dislnissive

logic in these words to understand that it cannot (and even
refuses to) offer the specific horizon of this sculpture. To the
question of abstraction put to hhn by larnes Lord, GiacOInetti
responded with a no without any possible reply ("Never!"),
then by a yes whieh upsets everything ("except ... "), then with
another 110 ("yet ... ") which is finally redoubled in order to fin-
ish definitively ("never anything!"). The answer, as we can see,
is at the saIne tin1e insistent, as though to prevent any further
questions, and contradictory. Exception and non-exception,
abstract polyhedron and head with dimensions that are irnpos-

Face of the Drawing that Seeks its Volume

sible for a head, the Cube has not finished, beyond the words of
its own inventor, asking its questions. How could it be sil71ply a
stylized head, when it does not show a single trait of the elemen-
tary stylization of faces, the placing of the eyes or the symmetry
marked by the bridge of the nose for example? But how could it
be sil71ply an abstract sculpture, when it is inscribed in a search
for and in a conflict regarding the concept of the figure itself,
which Giacornetti always suffered in a state of crisiS?41

Face of the Cage and the Transparent Crystal

We could undoubtedly make some progress in stating the prob-

lem by claiming that the polyhedron of the Cube was drawn,
before being compacified in an irrefutable and definitive plas-
ter form, in an entirely different way frmu the general support
for the heads to be represented. It is as a specific object that,
oddly, it appeared-although it had not been created, and
would not be created as it was shown there in a drawing from
1932 that showed Giacometti's works in his studio (fig. 17-18).
Stuck between the Spoon Woman and the astonishing phallic
object of the project for a Square is a transparent polyhedron.
Its edges do not quite draw the folds of a compact volurne, but
rather the bars of a kind of cage in which the quartered body of
a human being, as though free falling, is in a tunuoil. 42
On the one hand, one can see a tormented version of the
Vitruvian Man in this figure, or Dürer's steremuetric figures in
the Dresden Sketchbook. Let us imagine the faluous square with
its body of a rnan rnajestically inscribed within it, being trans-
forrned into a cube, then suddenly, being thrown into turrnoil,
becoming a polyhedron, becoming irregular; how could nlan
not lose his hUluanist majesty in the forced turrnoil of aIl of
his limbs? On the other hand, one can at once sense the rela-
tion that the drawing proposes to establish in the graphic work,
between this inhabited polyhedral crystal and certain contenl-
porary works by Giacmuetti, in particular the Cage and the Pal-
ace at 4 a.m. (fig. 21). Another graphic work in 1933 IUUSt also
be linked with this polyhedral cage, viz. the study for an etch-
ing accmupanying a text by René Crevel (fig. 19). There, we see a
cage in a paraIlelepiped-but suddenly folded and shrunk at its
base, like the Cube itself-enclosing a strange character, half-
flayed, half-skeletal, balanced between the bars, his feet placed
on a disc divided into eight sections. As though the cage were

Face of the Cage and the Transparent Crystal

Fig. 17: Alberto Giacometti: Dessin de mon Atelier (or: Studio fro111 tlze front)
(1932), pencil on paper, 31,90 x 46,90 cm. Kunstmuseum Basel

there both to protect and to bring about the delnise of that poor
hUInan body.
So, bodies in object-cages. When we think of the drawing
from 1932, and the one of 1933, we have the paradoxical in1pres-
sion that aIl of those frail constructions of bars are in fact far
Inore solid and weIl-structured than aIl the bodies that inhabit
theln. In the studio drawing, for exanlple, aIl the abjects in gen-
eral have a lnuch greater base th an aIl of the bodies that are
represented (fig. 18). The latter appear fonnless and dismem-
bered (lilœ the Anguislzed Woman in Izer Room at Niglzt, in the
foreground, or in the terrifying abode of the Cage), reduced to a
skeletal state (as in the Palace at 4 a.m.), in turmoil, distraught
even (as in our polyhedron), siInply sketched (as in the painting
placed on the ground), or even reduced to the size of a perfo-
rated screen (the mask placed over the door). Through a kind of
inversion of values, the abjects here get the better of the bodies,
as though the objects alone-even if they are transparent, even

Face of the Cage and the Transparent Crystal

Fig. 18: Alberto Giacometti: Dessin de mon Atelier (or: Studiofrom thefro1Zt)
(1932), pencil on paper, 31,90 x 46,90 cm (detail). Kunstmuseum Basel

crystalline-could attain the status of a stable being or the sta-

tus of real identity perhaps. It is symptomatic that, with regard
to those sculptures in the shapes of cages, in a well-known letter
to Pierre Matisse, Giacometti should have inverted his words,
referring to the construction of cages as figures, and to the sort
of organic deconstructions or dislocations that he kept impris-
oned in them asfi"ee constructions. 43
This solidity and this packingefficacy of transparent or crys-
talline structures relnained something of an idée fixe or obses-
sion for GiacOlnetti. It was still part of the fantaslnatic facts
about the artist in the 1960s, when, for example, he confided
to David Sylvester that "by IÎll1iting oneself to a single glass, you
have a Inuch greater notion of aIl the other objects than if you

Face of the Cage and the Transparent Crystal

Fig. 19: Alberto Giacometti: Untitled, study for an etching in René Crevel:
Le pieds dans le plat, ink on paper, 12,5 x 9 cm. Kunstmuseum Basel

wanted to do the whole lot",44 or when he confided in his per-

sonal writings:

"Above aIl, objects appear real to me, the glass appears

nmch less precarious than the hand that holds it, that
lifts it, puts it down, and disappears. Objects have another
consistency. "45

Bodies pass, age, faIl apart and disappear ineluctably, while

a lnere glass, aIl the more a crystal, can rernain, fragile but per-
lnanent and intact. The very organization of its facets-an orga-'
nization that always seen1S lnagical, and for this it is so often
used for divinatory purposes-shows us bath its predisposition

Face of the Cage and the Transparent Crystal

l ~f !


/ #.

Fig. 20: Alberto Giacometti: Drawing forLe rêve, le sphinx et la mort de T.,
published in: Labyrinthe.

for survival as a stable structure and its predisposition for spar-

lding, that is to say, turning and moving around in the light.
Crystals turn-or we turn around them-and they impose
their hardness like a principle of lllovernent, the dance oftheir
facets. It is by the rigid organization of Vol11l11e that GiacOllletti
dreamed of a "possibility of rnovement" for sculpture. 46 And it
is in the deployment of his dreams that GiaC0111etti, like a char-
acter in a cage, found this organization of turning facets on
discs divided into sections: like the organization of a place for
his own lllemory, which the artist would one day draw (fig. 20),
exactly, at the end of the well-known narrative entitled "The
Dream, the Sphinx and the Death ofT." ("Le rêve, le sphinx et la
mort de T. ").47

Face of the Bodies that Come Apart

We nlÏght be tempted to c01npare the polyhedral crystal enc1os-

ing its figure of a dancing h01nunculus with the famous giant
diatnond that the hosts of Locus Solus discovered just in front
of the polygonal esplanade, where Master Canterel's dancing
"girl" is to be seen. The diatnond in Locus Soluswas nothing less
than an inunense facetted aquarimn in which "a slender, grace-
fuI WOlnan, in a flesh-colored costmne, was standing upright
on the bottom, conlpletely submerged. Swaying her head gently
fr01n side to side, she struck many attitudes full of aesthetic
charm".48 But this intuition is undoubtedly incorrect: it gives
too nluch credit to a lnere aspectual or thematic reselnblance,
and ignores the fundamental importance of the "dialnonds"
and the cages that Giacolnetti dreamed of.
For the body that dances in the subtle prison of the poly-
hedron drawn in 1932 (fig. 18) has none of the "aesthetic
charm" that affected, in Raylllond Roussel's work, the lovely
aquatic creature. This body, like aIl others according to Gia-
c0111etti, "continually, and without a l11onlent's rest, looks for
its base" ,49 and never finds it. This body inhabits a crystal only
to experience its own collapse better. In it, this body will never
cease-not even virtually-to be thrown into turmoil, to die
and to fall back into the existence of a shredded organ, fallen
bone or fossil, scattered but c1osed. It is as though every cage or
every crystal-geonletries with sharp edges, structures of trans-
parent knives-could be understood, in Giac0111etti's work,
only fronl the atrocious counterpoint of a body cOllling apart,
clislocating inside itself or in front of itself. It would then be
necessary to think of the "abstract" architecture of Giac0111etti's
crystals as the virtual residence of S01ne disfiguration or some
"disintegrating relation," as he saicl hilllseif. 50 This l11ight c1arify
the paradoxicallink between Clystal-objects (ofwhich the Cube
would be a kind of result) with all of those collapsing bodies that

Face of the Bodies that Come Apart

Fig. 21: Alberto Giacometti: The Cage (1930-1931), plaster,

height 44,00 cm. Private collection.

Face of the Bodies that Come Apart

Fig. 22: Alberto Giacometti: Woman with Ber Throat eut (1932), bronze,
22,00 x 75,00 x 58,00 cm. Kllnstmllsellm Basel (Deposit of the Alberto
Giacometti FOllndation, Kllnsthalls Zurich).

GiaCOllletti invented conternporaneously in the same vein as

his n10st cruel organic reveries. 51
What does the Cage from 1930-1931 contain, if not a very
precise kind of Woman with Hel' Throat Cut (fig. 21-22)? What
does the Palace at 4 a.m. fron1 1932 contain, or the study for
Crevel (fig. 19), if not the withering to the bone of sacrificed
bodies? What, then, does the Surrealist Table frorn 1933 (fig. 23)
present on its top if not the careful placing of a small, autono-
mous, pointed polyhedron in front of the bust of an "urllnar-
ried" woman, her body dismembered, the rnouth half-open,
lookingwith only one eye, deprived ofthat single hand that has
been cut off and is unable to grasp anything at aIl? ... Beyond
the Cube itself, a drawing frOIn 1935 entitled Figure was to use
the sanIe polyhedral object (fig. 24), in its translucent version,
in the rather cruel staging of an anthropomorphic character
that is unable to grasp it, while its own corporeal volurnetry

Face of the Bodies that Come Apart

Fig. 23: Alberto Giacometti: Surrealist Table (1933), plaster,

143,00 x 103,00 x 43,00 cm (detail). Musée national d'art moderne, Paris.

becOlnes distorted at every level: single hand-"hand holding"

(main tenant) and not holding the polyhedron, to paraphrase a
title by Giacometti himself-, bust leveled in a white page, the
right side reduced to a sign of tearing, the belly now a geOlnetri-
cal table but also a black abyss, the feet reduced to two sticks.
We nmst then understand that the crystal itself-that poly-
hedral form to which Giaconletti was so attached -was no luore
than an architectural tool used for the destruction, or the alter-
ation of bodies. More and less than a theater, it was a geonletry
of cruelty. Literarily, it was situated, therefore, not on the side of
the cliamond of Locus Solus, but sOlnewhere between that beau-
tiful cliamond and the terrifying engraving lnachine in Kafka's
"Penal Colony". Here, too, we could show how its nature is that
of a fantasmatic prism by finding, in the sculptor's writings, the
numerous instances that show the obsessive, repetitive fright
of bodies coming apart, disappearing into clouds, or becorning
huge, absorbing each other, splitting up into fixed rnOlnents

Face ofthe Bodies that Come Apart

Fig. 24: Alberto Giacometti: Figure (1935), ink on paper, 28,30 x 19,90 cm.
Collection E. W. Kornfelcl, Bern.

of successive ÎInn10bilities-and the discontinuous time of

their vision becon1es itself a structure of facetted crystals, leav-
ing GiacOllletti hirnself "no longer quite the saIlle" when, in
this way, "everything sinks, everything lives, everything moves,
everything returns" on the sort of top on which he feels he has
run aground, leaving him "alone" and "far," like the "line" of
an incomprehensible, destinaI drawing. This is what one illus-
trated text, conten1porary to our sculpture and taken frOlll the
Carnets (notebooks), says very clearly:

"Nothing to write, nothing to say with letters, forms yes,

only, enough. Turning upright, sharp, let's go wrinldes
[allons les rides], knives, trotting horses that kick up the
black earth, burning earth. where are we from? 1 have no
idea, nowhere, everywhere, everywhere, in the air, in fire,
everywhere, we (are) cold, in the wombs ofwornen, the eyes
sleep, sleep in the cave, weIl, weIl, and the sun? Eisewhere,

Face of the Bodies that Come Apart

Fig. 25: Alberto Giacometti: Drawing, iIIustrating a text of the Carnets

(circa 1934). Collection Fondation Giacometti, Paris, inv. 1994-,
© Succession Alberto Giacometti (Fondation Alberto et Annette
Giacometti, Paris + ADAGP, Paris) 2015.

chiIning road of twilight and soft, soft, smoke, a little. And

yet? And yet? Little clock aIl shiny but rny head resonat-
ing with the wind. Yesterday, today, time? Space? People,
where? Where is aIl of that? 1 see nothing. TiIne? It doesn't
ITlOve. Space? Illusion, fantasy. Our bodies, where? Our
bodies, air! Movelnent?
So slow! What slowness, melnories, vague! And then? And
then? Everything sinks, everything lives, everything rnoves,
everything returns, nothing happened, nothing will COlne,
the turning ... "52 (fig. 25)

Face of the Inlpossible Dimension

But it happens-or at least seulptors know how to suggest-that

objeets thernselves are as "alone" and far-away as thinking
beings. Giacometti often rnentioned this: there exists a way of
lookingat an object, one thatis so sharp that the object beCOITleS
its quasi-subject, a being that is not triulnphantly hmnanized
but on the contrary, because of its ontologieal prornotion, is
devoted to solitude and to dereliction, it is a separated being. 53
We can understand, therefore, that the Cube rnight appear to
be an object of intense solitude: through its very dosure it sepa-
rates itself and ren1ains alone; through its very dosure it sepa-
rates us, and leaves us alone in front of it. It becornes capable
for this reason, however-while it appears "blind"-of loolâng
at the human being who casts his eyes upon it. Capable for this
reason, not only of appearing as a destroyer of bodies-a fac-
etted Inachine for embedding theln, burying then1, devouring
theln, depleting theln-but also as the subtle principle of its
own destruction, or in any case of its selfalteration. The rela-
tion to the visual, the face-to-face confrontation inlposed by the
Cube would then become that of a subject cOlning to experience
the subject's own alteration or division in the altered object-an
object devoted to alterity-that faces up to it. As though casting
one's eyes on this object arnounts to feeling as though one were
being "looked at," that is to say split. As though the object's
internaI alteration becomes, in the spectator's eyes, the irnage
of an alteration that was internaI to the very act of raising one's
eyes or looking up.
When GiacOlnetti looked at a glass or a crystal, he did not
only see an architecture "that was far less precarious than the
hand that held it"; he sawalso a dialectical process duringwhich
the facetted structure is telnporalized, damaged in its own
negativity according to the typically anadyomene scanning of a
surge towards beingwith a backward surge towards non-being,

Face of the Impossible Dimension

or of an opening and a closing, or of an appearance and a dis-

appearance ... And it is that very thing, he said, which could
account for "a certain phenomenon that we calI sculpture":

"1 have understood Iittle by little the reality of a certain phe-

nomenon that we calI sculpture. When we look at a glass,
its color, its shape, and its Iight offer rny every gaze only a
Iittle thing that is very difficult to detennine, which can be
understood as a tiny stroke, a little mark, every tirne 1 look
at the glass, it appears as though it is Inaking itself again,
that is to say that its reality becomes uncertain, because its
projection in IUy brain is uncertain, or partial. We see it as
though it were disappearing... reappearing... disappear-
ing... reappearing ... that is to say, that it is indeed always
between being and non-being."S4

We understand, then, that the crystal of the Cube, however

structured it Inight be, however pennanent its "abstraction,"
could weIl carry in itself the dark capacity of its own disloca-
tion (the fact that it so quickly "lost" its original base is already
a clue (fig. 31), like the nmnerous breaks and cuts imposed on
the plaster (fig. 6)). This itself, this dislocation of the place-like
the paradigln of formaI elaboration added to the two preced-
ing ones: the construction of the heads, with its dialectic of
drawing and volume, and the construction of a place, with its
dialectic of constructed volmne and body broken apart-this
is son1ething GiacOlnetti had done in 1934 in an etching that
is ahnost solely concerned with dislocated facets (fig. 26). We
lnust therefore understand that every crystal can also shatter,
and that any geOlnetry, according to GiacOlnetti, can be like a
body doorned to alteration by the cruelty of tÎlne. The affinna-
tion and the hardness of the edges in the crystal would, then,
be no more th an a IrlOment of the crystal, which is perpetually
in danger itself of internaI diffraction, and n10re so even of scis-
sion, opening, and dislocation.

Face ofthe Impossible Dimension

Fig. 26: Alberto Giacometti: Composition II (for the Album Anatole

Jakowski, 23 Etchings, Paris H. Orobitz, 1935, ed. Tanneur 1935),
etching, 29,40 x 24,20 cm. Collection Fondation Giacometti, Paris,
Inv. 1994-1485, © Succession Alberto Giacometti (Fondation Alberto
et Annette Giacometti, Paris + ADAGP, Paris) 2015.

FrOln then on, the Cube appears to us like an object oftirne,

or a crystal oftime. Like a single visible mOlnent-by which 1
mean a solitary, separated rnOlnent-of its destiny or of its
visual paradigm, whose cIues remain scattered throughout aIl
the transformations that GiacOlnetti sought to impose on the
famous polyhedral form. We have seen the crystal of the Cube
capable of being a prison for bodies, or an evil trinket on a sur-
realist table (fig. 23); we have se en it become capable of stand-
ing, but also of dislocating in the corner of an etching (fig. 26);
we see it, in its stature, as solid and cOlnpact like a lnonolith, but
we should not forget its potential for self-alteration (fig. 1-5).
Or even for disappearance: it would be logical, after aIl, in this
gaIne of figuraI hypotheses, that a compact polyhedron capable

Face ofthe Impossible Dimension

Fig. 27: Alberto Giacometti: The Invisible abject (1934). 1938 in:
André Breton and Paul Éluard: Dictionnaire abrégé du surréalisme.
Photographies, illustrations, lettrines.
Fig. 28: Alberto Giacometti: Hands holding the Void (1934-1935), etching,
30,40 x 24,40 cm. The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York,
© Photo SCALA, Florence, 2015.

of existing as a transparent crystal, capable of a rigorous work of

transformation, should be l11Ol11entarily confronted by its own
invisible becoming as an object of figurability.
It was in 1934 that, right beside his Cube, GiacOllletti cre-
ated his rnajor sculpture entitled Invisible Object, which is a
kind of "Janus figure" in GiacOllletti's œuvre-while everyone
sees in it a sort of destinaI object in which his own life is radi-
cally separated in two (fig. 27).55 The signification or the Syl11-
bolisrn-which is always problematic-of this work is of little
importance herej 1 will not analyze it but instead will attempt
to confront it with the series of transfoflllations that 1 have
evoked. 56 When we look at the Invisible Object, or the etching

Face of the Impossible Dimension

Fig. 29: Alberto Giacometti: Rands holding the Void (detail).
The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York, © Photo SCALA,
Florence 2015.

that Giacometti associated with it, in 1934 and 1935, superbly

entitled Mains tenant le vide (fig. 28)57 another title for the sculp-
ture itself, we are suspended between two contradictory irnpres-
sions. On the one hand, the work delnands that accession to
the explicit "hurnan dirnension," in which aIl C0l111nentators
will see a sign of the "return to reality"j on the other hand, it
rernains a work of the crystal and of alteration.
As such, it relates to the Cube in ways that, while they are
not obvious, are nonetheless rnore than chronologically close.
One of the paradoxes of this work is to be found in the persis-
tence of forn1al solutions of the Clystal or cage kind, while the
representation of the hmnan body takes center stage. We could
ahnost irnagine that the Invisible abject is a rigorous transfor-
mation of the polyhedron drawn in 1932 (fig. 18), as though the
characterwere no longer enclosed in the (jacetted) cage, but had

Face of the Impossible Dimension

becOI11e the character's own (facetted) cage (fig. 27-28). The rods
or bars are still there, but set back frOIn the body, serving now
as its support or seat (the study frOI111933 had already rnade the
cage into a support for its prisoner) (fig. 19). The facets "stick"
to the character himself, the one supporting his pelvis, and the
other remaining attached to the two legs like the remains of a
chrysalis cocoon. But, above aIl, the head has changed into a
polyhedron which becOInes its own volumetric prison: again, in
relation to the study fron1 1933, we could say that the he ad of
the great ferninine character unites here the idea of a skull and
that of a crystal which encloses it.
FinaIly, there are the hands, the focal point of the work,
those "hands holding the void" [mains tenant le vide]. But what
void? In what kind of figure? It is, of course, part of the strat-
egy of the work to carry each of our gazes toward a fantasrnatic
and vain filling up of this void surrounded by ten fingers. If the
"invisible object" were an object, sOI11ething or SOIneone, Gia-
cornetti would not have neglected to give it a figuraI represen-
tation in one way or another (allegorically, for exarnple). If it is
presented as invisible-its absence would be visually framed by
the ten folded fingers-it l11eans that it is not one object, but
at least two, and contradictory objects at that. This means that
the void, here, is not the sign of a privation, but that of a struc-
ture of overdetermination which supposes "the two at least" as
n1uch as the contradictory interplay of its elel11ents. The latter
challenges and discourages their representation to the point
of hollowing out aIl figures. Thus, when Yves Bonnefoy n1akes
the sculpture a "Madonna without child"-which he COIn-
pares quite pertinently with the great Madonna of Cilllabue in
the Louvre: the hands, siInilar; the throne, similar-he does
not l11erely give the role of the child to the "void": he pushes to
the limit the paradox of this absence and finally places as weil
between the hands of the character a ghost of a skull or death's
head, regardless ofwhether it were "cubist" or not. 58 But, for the
rnornent, we should not try to provide any definitive figure for

Face of the Impossible Dimension

this absence of an object in the character's hands, let us simply

look at the hands themselves, that is to say, literally, at the frame
of that absence (fig. 29). Do we not see in it a structure of edges
and folded rods, a structure that is in every way analogous by its
exaggerated cornplexity, by its interplay of graphism, volurnetry
and transparency to the polyhedron which the Figure drawn in
1935 endeavors to grasp, or even to the figure in the Surrealist
Table (fig. 23-24)? We will not go so far as to ill1agine that the
feminine figure with the Hands Holding the Void (Mains tenant
le vide) atteInpts to "hold" the polyhedron of the Cube; let us
simply look at how the void defined by those two hands returns,
above aIl graphically, to the initial structure of the polyhedron-
Here, we are indeed revolving around this polyhedron as
we would around an over-determined, lnulti-functional figuraI
object. It has already appeared to us, in the interplay ofits trans-
forrnations, as blind and transparent, like a block and like a
cage; it has appeared to us like a figurative outline, but also like a
rnachine for disfiguring bodies; it has appeared to us iIninobile
and then anadyOlnene, and like a crystal of tirne and a crystal of
alteration. Here it is, now, like a kind of crystal of absence using
the paradox of its own geornetry (facets, edges, transparency
of the cage) assulning the paradox of a status which would be
exactly between the abject and the void. What the Cube evidently
shows as a visible object is indeed a cOlnpact and imposing
111ass (fig. 1-5); but we begin to understand that it conceals or
memorizes within it a latent power-latent but visual, brought
into play visually-to work the absence or to "put in a cage" or
even to "blUy" certain visual things (which explains also why,
first of all, it "says" so little to its viewer).
The uncovering of this structure of transfonnations-at
least in its way of crossing the few works evoked here-allows
us no doubt to fOClIS Inore clearly on the strange stature of the
Cube. The "abstract" form that it assmnes rnight be lit up froll1
the side, by contrast with the two contradictory hypotheses that

Face of the Impossible Dimension

Fig. 30: The Cube, presented under the title Teil einer Skulptllr
(Part afa Sculpture) in the exhibition "These - Antithèse - Synthèse"
in Lucerne. Photography from Luzerner Illustrierte.

take the fOrITI of a dilelnlna rather than a dialectie, and which

are figurative "stylization" on the one hand, and insignificant
"specifie fonnality" on the other. The Cube is to be looked at
as a crystalline volume, which is of course what it is, but a crys-
talline volume in the sense in which GiacOlnetti understood it
himself when he confronted other crystalline volurnes. That is
to say, a fundamentally nloving and anadyOlnene object, at the
SaITle tinle a cOITlplete and incOlnplete object, devoted to the
isolation of its formaI closurej and it is devoted also to the soli-
tude brought about by the fact that it appears, to us, as unfail-
ingly marlœd by loss, and marked by a loss. The Cube is only a
mass insofar as one can suppose there is a void within it, whieh
should be understood concretely when we exanline one of its
sides with our finger in the sanIe way that we would knock on an
unknown door. It is an object that sums up its planes on such an
unexpected level that it constantly obliges us to revolve around

Face of the Impossible Dimension

Fig. 31: Alberto Giacometti: Luna,. (1935), ink on paper,

27,50 x 20,00 cm. Private Collection.

it and to return to it (even in an attempt to count its twelve or

thirteen dissirnilar sides). But it is at the same tilne an object
that subtracts, or extracts itself, an "object by rarefication," as
André du Bouchet said. 59
This defective nature-defective yet closed upon itself, 1
repeat, asking nothing nl0re, whieh is indeed its strength-can
be clarified on severallevels. We could referitto the hypothetical
"missing piece" that marks the very history of the object, enti-
tled in 1935-was it byGiacornetti himself?-Partofa sculpture
(fig. 30).60 Not once, however, even when he rnade two bronze
casts of his sculpture, did the artist feel the need to "complete"
his object, and that is because the incompleteness was inside,
and not outside. So, we should perhaps seek a figure, albeit a

Face of the Impossible Dimension

partial one, for this defective nature of the Cube. We could, for
example, ask ourselves under what name, or names, the loss
evoked should appear. By its closeness to a funerary statue frOln
the Salornon Islands, seen by Giacometti at the Ethnographic
MuseUln of Basel, or the use of a bird as a funerary symbol/ 1
the Invisible Object placed its defective nature in a dialectics of
mourning-a word that could be a reply, in 1934 in particular,
to Jean Genet's iInpression that Giacometti's statues generally
"are taking refuge, for good, in 1 don't know what secret infir-
mity, one that is able to grant theln solitude".62 But we should
begin by asking the question on a 1110re iInlnediate and 1110re
phenomenological level. We should question once again the
face-tojace conji·ontation that is iInposed by this sculpture.
It is by means of bringing into view that the carefully
worked-out void of the Cube begins to be felt. The mere fact
of being able to look at this object "face on," on aIl sides, that
is to say without ever being certain of finding the definitive
"face" or "side" of our path, puts us in a situation that is analo-
gous to what Giacometti himself experienced when he looked
at and watched his glass disappear and reappear each tirne,
redoing itself only to undo itself again. It is significant that, in
1935, Giaconletti canle to represent his Cube exactly in an ink
drawing (fig. 31)-and 1 lnean "exactly," because the object
was then diInensioned and cOIn pact like a sculpture, no longer
transparent and Ininiaturized like the iInaginary cage of 1932-,
a drawing which indeed dramatized and even theorized the
gaze cast upon it, according to the powerful phenOlnenology of
a face-to-face confrontation as weIl as a view frOln above.
This drawing, entitled Lunar (Lunaire), represents the Cube
exactly-the Cube placed under the gaze of a white face that
views it from above. Nothingelse, apparently. The impression of
allegorisnl given by the two confronting figures-as though an
unperceived truth held thern together-must firstly be referred
to this relation of bringing into presence, rather than a vain
questioning of the syrnbolisrn of the moon for example. 63 The

Face of the Impossible Dimension

lunar "existence" of the drawing has to do reaIly with that view

from above, bya face leaning over the Cube, just as we could say
in French that an astre (star) lllight le an over a désastre (disas-
ter). But what can be said Inore precisely about this gaze? We
quickly notice that it both unites and leaves alone the protag-
onists of the alIegorized draIna. We notice too that it places a
mass effect in a dialectical relation with a void effect. It suffices
to look a little more at each of the two elernents ofthis image, or
rather each of the three elernents of this image.
For the structural support of aIl of this dralllatic art must be
looked at first of aIl: it is the ground, it is what the title nlakes
us calI "the night". A black night which isolates and distances
the two figures, and that practically drowns the whole right
hand section of the Cube, as shown, in its elernent of invisibil-
ity, that is in the part of the solid that is close st to us: as though
the Cube were still incomplete and "open" in its volUllletry, or
as though we, in front of the Cube, were by 1 don't know what
secret property of the object or of its nocturnal base prevented
from knowing how to look at it entirely. Let us note too that this
night cannot be reduced to a neutral/neuter [neutre], mass or
to a rnere atrnosphere: Giacornetti did not use the paintbrush
any more th an for the two figures, but like an engraver he kept
its fine point, and its "night" is no less than a tight network of
intertwined strokes frorn a pen, makingwith their texture sonle-
thing like the wire Inesh outline of a subtle cage that would
take up aIl of the space. Be that as it may, it is to the drawn and
greatly Inultiplied line that the representation ofthis particular,
obscure void of the base was entrusted.
Drowned in this wire Inesh void, the Inass of the Cube
emerges and breathes with its top facet alone, left by GiacOInetti
to the pure white of the page. We can suspect that it is because
it is looked at that this side benefits frOIn being lit up. By whOIn
and by what? By a face without a body-which, as we discover,
is actually not a face. What looks at the polyhedron's 111ass is a
mask, that is to say it is not a face, but a Inass of holIowed out

Face of the Impossible Dimension

plaster, without flesh, with holes for the eyes and the nlouth
in order to sillmlate and to recall the gaze or the speech of a
persona. Neither presence, nor absence, this false face evokes
both a theatrical mask to be worn by no one, and the prepared
mold for someone who will be forever absent. It evokes, in any
case, very precisely, the lnask or the lllOld 64 that Giacometti had
shown in his drawing frOIn 1932, dOIninating like the face of
a comrnander all of the other objects in the studio (fig. 17). It
evokes a funerary imago, like those the Rmnans hung in their
atria, or a ghost that has escaped froll1 its body. It gives the
impression of being alone in the enjoYlnent of being able to
bear the presence of the object, looking only frOIn its absence of
a face, its disturbing lnask under its floatingwithdrawal [retrait
flottant] and its sort of supposed ancestrality. The sculptural
volmne would gather in turn this fonn of strangeness: it stands
in front ofus, between obscurity and ligllt, like the double or the
C%SSUS of SOIne absent person.
The dramatization or the allegorizing that we can see in
Lunar therefore touches, very precisely, the path through which
the Cube seeks to lnake itself seen. As though the drawing frOIn
1935 65 outlined the poetics of the gaze to be directed at the sculp-
ture, of which the least paradoxical being the fact that the little
drawing, in aIl its terseness, gave its complete attention to the
sculptural diInension. While the hunlan body, here, exists only
as an "invisible object" par excellence, Giacometti's ink gave
the polyhedron a dimension, a new one in relation to aIl other
drawn sources, that brings the sculpture to its true and defini-
tive scale, which is, 1 would say, that of a paradoxical anthropo-
AlI representations of the irregular polyhedron prior to the
Cube could, from this point ofview, be considered incessant or
hesitant attelnpts to find the right dimension of this very incisive
fonn. Giacornetti, as we know, had an extraordinarily dranla-
tized relation to the problerns of diInension, a relation that was
always threatened and close to despair. In front of hÏln, beings

Face of the Impossible Dimension

become suddenly irnrnense-like the "two or three young girls"

from padua, in 192o-or on the contrary they start to shrink or
to thin alrnost to the point of disappearing. 66 What Titian, Cour-
bet, Cézanne, Rodin, and his father above aIl, rnastered with
such ease in his eyes, regarding life-size creations, Giacometti
felt continually (or rather in waves) escape hirn, like an iInpos-
sibility of grasping life as a volume, orvolume as life. 67 But else-
where, Giacornetti would explain his "incapacity" while saying
he was capable of seeing objects in two contradictOly dimen-
sions, the one exterior, which indeed constantly escaped him,
and the other interiOl·, which imposes its obviousness: "The
object is formed in the imagination and little by little we see it
in its rnatter, in its dirnensions."68
The Cube, therefore, in Giacometti's work, would be the
object, par excellence, of this "interior dimension," something
that is evidently linked in his n1Înd to the world of dreams and
"facetted dises" in his strange memory.69 Both a dreaIu crystal
and a concrete object, the Cube brings together within it two
contradictory düuensions. Or rather, its impossible düuension
cornes frOlll the dialectics that it establishes between scales
and orders of reality which should norrnally exclu de each other.
André du Bouchet saw in the Cube something akin to Mallarrné's
dice, but also the great nl0raine of a glacier; a he ad or a nl0un-
tain or, in any case, an "erratic stone".70 We should see in it too
the paradoxicallueeting place of an absence ofbody and a latent
anthropomorphism (which is already confinued, in a certain way,
by the placing of a "cerenl0nial" base upon which the object
could be seen in the 1934 issue of Minotaure (fig. 76), or at the
exhibition of Lucerne in 1935).ï1 Ninety-four centimeters high,
the Cube is quite sinlply neither an object (it is nluch rnore than
that) nor a monument (it is luuch less than that). At most, it is
that enigluatic Pavillon nocturne, sornething between an abode
and a statue, container and content, as it was also titled in
the SaIue issue of Minotaure. Neither stone, nor hmuan body:
perhaps their fantasmatic in-between, in a disturbing kind of

Face of the Impossible Dimension

rnonolith which constantly displaces but keeps suspended its

own geOlnetrical reference (structured, dislocating) as weIl as
anthropornorphic reference (human, inhuman).
The question of the Cube is no doubt not the one Jean-Paul
Sartre asked of Giacometti in general: "How to make a man out
of stone without petrifying hiIn?"n The Cube would turn the
terms of this question upside down-and would turn upside
down too its referential, figurative and humanist, bias- by ask-
ing us to understand "how to B1ake a stone with a n1an without
representing ... hhn". It would turn upside down, then, with the
usual notion of anthropomorphisrn, the notion of abstraction,
as though a head with no dimensions were there, looking at us
from the irnpossibility of extracting itself frOln its monolith,
frOln its crystal, fron1 its prison of stone-or its gravestone.

Face of the Dead Heads

That which consigns objects or bodies to the paradox of an

impossible dimension-or a crystallized anxiety around dimen-
sions-is, if we are to believe GiacOlIletti, nothing less than
the advent or insistence of a death within thern. The essential
testimony is given to us first of aIl in the famous story written
by Giacornetti in 1946 under the title "Le rêve, le sphinx et la
mort de T." ("The Dream, the Sphinx and the Death of T.").73
The death of T., in the "rOOlIl next to" the artist's, was one of
the three or four decisive experiences of death for Giacometti,
after that in 1922 of Van M.-which was already "like a breacll
in life" for him-and of course, that ofhis father in 1933. ï .J
It is a fascinating story: it is paraphrased over and over again
when we try to determine, once again, the existential "serious-
ness" of Giacornetti's work, the "obsession" with death, the
relation to "hurnan experience". But it is first of aIl a story, and
so a text, a construction l11ade possible by its own literary and
philosophical context-a post-war period still stunned by mil-
lions of bodies destroyed and disfigured, a triumphant existen-
tialism over that very anxiety. Consequently we lllUSt not focus
solely on its l110rbid vibrations. It must be read syn1pton1ati-
caIly. Besides the fact that it is a way of working through and a
displacement of anotherexperience ofwhich we will speak later
on, it becOllles pararnount for our problem in that it deploys its
manifest therne (the death of a person) according to a parallel
rhythl11 , one that is far more powerful and paradoxical, which
concerns above aIl something like a phenomenology of deadly
space. As such, it can be read as the text of a sculptor, or even
as a text about sculpture and invested form. A text that makes
its dimensions its essential symptorn, but also its secret heu-
ristic. It is the dÎlllension-or the dilllensions, which are dual
and paradoxical-of the dying and dead body that Giacornetti
describes to us with great exactness in his story. First of alllike

Face of the Dead Heads

a dinlension of distancing, which left poor T. ill in his "house"

as though in a solitude that we l11ight calI the solitude of a quasi-

"Walking horne, 1 saw T., in the days before his death, in the
r00111 next to mine in the little house where we lived at the
bottorn of a s0111ewhat neglected garden. 1 saw hiI11 in his
bed, not l11oving, his skin ivory-yelIow, his body huddled up
and already strangely far away. "75

Then, suddenly, the death that occurs literally undoes the

body with as l11uch visual violence as was experienced before-
at the hands of Giac0111etti hiI11self-by the Woman with Her
Throat eut frorn 1932:

" ... Then 1 saw hirn shortly afterward, at three in the l11orn-
ing, dead, his skeletallh11bs flung outward, spread-eagled,
abandoned, his enormous swollen belIy, his head thrown
back, his mouth open. Never had any corpse seemed to me
so nonexistent, pathetic rel11ains to be tossed into the gut-
ter like a de ad cat. "76

Then the vision was brusquely focused and concentrated

on the head of the dead person which is neither far-since it
is there, very close up, before the artist's eyes, who in turn will
soon take it in his hands "like an object," in order to put a tie
around its neck, his derisory funerary grooming-nor undone,
but absolutely collected and conlpact like a little sculpture, but
open like a box:

"Standing motionless by the bed, 1 looked at his head which

had bec0111e an object, a little box, l11easurable and insig-
nificant. At that nlO111ent a fly approached the black hole of
his rnouth and slowly disappeared into it.'m

Face of the Dead Heads

The story ends with the no less astounding experience of an

entire openingofthe place that plunges Giacornetti into a space
of death, the lunar or nocturnal space of an abstract and hann-
fuI illÎlnitation of the body "in the next roon1," deprived of life:

"When 1 entered my roon1 the next night, 1 noticed that,

oddly enough, there was no light. Invisible in the bed, A.
was asleep. The corpse was still in the next rOOIT1. 1 was
oppressed by the lack of light, and 1 was just about to walk
naked through the corridor leading to the bathroorn which
passed the dead man's room, when 1 was suddenly over-
wheIrned by panic and, even though 1 didn't believe it, 1 had
the vague impression that T. was everywhere, everywhere
except in the wretched corpse on the bed, the corpse that
had seemed so nonexistent. T. had becOlne infinite ... "ïS

But there is a coda, an epilogue that also appears astound-

ing. This epilogue tells of the opposite sensation felt by Giaco-
lnetti in his visual experience of living heads in general; and in
spite of the teinporai order in which the narration places it-as
though it concerned a secondary elaboration, which is quite
natural in a story that is presented and deployed as a rerninis-
cence-it is difficult not ta see in it sOlnething like a repercus-
sion, or at least a disruptive insistence of death, son1ething
unique and singular (that of Van M., of T. or of Giovanni Gia-
cometti), on the vision that the artist says he had of aIl living
beings in general:

"1 had just experienced, in reverse, what 1 had felt a few

lnonths earlier about living. At that time 1 was beginning
to see heads in the void, in the space surrounding thern.
The first tÎlne 1 becmne aware that as 1 looked at a head it
becmne fixed, innnobilized forever in that single instant, 1
tren1bled with fear as 1 had never trelnbled in Iny whole life,
and a cold sweat ran down my bac1c 1 was no longer looking

Face of the Dead Heads

at a living head but at an object, just as 1 might look at any

other object. But, no, it was different; 1 wasn't looking at
it as if it were any other object, but as if it were something
alive and dead at the SaIne tiIne. 1 screaIned in terror, as if
1 had just crossed a threshold, as if 1 were entering a totally
unknown world. AIl the living were dead, and this vision
kept recurring, in the Métro, in the street, in a restaurant,
with Iny friends. There was a waiter at the Brasserie Lipp
who froze, leaning over nle with his mouth open, without
the slightest connection with the preceding rIloment, or the
following Inoment, his mouth open, his eyes staring in total

Such is the deadly power of heads when heads become

crystals. Such is the work-the intense work-of death in sight
when death makes sight the exercise of its return, of its reIni-
niscence, but also of its state of uncertainty. Death, like mental
work,80 abstracts the visible, crystallizes and freezes it, to leave
the one who sees just in front of what looks back at hiIn. Why
should we say that it "abstracts"? Because Giacometti hiIn-
self adnlitted that the word death had sOlnething irresistibly
"abstract"81 about it. Because, in the anadyomene moveinent of
its experienced space, it continuously disinenlbers or reduces
the human figure, or consigns it to nocturnal illinlitation that
is told of so weIl in the text of the Rêve. Death is "abstract"
because it "abs-tracts" and diffracts figures, because it imposes
impossible, contradictory diInensions on beings and objects,
because it works at making everything disseInble (and we could
say that disselnblance in sculpture is often what is erected as
a strange dimension or a foreign dinlension with regard to its
fonn). Death is "abstract" because it opens in the visible a place
to invert, as GiacOlnetti says, not only representations but also
affects and intensities; such is its structurallnark, its Inark of
figurability, that is to say its ability to Inake a trace beyond any-
thing that is generally said about death, for eXaInple that it is

Face of the Dead Heads

"un-representable". Death, finally, is "abstract" because it is a

constant rnental work of repercussions, which GiacOlnetti also
saki precisely when he made the overly spread-out nocturnal
space a repercussion of his overly condensed vision on the
head-object; when he makes (in a manifest way) his experience
of dead heads-those of Van M. or ofT.-a re-percussion ofhis
visual experience of living heads; and when he also makes (but
in a more latent way) his experience of living heads a repercus-
sion of his experience of dead heads ...
The word "contrecoup" in French, or repercussion, was
used by Giacometti also with regard to his "abstract" worle It
is in his long letter to Pierre Matisse in 1947 that one can find,
around the word "contrecoup," something related to the symp-
tom, when he draws and comrnents on his works frorn the nine-
teen-thirties and the tirne comes for him to present the Cube
(fig. 32-33).82 The precision of his drawing here falters, as does
his l11elnory; furtherl110re he neglects to represent our polyhe-
dron in his sketch for the Surrealist Table (and with regard to
this he says: "very baclly drawn, 1 no longer reillelllber exactly");
and he seenlS quite embarrassed to draw his own Cube, which
he had so often drawn in pen, pencil, or etched. Syrnptollls of
writing and sylllptoms of drawing are lllixed together in a sense.
The cOlllplexity and even the stature of the object fail to be ren-
dered, while the CubistHead,just beside it, succeeds and enjoys
the luxury of a double viewpoint. Finally, what the 1964 inter-
view with Jal11es Lord was to place under the sign of an equa-
tion, or rather an adequacy-"[ ... ] 1 considered [the Cube] as a
head"83-is expressed here under the seal of the repercussion, of
dialectical tension: "abstract objects ... brought n1e as a reper-
cussion to figures and skull heads."84
What cIoes this rnean ifnot that the figurative heads sculpte cI
by GiacOllletti frorn 1934-1935 on, are a response to something
that would only be called abstraction because it has something
of a "coup," a "blow," sOll1ething striking, in it. What kind of a
blow? What intiInate and essential injury, until then de nie cI or

Face of the Dead Heads

di.'3~it et contiI1l1ait 9.sLT contrdst'3. D~'~ir ~''l.s:)i d8 :ro:'1.V:3r U(J~

Fig. 32: Alberto Giacometti: Letter ta pierre Matisse (1948), p. 6 (in: Écrits,
p. 42). © Succession Alberto Giacometti (Fondation Alberto et Annette
Giacometti, Paris + ADAGP, Paris) 2015.

Face of the Dead Heads

Fig. 33: Alberto Giacometti: Letter to Pierre Matisse (1948), p. 12 (in: Écrits,
p. 82). © Succession Alberto Giacometti (Fondation Alberto et Annette
Giacometti, Paris + ADAGP, Paris) 2015.

even hated? Or should we understand that the Cube only offered

its "abstract" volume as the repercussion of a de ad head, or in
any case of a he ad that was put to the test of the dissiInilar, bur-
ied in its layer of crystal, in its sculpted glacier? The two hypoth-
eses are not incompatible, but instead form a systern, and are
rigorously cOInplementary. They arise frOIn a blow against blow
[coup contre coup] logic which might define the modality or the
kind of inevitable "rnethod" in which, in 1934, GiacOInetti's
research was deployed, outside of any linearity in the "stylistic"
progression as the art historian would like to see it. But what
is the center or the nlOtor force of this cOInplelnentarity in the
fornl of a dialectical violence? We should give credit to the artist
for never ceasing to insist that the core of this violence cornes
frorn a specific and paradoxical notion of the head-the head
understood as a loss of the face and as the lnanaging of that
When Marcel Jean, in his Histoire de la peinture surréaliste,
wrote ofGiacOInetti's famous "break" bywritingthat "at the end
of 1934, we heard hirn declare that everything he had do ne until

Face of the Dead Heads

then was masturbation, and that for the nlOlnent he had no

other objective th an to attelnpt to set up a human head"85-to
which Breton replied, ironically and quite inanely, that anyone
knows what a head iS86- he gives us here only one superficial
key in order to understand that artistic "blow" or "repercus-
sion". For GiacOlnetti had never ceased, even at the height of
his surrealist period, to iInplicate problelns of the "head," so
to speak, in his sculpting; or rather, to transfornl certain tradi-
tionai paraIneters of sculpture by implicating and by putting
questions of "heads" to work-which in fact were not the usual
questions addressed to the portrait genre. How rnight one refer
the Cube to the traditional portrait genre? And yet, how can
one doubt that the question of a "Izead" is iInplicated in this?
The latter of course was already, explicitly, found in the prac-
tice of drawing self-portraits or in the realist busts that Giaco-
lnetti continued to lnake when, leaving Paris, he returned to the
family hOlne in Stampa, Switzerland. But in his "avant-gardes
nleeting" as Yves Bonnefoy said 8ï -a lneeting which was not
a crossing, but a genuine, real, and even radical engagelnent
with theln-he never stopped questioning tlze relation of tlze
Izead to tlze object, that unheimlich relation that so overwhehned
hiIn, while he placed a tie around the neck of the de ad body
of T. This relation subtends his contemporaneous interest in
lllasks and ovennodeled skulls; it elnerges in his conception of
Personnages from 1926-1927, Apollo from 1930, and the sculp-
ture entitled Woman, Head, Tree frOln the saIne year; but also in
Disagreeable abject, to be ThrownAway frorn 1931 or in Surreal-
ist Table (fig. 23); it fully governs the adnlirable series of Plaque
Heads frOln 1928-1929 (fig. 55-56).88 How could we doubt that
such a relation is at work in the Cube? But, also, how shouid we
think about this, when GiacOlnetti himself scattered obstacles
around "after the fact"-"après coup," as we say in French-so
that this thinking would not corne to our lninds, or even to his

Face of the Dead Heads

In order to understand this, we must return to the kind of

depressions or voids that his words always conveyed when he
spoke of his sovereign fascination with heads. And so, when he
wanted to speakofthe necessity for hirn to "return to heads," as
he did in 1934, he employed, strangely, the vocabulary of terrar
and of coercion, as though "rnaking a head" were a nl0rallaw
for hÏln, something sacred, formidable and ancestral or pater-
nal, even if, or rnaybe because, it felt as though it came frOIn
inside. 89 On the one hand, he spoke ofhis wish to "understand
a little better what attracts and amazes (hhn) in any old head";
on the other, he quite justly expressed the impossibility for hhn
to understand and spoke of this attraction, this alnazement, as
a kind of canstraint which would, basically, nlake hilll Iniser-
able: "1 aln reduced ta heads," he said, when it was in fact hhn,
of course, who reduced other people's heads. 90
It is striking to notice the frequent proxÏInity that OCClUS
sOInewhat irresistibly in Giacometti's words between the words
head and remains. It is Inore often th an not with a view to stat-
ing the ideal in his search to have the being: "Ifwe had a head, we
would have aIl that rernains," he said, as though to say "every-
thing of the being". 91 But ta have the being is in itself the para-
dox-and the irnpossibility-of a "quest for the absolute" wor-
thy of the best philosophical narratives by Balzac. For the being
never allows itself "t~ be had," and Giacometti himselfwas the
first to agree: of the being, we have only what remains. And
the artist "will never have" any more of a head than that which
in that head participates in the function of remains-what,
once again, harrns the idealism of a "presence" that is COIn-
pletely "restored," as we say so often about Giacometti's works.
Relnains, therefore, or the capacity for a he ad to becmne the
restricted support for the absence of a face. Therefore the head
of a dead person, a dead head, if death here rneans simply the
predisposition of bodies to becOIne Inere remains in the earth.

Face of the Dead Heads

Fig. 34: Alberto Giacometti: Studyfora Head (1934-1935),

plaster, height 33,00 cm. Destroyed.

"One day, while 1 wanted to draw a young girl, sOInething

struck lne, 1 lnean that, suddenly, 1 saw that the only thing
that renlained alive, was the gaze. What relnained, the he ad
that was transforming into a skull, was becOlning aIrnost
the equivalent of the skull of the de ad person. That which
lnarked the difference between the dead and the person
was the gaze. So 1 asked myself-and 1 have thought about
it since-if, basically, it would not be interesting to sculpt
the skull of a dead person. We try to make the sculpture of
a living person, but in the living person, without a doubt,
what rnakes the living person is his gaze.,,92

What relnains, then, of these overlapping paradoxes, these

aporia which shift us constantly from one irnpossibility (to have
the being) to another (to sculpt the gaze)? There remains the set
idea, which is always an unfortunate one, of setting faces on a

Face of the Dead Heads

Fig. 35: Alberto Giacometti: Sculptures in the Studio (1961),

lithograph (detail).

perpetuaI anadymnene "breakaway". There remains the curled

up ambition of iInagining heads as "interior constructions"
(and is the Cube such a thing?), or the restrained mnbition of
building a solid "just enough to understand the construction
of a head" .93 There remains the desire to build SOlne mineraI
places, "places" in which the stones would be like heads look-
ing at US. 94 There rernain those heads that Giacometti "studied"
in 1934-1935 (fig. 34), looking for a way for thenl to COlne out of
their material coatingi and when they begin this difficult task of
coming out, it is as a facetted crystal that they begin to appear
again. 95 As though the crystal actually provided the artist, in
those years, with the rnorphogenetic lnodel for any extraction of
a form frOln invisibility, or for its rnaterial bUrlal (does the Cube
arise from the saIne process?). Later, of course, the fonnal prob-
lems will shift, will return, and will seek to becOlne inscribed
differentlYi but when we look for exalnple at a lithograph from

Face of the Dead Heads

1961 that shows the Sculptures in the Studio (fig. 35), we cannot
avoid being struck by the analogy of the stature whieh contin-
ues to bring the Cube closer to the profile of those still unfin-
ished heads, bound up like de ad children in their coating ofwet
material ...
"To have a head" or "to make a head" was a problenl that
exposed GiacOInetti to the painfullogic of the blow [coup] and
the repercussion [contrecoup]. That is to say, the logic of i71lposed
re71lains, whatever the choiee, whatever the path that was tak-
en. 96 On the one hand, the artist could effectively have chosen to
take the skull as it is, that is, like the calcified rernains of a lost,
dead face. This is what he did at great length in 1923, painting
and drawing for an entire winter a skull which, he was to say
later, he had "stmnbled upon" (fig. 36).9ï This is what he did in
1947 as weIl, in his two lnajorworks entitled The Nose and Head
on a Rod (fig. 37), both tied to the nlemory of the ovennodeled
skulls in use in the cultures of the Pacific (fig. 38).98 The paradox
of the head and the object reaches an extrelne point here (but
one extrelne point alnong others) in its deployrnent, because
never before in his works have heads been lnore manifestly
dead-Ineaning that they appear, in Giaconletti's own words,
as "insignificant objects," badly do ne or undone, little nliser-
able rnasses- but at the Salne tinle they have gained the power
to worry, that is to say, to look. The Head on a Rod looks above
aIl with its mouth open, just as a few Inonths before the 1110uth
of T., dead, had looked at GiacOInetti frOIn its tense gaping. As
for the ovennodeled skulls frOIn the New Hebrides, which he
had seen in the Ethnographie Musemn in Basel, in the Musée
de l'Hornme in Paris, and even in André Breton's collection, it
is significant that Giaconletti gave thenl that power of the gaze
and a worrying strangeness, when they are rnerely dead heads
whose orbits are filled with artifacts, vegetable or rnineral 111at-
ters, or in any case, with burial71latter. 99
The logie of dead heads, ifwe can calI it that, appears indeed
to be a paradoxical logic of de-signification: once the face is

Face of the Dead Heads

dead, what remains of it is at the same time an "insignifieant

object" and an object of terror. But there exists another way to
"de-signity" faces, and to nlake objects ofthem, any old objects
that are however heavy with fright. This is the way of the Cube.
An object without any familiar scale-unlike the contempormy
Stlldy for a Head (fig. 34), which is its greatness-the Cube looks
at us perhaps like an object of latent death and of de-significa-
tion. Abstract or not-the question can no longer be asked in
the trivial terrns of a typology of "styles". The Cube, we might
say, is abstract like death- 1 lnean like death imagined in the
experience of its provisional survivors-, and is therefore nei-
ther "specifie" in its nonetheless extrelue forrnality, nor "signi-
tying" in what we rnight wish to draw from it like an iconogra-
phy, albeit a funerary one. It was constructed lilce a head, but
constructed in the subversion of space and of signification that
was supposed by the dimension of a death. Let us rernember
that it is in terrns of "unknown signs" that GiacOluetti spoke
of his fascination with heads, "as though there were sonle-
thing to see that we do not see in the first glance"; and to Pierre
Schneider who asked him if he was not expressing the hypoth-
esis of a face that is "general to the point ofbeing abstract," Gia-
cOluetti replied vigorously "No! Absolutelythe opposite," before
continuing: "The rnore it is you, the luore you become anyone
at aIl" .100 The word abstraction-that burned so fiercely in Gia-
cOluetti's nlouth, and yet in that salue mouth was intended to
refer to both death and the Cube-is therefore luerely a word
used to signity the extent to whieh heads, still touched by their
own death, are able to becOlue "whatever," a whatever that will
be sculpted however, and sculpted to look at us and to Îlupose
on us sOluething like an iInage of loss.
We find ourselves, then, in the presence of a borderline case
of the portrait. In it, GiacOluetti endeavored, in desperation for
a face, to make a "whatever" kind of object capable of show-
ing itselfto us as that "unknown sign" in which there would be
"sornething to see that we do not see in the first glance": and

Face of the Dead Heads

Fig. 36: Alberto Giacometti: Skullhead (1923), penci! on paper,

23,00 x 31,00 cm.

Face of the Dead Heads

Fig. 37: Alberto Giacometti: Head 011 aRod (1947), painted plaster,
50,00 x 12,50 x 17,00 cm. Kunstmuseum Basel (Deposit of the
Alberto Giacometti Foundation, Kunsthaus Zurich).

Fig. 38: Overmodeled Skullfrom the New Hebrides. Musée de l'Homme,


Face of the Dead Heads

we must agree that then Cube responds exactly to that notion of

an "unknown sign". Once again, it is the dimensions as nluch
as its fornl-found dirnensions, as we have seen progressively
through a complex elaboration-that made the Cube an object
of such strangeness or impossibility: an impossible head, at the
same tirne a dead head and a dreamed head. Dead head bury-
ing within its crystal the figure of a dying person, and beCOln-
ing the aniconic stele of a kind of funerary monmnent. But a
non-monurnental head, 1 repeat, neither an object nor a nl0nu-
ment, unlike the imperial evocations suggested by Reinhold
Hoh1. 10l Monunlental heads are always figurative, while the
Cube withdraws into its folds the idea of a head as weIl as that of
a rnonunlent: in both cases, it is a private and deprived [privée]
dilnension (deprived, in particular, of any lnanifest meaning)
that is shown instead of and in the place of a representation,
an iconography, or a consensus on identification. Larger th an a
face, sinaller than a body, the Cube offers itself to us in the very
dilnensions of the place for gathering both the loss of faces, and
the "here lies" of bodies: it has exactly the dinlensions of tomb-
stones, and of SOlne megaliths or funerary colossoi'.
Yet, at the sarne tinle, this aporia of the dirnension draws
the Cube towards a "dreaIned head". The astounding spatial
phenOlnenology expressed by the de ad body of T. came, in the
process of ren1Îniscence described by GiacOlnetti, just as he was
passing in front of a bistro whose sign read "Au rêve" [Ta the
dream].102 And it is undoubtedly to the figurability of the dreaIn
that the strange dilnension of sculpture should be referred: as
though, little by little, the polyhedron had won, enlarged, and
invaded the dreamy head of Giaconletti himself, according
to a typically hypochondriac lnodality of which every dreanl
space-or every space of anxiety, when we fear that our body is
changing scale and becorning ineluctably conlpact- knows it
is capable. lo3 This was prefigured, in a way, in the face to face
confrontation created by the drawing entitled LUl1ar-a face-
to-face confrontation that gradually became interiorized. The

Face of the Dead Heads

Cube would then have to be imagined as the worried head of

a drearner confronted with the growing, devouring Ïlnage of a
disappearing face. 104
Let us note, finally, that between the two processes imag-
ined-that of Head 011 a Rad (fig. 37) on the one hand, and of
the Cube on the ot11er-a third process might have been inter-
posed. It is the one that is set up by the Cubist Head, sculpted
in the sarne year, 1934. We could say that the Cube appears as a
manifest crystal and a latent skuIlj the brutality of the Head on a
Rad, however, upsets any crystal character, in order to show, to
a point of expressionis111, how it is like a head becoming a skull.
The Cubist Head, for its part, sets up that split movelnent of an
evident and "cubist" crystal, Inaking its nature as a skull just
as evident (fig. 39, 40-41). Giacometti played on this implicit
equivalence between these two words: in his letter to Pierre
Matisse from 1947 he produced for this work the expression
Tête crâne (Head-Skull) (fig. 32), as though the fornlal interplay
of the edges and the sides put together-the play of the crystal,
we Inight say-only serves to show explicitly the "skuIHike"
nature in every head as its own internaI construction, or its own
end. Therefore we should see this play of the crystal applied to
heads as a scintillating play of death. Giacometti had already,
in the cages, posed a figuraI question to the disappearance of
bodies; henceforth the skull becomes the place where the ques-
tion of the disappearance of faces is radically asked.
In this matter, the study from 1933 might endow the 1110re
troubling signification of a skull contained in another, with an
allegoric nature (fig. 19). The numerous self-portraits from the
years 1922-1940 also risk being weighed down by this sort of
interior gravity which would transform every face that is looked
at, not face on, but in its faces, into a process of crystalliza-
tion, of geometricalnecrosis, and of irnminent disappearance
(fig. 12-14). As though the bone structure of our skull-that
mineraI box in which aIl our thoughts, fears and desires remain
protected-drew us by force, by its very minerality, downwards,

Face of the Dead Heads

Fig. 39: Alberto Giacometti: Cllbist Head (1933), etching, 30,06 x 25,40 cm /
50,80 x 38,00 cm. The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York,
© Photo SCALA, Florence 2015.

Face of the Dead Heads

Fig. 40: Skull, representing a death-god (pre-Columbian Mexico), crystal

rock, 11,00 x 15,00 cm. Musée de l'Homme, Paris.

Face of the Dead Heads

Fig. 41-42: Alberto Giacometti: CubistHead (Tête crâne) (1934), plaster,

18,50 x 20,00 x 22,50 cm. Kunsthaus Zurich (Alberto Giacometti
Foundation), photographed by Denis Bernard.

Face of the Dead Heads

Fig. 43-44: Alberto Giacornetti: CubistHead (Tête crâne) (1934), plaster,

18,50 x 20,00 x 22,50 cm. Kunsthaus Zurich (Alberto Giacometti
Foundation), photographed by Denis Bernard.

Face of the Dead Heads

into the grave. It suffices to see the etching by Giaconletti before

the creation of his Cubist Head (fig. 39)-while one might think
it was created in front of it-to understand the point to which
it is the same question that preoccupied and worried the artist
when he imagined a living head, a dead head, or the head of a
dead person. 105 Each one relnenlbered in the other, each one in
despair of the other.
With similar diInensions to those of a real skuIl, the
Cubist Head could weIl be held in the hand of a rnodern Harn-
let (fig. 41-44).106 A diInension that is too possible would have
given to the sculpture its specific power of strangeness; 1 say
"strangeness" because the Cubist Head relnains a crystal in
plaster or bronze, and not a IniIl1etic representation, nor the
description of a skull. It manages to cOll1bine the sense of 111ass
with the sense of a 111ask, the sense of volurnetric unity with a
persistent rhythll1icity ofvoids, excavations, and unforeseeable
ruptures of planes. It is close in this way to the work carried out
in the Invisible Object-which is also life-size, and which also
expresses its anthropOll1orphism in a crystal esthetic. A crystal-
head, therefore, where the critics of the work have seen, and
with good reason, the transposed relniniscence of the farnous
rock-crystal skull that GiacOll1etti had adll1ired in the Troca-
déro InuseUll1 in Paris (fig. 40).
It rernains to be se en what Giacometti wanted, or felt con-
strained to replay, in that de ad head in or that crystal-head, of
the anthropological dimension, that is to say the funerary func-
tion, which supported the overmodeled skulls from the New
Hebrides as well as the little pre-Columbian skull in the Musée
de l'HoIrUl1e in Paris. It relnains to be seen also why he wanted
or felt constrained to give to this skull a precise genre (an unex-
pected paranleter for such an object) when he entitled it Man's
head in 1934, in the publication of Minotaure. 1oï If it is the he ad
of a rnan, what rnan is it? And, there relnains to be seen what
secret complicity exists between the Cubist Head and the Cube
itself. It would suffice for us to turn away fronl the explicit face of

Face of the Dead Heads

the little skull (the one that the catalogues always wish to show
us) in order to look behind it (fig. 43-44), and to find ourselves,
then, suddenly, infront afthe very configuration-the obsessive
configuration-of the great Cube itself (fig. 2-6).

Lost Face, Face of the Father

Here we are again in front of the Cube, and in front of the para-
doxical, "abstract" dimension of a buried, lost face. The he ad
of a dead person-but of whom? A crystal, desperate for a
face-but which one? Its history seerns to give a precise answer
to this question: in 1933, and again in 1934, the face that disap-
peared before Giacometti's eyes-the face that became little by
little a skull in the ground-is the face of the father. Giovanni
Giacornetti died in June 1933, at the very tin1e when Alberto
exhibited his extravagant Surrealist Table at pierre Colle's in
Paris. After the burial (which is somethingwe will have to think
about), the artist did not return until one year later, in the surn-
mer of 1934, to the farnily horne to erect the tomb stone, which
was n1issing in the celuetery of Borgonovo.
Yet this chronological coincidence with the creation of the
Cube llüght be weak or even doubtful if we rnerely took a fam-
ily event-albeit a rnajor and overwheln1ing one-as the exclu-
sive "cause" or "source" for our sculpture. It is not in tenus of a
psycho-biographical cause that we should Îluagine the relation
between the Cube and GiacOluetti's dead father, but in tenus of
a paradigm. On the one hand, the "question of the father" far
outweighs the factual viewpoint that this chronological coinci-
dence would initially suggestj and 1 an1 speaking here about a
paradiglu in order to show a destiny at work, that is to say, the
imperious luoveluent of a structure rather than an episode in
history. GiacOluetti, like aIl of us, drearned or feared the loss of
his father long before this happened, and long afterwards too,
no doubt. On the other hand, the question of the father touches
on more th an just the private life of Alberto, or the story of
his faluily: 1 alU only highlighting this because it constitutes a
genuine figural/mot in the work of the this great sculptor, and
throughout the duration ofhis wode

Lost Face, Face of the Father

Fig. 45: Alberto Giacornetti: Head of the Father (circa 1927),

granite, 30,00 x 21,00 X 22,00 cm. Private collection.

Whya knot? Because there Giacometti's artworks as weIl as

his writings curl in on thelnselves, contradict thelnselves and
stutter. For there is a visible conflict at work in them that can-
not be reduced to the "conflict with the father" that no biogra-
phy would hesitate to bring to light regarding anyone. But what
interests us here, beyond the 111anifest relations spoken of by
Giacometti hiInself,108 is that the loss of the father was in a way
sculpted by Giacometti and, in a way, eut into facets, brought
to the diInensions of a crystal or a tangible "unknown sign".
Tangible like the Cube and silent too. For ifwe find everywhere,
in Giacornetti's writings and words, this persistent therne of
disappearance, those Olnnipresent allusions to the death of Van
M. (which occurred in 1921), thatverydetailed storyofthe death
of T. (which occurred much later)-we are no longer struck by
the kind of tangible silence that carefully covered the death of
Giovanni GiacOlnettÏ. Let us not try to fill that silence or that

Lost Face, Face of the Father

Fig. 46-47: Alberto Giacometti: Head of the FatherI(1927), bronze,

28,50 x 21,00 x 23,00 cm. Kunsthaus Zurich (Alberto Giacometti
Foundation), photographed by Denis Bernard.

void with an inevitably re-elaborated signification. We can rely

on its symptomatic value and sim ply bring the playon words
that Giacornetti was constructing at the tirne to give a title to his
work-fold, his work·"catastrophe," his destinai work par excel-
lence: Mains tenant le vide (Hands Holding the Void), that is to
say maintenant, le vide (now, the void) (fig. 27-28). This could be
the literai expression, in 1933 and 1934, of that great abstrac-
tion constituted by the brutal loss of the father. It speaks of
Giacornetti facing his present in mourning, facing his emptied
future. It speaks of Giacornetti as an orphan.
But an orphan ofwhat exactly? To examine this question is
to exanline the question of the father as an essential paradigm,
not only essential to the artist's personality but also to the con-
figuration and the paradoxes of his work. What GiacOluetti
first of aIl confessed -very rnanifestly, almost proclaimed -is
that his father stood before him as the paradign1 of his entire

Lost Face, Face of the Father

Fig. 48: Alberto Giacometti: Head ofthe Father(1927), maI'ble,

30,00 x 23,00 X 21,00cm. Private collection, photographed by Denis Bernard.

Lost Face, Face of the Father

Fig. 49: Alberto Giacometti: Head afthe Pather (1927), marble,

30,00 x 23,00 X 21,00cm. Priva te collection, photographed by Denis Bernard.

Lost Face, Face of the Father

Fig. 50-51: Alberto Giacometti: Head of the Fa tlzer II (1927), bronze,

27,50 X 21,00 x 14,00 cm. Kunsthaus Zurich (Alberto Giacometti
Foundation), photographed by Denis Bernard.

artistic training, and even as the reference point for a II represen-

tation. Giovanni was not only "very, very kind ... very"; he was
ab ove aIl the object of an infinite acknowledgrnent or recogni-
tion, sOlnething that should be understood here in the light of
the Hegelian verb anerkennen which suggests dependence and
servitude. lo9 For in his son's eyes, Giovanni was the subject who
was supposed to know, the almost exclusive custodian-with a
few others who were already dead, like Rodin or Cézanne-of
a mastely of dimensions in producing any figure. Giacornetti
recounted the fantasy to David Sylvester in a now famous anec-

"My father, who rnade portraits in front of a lnodel, lnade

life-size portraits that were created entirely instinctively,
even if 1 posed Huee lneters away. If he was doing apples on
a table, he made them life size. And once, 1 drew in his stu-
dio-when 1 was eighteen or nineteen-I drew sorne pears

Lost Face, Face of the Father

Fig. 52: Alberto Giacometti: Head afthe Father II (1927), bronze,

27,50 x 21,00 x 14,00 cm. Kunsthaus Zurich (Alberto Giacometti
Foundation), photographed by Denis Bernard.

Lost Face, Face of the Father

that were on a table-at the nonnal distance of a stilllife.

And the pears always became miniscule. 1 started again,
and they always becalne exactly the sanle size. My father,
irritated, said: 'Start doing thern as they are, as you see
them!' And he corrected thern. 1 tried to do them like that
and then, in spite of lnyself, 1 erased and erased and they
becaIne a halfhour later exactly, to the millimeter, the SaIne
size as the first ones.'lllO

Yves Bonnefoy saw the secondary elaboration value in this

story, since it was only lnuch later that the problen1 of diInen-
sion was to reach GiacOInetti's drawings and paintings. 111
Moreover, the very precision of the menlOry ("exactly, to the
rnillimeter") shows its value as a screen and a fantasy. It sug-
gests that the farnous dramatization of the question of size
in GiacOInetti's work over so Inany years-and perhaps frorn
1932-1933 in fact: the creation of the Cube is proof enough of
this-might be tied to the paternal paradigln which acts, no
longer as a reference point, but on the contrary, as a repercus-
sion, as sornething of a fOl'bidden figuration. Or rather, that
disfiguration that GiaCOInetti worked on lnagnificently in his
artistic output in Paris at the end of the twenties and the begin-
ning of the thirties. In Paris, GiacOInetti had begun, then, to no
longer "start to do things as they are" ... but he returned to Swit-
zerland to lnake acaden1ic-style busts, as busts must be (these
were actually "familial" works, contemporaneous, however,
with the "cubist" COI11positions or the Plaque Heads from 1927-
1928) (fig. 55-56). The 1110St trollbling thing is grasped when
we read Giacornetti's pages and personal note books frOIn the
years 1933 to 1935; they aU bear the marks of a prohibition to
himself to do what the father did, that is to say, paintings:

"Papa knew how nmch 1 liked his paintings, it wasn't pos-

sible for l11e to do that. Evelything was as it should have
been. Papa was happy about my Sllccess and he knew 1 liked

Lost Face, Face of the Father

his paintings and he knew aIl the admiration 1 had for him.
[... J. In1possibility of lnaking a naturalist painting in three
dirnensions, a complete aversion. Drawing or etching yes,
sculpture absolutely. "112

We could, ifwe understand Giacometti's expression, imag-

ine the Cllbe as that "sculpture absolutely" produced at the end
of 1933 and the beginning of 1934, in the darkness ofmourning
the father. "Sculpture absolutely": in other words, without any
apparent relation to any visible, living n10del who might have
come to pose in the studio, whose depiction might offer the
delnanded likeness. But, no lnore than any other artwork, the
Cube could not be posed "absolutely": it is, at least, relative to
the figuraI paradiglns which inevitably cross it and which rnake
up its virtuality-like the clystal, like the body enclosed and
undone, like the notion ofthe skuIl, which we have spoken about
so far-and whose paternal representation would offer us one
more. It is, then, in afiguralmanner (and not in a psychological
manner, nor a figurative one, since the Cube is "abstract") that
the paternal paradigm gives body to GiacOInetti's sculpture.
The effects of the event-Giovanni's death, Alberto's mou rn-
ing-no doubt Clystallized all ofthis, even to the absolute, ifwe
lnay say, but they will have crystallized an already long and old
chain of works in which the paradigm of the father powerfully
intervened as a question and as an object offiguration.
Alberto Giacornetti often depicted his father, in drawings
that show him painting, in paintings, and also in SOIne sculpted
heads between 1927 and 1929. One common characteristic
unites then1, and that is their diInensions which are quite scru-
pulous in their respect for life size Uust as it is said that one
n1ust respect his father). However, their respective styles vary
astonishingly, which is something that would prevent them
frOIn being considered a series. On the one hand there is the
acadelnic portrait that clearly caIne from those posing sessions
which, long before producing the breathtaking adventures told

Lost Face, Face of the Father

Fig. 53: Alberto Giacometti: Heads (between 1914 und 1927),

photographed by Ernst Scheidegger in the Maloja studio circa 1940
(Foundation Ernst Scheidegger-Archive).

by Jean Genet or JaIlleS Lord, constituted for Giacometti a sort

of understood act, the family dutY par excellence, evoking for
hÏIll the Edenic times of childhood in the father's studio. 113 But
has the act of making something or someone pose-of suspend-
ing a being in view of its figurative crystallization-ever been,
for even one day, as innocent as aIl that? Certainly not. Anyone
who has experienced it knows this weIl, and GiaCOllletti bet-
ter than anyone else '" -after fifteen exhausting sessions with
James Lord, he was able to adillit to his 1110del: "1 am deillolish-
ing you with joy" .114 Bruno, the younger brother, left us a quite
clear testÏIllony of this violence that naturally arises frOIll the
relation between the portraitist and his rnodel:

"When Alberto drew me while 1 was playing SOllle chil-

dren's garne, 1 always felt the rnOIllent COIlle when 1 would
be transformed into a prey by the intensity of his gaze. He
stared at Ille so iutensely that 1 felt 1 was about to be caught

Lost Face, Face of the Father

in a web that 1would not escape from. [... ] The first bu st that
he rnade of rne, when 1 was around8 years old, 1 relnelnber
it: he wanted it to be exactly life size, and he had an oid iron
conlpass that was a little rusty with which he measuredlny
head. It terrified me when he moved the points of the COIn-
pass towards lny eyes. "115

The heads sculpted by GiacOInetti between 1927 and 1929

reveal, frOIn this perspective, the extent to which the father was
subjected as much to the threat of the compass as to the mat-
ter of disjïguration lnore than figuration. The granite sculpture
frOIn 19271eaves the entire face with su ch an unaffected, uncut
condition of texture, that we get the reciprocal ünpression
of a figure that has been cOInpletely ravaged by tüne (fig. 45);
the bronze sculpture from the same year (Head of the Father 1)
(fig. 46), already angular in its form but very tonnented in the
treatment of the surfaces, as though the skin of the face were
attacked bya sclerosis, fails to decide upon a form for the back of
the head, which is strangely stripped not to say scalped, reveal-
ing what is underneath; revealing already the anxiety about the
skull (fig. 47).116 A sculpture in white marble, also from 1927
(fig. 48-49), began to draw that he ad towards construction-an
intentionally "unfinished" construction, outlined and always
just as lnuch caught in a process of erasure-, the construction
of a solid with triangularfacets, a kind of elementarypolyhedron,
veined to the point of becoming formless, on which Giaconletti
merely engraved with his stylet the outline of an eyebrow. 11ï
There is also the astonishing sculpture entitled, for conve-
nience, Head of the Father II (fig. 50-52), on which GiacOInetti
pu shed to the liInit-the Cube aside-that process ofparticular
disfiguration that we are trying, as we can, to reconstruct. We
could say here that Alberto, in front ofhis father's face, abruptly
renounced the vollune that this head could offer. He stopped
wanting to see, and dared in front of his father to start to 110t
lnake a sculpture of his head as he saw it. So, suddenly, he cut:

Lost Face, Face of the Father

he cut straight, or rather obliquely, into the density of the Inass,

and reduced by caesura the head's volume to a kind of plaque or
slicedface, which must have, at one nloment, opened before his
eyes the worrying, "abstract" dimension of a genuine face-to-
face confrontation-a side, a section-that literally looked hard
at his father aIrnost taking his face from him [le dévisageait],
and looked back at him from its sudden depth. The head, frOIn
the front, therefore retains its size: 27.5 centÏIneters high and
21 wide. But frOIn the side, we see it is reduced or rather eut to
a few centiIneters only (the thiekest section is 14 centiIneters).
At the last nlinute, GiacOInetti would save this distorted face or
side fronl a kind of figurative decapitation by drawing, or rather
by scratching or scribbling, Inaking notches in the material, the
sketched traits ofhis father: the characteristic beard and Inous-
tache, the bridge of the nose, and two perfectly dissymlnetrieal
eyes in large orbits, represented by a horizontal bar on the rigllt,
and on the left bya deeper point that could have been nlade bya
nail violently haIllmered in.
We can imagine two cOInplementary destinies for this sur-
prising decision and this troubling object. The first would be a
becoming-nzask of the paternal portrait, the definitive assulnp-
tion thatitislikea "plaque," accordingtothepreserved, although
approxiInate, contour of the face. This Inask, beyond evokingfor
us, suddenly, the scenario of Lunar (fig. 31), was indeed nlade
by Giaconletti: we can see it in SOIne photographs of the studio
where it is placed alllOng the busts on a shelf (fig. 53)-whieh
brings us back to the Inenlory of the nlask shown on its shelf
in the drawing frOIn 1932 (fig. 19).11 8 The other possible des-
tiny for this constantly transforIned portrait is precisely what is
Inaterialized by the Cube: a beconzing-nzass. While the solution
of the Inask tended towards the unity of the plane, and carefully
respected the diInensions of the hUlnan face, the transforma-
tion Inade in the mass ainled, on the one hand, at Inodifying the
scale cOInpletely, and, on the other hand, to multiply the planes,
the faces or sides. The father's face disappears here forever, but

Lost Face, Face of the Father

what rernains-a polyhedral succession of fleeing facets-has

now taken shape, which is something the mask, by definition,
failed to do. If the Cube, frOIn this viewpoint, is to be looked at
as an "abstract" volume, then, with this sculpture, we have to
propose the equivalence of the two words abstraction and dis-
figuration (words that actually do not mean the same thing).
When we know about the tigllt link between Giacometti and
Georges Bataille's thinking in those years-the journal Docu-
ments had started in 1929, and Giacometti was to keep every
issue until his death-we cannot avoid sensing this figuraI
problem which ended up producing heads that tend to beform-
less if not "acephalous," even if lllade to sparlde in the shape of
crystals with irregular facets. Bataille himself, in a superb text
intended for publication in Minotaure, had addressed in his
own way the relations between a mask and a lnass, in order to
speak about solitude, darkness, terror-embodied chaos in the

"Nothing is lnanan in the unintelligible universe outside of

naked faces, which are the onlywindows open to the chaos of
strange or hostile appearances. Man only leaves the unbear-
able solitude when the face of one of his fellows ernerges
from the void of everything else. But the Inask returns hhn
to a n10re dreadful solitude, for its presence signifies that
what nonnally reassures has suddenly become charged by
an obscure will to terror-when what is human is masked,
nothing else is present beyond anirnality or death. [... ]
The mask still possesses the power to appear at the thresh-
old of this clear and reassuring world of boredorn like an
obscure en1bodiment of chaos. [... ] For the mask is chaos
become flesh. It is present in front of me like a fellow rnan
and this fellow lnan who looks hard at me, has taken into
hirn the figure ofmyown death: bythis presence chaos is no
longer the strange nature of man but is n1an hirnself, ani-
mating with his pain and his joy that which destroys rnan ...

Lost Face, Face of the Father

[... ] When cOInmunication is broken because of a brutal

decision, when the rnask returns the face to the night, man
is no longer anything but a hostile nature toward hirnself
and hostile nature is entirely animated by the insidious pas-
sion of the masked man."119

ln the end, then, the Cube appears like the Inask or the nlas-
sive "unknown sign" of a disfiguration which is buried, Inade
implicit, and latent. Like the rnonurnental trace of a face or
side that was first of aIl distorted, put into chaos, then defini-
tively consigned to absence. We have just given a name to this
absence. We have, unequivocally, referred it to the paradigrrl of
the cOInmander, and to the paradigm of the father. Is it neces-
sary to insist again on the danger-or even the stupidity-in
accepting this as sufficient, as we do the solution given to the
enigma of a work? Solutions to eniglnas are always closed syn-
taglns. The interest of a paradigrrl lies, on the contrary, in its
ability to open up a probleln. Giaconletti consciously elaborated
little fainiliai enigrnas by inducing the search for "solutions,"
that is to say the univocal designation of one elenlent of a sculp-
ture as representing such and such a character in the farnily
romance: the Disagreeable abject to be ThrownAway frOIn 1931
was also called Family Portrait, and the fragile cOInposition of
the Palace at 4 a.m., for exalnple, was "explained" by the artist
by nleans of very precise autobiographical keys. Yet these solu-
tions, obviously, were not solutions at aIl, and tended instead
to coyer up as much as to reveal, to silence as Inuch as to say.
For us, once again, they are merely Inore elements to be inter-
preted, and not interpretative truths.
We should therefore agree on the theoreticallirnits that this
"naIne of the father," closed up in the Cube, brings with it in
principle; less in order to signify, with "scientific" modesty, its
own uncertainty inherent in any hypothesis, than to incite its
dialectical openingup. The "name of the father" closed up in the
Cube is not only the proper nanle of Giovanni Giacometti, who

Lost Face, Face of the Father

died on June 25, 1933, and whose son mourned him until the
smnlner of 1934 at least; it is quite simply the name Giacometti.
It is the "name of the father" considered as a dialectical tension,
as that Inark of a link and a difference at the saIne tiIne-that
mark that is shared by the artist himself, and c1early by the
Cube. And so, in 1933, Alberto was struck, that is to say loolœd
at by the loss of a face whose name he bore (and the sculpture
would show us the figure of that "weight" itself). Looked at by
a loss and baptized by it. If the Cube bears this naIne sOIne-
where within itself, this name is not its fixed treasure or its self-
c1aÎlned identification, but the transInitted movement of a tied
link between two subjects at least that bear that naIne. And the
sculpture offered a support, a place for that link; genealogical
place and link, place and link of ancestrality. Through this, we
Inight better understand why the lnask of the father, placed on
the shelf, so irresistibly evokes the Roman genealogical imag-
ines, why a certain painting by GiacOlnetti evokes so precisely
the Faytun munllny portraits; why the Head on a Rad is such
a good response to the overnlOdeled skulls of the Pacific; and
why the Cube continues to be erected before us like an ancestral
colossus with the proper naIne "Giacolnetti". We Inight call this
its anthropological "density".

Face of Opacity and the Blind Crystal

We could easily ilnagine that the absent face of the father, his
removed face, continued to look at Giacometti for a long time,
frOIn its base of deadly dissünilarity erected as a solid. The Cube
might then reveal a fixed gaze, a fixed and "abstract" gaze-a
haunted gaze-and which is, consequently, aIl the more sover-
eign. A gaze that only statues of comInanders are capable of?
We must relnember that until the end of his life, GiacOInetti
worked under the fixed gaze of depictions of faInily lnembers,
and notably-or at least in his Swiss studio-under the omni-
present gaze of the depictions of the father. 120 But it should be
noted that in the Cube this gaze has been lnade opaque, dooIned
to blindness-doomed in fact to the artist's denial. The Cube
survived this denial just as the most humble tOInbstones sur-
vive oblivion. Today, before us, the sculpture continues to erect
its own lnass, abruptly-that is to say, in a way that cannot be
attached to any visible allegory, in the way that Lunar (fig. 31)
allowed it still-and this mass looks at us, faces us, lnakes
faces even, insofar as it appears to be blind. COInpact and blind
beyond its crystal character: that is its magic, its strength, its roll
of the dice, in order to reach us or not, and so its fragile equilib-
riuIn too. That is, in any case, in that paradoxical power to stare
at us, where its essential anthropological content lies.
But what is blind anthropomorphism? The question needs to
be asked again, beyond the sculptural parameters of the dimen-
sion to which we referred earlier. GiacoInetti hünself seenlS to
encourage us to go beyond the field of sculpture, even when it
is presented or represented in that fanlous figure of the arche-
typaI artist. Let us, first of aIl, iInagine that, as a counterpoint,
or as a repercussion to the father's blinking gaze, that is to say
the gaze caught in the act of gauging the visible, of measuring
and grasping its "life-size" scale, Giacometti often appears,
in the photographs that show him painting or sculpting, with

Face of Opacity and the Blind Crystal

his eyes clased. 121 Whether or not this bearing corresponds to a

real rnoment of his work is not an essential question, at least
for us here; even if Giacometti staged this blinded withdrawal,
it would not be any less significant: it indicates that the artist
wanted to irnplicate a value ofinvisibility in the idea to be made
of his artistic work, be it "realist" as it was when such photo-
graphs were taken.
The question that Inust be revisited seems to be that of
knowing what we gain and what we lase when we are engaged
in the experience of seeing sOlnething or SOlneone. This ques-
tion, as we know, was the leitlnotiv and the very center-always
an unhappy one-of GiacOlnetti's preoccupations, and what he
confided to others in conversations, and in his writings. But, as
we know, writing and confiding have generally been understood
in one way, that is to say reduced in their real rneaning, which
is alrnost always a complex, fragile meaning, and very often
anlbiguous in its utterance and drawing frOln contradictory
sources. These words have been understood in one way because
what was generally sought-and still is sought-was, sincerely
or insincerely, to construct the "image" of the artist, in reality a
InGre or less romantic irnage of a genius supposed ta gain being
(or "presence," or "existence," it aIl depends) in order to recan-
struct it for the spectators of these statues, as an asset placed in
the stone, the plaster or the clay. Giacometti himself directed
his rnanifest words-and lllanifestly captivating words, heirs,
1 repeat, to a whole tradition of Kzmstliteratur-towards that
kind of typically idealist understanding.

But the question perpetually reappears when we read these

words, the question ofwhether the theme of lass in GiacOlnetti's
work arises frOln a repeated but surmountable failure (and it is
even rnore dralnatic for this reason), or that loss is to be seen as
a deeper, Inore structural constraint. The first reading clearly
repeats a rnetaphysics of presence (presence like a dramatized
"gaining ofbeing"), the second would be closer to a thought like

Face of Opacity and the Blind Crystal

that of Georges Bataille, a thought that critiques rnetaphysics,

using as its tools the philosophical ruptures brought about by
Nietzsche and Freud. In the second readingwhich seelUS closer
in any case to Giacometti's figural choices before 1935, being
is never anything that is gained; rather something that, while
perpetually missing, is circumvented-thereby requiring a
detour, that is to say afigure, in the least "figurative" and trivial
sense possible: in the sense of figurability-and only gives us
SOUle remains to touch: a blind polyhedral mass for the dying
being of a head, a pie ce ofwhite marble for the frontal being of
a gaze of absence.
At the end of the nineteen-twenties, the sculptor had under-
stood the unsatisfying and vain character-the ideal or irnpos-
sible character-of the famous paternal injunction: "Start
doing theul as they are, as you see theul!"122 Once he had over-
corne that injunction, Giacornetti had the choice of making or
not making "abstract" sculptures; but, retrospectively, he was
to simplify and idealize the terms of this choice by representing
abstraction as a process that is closed in on itself ("the abstract
works that 1 luade then were finished once and for aIl"), and
figuration as a process of opening and "adventure" .12 3 We have
seen that the Cube, which is targeted implicitly here, did indeed
suffer the "adventure" of not being finished either in its con-
crete history-as we see in the hesitation regarding its dirnen-
sions, its base, the graphic treatment of its faces, ofwhich 1 will
speak later-nor in its essentialrneaning.
On the other hand, the "adventure" ofreselublance claimed
by GiacOluetti between 1950 and 1960 would have constantly
returned to its point of truth as a point of perpetuaI collapse
of the visible, a point of ineluctable opacity and blindness.
"Resernblance?" GiacOluetti repeated doubtfully, in response
to a question: "1 no longer recognize people frorn seeing them
so luuch."124 Because resernblance, for GiacOluetti, was neither
given nor taken. At most, it was the "residue of vision"Ys An
unattainable quality in the works-in the objects-because it

Face of Opacity and the Blind Crystal

is suprelnely closed in on the beings themselves: "in any case, it

is only people thelllseives who are genuinely true to life". And,
to finish, the quality of resemblance will be eut off from illlages
that are generally qualified as such, and it will have nothing
lllOre to do with any artistic "realism": "The heads that 1 find
the most lifelike [... ] are the least realistic heads."126
This, then, was the proposed "adventure": to seek, at aIl
costs, a reselnblance that would be "essentiaI," and to refute,
therefore, any "realist" esthetic, that of classical roman busts,
or that of direct nl0Ids (whose coldness, inertia, non-Ineaning
Giacometti, following lnany others, and in particular Balzac's
Frenhofer, objected t~). Yet there was "adventure," even drama,
because renouncing realisln signified renouncing the obvious
part of the lifelike person or thing. Worse again, a dissimilarity
began to appear before GiacOlnetti, like a repercussion of that
renunciation of realisln. A dissiInilarity always appeared, while
the very support of the resenlblance, the face, always dis in te-
grated. Not only did the heads before him becOlne insignificant
objects, which is told admirably in "Le Rêve, le Sphinx et la lnort
de T.," but they also underwent the "revolting" test of an ineluc-
table dinlinishing, or else becalne "like a cloud, vague and linl-
itless". In the end, of the face there relnained only a Inere dis-
sinlilar, "abstract" nlateriality: "The fonn becOlnes undone, it
is no longer anything but grains that lnove on a black and deep
Yet, something in aIl of this-this test, this passage into
dissiInilarity-relnains. SOlnethingthat GiacOlnetti profoundly
wanted not to be a thing, but the ebb and flow of contradictory
things. A movement. SOlnething that would becOlne fixed in a
crystal and yet would never cease to lllOve, like a "white rnass"
or like the sea foam. SOInething that by its fonn would iInpose
its formlessness, by its exterior would iInpose its interiority, by
its transparency its opacity. SOlnething that Giacometti could
never have shied away frOln calling a head:

Face of Opacity and the Blind Crystal

"Heads, characters are only continuous nlOvement of the

interior, of the exterior, they redo themselves ceaselessly,
they have no real consistency, their transparent side. They
are neither cube, nor cylinder, neither sphere, nor trian-
gle. They are a moving mass, a pace, a changing and never
quite perceptible fornl. And they are as though linked by an
interior point which looks at us through the eyes and which
seelns to be their reality, a measureless reality, in a linlitless
space"128 ...

It is troubling to see, as we read that text, that at a certain

point we no longer know what Giacometti is talking about
exactly. But this troubling aspect is, of course, either calculated
or at least worked on in the sentences: set on staying between
living heads (what relnains of the dissimilarity of the faces)
and dead heads (what renlains of the demise, and which Giaco-
lnetti finds in the expression, used elsewhere regarding T., of a
"limitless space"). But the troubling aspect settles between the
hmnan heads, living or dead, and seulpted heads, aIl of those
objects, aIl of those earthy lnasses held in GiacOlnetti's hands.
It becomes clear that the artist is speaking here of his own work,
and not only of his way of seeing the world before him - he who
said, or inlagined, that seeing the world did aIl the work. Every
sculpture invents, possesses and proposes a form. That alone,
is how it appears as an object to see. But to allow it to look at us
frorn that "interior point" that Giacornetti considered a require-
nlent, its fonn, its visible fonn, would need to appear visually
like the altered rernains, the remains of sOlnethingwhose name
is uttered only in the vocabulary of absence.

The problenl there has nothing-or not only-to do with a

general sort of ontological intuition. It is indeed a problern
of sculpture that Giacometti, as almost always, engages with.
What does he ask of sculpture? A "true consistency". But what is
a eonsistency? Let us foIlow GiacOlnetti again when he denlands

Face of Opacity and the Blind Crystal

that it be the unfixed insistence of fOrIns, and the engaged visual

power, always in progress, of this non-fixation. That is why we
so often find in his writings and his works (his drawings above
all) the paradigin of the crystal: "Neither cube, nor triangle"
indeed, but "a changing and never quite perceptible fonn" that
can put both the cube and the triangle to work on the funda-
mental approxÏInation of a head. Is this not the paradiglll that
we saw at work in the creation of the Cube? And is it not in a
radical way-or even a unique and exernplary way-that this
sculpture lays out all the tenns? What the Cube poses-and,
let us remen1ber, it is not a cube, but at the very least its rnove-
llient by rneans of llmltiplied and unpredictable facets-what
is imposed by the Cube Il10re than any other sculpture by Gia-
c0111etti, is indeed the problen1 of the paradoxical status given,
by this adIl1irer of Cézanne and Egyptian art, to the geometrical.
We should think about the fact that, throughout his life-and
even in his I110St "realistic" works, even in the text that we have
just read-Giacometti never left out the problem of ge0111etry.
From the thirties, when the face was apprehended in the clean
relationship of a circle and a square-let us reIl1ember the lay-
out of the poem entitled "Le Rideau brun" (The Brown Curtain),
fr01111933 (fig. 54)129- right up to the portraits of Il10dels in the
sixties, the anxiety about ge0111etry relnains, significantly vivid
to the point of its denial. Speaking with laIl1eS Lord, in 1964,
Giacornetti refuted cubes and cubists, but at the same tiIl1e he
granted that he "got to square everything," and mentioned once
again the anady0111ene theIl1e of the "disintegration" of heads
and of their crystalline resurgenceYo
What Giac0111etti says about this "return to the square," in
1964, while he Il1ade all kinds of efforts to tighten or loosen the
profuse lineaIl1ents of grey paint, is nothing Il10re than what
he had been doing in sculpture SOIne thirty-five years before,
inventing fragile geollietries as places for gathering, for level-
ing the "disintegration," or rather the disfiguration of faces. It
was between 1927 and 1930, in fact, in a striking counterpoint

Face of Opacity and the Blind Crystal


aucune figure humaine ne

m'est aussi iirangère mime
plus un Disage de ~tant
l'avoir regardée eUe s'est
fermée partout sur des mar-
ches d'escaliers inconnus.

Fig. 54: Alberto Giacometti: Le rideau brun (circa 1933), poem in:
Le surréalisme au service de la révolution, Nr. 5 (May 1933), p. 15.
© Succession Alberto Giacometti (Fondation Alberto et
Annette Giacometti, Paris + ADAGP, Paris) 2015.

to the contemporary series of portrait-sculptures of the father,

that GiacOlnetti produced the adnlirable series of bodies and
the Plaque Heads (fig. 55-56). Here, we might see sOlnething
like the "vertical bed"-to use an expression by André du
Bouchet 131 -in which aIl of the latent dialectic violence of the
similar and the dissÏlnilarwould be sleeping. We might also see

Face of Opacity and the Blind Crystal

Fig. 55-56: Alberto Giacometti: GazingHead (1928), plaster, 17,30 x 13,30 x

3,60 cm. Kunsthaus Zurich (Alberto Giacometti Foundation).

the inexact geOllletry, thefloatinggeometry that is alone capable

of offering the erected rel11ains, the solemn, silent remains, of
a destructive experience that cOl11peIled GiacOl11etti to "sacri-
fiee, reduce ... abandon the head, the arn1S, and everything."l32
(But let us try, once again, not to take at face value sorne words
uttered twenty years after the fact, that is to say, according to
a change in perspective n1arked, as 1 said, by denial. Perhaps
Giacometti was thinking, around 1930, that his forms were rar-
efied in terms of "sacrifice" and "reduction," but in no case was
the process of elaboration reduced to "abandoning the head,
the an11S, and everything"j for the Plaque Heads are not desper-
ate portraits, as were done in 1950, nor have they becOl11e pro-
gressively abstract in spite of everything. They are, l110re sim-
ply and perhaps l110re radicaIly, fon11s in which the question of
heads becOl11es the place of a dialectic, a process that poses the
problelIls of anthropOl11orphisn1 by means of the formai clos-
ing, found as nmch in Brancusi as in the art of the Cyclades, for

Face of Opacity and the Blind Crystal

Even when Giacometti tried, long after, to unden11ine or

at least reduce the range of these "old" "abstract" works,133 he
still felt obliged to acknowledge one thing, which is that an
authentic work of figurability-and therefore of transforma-
tion-constituted then1 and justified the very long process that
made them appear:

"To come to this plaque? .. That took a long tiIne! 1 worked

for an entire winter on that one, and on two others of the
same kind [as he had worked an entire winter on Skull,
four or five years before]. Because there is something else: 1
began two or tluee different sculptures and they arrived at
the SaI11e point, they always becaIne the same thing"134 ...

We could say that with the Plaque Heads which, irresistibly,

if we believe it, "always became the saIne thing," Giacometti
stayed in the gap created by the split that tore in two incompat-
ible directions what he saw in a head, and what in that he ad
couldlook at hh11. The Gazing Head, from 1928 (fig. 55-56), is
not se en as a head: nothing here, in the undefined rectangle, in
the resolute narrowness of the object, in the two vague declivi-
ties that it shows and ofwhich one version in plaster produces,
on the back, its "negative"-nothing that n1ight resen1ble a
head. Except the dimensions. But GiacOI11etti was not, however,
concerned with the aspect, but ratherwith the effect and its affer-
ent process. For hh11, the head looks, sin1ply because it places in
front of an eye in search ofvisible appearances, the inescapable
obstacle, the section or the face of its frontality. This sculpture
looks at us-which is contrary to giving us even an allegorical
wink-because it is blind and thereby becornes an obstacle in
front of our aIl too simple wish to see it according to the appear-
ance of a head. Even when, at that tilne, he drew heads thatwere
still vaguely figurative, Giacometti guided his work towards
a plan, the frontal and geon1etrical plan for this Gazing Head.
A drawing frOI11 1927-1928 places the face and its heavily built

Face of Opacity and the Blind Crystal

Fig. 57: Alberto Giacometti: Head (circa 1927-28), ink on paper,

9,30 x 5,80 cm. Kunsthaus Zurich (Alberto Giacometti Foundation).

neck on a rectangular base (fig. 57); the face is divided, or even

torn, between a half-circle and a half-square; the dissylnmetry
of the eyes-which is a paternal attribute, as we saw-seems
to be clearly a response to the different orientation of the two
declivities which present the sculpture. Whatever the case lnay
be, Giacometti found hin1self cOlnpelled, for a long tin1e, to
conceive of a split resemblance, a divergent resemblance, felt
to be twofold and entangled at the SaIne tiIne, experienced as a
paradoxical "mix" which the artist, in 1951j could not remem-
ber escaping for even one day:

"It seemed to me that, in a certain way, it resembled things

and it reselnbled me. But, once again, there is a kind of
confusion there; was it the things 1 saw that 1 wanted to
reproduce, or was it an affective thing? Or a certain feeling

Face of Opacity and the Blind Crystal

for forms that is inside and that one would like to project
outside? That is a mix frorn which we will never escape, 1
By seeking to express ourselves, on our own, let's say with-
out taking into account exterior reality, we end up making
an object that has resernblances with exterior reality. Yet
when trying to copy as exactly as possible a head, for exam-
pIe, for the person who is looking the result will not at aIl
reselnble the he ad that we wanted to reproduce!... This has
to do with the sensitivity of the one who did it. Therefore it
is the contrary that is found. 1 think this happens continu-
ally, in fact."135

The strange reversaI that this slightly confused text pro-

poses-you look into the abstract aspect of your "sensitivity,"
and you find a form of the world; you look into the concrete lnass
of a head, and you find a fonn that "does not at aIl resemble it,"
which could even become abstract to the point of becOIning a
mere plaque or a disproportionate polyhedron-this reversaI
lets us touch, once more, on the logic of the repercussion that
Giacometti so often had to confront. In the street, Giacometti
sought women who were polished and ilnpossible ("1 look for
wornen with a light step, with polished faces that sing, who
are silent, their heads a little bowed ... "136); but in front of their
heads he found only the anxiety of volume, albeit in the rnerest
spatial line drawn frOIn the ear to the chin. 137 Then, fron1 his
hand cmne-in 1927, and until1934-only "unknown signs,"
and the body of "women" (fig. 58), which the titles of his works
doggedly spoke about, therebyremained pure "signs," pure ste-
les in polished bronze or rnonoliths slightly lnarked with inden-
tations (thelnselves significantly constructed in facets, like little
negative polyhedrons 138 ). The heads, for their part, became crys-
taIs, and the crystals becan1e opaque, frontal massifications,
like the Gazing Head, or fleeing and curving like the Cube. On
the one hand, they tended towards the plane, the square, the

Face of Opacity and the Blind Crystal

Fig. 58: Alberto Giacometti: Woman (1927), bronze, 55,50 x 32,7° x 7,50 cm.
Private collection.

Face of Opacity and the Blind Crystal

Fig. 59: Alberto Giacometti: Small Bust on a Double PedestaZ (1940-1941),

bronze, 11,20 x 6,00 x 5,80 cm. private Collection.

frontality of the luask; on the other hand, they developed into

solids, into lUtIltiple cubes, into cOlupact but dialectical and
luoving luasses.
A geOlnetry became essential in this nl0velnent, not the
geonletry of Bourdelle or the reasonable "secret geornetry" of
figurative cOlnpositions, but a geOluetry that consigned any
resemblance to a dark geometrical constraint, one that was as
powerful as an anthropological law, and as inevitable as an
obsessive fantasy. We should not think that the "return to real-
ity" ended up curbing aIl ofthis nl0velnent: we only need to look
at the work involved in the relation between the heads and their
bases, for exanlple, to see again-albeit the reverse of the pro-
cess in which the Cube and the Plaque Heads work, albeit in the
sense of an organic distinction outside of a Inore or less cubic
base (fig. 59)-such a tension, such an "origin of geOlnetry"
confronting the question of heads with the question of cubes.
Rodin (WhOlll GiacOllletti studied passionately) had produced
extraordinary sculptures within this kind ofproblern (fig. 60).13 9

Face of Opacity and the Blind Crystal

And, long before hirn, the Egyptian "block-statues," with their

faces barely ernerging from a block of black granite, fascinated
Giacometti with their extreme-votive, funerary, cult in gen-
eral-"humanity," lirnited, however, to the specific, closed
injunctions oftheir extrenle "fonnalism" (fig. 61). The Cube, for
its part, could be understood froHl this point of view as a he ad
that has becOIne its own geometrical base, narrower at its base
as we might see in the birth of a neck. A head consigned to the
ground-therefore gemnetrically measured as are aIl objects
that are linked with the ground-as much as a base devoted to
erecting itself, standing in front of us, wherever it may be, in
order to reach us and to look at us. Could it be for this reason
that the base that was initially conceived for the Cube managed
to disappear so quickly frOIn Giacornetti's studio? The question
cannot yet be resolved, and we will therefore return to it more
specifically later.
This dialectic finally produced the massification and, in any
case, the opacification of the crystal that was drawn before in
cages and with transparent facets. This is what gave the Cube its
very strange and disturbing character, and Inade it appear like
a kind of monolith. But the strangeness of this strangeness, or
the disturbance of this disturbance is aiso that the erected Iuass
rings hollow, and it supposes inside the very contrary ofwhat it
iInposes infront. The Cube is to be considered only a cavernous
monolith, something that any reader of GiacOIuetti couid not
avoid bringing back to his childhood story, which is famous, in
which the artist liked to reconstruct an origin for aIl of his gazes
and anxieties. It is worth rereading in its entirety:

"As a chiid (between four and seven years oId), in the out-
side world 1 saw only the objects that could be useful for IUy
own pleasure. These were, above aIl, stones and trees, and
rarely 1110re than one object at a time. 1 reluember that for
at least two sunllners, 1 saw in the things around lue only a
big stone that was about 800 meters frorn the village, that

Face of Opacity and the Blind Crystal

stone and the objects that were directly related to it. It was
a gold-colored monolith, opening at its base onto a cavern:
the whole bottom was hoIlow, the water had do ne this worle
The entrance was low and elongated, barely as high as us at
that tilne. In places the interior was hollowed out more to
the point of seeluing to fonn a second little cavern all the
way at the back. It was IUy father who, one day, showed us
this rnonolith. It was an enonuous discovery, and ilnIue-
diately 1 considered this stone a friend, an anirnated being
with the best intentions towards USj calling us, srniling at
us, like SOllleone we Iuight have known before, beloved and
whom we would see again with infinite surprise and joy.
At once, it occupied our rninds exclusively. Frorn that day
on we spent every Iuorning and afternoon there. We were
five or six children, always the sarne ones, and we never left
each other. Every Iuorning, when 1 woke up, 1 looked for
the stone. FrOlU the house 1 could see it down to its greatest
detail, as weIl as the little path leading to it, appearing like
a threadj everything else was vague and inconsistent, just
air that holds on to nothing. We followed that path without
ever leaving it and never left the terrain just around the cav-
ern. Our first concern, after the discovery of the stone, was
to delinlit the entrance. It lllUSt only have been a slit, just
large enough to let us through. But 1 was overjoyed when 1
was able to squat down in the little cavern all the way at the
backj 1 could barely fit insidej aIl rny wishes had come true.
Once, 1 can't remeluber by what coincidence, 1 wandered
farther than usual frOlu it. Soon afterwards 1 found luyself
on a height. In front of lue, a little lower down, in the luiddle
of the undergrowth, stood an enonuous black stone in the
shape of a narrow and pointed pyrarnid whose walls were
ahuost vertical. 1 cannot express the feeling of vexation and
collapse that 1 felt at that luornent. The stone iIuluediately
struck me as a living, hostile, threatening being. It threat-
ened everything: us, our games and our cavern. 1 found its

Face of Opacity and the Blind Crystal

Fig. 60: Auguste Rodin: Thought (1893-1895), marble, 74,20 x 43,50 X

46,10 cm. Paris, Musée d'Orsay.
Fig. 61: Black-Statue ofSenenmut with the Daughter of the Queen
Hatshepsllt Neferure (Thebes/Karnak, 18th dynasty circa 1460 B.C.),
black granite, 100,00 x 59,00 x 77 ,50 cm. bpk/Egypt Museum and
Papyrus Collection, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin.

existence intolerable and 1 felt irnmediately-being unable

to make it disappear-that 1 had to ignore it, forget it and
speak about it to nobody. However, 1 did approach it, but
with the feeling that 1 was delivering rnyself ta something
reprehensible, secret, suspicious. 1 barely touched it with
one hand, and with repulsion and dread. 1 walked around
it, trernbling to discover an entrance. No trace of a cavern,
which Inade the stone even lllOre intolerable to me, and yet
1 felt sorne satisfaction: an opening in this stone would have
cmnplicated everything and 1 already sensed the desolation
of our cavern if we had had to deal with another one at the
SaIne tirne. 1 went quickly far away frOIn this black stone, 1
didn't speak to the other children about it, and 1 ignored it
and did not return to see it. "140

Face of Opacity and the Blind Clystal

lt is always difficult to interpret a written reminiscence

that constitutes an individual rnyth. 141 Giacornetti was giving,
there, a story that was sufficiently open and finely structured
to prevent any allegoricai or "iconographie" attribution of the
monoliths of his story. We could, of course, see in those two
dissimilar stones two contradictory maternaI figures: the good,
we1coming mother whom we could hug, and the bad, threaten-
ing rnother that we wish to avoidy2 We couldjust as easily apply
a disjunctive rnodel, seeing in the golden-colored monolith the
lllaternai and positive authority of the "friend [... ] calling us,
smiling at us" with its "slit" and its "little cavern aIl the way at
the badz" where Giacornetti daÏIlls, as a child, to have had aIl
his wishes come true; while the black lllOnolith represents, in
this hypothesis, a Inasculine, paternal, "hostile, threatening"
pole, a person who denies access and any we1cOllle corner,
erected like that "narrow and pointed pyramid whose walls were
ahnost vertical," which corresponds nlore or less to the descrip-
tion of our Cube. But to equate things in this way-equating the
"genre"-amounts to playing a Httle too Inuch the fantasmatic
gaIne of the "individual rnyth" that the story rnanifestly elabo-
rates (or "perlaborates" to use the psychoanalytic tenn), and by
which it tries in its entirety to convince us or even fascinate us. lt
would arnount to lIlaking, a little too quickly, those two mono-
liths two unconnected, distinct people, from a faIIlily romance.
There is perhaps a "1 + 1" kind of logic in this story-wel-
cOlning, gilded rnonolith, no longer a black, threatening
rnonolith. But Giacornetti hÎlnself showed us, in his sculptures,
how to subvert the nlere disjunction of the tenns added, and to
count differently, for exalIlple to ilnagine that 1+1=3, accord-
ing to the title of one of his masterpieces frOlIl 1934 (that is,
the period in which he wrote his story-and created the Cube)
(fig. 81). The "1 +1=3" logic speaks to us again of the sexual oppo-
sition, but it also speaks to us about its dialectical and genea-
logical result, and its strange third party.143 It points towards a
much larger nlovement that superposes a 11l0lnent of "relief"

Face of Opacity and the Blind Crystal

or conjunction on the initial disjunction. We should stop think-

ing, for a lTlOlnent, of the two lllonoliths as two objects or two
characters separated by everything-the one siInply positive,
the other siInply negative-to consider what links thelTl in
their most immediate and visually IllOSt insurmountable exis-
tence: their existence as stone objects, erected monmnents,
and statues.
They are both statues-separated, closed objects-that
have the power to include a fundamental disjunction. The first
stone in the story refleeted its brilliance as an insurmountable
visual obstacle (for we can never nleasure the depth of a thing
that shines inft"ont ofus), while it offered its "slit opening" and
its "cavern" in a tactile way to the pleasures of the child who
entered into its dug-out Inass. Never did the author of the Cube
dissociate the problenl of stones from that of their stornachs,
their entrails, and their bOSOlTl. 144 In fact, never less than in the
period that interests us, in which we see the simplest expression
of this problem in Spoon Woman frOIll 1926 or in Lying Woman
from 1929; its most subtle expression in WalkingWoman (1932-
1934, fig. 58) or, already, in the different Women from the years
1927-1929; and finally, its IllOSt violent expression in Woman
with her Throat Cut frOIn 1932 (fig. 22). The second lTlOnolith
placed its closed tactile nlass infront ofGiaconletti, opposite the
persistent, visual suspicion of an interiOl" opening that was invis-
ible but always predictable, always possible, and formidable, of
that very possibility. It suffices to turn for a little longer around
the Cube to feel the analogous strength of this kind of paradoxi-
cal suspicion: "it is closed on the outside, so it is perhaps open
on the inside ... "
We should probably, then, consider GiacOIlletti's story for
what it displaces and not forwhat it points tOi we lTlight then see
in that powerful disjunction which he depicts, sOIllething like
the allegorical unlinking of a generally erystallized, dialectical
process, united in each sculpture, in every stone worked on, as
long as there is an overarching power of iInagination and fasci-

Face of Opacity and the Blind Crystal

nation. It would be important then to see in each "substantial"

sculpture-and the Cube is one, absolutely-the implementa-
tion of an entity that would inc1ude, and give a rhythmical beat
to, the disjunctions that constitute it: the mass with the hoIlow-
ing out (let us rernember that in the twenties and thirties the
majority ofworks by GiacOlnetti unite these two characteristics,
right up to Invisible Object, whirh is an extreme case that rnade
the work of hollowing out in fact the support and the thelne of
the whole statue)j145 the section with the entrailsj the accessibil-
ity with the c10singj the clarifying of the form with the implica-
tion of the symptomj the visual power that distances with the
tactile power that brings c1oser... How can we not see, then,
that the alternation of the brilliant and the black, in Giacomet-
ti's story, intersects with the mode of operation of almost aIl
of his sculptures, created in white and lurninous plaster-but
then inverted, darkened and filled in the choire of the lnost noc-
turnal bronzes? The Cube itself, as an object, does not live and
can only be understood through the interiorized, virtual dis-
junction ofthis virginal whiteness and its taciturn-or IrlOUrn-
ing-repercussion in bronze.

Face of Shadow and Spacing

If the logic of the repercussion-but of the internalized reper-

cussion-crosses the mate rial and irnaginary substantiality of
the Cube in this way, then how would it not organize at the sanIe
time the conditions for looldng at it? The fantasrnatic model of
the storythatwe havejust read-and which was written, 1 under-
line, in the salue lllOnths as the sculpture was created-already
proposed a fonn, or rather a staging. In front of the first rnono-
lith Giacornetti renlembered having made the act of looking an
exercise of fascinatedfocalization: the object is chosen and iso-
lated (it is, moreover, "rarely more than one object at a time"
that the child was able "to see of the world outside"), and its
minute description responds to the gaze cast on its "smallest
details," while inversely "everything else was vague and incon-
sistent," as though the gilded monolith were there merely for a
hypnotic and precise luminosity placed in front of the eyes of
the future sculptor. The second rnonolith is no less fascinating,
and yet its essential blackness inverts aIl the values of its visual
consideration: the child does not seek to enter here, but rnerely
approaches the rnineral body "with the feeling that 1was deliver-
ing Inyself to sOInething reprehensible, secret, suspicious" and
it is for this reason that he "barely touches with his hand" the
hostile and threatening rnass; then, he walks around it-just
as we are obliged to go around the Cube-seized by the feeling,
he says, of a "collapse". FinaIly, the terror would seize hhn, the
existence of the lllOnolith would be confirmed as "intolerable,"
and the "suspicious" fascination would reach a conclusion in
the act of repulsion, or the act of fleeing.
"1 had to ignore it, forget it and speak about it to nobody. [... ]
1went quickly far away frOIn this black stone, 1 didn't speak to the
other children about it, and 1 ignored it and did not return to see
it." The end of Giacometti's story inevitably evokes the phrase
in which the "dernon of analogy" ended, when the Mallannéan

Face of Shadow and Spacing

narrator, caught in the incontestable linking of a crystal of des-

tiny-the association of a "short" sound and a returning vision
of a "caress that descends on something"-could only end up
turning away, as a repercussion, frorn the sudden and fascinat-
ing effect of its own truth: "1 flee, strange, a person condelnned
to bear probably the mourning of the inexplicable ... "146 Perhaps
the strongest analogy between the black stone in Giacometti's
story and the Cube itself is connected to- beyond the already
striking fonnal analogy14ï -the destiny to which the artist
wanted to subject his work, or sublnitted to himself: flight and
repulsion, disavowal or silence. The will to bury, the will to "bear
probably the lnourning of the unexplainable" object invented
in 1933 or 1934, in the hollow of a real mourning. It was, there-
fore, for GiacOlnetti, a blunt refusaI, opposed to, Ïlnposed on the
Cube, as on an "intolerable," "suspicious," or aIl too threatening
InOlnent of his own creation. A InOlnent that is no longer to be
FrOln what did Giacometti then actually take flight by
putting his Cube away behind his other sculptures in the stu-
dio (fig. 68),148 or rather by putting his Cube behind his other
thoughts? In 1951, the artist cornplained that he was no longer
made anxious by any sculpture, no longer touched by the "core
of violence" contained in any efficient Ïlnage, in any intense
solid body.149 But did his silence in relation to the Cube, broken
only by a few sentences of frenzied denial, not bear the traces
of such an anxiety, or rather of sonlething like an "ulterior anxi-
ety," lnore mute but just as violent? GiacOlIletti lIloved awaywith
repulsion frorn his object froll1 1934 as he might have lIloved
away from a unique and particular-iInpossible to replay, or to
systematize-rnoment of abstract anthropomorphism. The log-
ical paradox contained in this expression attelnpts to express
the fragile equilibrium in which this isolated, sterile object was
to be found, certainly deprived of any stylistic descent, any fili-
ation (to which the artist knew and claimed, in his body, he was
condemned), this object that, nonetheless, presented at first

Face ofShadow and Spacing

a problem of genealogy. It had to do, however, with an inter-

rupted genealogy-and with interrupting a genealogy by an a11
too willing "return to reality". It becalne set, there, in the Cube,
for the space of an instant-or of a singular object-which was
anthropOlnorphic and abstract, worrying for every specificity of
geornetrical fonn and worrying for every representation of the
hunlan fonn. Too "empty" and aniconic not to arise as a ghost,
too dissiInilar not to be erected as a worrying double, anthropo-
morphic like a rnythical character, but abstract like the absence
of any character and the ruin of any personallnythology.

The Cube is, then, strictly speaking, a crystal of occult threat,

given to rnornentary fascination, then to fear and distancing.
Giacometti said he saw the world in general as a "facetted crys-
tal block," but saw too the facets in perpetuaI danger of going
astray, of crunlbling, that would plunge thern or "soak them
in the darkness of space".150 This destiny could have been that
of any part of the world: a face, for exarnple, ta king under its
gaze the power to transfonn into a "facetted, sharp, violent,
tense, packed crystal"-but above a11 (he continued strangely)
doomed to "regret that life is not an abyss".151 Just as we11 the
packing efficiency of the crystals and the blocks-that of the
Cube is exemplary-is associated, often spontaneously in Gia-
cOlnetti, with the thenles of shadow and abyss. Even the word
black does not always lnean for the sculptor that foundation
of nlaterial certainty that we are telnpted to attribute to it. In a
mourning poem written around 1934, GiacOlnetti evoked "the
rotten, boundless smnlner"-isn't that the sununer of 1933
when his father died?-and a little later we find the image of
the "nursing block," a place of unhappiness and death, which
conles to his pen, beyond any sculpture. 152 In the SaIne period,
the artist evoked, like sornething beyond fear and rnourning,
that horrijjJing and nocturnal calm of immobile expectations
and of states ofuncertaintywithout any object:

Face of Shadow and Spacing

"[ ... ] before 1 trernble

in the evening, at night
death always
haunted me,
tormented me, now
nothing, it is worse it is
terrifying, this ralrn."153

The Cube, created in an atmosphere in which these words

were written, can then appear to us like a calm black, arising
from an experience that is never named, except in the "unknown
sign" of its tomb-the poetic nlonument of its disappearanre.
"Calm block here below faIlen frOln an obscure disaster," we
might say.154 A cahn block which stops us in front of it, fasci-
nates us, asks us to give a lot of tirne to going around it, and per-
haps, to end up fleeing from it. We nlust therefore understand
the extent of this "face of shadow" that the Cube presents to us
in its cahn stature as a solitary and "nocturnal pavilion". Jean
Genet, speaking of GiacOlnetti, could not avoid returning to the
evidence (that so evokes Georges Bataille) that "[t]here isn't any
origin for beauty than that of a wound, singular, different for
each, hidden or visible, that aIl Inankind keeps within itself,
that it preserves and to which it retires when it wishes to leave
the world for a telnporary but profound solitude."155 And when
the artist hiInself saw, in every sculpture, a contained violence,
"a kind of core of violence" that bends like an arc every contour
of a volunletry156- how can we not see in the Cube a precise
response to this way of looking?-he was, after aIl, merely ask-
ing us to enter iInaginarily into the latent abyss carried in every
one of his sculptures. Before drawing on his skills and before
sculpting his Cube, GiacOlnetti, we should note, had seen his
friend Van M. hit his head against the walls because the pain
of his kidney stones was so great, and because the monlent of
becOlning a radaver was so close for hinl, and a kind of stone
was to be seen in the place ofhis face. 15ï

Face ofShadow and Spacing

As we almost aIl do, Giacometti alrnost always cirCll711vented

the worst-a way of being at a distance, but also a way of being
in view of the worst-just as he circunlVented, as a child, the
great, dark monolith, and just as he continues today to Inake
us turn tirelessly around his great Cube. More than "presence,"
as is generally said about his works, it is perhaps the ordeal of
the worst when it is dreaded or remembered-for example a
head that knocks against a stone before becoming insignificant
itself, or inert, and imnlOrtallike a little stone-that Giacometti
situated at the very back of the rhytlunic place, that chôra where
he ceaselessly carne and went between the work and the disas-
ter, between the disaster and the sculpted crystal of the disaster.
There is still sOlnething of an "individual nlyth" in this rhythln
and in this unhappy claim. 158 But there is also, Inore widely, the
imprint of a literary myth and very old topoïrelative to the iInage
of the artist. A ronlantic image, first of aIl, because it irresistibly
recalls the fiction of the Chefd'œuvre inconnu (The Unknown
Masterpiece) which, as we know, also remained linked to the
demand for an impossible object for figuration. 159 Giaconletti, to
rny knowledge, never actually nanled Frenhofer in the pantheon
ofhis favorite characters, yet he nlUst undoubtedly have known
that Cézanne long before hhn-Cézanne, the absolute point of
reference-had identifiecl hiInself with this overly dernancling
painter fronl Balzac's story.160
GeneraIly, it is the whole thelne of the unachievable-ancl
sOlnetimes of its reverse sicle, the magical success-that Giaco-
metti dralnatically brings up to date in his worcls ancl his acts.
In cloing so, he created an iInage of the artist thatwas more than
a thousancl years old, that is to say a legendary image. 161 The
nlagical achievenlent was sonlething Giacometti hacl reachecl
in his surrealist works which, in agreenlent with the very ideal
of Anclré Breton's nl0vement, often proceecled along the lines
of a throw of the clice or an "autOlnatic" fincling. Once it hacl
been forgotten, or censored, this "experimental" but very con-
crete periocl of the work hacl to make room for the indiviclual

Face of Shadow and Spacing

myth: in the 1960s, Giacometti relnembered having touched

the rnagical achievernent with his fingers when he was three
years old, when he felt capable of drawing absolutely everything
he saw; but, he said, "now 1 can no longer do it," because when
he worked, "everything changes" constantly, "everything goes
wrong" constantly, "it is not possible," constantly.162 A reader of
Albert Calnus, GiacOlnetti liked to cOIn pare hirnself-and to be
compared-with Sisyphus. 163 ln front of him, solids crurnbled
when he wanted to Inake a sculpture, things went awaywhen he
tried to approach thenl; on the one hand, "reality took flight,"
and on the other hand every fonnal fixation iInposed itself in
his rnind like sornething frorn the "dOlnain of the absolutely
iInpossible". 164 Whatwas to be done?Was he ta make his paint-
ings "cornlnit suicide," as he claÎlned to do session after session,
renewing, without knowing it, very ancient pictoriallegends?165
Or was he to cOlnlnit suicide himself, like Frenhofer, and above
aIl Rosso Fiorentino, BorrOlnini or Pietro Testa-but cOlnmit
suicide fantaslnatically, like a real heroic portraitist, that is to
say by beheading himself?166
What had to be done, in reality, was sinlply to always "start
again frorn the beginning," as Giacornetti wrote, movingly, in
February 1963, very soon after a surgical operation; what had
to be done was to "continue desperately" .167 To continue to
seek in the visible at what the visible continues to hide and to
"render Îlnperceptible" as he said; to continue, like Georges
Braque, to "try to save sornething of the immense, gaping dark-
ness that surrounds [things], which breaks theln down on aIl
sides"; and to Inake every sculpture, as did Laurens, "a three-
dirnensional shadow, [... ] reallike a glass [... ] or like a root".168
There is, of course, in this need to invent a sculpture like a three-
dimensional shadow, the pennanence of a legendary therne and
a Inythical or literary excess that would pose the sculpture as an
irnpossible object, that is to say as an object of eternal desire,
always renewed since it is always unachievable, unless there is a
rnagical success that would have us say that the artist is indeed

Face ofShadow and Spacing

the one who achieves and who does the impossible. But, here and
elsewhere the mythical expression cannot be separated froHl a
concrete attention to the sculpture's Vely means, such as Giaco-
Inetti ceaselessly, concretely, irnplernented.

1 would say, to simplify, that everything could be reduced to

that between mass and spacing. To nlake a "three-dimensional
shadow" is something Îlnpossible, even legendary, if we accept
rnerely what is explicit in this phrase. But the thelne of shadow
can be declined in other ways and can tell us something rnore
precise about sculpture in general and about the block of the
Cube in particular. There is already in the shadows the idea of
the dead as a ghost and persisting as a funerary stele; but, above
aIl, the shadow gives us a visuality that is at the SaIne tirne a
non-body. The shadow is neither rny (purely anthropOInorphic)
body, nor the (purely geornetrical) wall upon which it is pro-
jected. But it cOInes froll1 the two, and is situated between the
two, and therefore poses the phenOInenological probleln-the
sculptural probleln-oftheir spacingrenderedvisually percepti-
ble. Giaconletti understood the hard truth that "space does not
exist, [and that] one must create it but [that] it does not exist,
no. "169 Space does not exist because aIl that exists is the spacing
between beings. And statues are after aIl only invented places in
order to lneasure the spacing, to give it boundaries and fornls,
to mark it out with SOIne kind of gemnetry. That is why Giaco-
metti, frOIn 1924, brought hÎlnself back very concretely in his
notebooks to the formaI duty "to construct frOIn masses," but
also to create, very precisely, "profiles of the voids arising in the
construction" .170 The paradigm of the crystal reveals its high
significance here since it unites in one block both the question
of volmne and that of a density made visible, crossed through
and consigned to a kind ofvoid (the Cube physically, as a poly-
hedral block excavated frOIn the inside, does nothing else). It is,
on the other hand, significant that Giaconletti, in 1945, appre-
ciated in the Îlnages by Jacques Callot-while we cannot see,

Face ofShadow and Spacing

a priori, what might have brought him doser to the problems

that he faced every day-that violent efficiency of the void push-
ing the beings away only to rnake them tear each other apart:
"The only penllanent and positive element in Callot is the void,
the great gaping void in which the characters gesticulate, exter-
minate and abolish each other. "lï1
On the one hand, GiacOllletti claimed to build solids and
to do everything to "no longer rnake holes in the void" as he
said. lï2 On the other hand, the sculpted volUllles that his hands
produced son1etÏIlles had the fearful or threatening dÏIllen-
sions of an "unknown sign" evoking the dark monolith of his
childhood memories. Then the volume became a Clystal of
spacing, replaying aIl of the drama of the circurnvented object,
"barely touched," then definitively pushed away from any con-
tact. Giacon1etti, who spent his life with his hands plunged in
plaster or kneading clay, often spoke of the difficulty of tOZlch-
ing, and the context of artistic doubt in which these sentences
intervene, will perhaps make us think of that old nosology of
the "llladness of doubt with the delirium of touch," whose oddi-
ties had been thematized by the 19th century of Frenhofer and
Rodin. lï3 Whatever the case, GiacOllletti would have liked to
design objects for an absence of caresses, or for caresses Illade
absence-sudl as Man and Woman from 1928-1929, the Dis-
agreeable Object to be ThrownAway from 1931, and of course the
Invisible Object itself-for the reason that he devoted one part
of his sculpture to doubt and to non-adherence (fig. 27-29). Or
rather to adherence felt as "sOlllething reprehensible, secret,
suspicious," even sornething "intolerable":

"1 don't want to get involved in anything, 1 want to hold

Illy hands always cOlllpletely free in the air, 1 don't want
to put Illy fingers into any tree bark, don't want to touch
anything at least not directly, let things COllle with sile nt
feet, by thernselves they enter without Ille hearing any door

Face ofShadow and Spacing

slamnling open or close, no straight line, no wound, 1 will

not touch thenl. [... ]
Still today 1 push objects away one from another and the
intolerable feeling that 1 have in front of The Jewish Bride,
one of the last paintings by Rembrandt, rnust come frorn
the sanle source. At one time, 1 had pinned a photograph of
this painting to the wall, but the two hands, inllllobile and
definitively superposed on the woman's breast, became
intolerable to Ille. "lï4

The Cube, which is undoubtedly one of the least carnal

works, a fortiori one of the least erotic works by Giacometti,
holds us at bay perhaps from something like a taboo of touch.
The place it invents would be a place to experience a threshold
that one cannot cross, a body that one cannot grasp, or a face
that one cannot kiss. Ineluctably, then, the Cube presents itself
to us in order to distance us frOlll it. That is its paradoxical rite
of passage which obliges us to turn again and again around it
without ever feeling that we can enter it anywhere. In this way,
it keeps us at bay just as it troubled its inventor, stopped in the
state of uncertainty- between mourning and desire-of know-
ing, once again, how to reinvent the spacing of beings and of

Melancholic Face

Here we are again in front of the cahll block of the Cube, as

though in front of a crystal of visual absence and opacity that
silently ernits the prohibition of contact. The fact that this
absence takes the shape of distancing and mourning reminds
us of two fundarnental truths: that every work of rnourning
is a work on the place, and that every spacing carries in it the
conflict, but also the teillporization, the "becoming-tiIne of
space" .175 The spacing that we have spoken of could just as eas-
ily, in this case, be calIed the state of uncertainty, that is to say
a kind of waiting which, in its very expression, brings into play
the (visual) dialectics of a foreseeable object which is always
extracted, or abstracted, from its own l11anifest spectacle. The
Cube, a crystal of absence and a crystal of spacing, offers itself
as a crystal ofwaiting: an object oflatency and in1n1inence, an
object of virtuality-that very virtuality which makes it a work
of rnystery and over"'detenllination. AlI of that packed in one
FrOlll 1933 to 1934 l110urning threw Giacometti's world
into chaos, and therefore into 111ovement. 176 It dropped hÜll
to the ground, yet ahllost giving birth to hirn in a sense; but
in another sense it stood him up again, literally, mortally. The
Cube is already in the eye of the cyclone; it already breaks with
aIl of GiacOllletti's work on horizontality;177 but it is still far too
heavy, far too serious to be gravid afterwards, to give rise to the
"soarings" of the late nineteen-forties and fifties. The Cube is in
advance of giving birth to something else in Giacometti's art,
but it grows heavy with an ineluctable lateness, a rnernory that
inullobilizes it in its singular, solitary and finally sterile position
CI l11ean without any stylistic descent in GiacOllletti). Between
the advance and the flight, between the deadly massification
and the deferred contact, the Cube was immobilized therefore,
in 1934, between a mourning and a desire. Between a rnourning

Melancholic Face

that did not throw the artist into total iclleness however, but
rather into a feverish re-problematization of sculpture-and a
desire that suspended his movement in the unhappy expecta-
tion that an artistic identity rnight be constructed, divided up in
the absence of the father.
Perhaps we should decide to give the name "melancholy"
to the stopped violence of this kind of waiting; because rnourn-
ing for the father created an opening for the danger of Inak-
ing Giacornetti take his own lTlOurning as a surrealist artist. If
the Cube can also be considered a crystal of Inelancholy, it is
because the loss whose place it draws cannot be reduced to the
death of one person alone, no rnatter how close that person rnay
have been. What makes the work of rnourning different, meta-
psychologically different, frorn the work of Inelancholy, as we
leanled frOln Freud, is that in the second case "it is difficult
to see what has been lost [... ], [while the subject] knows who it
is, but not what it is about that person that he has lost."178 The
"unknown sign" that Giacometti spoke about could weIl refer
back to the "unknown loss" that Freud spoke ofwith regard to
Inelancholy.179 But when the loss is unknown, the subject-in
the ilnage of a "Cahn block here below fallen fron1 an obscure
disaster"-excavates hiInselffrOln the inside, creates an eInpty
place which eats him from inside. And so he shrinks, as though
the void efficiently lessened the proportions of the volUlne; he
wastes away, and enters into a "sense of inferiority" that con-
SUlnes the ego, just as Giacometti's figures who so consuined
their own material to the point of becoming rninuscule. 180 It is
as though the artist had given to his own sculptures a "gift of
melancholy". The Cube reinained half-way along this reduction,
inllnobilized in its paradoxical din1ension as a too large cavity
and a too sinall envelope for it to incarnate any narneable body
at aIl.
We know that in 1933 GiacOlnetti was fascinated with
Dürer's Melancholia, exhibited in the Petit Palais fron1 the
spring until the end of the summer (fig. 62-63). It was in front

Melancholic Face

Fig. 62-63: Albrecht Dürer: Melencolia 1 (1514),24,00 x 18,80 cm.

of this faInous engraving and its polyhedron, contelnplatively

gazed upon by the angel with the cOlnpass, that Giacornetti
undoubtedly began to orient his own polyhedron in prepara-
tion for a rneaning that the death of the father could only has-
ten and crystallize. 181 Let us recall that, as a child, Giacornetti
did not simply in1itate his father by drawingwith a con1pass the
members of his family; he signed his little works with a Inono-
gram that ÏInitated exactly that of Albrecht Dürer; and he often
copied the great artist's paintings, particularly his SelfPortrait
frorn 1500. Let us relnelnber above aU that the character in Mel-
ancholia, with hisfacies nigra-his dark leaden face-reflects
in front of an object of geornetry where an iconography would
expect to see a skull. And, besides, does he not see it? If we
carefully approach the face of the polyhedron that looks at the
pensive angel, we discover with astonishment that unlike the
other faces, an outline of a forrn is hinted at, is virtually there
(fig. 63). A fOrIn that is sufficiently indistinct-like a cloud or a
coffee stain-so that everyone, GiacOlnetti for eXaInple, grad-
ually feels a destiny weigh down on him through the Inore or

Melancholic Face

less sublirninal iInage of a skull, of a ghost or a disfigured face

that shows through nonetheless. And the polyhedron, which
relnains the support, tells us once rnore how nmch geometry,
far from being a "stylization" of the real or the "abstract" exer-
cise of a harmonie ideality, gives rise to the place here, and even
to the style, of a rnelancholic InOlnent that is as violent as the
gaze of elnpty eye sockets.

Face of the Drawingthat Seeks its Notch

That which Dürer only lets us catch a glimpse of on the frontal

face of his polyhedron, GiacOlnetti, in turn, cut directly into the
plaster lnass, not by using a subtle and pointillist chisel, but
by scraping the surface of that massive "page" folded into thir-
teen. 182 One day at the end of the thirties or the rniddle of the
forties, Giacornetti decided therefore to modity completely the
status of the object which had become perhaps too "abstract"
in his eyes (had it becorne too "dead," or too clearly devoted to
loss?). AlI of a sudden, he decided to give it his rnark, to make it
his definitive trace.
On one of the upper sides of the polyhedron, the one that
looks atus like theface of the sculpture, Giaconleui made a deep
and cutting trace of a face: and it is a selfportrait (fig. 64). The
drawing uses exactly the procedures found in aIl the self-por-
traits on paper, in particular the polygonal contour of the face
with nervous and crossed lines. It also takes up again the frarn-
ing of the he ad that we find in his earliest self-portraits - 1 am
thinking above aIl of the ink of 1918-, where the framing
COlnes from GiacOlneui's oldest teaching, that of Ferdinand
Hodler. 183 What is particularly striking, perhaps, in this draw-
ing is the enlargernent of the orbits traced over and over, which
gave, as we might recall, the actual characteristic as the Head of
the Father II, engraved with the same procedure (fig. 50).
We can understand more clearly, then, the effective and over-
deternlined value of this paradignl of the proper no un which we
took the risk of making a constituent operator. SOlnething here
passes in transit-something like a filial relation -, not only
between the drawing and the solid, but between the "face of the
father" as object ofInourning and renunciation of the figurative
(since Alberto would never again create his father's traits), and a
"face of the son" that has become an object again, an object that
demands the figurative. We lnay have the impression that once

Face of the Drawillg that Seeks its Notch

the Cube was constructed in the chaos of mourning, it gradually

lost its viability suspended frOIn HlOurning and loss. The fact
of focusing the object, a few years later, by lneans of figurative
drawing, on a narcissistic lnirror relation, was a last attempt to
save this object frorn having a constitution that was too deadly,
or too violently and explicitly consigned to loss and to sterility.
But this fact of making a self-portrait, in its consequential
effect, would seeln to belong still to the melancholic ecol1omy
of its origin; it cannot get away froln it and, on the contrary,
returns to it. And it returns to it through narcissisln. Freud
insisted on the one hand on a "narcissistic foundation" in the
lnelancholic proeess itself, and on the other hand on the fact
that this process forces us, when it draws us towards it, into a
regressive return to priInary narcissism; it is not just the depth
of the notehes cut into the sculpture that suggest to us here this
turning back on one self from "an impulse to murder others"
that Freud spoke of regarding the essential lnelancholic vio-
lenee. 184 Erwin Panofsky had seen that the engraving entitled
Melencolia l worked not in the figure of the winged angel but
in the totality of the objects shown, as a "spiritual self-portrait"
of Dürer. 185 We could, in turn, suggest that the engraved self-
portrait by GiaeOInetti on his plaster-cast polyhedron worked as
the obligatory end of the Cube understood as a geometry of the
melancholic state of uncertainty.

And now a new docmnent-that has been, until now, consid-

ered minor and unworthy of cOInrnent-subtly reinforces our
hypothesis. It is a little pen and ink drawing in whieh Giaeo-
Inetti showed his own Surrealist Table in 1924 (fig. 65). We find
the half-veiled face of the "widow" 100 king sad; and we find the
forsaken hand, open in front of the polyhedron. But two, hith-
erto unseen, details (which are not to be found on the sculpture
itself) ernerge before our eyes: first of aIl, in the lniddle of the
table, an object that is difficult to identifY evokes, obviously, the
ide a of a tearing and at least that of a "folded eut"-the one that

Face of the Drawing that Seeks its Notch

Fig. 64: Alberto Giacometti: The Cube (1934), bronze, 94,00 x 54,00 x
59,00 cm (detail). Kunsthaus Zurich (Alberto Giacometti Foundation),
photographed by Denis Bernard.

affects the body of the character; as such, the drawing clearly

relates to the Figure frorn 1935, which set out to show, although
differently, those same elements (fig. 24). The other detail is
even rnore interesting to us, a discreet but not abstract lnark, for
it is precise and intentional, added to the face of the polyhedron
which, in the drawing, corresponds to the face engraved on the
Cube. The little Inark that 1 spoke oftakes the place, here, of the
selfportrait that is later cut into the plaster-east sculpture.
If we ask ourselves what this graphie Illark, added to the
polyhedron looks like, the diffieulty of answering gives us a
striking idea-as though on a microscopie seale-of the range
of overdetermination in which the rnelaneholic state of uncer-
tainty engaged Giacometti in front of his own facetted seulpted
volume. First of aIl we can see in this sign an idea of excavation
in everyway siInilar to those that we find, in the sanle period, on
works like the WalkingWoman, for exarnple, or Mannequin from
1933 (but itwas alreadyto be seen in Woman from 1927; fig. 58);

Face of the Drawing that Seeks its Notch

Fig. 65: Alberto Giacometti: Surrealist Table (1934), ink on paper,

23,00 x 20,00 cm (detail). Musée national d'Art moderne, Paris.

it is the same angular hollowing out, the same "negative poly-

hedron" which also was the HlOuth of the Invisible Object-that
rnouth of gemuetricai silence given as the ll1ark of a lack. This
sign could also be read as an "A," the "A" of Alberto: that which
allowed the artist, as a child, to inlitate the rnonogram of Dürer
(thanks to the capital "A" of Albrecht), that which, in any case,
could be read as an indication of self-affinuation, or even a
self-portrait. A third association COIues to luind spontaneously
because the graphic mark in question exactly resernbles the
rnanner in which aIl the treatises on perspective show the eye
frOIu the "viewpoints" oftheir constructions. The latter associa-
tion could seelU fragile; but it becomes a little more troubling
when we think that Albrecht Dürer, before, had-in a pen and
ink drawing in ahuost exactly the same forrnat-shown the
polyhedron ofhis Melancholia with an eye situated alone on the
page, in exactly the same place as the vanish ingpoint of its geOIu-
etry (fig. 66). The drawing of Alberto therefore seems to show
an eye face on (that of the wornan, in the place of the vanishing

Face of the Drawing"that Seeks its Notch

Fig. 66: Albrecht Dürer: Polyhedron on a pedestal and view through an

opened door slzowing a chamber with table and bealcer, drawings from the
Dresden Sketchbook, 20,20 x 19,30 cm; 16,60 x 0,85 cm.

Face of the Drawing that Seeks its Notch

point) with that eye in profile (whose eye? The eye of the subject
of the rnelancholic flight? Directed at what? Towards its buried
This is sOInething like the triple indication of a question
of a lack, a question of a name and a question of a gaze. AlI of
this tied up, aIl of this engraved on a polyhedron of melancholy
subtly con1municating with that of Dürer. Let us Îlnagine that,
whateverthe case, the creator of the Cubewas explicitlyengaged
in a n1ysterious psychological work that he spoke of in sibylline
tenns, with regard to another work (but one that is close and
contemporary, Palace at4 a.m.: "1 can say nothing of the object
[ ... ] 1 identify Inyself with it."186 We can understand then that
the Cube did not give him anything Inore than the uns table and
therefore non-viable object of an impossible portrait, the por-
trait of the father, but Inore generaIly, more fundan1entally, the
portrait of the object lost in the death of the father. So, there is
nothing to be said about this abject of the lost abject: the only
thing left to do was to Inake the portrait of oneself, the figure of
the self, speak; and append one's signature, in black and white,
"Alberto Giacometti," on one of the lower faces of the bronze
version, as though then-that is to say, after the fact-the Cube
were called "Alberto". We started with figurative self-portraits
haunted by the nervous search for their polyhedron volumetry;
now we are in front of an abstract polyhedron, too abstract,
grafted onto the worry of finding, no less feverishly, the detailed
explanation of its origin. Between the two, the hapax legome-
non of the Cube as a n10nUlnent of abstract anthropOInorphisln
will have lived frOIn the life of a n10urning, and will have died
frOIn the death of that Saine n10urning.

But we cannot stress enough the overdeternlÏnation value that

such a process takes on, between the face and the place, between
the place and the skull, between the skull and the face, between
the face of the absent one and the face of the self. Giacornetti
represented hÎlnself on one of the upper sides of the sculp-

Face of the Drawing that Seeks its Notch

ture (fig. 64), but it is a side and a face that is barely inclined,
almost horizontal, to the extent that its orientation has the self-
portrait of the artist at the same tirne erected towards us and
lying under our gaze. He is lying down, and Giacometti did not
neglect to place a tie around the neck, as he did in aIrnost aIl of
his drawn self-portraits-the hands of the portraitist overhang-
ing, 1 iInagine, the face which is gradually outlined, brought to
light; but as he did also, one night in 1946, around the face lying
down of the poor de ad T. And as he should have done, that is to
say as he missed out on doing-we will see this in rnore detail
later-frOln 1933, around the supine face of his own father. A
last hesitation holds us in front of this portrait, for on one side
a horizontalline interrupts the representation at the base of the
neck-like a figurative re-use of the general rnass of the Cube,
or more generally like ancient portrait-franling in the style of
the Fayunl mUlnnlies-while, on the other hand, two or three
lines try to continue, to pass onto one of the other faces of the
polyhedron; as though the intention were being sketched-but
always interrupted-to nlake the stature of the object coincide
with the lineaInents of the whole body of the lnan who draws
There is, finaIly, on another face adjoining that of the por-
trait, a last drawing, one that represents the polyhedron itself
(fig. 67). The Ïlnpersonal object was nlutely capable then of
offering its own crystal self-portrait. What else lnight this draw-
ing rnunnur to us, other than a countersigned return to the
graphie eonditions-those of the cage in 1932-ofthe seulpted
volmne itself (fig. 18)? What does it show if it not the faet that
this polyhedron (whieh is non-viable as a sculpture in GiacOlnet-
ti's eyes) appeared as the fallen rernains of drawings, graphie
traces, dreamed volumetries in cages-that is to say uncreated
and perhaps un-ereatable? Caught between two mmnents of
drawing, upstreanl and downstreanl of its plaster east stature,
the Cube thus offers, as the only possible allegory, the allegory
of its own vacuity or vanity: "You are only a drawing, and you will

Face of the Drawing that Seeks its Notch

Fig. 67: Alberto Giacometti: The Cube (1934), bronze, 94,00 x 54,00 x
59,00 cm (detail). Kunsthaus Zurich (Alberto Giacometti Foundation),
photographed by Denis Bernard.

Face of the Drawing that Seeks its Notch

return to drawing." For Giacornetti, this meant, no doubt, the

vanity of every abstract sculpture-but, in so doing, he blinded
himselfby trying to forget the occult force of this singular 0 bject,
that for Giacometti had already passed and already passed away.
He would have preferred, after the fact, to trust the "scribbled
writing" that lnade his reputation,187 rather th an the geOlnetry
of the polyhedron, at a timewhen hewas conseientiouslyreturn-
ing to nlaking prints. 188 The late destiny of the object, its bronze
version bearing the Susse foundry rnark, would tighten again its
links, as its creator thought, with engraving. And the actual act
of casting, as weIl as stating, in the word and the technique, a
mixture of destruction and a fixed trace-this operation would
end up inverting, like in an engraving, the values of the plaster
cast volulne, in order to create their definitive lllOurning.

Face for Finishing with the Object

We can imagine that once his self-portrait was engraved-and

consequently, once his sculpture was consigned to the con-
tradiction of two incompatible figuraI systerns, incapable of
absorbing one another, the "tattooing" on the one hand and the
abstract sculpted volume on the other, as though they both had
to be returned to the status ofremains, traces, vestiges-Giaco-
metti then considered that "he had finished" with the Cube, as
he said for other sculptures. 189 So he put it away in his studio,
behind other plaster casts, a trace an10ng others of so rnany inti-
mate acts that he thought of as missed, 111arked bya lack (fig. 68).
Why Inissed? Because GiacOll1etti had, between 1933 and 1934,
touched the experience of idleness; because he had conceived a
sculpture from the very exact perspective of a lapse-we will see
laterwhat kind of-of sornething like an "acte manqué" Ca lapse
or a parapraxis), and the stoppingof aIl the work on the perspec-
tive of the void. The Cube, as 1 have said, remained without any
descendants in Giacometti's style; but the "style" that it trig-
gers, after 1934, is perhaps simply the aIl too famous fantasy of
afailure, whose equivocal claim the artist was to lead from the
forties on, devoting his energy to "trying to do" what he knew he
would "not be able to do":

"[ ... ] 1 know that it is completely impossible for me to model,

paint or draw a head, for example, as 1 see it and yet it is the
only thing 1 try to do. Anything 1 can do will never be any-
thing else th an a pale in1age of what 1 see and my success
will always be below Iny failure or perhaps the success will
be equal to the failure. 1 don't know if 1 work to do some-
thing or to know why 1 cannot do what 1 want to dO."190

And in this negative certainty that the success will always

be "below the failure," Giacometti therefore never ceased, in

Face for Finishingwith the Object

Fig. 68: Alberto Giacometti in his Paris studio (circa 1946).

front of the fonnless masses of clay or those sacks of plaster,

to ask a very old question: "What is to be done? What is just?
What is the thing that has an effective value?"191 He constantly
hesitated between working and dropping a project. 192 And con-
stantlya question of n1issed love crossed the alienating process
of this work devoted to the impossible, as we see in the strange
note, written around 1932, in which the artist adjoins the ques-
tion of love considered as a lapse with the sculptural question
par excellence-particularly essential in the Cube-, which is
the question of construction: "Acceptance of the fact Love as an
acte manqué or search for accomplishInent. ConstructivisIn or
the contrary."193 We can understand froIn this the way in which
Giacometti's individual Inythology could pull the ("Inissed") act,
a lapse, oflove-in particular, that of making love 194 -towards a
("missed") act, a lapse, of making sculpture. In each case a rela-
tion, a contact failed to be established with the Other; in each
case a living being failed to be born in this act, according to

Face for Finishingwith the Object

the logic or the genealogy of the 1 + 1 =3; in one of these cases,

nature (filiation, sexual reproduction) failed to do its work; in
the other case, the "supernature" of art (that of Pygrnalion, that
of Daedalus) failed to work its n1irade; in each case a loss of
life resulted, leaving only an object that is desperately inert in
Giacornetti's eyes. And as such, rnarked as a lack.
Su ch is the genuine dialectics of the mark and the lack that
Giacornetti's sculpture-the Cube being an exernplary nlOdel
and an origin-irnplelnents as the very process of its end, that
is ofits finality as nmch as its finitude. The process would begin
with a "thesis," a positive daim that, in the artist's own tenns,
would be that ofthe portrait: we have seen that, for historical and
biographical reasons, but also-and above alI-for reasons of
figuraI series created since the end of the twenties, Giacon1etti
worked on an infinite and virtual portrait of his father (and of
his faITlily in general), one thatwas always remodeled, always re-
cut, like the Head of the Pather II (fig. 45-53), and finaIly cut into
facets that are definitely "disfigurative". The InOlnent of the
"antithesis" in this dialectic would correspond to the mOlnent
when an abstract object is brought to fruition, created; but
very quickly, as we have also seen, this InOlnent for Giaconletti
loses its dialectical value, its fecund value-a value that, to us,
appears to remain intact and sublÎlne in a sense, because of its
negativity. For the artist of the years 1935-1940, the "abstrac-
tion" of the Cubewould no longer be a keen search or a question
asked, and would no longer be considered a fecund negation. It
would becOlne for Giaconletti a n1ere privation, a dead negativ-
ity, a failure-a failed figurative act.
How, then, can a lnissed or failed thesis and a rnissed or
failed antithesis give rise to sOlnething like a successful synthe-
sis? For Giacometti, the Cube gave the ideal figure for this kind
of n1issed or failed synthesis. But the latter remains for us the
absolutely successfuIly-created object, the crystal of a mark of
the lack. For sculpture gave this structurallack its constructed
and alnlOst cmnberSOITle place. It drew its paradoxical lin1its

Face for Finishingwith the Object

along the lines of a massive and fleeing geornetry. It finished by

rernarking itself with a double drawing, that of its own crystal-
line structure and that of the artist's face. Thus, the object turns
on itself the conditions of a solitude that brought it to light.
To draw the polyhedron on the polyhedron, to write one's own
proper name "Alberto GiacOlnetti" and to engrave the traits of
one's own face, was an act of re-appropriation, but at the same
tinle, it was to produce the unfortunate mark that a connection
had not taken place, that a mediation had collapsed. The Cube,
having gone to that chao tic region provoked by a 1ll0lnent of
111Ourning, returned to its creator in order to signify only one
thing to him: you reinain alone. You may weIl sign the object
and represent yourself on it, but that redoubled mark signs only
your dereliction. Such is the unbearable closeness of the Cube
to GiacOlnetti, and its real value as a self-portrait: first of aIl,
too devoted to the Other and to its loss, and then too devoted
to oneself, that is to say again to the loss. It is impossible to rec-
ognize then, for that reason, the way in which GiacOlnetti later
undertook his portrait work, in other words in tenns of "pres-
ence gained" on a nl0del.
It is no doubt for this reason that GiacOlnetti never stopped
coming and going, in front of his own "abstract" sculpture,
between forgetting and reininiscing, between the feeling of a
loss that was too definitive and that of remains that were too
insistent. Between the two, a fonn could have been brought to
light, worked and finally set as a solid. It had been brought to
light, GiacOlnetti liked to clainl, in a sort of inability to be iden-
tified -that unidentifiability giving us the clue to the link that
joins the notion of a Inark with that of a lack:

"1 can only speak indirectly of my sculptures and hope to

say only partiaIlywhat Inotivated thein. Foryears 1 have only
created sculptures that gave thenlselves fully finished to nly
Inind. Once the object is constructed, 1 tend to find in it
images and iInpressions transformed and displaced, facts

Face for Finishingwith the Object

that deeply rnoved nle (often without my knowing), forms

that 1 can feel are very close to me, even though 1 am often
incapable of identifying them, which makes them always
rnore troubling for me. "195

These few lines do not seem to de scribe anything else than

the unbearable closeness of fonns that are "always more trou-
bling" as they become less identifiable, while their insistence
in front of the artist, in his studio, Inakes thern almost internai
abjects, "very close," too close because they are linked to a phe-
nornenology of the "inside"-but an unknown "inside". At the
time when Giacornetti was creating the complex forms for the
Cube, he no doubt read Freud 196 -and he read hirn according
to the spatial nlodels then in circulation, that is to say the mod-
els of the inside and the outside-and in any case, he dreamed
enough to attribute to his drearns a detennining role in the for-
maI procedures that he used in sculpture. His notebooks, his
pages covered in notes reveal in those years a great attention
to linked images, particularly based on paradox, on non-sense,
on the challenge to the principle of contradiction, of Inaterial
metanlOrphosis. 197 Water resonates upon the stone, the vibrat-
ing air calls upon a trembling earth and the "glowing of the nee-
dies" joins the ridges of the "turning die" by virtue of an im per-
ceptible displacelnent-floating in the air-which GiacOlnetti
called, in 1933, "the invisible white thread of the rnarvelous".198
In 1934, the artist gave the naIne spirit of forms to a process
of "dark reverie" capable of giving rise to "objects" as weIl as
"writings," "constructions" as nluch as "life" itself, "unity" as
much as irreducible "contrasts"j and this process is sOlnething
Giaconletti would calI, in the same lines, "transposition" .199 AIl
of this being Inerely another way of explicitly bringing to the
fore the essential role of dream work, its dialectics ofnmltiplied
transpositions, displacernents and condensations (or crystalli-
zations), its incessant diaiectics of figuraI transfonnation:

Face for Finishingwith the Object

sanIe functioning
the only viable things. "200

Here, therefore, in just a few words, the cruel game of prox-

irnity of fonns is re-created, and is troubling to the point of inte-
rior disorder, and of strangeness placed at a distance when the
forms are so powerful that their "adherence" provokes a sense
of dread. Are forms that are born of the drearn too close or too
far away? They are, of course, aIl of that together, and the Cube
appears like one of those fonns, sylnptOInatically too incisive
to be pennitted inside the rnuseurn of "presence" delnanded
by Giacometti after 1935. The very long and cOInplex figuraI
elaboration, the virtual nature (hinted at in the drawn portraits,
for exarnple), the bizarre play of the delnand and the rejec-
tion-everything here attests to the kind of "double distance"
created bythis form in the eyes ofits creator. In 1934, condensa-
tion and displacelnent were still the "only viable things," and
they gave life to this obsessive polyhedron-cOIning back like
a ghost from drawings to engravings and frOIn engravings to
sculptures-and to that equally incisive fonn with the pointed
edges of the wolves' ears sticking up in front of SOIne patient of
Freud's. The polyhedron iInposed itself on Giacometti's rnind;
it could only enter "indirectly" into a speech conscious of the
self-thereby confinning its efficacy as a detour and a psycho-
logical figure; but its concrete stature, while transforrning, did
not stop elnerging ever Inore, to the point of beconling crystal-
lized in the sovereign volUlne of the Cube. Such is the aura of
this sculpture: it is at the saIne tilne too far away and too close,
too sInall and too big, escaping in every case its rational orienta-
tion or circunlVention.
Later, when GiacOInetti had, "as a re-percussion," rejected
the Cube and its deadly abstraction-that is to say its too dis-
tant proxÏInity, its too close strangeness-he wanted to push

Face for Finishingwith the Object

it away rnore snlOothly frorn hiIn, and devalue it, because the
Cube corresponded, he said, to nothing he saw (notably in the
problern of the portrait and of "presence"). It is, of course,
because the sculpture, in spite of the absence of eyes, looked
at him frOIn too near; and it is because it touched him with a
form of contact that could only provoke a sense of dread, like an
evil, dark rnonolith. We must then try to understand the "poly-
dimensionality" of the Cube, its tendency to be, as a form, on
different but always articulated levels of reality and efficacy.
We are perhaps not allowed to have this understanding, but we
could at least discover through Giacornetti's words a confinna-
tion of this structure and this dynalnic, narnely that to do work
consisted, for hiIn, in weaving different orders of reality and, as
he said, "advancing as much as possible on allfronts":

"1 certainly do painting and sculpture, and have always

done so, from the first tirne that 1 drew or painted, to bite
into reality, to defend rnyself, to nourish myse1f, to fatten
lnyself; to fatten myself in order to defend rnyself better, to
attack better, to hang on, to advance as much as possible on
aIl fronts, in every direction, to defend myself against hun-
ger, against the coId, against death, to be as free as possible;
as free as possible in order to endeavor-with the lneans
that are the lnost suitable for me today-to see better, to
understand better what surrounds lne, to understand bet-
ter in order to be rnore free, as big as possible in what 1 do,
to run rny adventure, to discover new worlds, to lnake rny
war, for pleasure? For joy? War, for the pleasure ofwinning
and of losing. "201

Between losing and winning, the artist engaged himself

in a profound dialectical and conflictive understanding of his
own activity. In the thirties Giacornetti read Hegel-orwas sup-
ported by his friends, attentive listeners to the falnous serninar
by Kojève, which had beguIl in January 1933-but it was Ilot at

Face for Finishingwith the Object

aIl in order to find, as has been thought before, any kind ofhope
of a synthesis to be understood as a "reconciliation".202 In 1934,
Giacometti read Hegel with Bataille, that is to say, with Heracli-
tus rather, he linked the dialectics and repetition without end of
the conflict and of the biting opening. 203 Ten years later, in the
miclst of the world war, the artist himself wrote a long series of
theoretical notes on dialectics, in which the word "synthesis"
intervened during a paradigl11atic series containing also the
words "l11urder," "anthropophagy," "eroticisl11" or "desire" .204
Giacometti considered the syntax in the dialectical process
itself a paradoxical "re-creation": here was "multiplication by
division" and "unification by 111ultiplication"j here the process
was understood only in its absence of an end, "thesis-anti-
thesis-synthesis ad infinitul11". 205
GiacOl11etti gave hinlself an object for thought which was as
difficult as itwas necessary, because itwas fundaI11entally linkecl
with his object of sculpture: a synthesis which had to be called
just that with Hegel, because of the dialectical process in which
it intervened, also because of the work of condensation and dis-
placel11ent that assured the conditions of its figurabilityj but a
synthe sis that was incapable of the Hegelian "reconciliation of
Spirit," a "unique and infinite" synthesis, as he wrote again. 206
A synthesis thought through Bataille, a synthesis capable, not
of sa Iv ing but of Clystallizing: capable of giving the unique l11ass
and volurne to that ''Jather conf/ict" whose universal sovereignty
Heraclitus had so ach11irably fOfl11ulated. As such, the Cube func-
tions as the crystal or the "synthesis" of a tearing, an opening
that survived within, latent, efficient, just as that invisible void
of the construction survives inside the bronze sculptecl volul11e.
Sculpture is indeed, then, that "third abject" which GiacOl11etti
spoke of in the SaI11e text. 20ï But because it is a "third object,"
neither an affinned thesis, nor a rejected "antithesis," neither
a public nl0nUl11ent, nor altogether private trash-it appears a
little like that "third kind ofbeing" (neither a copy, nor a rnodel,
nor a sensitive being, nor a solely intelligible being) that Plato

Face for Finishing with the Object

before had hoped for in order to give the most accurate approxi-
mation of this very difficult thing to think about and which we
calI a place. 208
A sculpture, said Giacornetti, "is not an object" in the sense
in which that word might define, without fear, a plaster cast or
bronze sculpted volume before us; it "is not an object" that is
definable once and only circurnvented once; it forces us to scnl-
tinize it endlessly, and that is why alternatively, paradoxicaIly,
"it is an interrogation, a question, a response,,209-and so on, as
though the answers that it gave constantly called on new ques-
tions, and as though the very fOrIn of the questions imposed by
it were the best possible answer, the rnost generous and most
silent answer offered. The work of re-elaboration undertaken by
GiacOInetti on his own subjects from 1935 rnight nlake us think
that the Cube, frorn this perspective, is the accidentaI "response"
or the "question" of an "abstraction," at once rejected for being
impertinent. The idea that an abstract abject nlight constitute
the "third object" of the synthesis that has been sought forwas,
however, not new in 1934, when Giacometti was creating his
polyhedron. Alnlost ten years had already passed since he had
foreseen the dialectical interest of an "object that is indepen-
dent frOIn existing fOrIns in nature":

J. Division
a. Static
b. Dynarnic
II. Division
a. Abstract
c. Direct Nature

Harmony of bodies, or of the body, between them and har-
1I1Ony of bodies, or of the body, in the atnlOsphere. Object

Face for Finishingwith the Object

inde pendent frOIn existing forrns in nature, like organic

beings. Overall search for sensations, uniquely plastic, of
coordination-harmony or contrasts-counterweight, bal-
ancing. Modeling a new, living, existing object that is real in
its particular Inaterial"210 ...

Perhaps the Cube offered Giacornetti that "newobject," that

object that was "real in its particular material," and therefore
absolutely singular, that cannot be assÏInilated into any copy
of exterior reality. The Cube was "existing," singular, not as a
specific and disembodied abstraction, but as the "calm block
fallen" of an obscure tearing, the crystal of an interior war-yet
concrete, hard and white like a Inass of plaster surrounding a
void-with the loss. The loss, which has not been allegorized,
or stylized, or "abstract," but the loss which is abstraction itself,
excavation finding its form, the defective mark that is both insis-
tent and sovereign, included in things, in the volulne of things.
As such, the Cube functions as a dialectical image, one that is
untilllely and stretched between a "yes" and a "no," where the
question of loss seeks a reply from a (never definitive) volume,
and where the question of the past, which is always anachronis-
tic (unforgettable, and therefore the bearer of destiny), would
seek the reply of its relniniscent present. 211
But when Giacometti decided, through his act of engraved
self-portraiture, to convert the reminiscent (and abstract) pres-
ent iuto a figurative present of "presence," he became engaged
in an inverse and non-dialectical process: by putting the Cube
away in an almost non-existence as relnainder, by forgetting
it in the figurative image, he sÎlnply tried to mourn lllOurning
itself. This is a sylnptOIn, no doubt, of a Inoving will to for-
get-to forget, for eXaInple, the sylnptOIn value that sculpture
used to aSSUlne. He tried, in any case, to Inourn the abstraction
carried by every loss.

Buried Face

And so the Cube was doubly consigned, to loss and to burial.

Firstly to the loss and the burial of the father, and then to the
loss and the burial of itself, according to the dubious wish of its
creator. To put it n10re precisely, Giacornetti constructed with
the Cube a favorable place for a double identification and a dou-
ble inhumation-which turned the identification against itself,
which obsessed it and made it opaque. In any case, the artist
was replaying, without knowing it, the scenario of an almost
universal anthropologicallaw, according to which a dead per-
son does not really die in the rnemory of those still living-and
his loss does not become viable or sYlnbolicaIly "living"-until
they get ready to bury hirn twice. 212
It was, therefore, first of aIl, a matter of identifying with the
father, then of having to bury hÎln. We have seen that a funda-
mental tension existed frorn the very beginning in GiacOlnetti's
sculpture, between a purely geOlnetrical place and an always
anxious, always problelnatic portrait, fallen into the hidden
sides of the object, but effective in its virtuality. An impossible
portrait, therefore, worried and problelnatic because it is con-
demned to the genealogical tension of father and son, of a face
that is too absent and the face that remained, surviving-surviv-
ing too lnuch, perhaps-and born of that absence. Giacometti
never stopped, in the twenties and thirties, testing his own face,
his naIne, his art, his own greatness or slnallness, from the point
ofview of the paternal dirnension. The Cube should no doubt be
looked at as a privileged object from that experience, its crystal
a genealogical object-an image, therefore, in the most ancient
sense, in the ROlnan sense of the word-, a virtual object in
which face, narne and dÎlnension intersect to ask their shared
question and enign1a. At a tüne when Alberto did not allow hin1-
self to do his father Giovanni's art, painting, the Cube rose as a
question posed to the very identity of the artist.

Buried Face

The face that is against the ground, upon which this sculp-
ture rests, cardes or bears a naIne, "Giacometti": a name which,
through its efficacy, refers less to the unique character of a
portrait-that of the father first of aIl, and then that of Alberto
hirnself-than to the relationship, the essential tension, that
every naIne inherited from a father engages with and maintains
forever for the person who cardes it. In 1933 and in 1934, this
relationship undelwent a crisis insofar as the event of the loss
produced a new deal, a new throw of the dice in the great sym-
bolic gaIne. By posing the question of the name, the work of
lnourning could only crystaIlize in the most mute object there
is, the least nOlninative and the least figurative object possible.
The Cube appears, therefore, to be indeed an object of ques-
tions of identity and of funerary questions at the saIne tirne. It
is the paradoxical ex-voto invented by GiacOlnetti regarding his
father, his naIne (and therefore their "shared" name) and his
face (therefore their shared resenlblance and their identity or
"own resenlblance").
1 lnentioned earlier that when his father died, Giacometti
exhibited-or exposed-the first sculptural version of his poly-
hedron, which was the indiscernible object placed in the corner
of the SurrealistTable (fig. 23). The Cubewas thus beingexhibited
at the tiIne its creator was exposed to a definitive loss, to a sort
of lacking of destiny by which his father becaIne the subject or
the object that could no longer be touched. GiacOlnetti's phrase
"1 can say nothing of the object [... ] 1 identify nlyself with it",zn
takes on a far lnore serious meaning ifwe think of the event, the
symptom that canle about at the nlOInent of the funeral, in June
1933. Alberto spent a few days prostrate, ahnost cataleptic, dur-
ingwhich tinle he found it iInpossible to lnake any 1110vement, or
to fulfill the pious funereal duties, for exaInple to help wash the
body or place a tie around the de ad lnan's neck-or even to lead
the funeral cortège, as he should have done. It is worth rereading
a few details in the lnost detailed story available, found in the
voluminous biography by laInes Lord:

Buried Face

"Bruno notified his brothers [Alberto and Diego] in Paris.

[... ] They took the night train from the Gare de Lyon. Alberto
felt unwelI as the train rolIed eastward toward Switzerland.
His rnalaise was an indefinite feeling of infinnity and
fatigue, rather than a specifie symptom of illness. [... T]heir
father had died during the night. Then the three of then1
drove together up into the mountains. It was still raining.
When they arrived at the clinie, theywere greeted by Annetta
and Ottilia. AlI five together, the lnother, her three sons,
and her daughter, went to the roon1 where Giovanni Gia-
c01netti, their husband and father, lay dead. Alberto soon
announced that he felt sick, feverish, and would have to go
to bed. A nearby room was available and Dr. Widrner came
and lnade an exarnination. It disclosed that the patient did,
indeed, have a fever, though this was due to no discern-
ible infection or assignable rnalady. Rest seenled to be the
only sensible prescription. Alberto remained in bed. [... ]
While Alberto ren1ained in bed, Bruno went several tÎlnes
to his romn to consult him about the arrangen1ents. The
older brother would have no part in them. Lying rigidly out-
stretched under the bedclothes, he did not respond. This
apparent refusai to be concerned in an event of major impor-
tance to the faInily was surprising, especially as the el de st
son by tradition took the place ofthefather upon the latter's
death. [... ] So Alberto was not present to honor the artist or
nlake the final gesture ofpiety as a son. [... ] But he chose not
to relnain with then1 for long. His work, he said, required
that he return to Paris. What this work may have been, how-
ever, we do not know. He produced almost nothing during
the ren1ainder of that year. "214

Of what is this overwheIrning event syrnptomatie, other

than the fact that at the tiIne the body of Giacornetti hÎlnselfwas
exactly half-way, in the fold oftwo identifications: identification
with the father, since the stiffened body of Alberto was aIl in aIl


almost as dead as Giovanni's, in an identical bed and in a rOOln

that was practically contiguous (as the story of the Dream would
explain exactly, right down to the detail of the spread-eagled
arms); identification with the object, that is with a sculpture,
since Alberto's petrified body was almost as inert and interi-
orly crouched up as that of his melancholic polyhedron. In any
case, he too was a prisoner, in a psychological cage with obscure
We can understand nlOre clearly, through this story, how
the statue of Giacometti responded not onlyto the act of"watch-
ing over the dead", 215 but also to the typically depressive sen-
sation of a body that becornes paralyzed, that becornes heavy
and idle, that makes itself dead, transfixed like a statue in the
space ofnlourning, before the world can start to move again. 216
We can understand better how, later, Giacometti clairned that
"he would put up with being a rnan-trunk to be placed at the
chiInney" ,217 having placed on the shelves of his studio the
sculpted heads and the painted portraits of his father himself
(fig. 53).218 The Cube's elaboration was exactly conternporary
with aIl of these sensations. It lnay even be the crystal: block
of funerary and identificatory muteness, block of identifica-
tory and funerary iInmobility. A visual monurnent of depressive
and disfigurative kinesthesia-for example, the feelingthat the
he ad is blocked, is locked up everywhere, and that it becOlnes a
block-, the Cube emerged in the artist's studio while the face
of his father disappeared little by little into the earth. And this
occurred during a precise period, between 1933 and 1934, when
Giacometti -like Dürer before hiIn, creating his self-portrait in
the fold of the year 1500219-felt exactly nel mezzo dei cammin of
his life: thirty-three years old, that is to say an age for identifYing
not with the divine son already dying, as in the case of Dürer,
but exactly half of the age at which Giovanni had just passed
away-sixty-five years old. Later, Alberto claiIned precisely that
saIne age as the age at which to die: "1 will be sixty-five years
old, that's good enough, 1 have always done what 1 wanted to

Buried Face

do, 1 want to die at sixty-five."22o Which, in fact, he did. Like his

father, and like Ferdinand Hodler-another paternal figure,
Diego's godfather-had done, each in turn.
The syrnptorn of ankylosis remained, as we can imagine, for
a long tirne, tied up within Giacometti or around him, like an
"unknown sign" concerning him in his work, that is, in his des-
tiny-inversely proportionate to his "refusaI to be concerned"
by his father's burial in June 1933-like a tie, tied forever
around his own neck. And the Cube gives a specifie and mysteri-
ous Voll1l11etric response, between cage and cutting stone, stuck
in the throat, to this symptornal "knot" that linked normally
incOlnpatible processes: "gaining the Other" (which is done by
the work of mourning); "gaining oneself" (which is attempted by
selfportraiture) with "losing oneself" (which any drifting into
melancholy stirs up).
It becOlnes clearer, then, why a question of identification
(from the polygons outlined in order to imagine heads, in
particular in the whole series of drawn self-portraits) becarlle
crystallized at a Inornent of rnourning, on a geometrical and
"abstract" rllonUlnent like death; it becOlues clearer why this
monmuent of rllourning, since it posed a complex genealogical
question, had to construct itself beyond any figurative identifi-
cation, and to subvert absolutely the traditional notion of por-
trait; and we can understand the untenable aspect of this posi-
tion, when Giacon1etti decided to return to a "gained presence"
through the figurative (and clearly narcissistic) reaffinnation of
the engraved self-portrait.

Did the Cube stop worrying GiacOlnetti in 1938 or even later,

once the self-portrait was scribbled onto the surface, scraping
as though aggressively, its heavy geornetrical efficacious pack-
ing? Probably not. For the narcissistic gesture was there, before-
hand, and marked bythe seal oflnourning, marked bythe nega-
tive. Every narcissistic act is affinned as an "erasure of the trace
of the Other in the desire of the One".221 But this desire of the

Buried Face

One continued to inscribe in the Cube, albeit negatively, the

mark of the Other considered de ad and buried, but for that rea-
son far rnore powerful since it comes back ceaselessly through
the "unknown signs" ofits own distancing. Ifthere is a genuine
narcissistic daim inscribed in the finality of the Cube-in par-
ticular in that self-portrait that 1 said earlier should ideally save
the object from too deadly a constitution-this daim is held
by the bars of a rnore subtle, nlore psychological cage: a death
narcissism, a "negative" narcissisrn marked by anxiety, by prohi-
bition and, finaIly, by sOIllething like a "death nlirage".222
GiacOIlletti's final daim regarding his abstract polyhedron,
the return to the faIlliliar and fanlilial conditions of the figura-
tive portrait (lllaking Diego pose forever, frorn 1936, or the two
"Annettes," his rnother and his wife) seenlS to say that a "mime-
sis of desire [... ] transferring the desire of the Other onto the
desire of the One" aIl ofthis merelyproduces a sinlUlacrurn that
necrotizes, a "mimesis of non-desire"-according to the archa-
ism of an ego that fOIllents its own "petrifaction".223 This is what
Giacometti's existentialist friends touched on when they COIll-
pared his "antediluvian face"224 with a rnineral or prehistoric
The incontestable "anthropological density" of the Cube,
its auratic value, its beauty even, show then, paradoxically, the
alienated elenlent of their own deployment. A work Îlllprisoned
by an individual myth, a work tied up in the genealogical, funer-
ary and identificatory question, the Cube distances us frOI11
that high esthetic freedOI11 to which nlonUl11ents of lllodern art
seenl to invite us. Here, in any case, we return to our initial feel-
ing-the alnlost Îl11111ediate feeling of a private [privé] sculpted
volurne, but deprived of [privé de] sonlething. It is strange, but
significant, or rather synlptOI11atic, that GiacOI11etti wanted to
deny veheillently the "defective" significance of this private or
deprived elel11ent, he who never ceased to thel11atize his work
Ineasured by an ahllost transparent relation of the "private"
(fa 111 ily , sexuality, death) to the "public" (the exhibition and

Buried Face

the multiple explaining of his figurative works). It is because

the relation to the private remains, here, deprived of that
transparency,-of that illusion of transparency,-which would
allow its sublimated claim. Ifthere is a "sublime" dirnension in
the polyhedron of the Cube, this is to be understood inversely to
its own capacity to sustain a process of "sublimation" because it
aims for a subversion-even an unfortunate one-of the Beau-
tiful, as it creates an aporia with regard to the liInits normally
assigned to an art object, because it deploys a rnournful, funer-
ary overdetermination, which tends to distance it from the spe-
cifically intended esthetic field.
For it relnains to be seen in proportion-Inysterious pro-
portion-to a dark dialectics in which the Cube, endlessly
looked for, believed found, and then lost again its fragile status
as a work of art and a genealogical image at the sanle tiIne. lt
was first of aIl an object for creating the impossible portrait of
paternity; then, an object for replacing that paternity-to bury
it-bya self-portrait in which GiacOlnetti was tied, as 1 said, bya
tie that is always engraved around his neck. It was an object for
identifyingwith the de ad and pallid body ofplaster-cast statues;
but that was to end up lnaking this object an object for bwying
the object, an object for buryingthe "lost thing" persisting in the
process of mourning. A object to be buried, then: not only did
GiacOluetti rnetaphorically proceed to this la st inhumation by
making the Cube disappear under a few fierce denials, but Jean
Genet gives us this precious story that we would gladly link with
that excess statue in the corpus-that is to say in the lnanifest,
claiIned body, the body-of Giacometti:

"Giacometti told rne that he once had the idea of lllOdeIling

a statue and then burying it. (One lnuses straight away: 'May
the earth lay gently over hiIn.') Not buried so as to be dis-
covered, or if it's to be discovered then much later, when he
hirnself and even the very melnory of his name have been
lost. Would burying it be offering it to the dead?,,225

Buried Face

Fig. 69: Alberto Giacometti: Tombstone for Giovanni Giacometti (1934),

granite. Borgonovo cemetery (Switzerland), photographed by
Ernst Scheidegger (Foundation Ernst Scheidegger-Archive).

Why then should we make this comparison? In order to

complete an interpretative set of thelnes better? Not only that.
It is indeed difficult not to think of the abject left out, or the suf-
fering object, which undoubtedly remained in the artist's nlind,
between the smnlner of 1933 and the sumlner of 1934, that is
to say between the death of Giovanni and the death of the Cube
itself. During that period, GiacOlnetti could continue to won-
der about his sylnptOln of 'statuefied' prostration, his inability
to fulfill his faInily and funerary duties; during that period, he
began to prepare, at the very rrlOmentwhen he was constructing
his great, abstract Cube, an exhibition in honor of his father's
figurative worle But, above aIl, he had to return in 1934 to the
family village. Accompanied by Max Ernst GiacOlnetti had
blocks of granite and rnonoliths and rnoraines from the nearby
glacier carried to the house in Maloja. He sculpted theln. This is
how he erected his father's tOlnbstone (fig. 69-70).226 According

Buried Face

Fig. 70: Alberto Giacometti: TombstoneforGiovanni Giacometti (1934),

granite. Borgonovo cemetery (Switzerland), photographed by
Ernst Scheidegger (Foundation Ernst Scheidegger-Archive).

Buried Face

Fig. 71: Congolese Art (Noqui-Area): Tomb-Statue, soft stone,

height 38,70 cm. Musées royaux d'art et d'histoire, Brussels.

to Reinhold Hohl this Inassive and abstract stone "evokes a

squatting hun1an body, when we consider the curve of the back
with delicate contours"-and as such it responds weIl to Giaco-
Inetti's judgnlent in the first letter to pierre Matisse of his pro-
duction in the years 1932 to 1934: "1 saw again the bodies that
attracted Ine in reality and the abstract fonns that seeIned to
be true in sculpture, but 1 wanted to do that without losing this,
very basically."227
Reinhold Hohl's interpretation seems to be reinforced when
he remarks on the fonnal and iconographic link between this
tombstone and the ankylosed statue ofthePetitHommeaccroupi
sculpted in 1926 (fig. 72-73), that is to say during the period in
which GiacOlnetti began both the series ofPlaqueHeads and the
series of portraits of his father; the little statue has two or three

Buried Face

Fig. 72-73: Small Crouching Man (1926), bronze, 28,50 x 17,50 x 10,00 cm.
Kunsthaus Zurich (Alberto Giacometti Foundation), photographed by
Denis Bernard.

discreet similarities with the Head of the Father II (fig. 50-52),

fiat and engraved. For eXaIuple, the form of the ear, the dis-
symmetry of the blinking gaze-and above aIl in that it is like a
stele. But the sirnilarity revealed by Reinhold Hohl is more of an
iconographic nature. It relates the Petit Homme accroupi (and,
consequently, the tombstone of the cemetery in Borgonovo)
to priInitive funerary figures, figures of characters squatting,
restrained behind the invisible bars of n10urning, and "express-
ing the pain of a Inan who has no falnily left," as Michel Leiris
described theln in his work on African art. 228 Another compari-
son would be made by Reinhold Hohl between the bird etched
by GiacOluetti on the tornbstone-with other motifs: triangle,
cut (coupe), star, sun-and different iconographical funerary
traditions, either western or Oceanic. 229

Buried Face

But, beyond the nlOtif of the bird-which, in any case,

brings us back to the Invisible abject (fig. 27) from the same
year and to its stylized bird beside the ferninine character-we
find the sÏIllple stature of the object, its dirnension, its func-
tion and its relation to the name. From this point of view, it
is indeed to the Cube that we should refer the block of granite
in the cenletery in Borgonovo. They have the same stature Ca
thickened stele, a stele that 11lakes a body) and they have the
sarne analogous dimensions. The one, in 1934, bore only the
name "Giovanni GiaCOllletti, painter," followed by dates 11lark-
ing his birth and death; the other, bore the name of the sculp-
tor Alberto GiacOll1etti, with no rnention of any date, of course.
Thus, the function of the first object-its liturgical function, a
function linked to a collective mythology-clarifies that of the
second object, inasrnuch as it is linked to a private liturgy and
an individuall11ythology. The two objects are abjects ofaffliction
and of l11ourning, the one explicitly so, the other by displace-
l11ent. When the tombstone, in the SUll1mer of 1934, found its
prescribed place (the cemetery), the Cube became null and void
in its function and becarne the orphan of its place. It no lon-
ger had its place anywhere, and it beCall1e genuinely "abstract,"
that is to say, dOOllled to a sort of disappearance. A socially rec-
ognized object had taken its place and its function as a crystal
crouched in 1110urning, as a boundary l11arking the burial of a
beloved face. The Cube itself, could, therefore, be buried.
SYl11bolically, of course. For the Cube was of course not really
buried. It was sim ply put away in the studio, then banished by
Giacornetti-and by aln10st anyone who wrote about GiacOll1etti
after that-to the region of non-sense: a "failure" without any
possible continuation, therefore without any meaning, as the
artist would later say. An "esthetic object without any content,"
the interpreters would even say.230 A non-sense that remains or
that persists lTlUSt be called a symptom, then, because a non-
sense that persists is inevitably a signifying knot, or even a knot
of signifiers. 231 But images, too, appear to us sornetimes like non-

Buried Face

meanings that rernain-and it is preciselytowards those images

that Giacornetti's interest and fascination turned first of aIl. He
liked ovenuodeled skuBs frorn the New Hebrides (fig. 38), he
liked Egyptian statues (fig. 61) and portraits from the Fayum,
that is to say he liked above aIl images Inade of burialluaterials,
or Inade to be buried in places that were planned for this-pyr-
amids, sepulchral solids, cages or stone crystals. Images bur-
ied and re-eluerged-as he would drealu it, according to Jean
Genet, for his own sculpture-, iInages that bring back from
their subterranean sojourns an anthropological enigma value
which belongs to every archaeological object. Even in modern
sculpture, GiacOIuetti remained fascinated with the "anthropo-
logical density" of the iInages domued to be buried: for exalnple,
in Rodin, Mère et Fille mourante, Le Sommeil, La Pensée, La Vague,
Fugit amor, or the astonishing Dernière vision fronl1903.
To speak of "anthropological density" in relation to Giaco-
Inetti's sculpture should notkeep us onlyon the archaic side that
this expression nlight spontaneously evoke. The Cube certainly
draws on very ancient sources in the statuary tradition (mainly
luegaliths), and fron1 "private" sources whose deploYluent, as
1 suggested, reveals a kind of structure or alienation. But that
is only half of it, for "alienation" does not signify "regression"j
and, above aB, the Cube reluains an absolutely modern work,
since it also COIues frOIu a heritage of n10dernity (mainly Bran-
cusi), and belongs to an avant-garde context, and therefore an
esthetic discourse. Strangely modern, no doubt, but Inodern aIl
the SaIue. This is its singularity, its force as a dialectical ilnage,
viz. as a non-archaic iIuage. 232 But of what nlOdernity, of what
strangeness, and what dialectics? To understand this, we cer-
tainly need to reluember the essential role in Giacometti's train-
ing in those years, of the extraordinary journal entitled Docu-
ments, published by Georges Bataille with the help of, aIuong
others, Michel Leiris and Carl Einstein. 233
GiacOIuetti read this journal regularly-and in 1929 he was
able to read, before his first exhibition in Pierre Colle's gaIlery

Buried Face

in Paris, a very irnportant article on his own work, in which

Michel Leiris spoke superbly about his sculptures as petrified
crises. 234 But he could also read in this journal an irnpressive
nmnber of articles about visual arts, in which, relentlessly-fol-
lowing a strategy clearly defined by Georges Bataille, and rec-
ognizable right down to the subtle weaving of the iconogra-
phy, the always-gripping responses frOIn irnage to irnage-one
found, side by side, avant-garde and an th ropo logica 1preoccupa-
tions. In this way, the signatures of Robert Desnos and Alfred
Métraux, Georges Limbour and Marcel Mauss appeared side by
side; we know the role that the latter played in the esthetic and
econOInic thinking of Georges Bataille; we know too the cardi-
nal position that Michel Leiris occupied in his poetical engage-
lnent and anthropological concerns. 235
This subtle and explosive nlixture produced, through the
pages of Documents, the outline of a genuine anthropology of
the visual, which, however, had nothing to do with any "priIni-
tivisln" of art at aIl. It was rather a question of critiquing in
the sanle nl0velnent both the supposed autonOIny of the Fine
Arts as a closed, self-teleological systenl, inevitably organized
into a hierarchy-in the way that Vasari, in the 17th century,
had constituted its existence academicaIly, founded on the
separation of "noble arts" or liberal arts and aIl other visual
objects 236 -and the positivist sociologisnl of a history of art (or
just as weIl an ethnography) considering those visual objects
simply as reflections of social activities, of events of history, or
activities of knowledge. The authors of Documents-Georges
Bataille and Carl Einstein above aIl-engaged in a gay science
ofvisual objects, a gay science thatwas always incisive and criti-
cal, always dialectical and anachronistic: a gay science-even
historical-that sought to be resolutely involved in the present
of living art and in the untirnely nature of thought.
Giacometti, in fact, never ceased to draw frOIn every vertigi-
nous nlontage and fronl every singular discovery thatDocuments
listed, issue after issue, like so many invitations to displace the

Buried Face

traditional reference points of the figurative representation.

He found nurnerous answers to the problems with which, as
we saw, the Cube was shot through-notably that of relations
between face and skull, face and mask, face and mass. 23ï Here
he found the ovennodeled heads that so fascinated him, in an
article that quite probably inspired the title Head Skull. 238
He will finally have found in it the long and slender Etruscan
figures that would give a possible basis for his later sculptures
froln the forties to the sixties. 239 But, in the early thirties, it was
not the paradigrn of elongation or the tension of figures that
occupied Giacornetti's rnind, but rather the paradigln of mass
and of void, when he sought the fonnal expression in an anthro-
pomorphism that is as displaced as it is incisive, as organic as it
is disfigured.
This problelnatic knot is constantly to be found through-
out the articles of Documents, and it is practically a leitmotif in
the thinking of Bataille, Leiris or Carl Einstein on the efficacy
or the "anthropological" density of the images shown and the
visual world in general. When, in 1929, Georges Bataille under-
took the work of bringing to his readers sOlne reflections on the
"hurnan figure," he did so by engaging in an acerbic critique of
the positivist and bourgeois epoch, "the only epoch in which
the hurnan fonn disgraced itself on the whole as a doddering
mockery of everything great and violent that man has been able
to conceive of.,,240 A few pages away from that article in which
Bataille reproduced the photograph of a petit-bourgeois farnily
posing proudly-"inanely," as he put it-in front of its hard-
ware store, Giacornetti's Gazing Head was placed in contrast to
it (fig. 55-56), with its white and silent violence in every way in
search of a serenely recognizable "hulnan figure".
When Bataille wished to lnake a starting point in this ques-
tion of the hmnan figure, he did so sylnptOInatically by begin-
ning with the mouth, defined in almost sculptural tenns as
the "prow" of anirnals: and the whole text-an admirable text,
albeit very short-continuously joined the ideal figure with the

Buried Face

vaguely disgusting organ (a faI'nous photograph by Boiffard,

shown close up, effectively supports Bataille's argurnent), the
hollow of the Iuouth with the protuberance of the snout, the
faluiliarity of the human face with the strangeness of the ani-
mal mask, the consensus of speech with the uproar of inarticu-
late cries, etc. The "human figure" was subrnitted to a literally
de1igurative work whieh brought forward the mass as weIl as
the mask, the hollowing out of non-sense as weIl as the organic
too1ull. 241 There is no doubt that GiacOInetti's fascination with
open and deadly Iuouths (fig. 37)-through, notably, the epi-
sode of the death of T. which evokes Un chien andalou-owed
part of its developrnent to Bataille's attention to the de-figura-
tive and inhUluan capacity of the human organ par excellence,
the organ of speech.
The critieal violence of Georges Bataille, his own "base
materialisIu," his systenlatic praise of the formless 242 -all of
this has to do, of course, with the "geometry of cruelty" that 1
spoke of earlier regarding Giacometti, according to a paradoxi-
cal thread that brought us frOIu the Woman with her Throat
Cut to the Cage, and right up to the Cube itself (fig. 21-22).
The question of anthropornorphism was then posed in new
tenns, both fonnal and dramatized, topologieal and ethnologi-
cal, regarding metamOlphosis. 243 It lead to sornething that Gia-
cOInetti could not have ignored, and that is a new notion, an
anti-Kantian notion, of space. As he had denounced the "math-
enlatical frock coat" of fonnal propriety,z44 Bataille denounced
frOIn then on the "philosophical protocol" of spatial propriety;
against this he argued for the idea of a space that Inight have
"relnained roguish"-resté voyou-regarding which, he said,
"it is diffieult to enUIuerate what it engenders"; a space that is
"discontinuous in the saIne way as one is a crook, to the great
despair of his philosopher-dad".245 A space for which Bataille
gave exarnples of photographie documents that were perfectly
significant and explosive: "a nl0nkey dressed as a WOInan" con-
sidered as an authentic "division of space" (that is to say, also

Buried Face

a Clystalized division of genres: human and anirnal, feminine

and masculine); a crumbled prison, that is to say the protocol
of imprisonment left to crumble, to open; "a poison that eats
another one," that is to say, a genuinely cannibalistic dialectics,
a dialectics of open snouts absorbing whole bodies equipped
with their own capacity to devour other bodies; and finally "an
ignoble rite of initiation done al110ng some black people," a
theory of men covered by l11asks that showed ... skulls, that is to
say, the very volurue of which their faces were rnerely the enve-
lopes and the masks. 246
Because Giacometti had to implel11ent this in his own
sculptures, the question of the face, the skull and the rnask was
revealed here in order to constitute the extrel11e aspect-and
rathertragic, even ironic aspect, which is how he often expressed
himself-of a question of place. We get the ove raIl ÏI11pression
that it is in the constructed place of an inhumanity, or at least of
something uncanny, that the question of the human, and there-
fore of anthroporl1orphisl11, can be addressed radically in the
eyes of Giacometti, when he was building his Cage or his Cube,
for example, as weIl as in the eyes of Bataille when he was writ-
ing his articles on the fOfl11less, on space, or on the "rnythologi-
cal" place that, for him, was the slaughterhouse. 247

But this violent and staggering relationship of space with the

question of the hlll11an figure was found also, in the same jour-
nal Documents, in a text by Michal Leiris for example, in the
article he wrote in 1930 on leather l11asks designed by the writer
and traveler-who was also an al11ateur of different kinds of ini-
tiation-W. B. Seabrook. We understand frOI11 it how the face
masked in black offended, literally voids itself of any expres-
sivity or humanist signification bestowed by tradition on that
most "noble" part of the body; but we also understand the
cOI11pensation, the repercussion of this perverse process: it is
the fact that the offended face becomes a mere rnass which is
"abstract" but terribly organic, and thanks to it, according to

Buried Face

Fig. 74: William Buehler Seabrook: Leatlzer-mask and Collar (1930).

Photograph by Michel Leiris, published in: Documents.

Leiris, the Îlnage of the body that has becOlne "diagramlnati-

cal [... ] COlnes to the fore with a growing intensity" (fig. 74).248
The result-which is illustrated in the article by three quite
troubling photographs-is a s0111ber "living architecture," it is
writes Leiris, a "suprerne residue," for the absence of the face
rnakes the whole body sOlnething "lnore genuine and more
indiscernible" because it "gradually transfonns [it] into a sort of
obscure thing in itself'. 249 It is a "thing in itself" that is both volu-
Inetric and dark, presented in irnages as powerfully erected-a
sort of phallie face that is disfigured, excessive, and has becOlne
a monolith, becOlne the "suprerne residue" of a paradoxical
We can irnagine, reading Leiris's text, how the new tenns
in whieh a sculptor like Giaconletti-who, in 1934, tried his
hand at masked heads, disfiguring heIrnets, lnasses that have

Buried Face

Fig. 75: Alberto Giacometti: Head afa Man (circa 1927), plaster. Lost, pho-
tographecl by Ernst Scheiclegger (Foundation Ernst Scheidegger-Archive).

become abstract (fig. 75)-could apprehend the question

of figuration, or rather of the figurability of bodies: what is a
thing that is in itself anthropomorphic? What is a specifie solid
volume-for exalnple specifie to the point of pure geOlnetric
"reduction"-endowed with a "density," an anthropolIlOrphic
effieacy? Inversely, what is an anthropOlnorphic solid that is not
"figurative" in the acadernic sense of the tenn, but that would
imply to the extrelne-extrelne violence, as in the Woman with
her Throat eut, or extrelne rarefaction, as in the Gazing Head

Buried Face

(fig. 22 and SS-S6)-a problern of human "form," a desire for

or a despair of the hurnan form? On the other hand, what might
have been, after Brancusi, Lipchitz or Henri Laurens, the spe-
cifically modern form-that is to say non-religious at least-of
a statuary that iUlagined itself to be as efficacious as a stand-
ing stone in Karnak or an Egyptian block-statue? The problenl
here is once again a dialectical problem, a problem of a dialec-
tical image; we rnust rernember that one of the lllOSt beautiful
responses given to this problern-in parallel to the texts ofWal-
ter Benjamin which were conternporaneous-was expressed
in the critical work of Carl Einstein, frOIn before his arrivaI in
France and his valuable participation in Documents. 250
A profoundly dialectical œuvre, indeed-showing extrelne
subtlety, and extrelne violence. And it is the history of art in its
entirety that was, in this work, challenged for its rnethod, its
foundations, and the questions it brought into play. FrOIn the
very first issues of Documents in 1929, the French reader could
read strange "lnethodical aphorisrns" written by Carl Einstein,
which defined the history of the arts not sim ply as an evolution,
a gaIne of "sources," "influences" or the "progress" of style but
as a great history of conf/icts, the incessant struggle of "optical
experiences," spaces invented in contradictoryways, and figura-
tive solutions imagined in diverse ways.251 In a certain way, Carl
Einstein connects with the thoughts of Walter Benjalnin accord-
ing to whOIn every authentic inlage is constituted as a "dialec-
tics at a standstill," both a crystal and the sparkling nlovement
of the crystal, even its shattering and its dispersion, at the SaIne
time a play of evidence (what an iInage shows visually) and non-
evidence (that ofwhich the image, visually, bears the fracture or
the symptorn, just as we lnight say it bears a testimony). Here,
we begin to understand how Carl Einstein's thought lnight offer
a particularly well-adapted tool for an analysis of the Cube, cer-
tainly a work on the evidence of form as umch as on symptOIn-
atic non-evidence. 252

Buried Face

It is on a fundaInental level that this thought can offer us

such a tool for analysis, in that it tries to articulate theoretically
what Giacometti hirnself attempted to compose visually in his
polyhedral sculpture: on the one hand, the dernand for autono-
mousform, a monolithic fonn, simple, perfectly non-pictorial,
without any legible effect and without any istoria, in short, an
"absolute sculpture"; on the other hand, the iInplementation of
a genuine auraticfunction, that is to say an econOlny offantasies
conferring on the object sOlnething like a power of the gaze, a
destinaI efficacy-and therefore an anthropOlnorphic role in a
subjective history, which we have analyzed in tenns of mou rn-
ing and identification, of genealogical engendering of bodies
and their inhumation which is both real and syrnbolic. This is
indeed the whole question of the Cube: how to invest a "sirnple"
fonn-a geometrical and non-narrative form-with an efficacy
and a signification that are neither efficacy nor signification?
And how to give visual cIues to the work, or the process in which
this sculptural efficacy is established?
Carl Einstein had treated this question in his own work,
now welH<nown to a whole generation of artists, on Afri-
can sculpture. 2s3 In this, he spoke in favor-to the shock of
the positivist historian-of renouncing any "evolutionary
schemes"-the caricature of which was to see in African art
no lnore than a "testimony of origins," a pre-evolutionary state
of art2 s4 -and enter joyously, 1 might say, into the anachronis-
tic operation that consists in espousing, at least for a while,
the nlost engaged and sharpest gaze directed, in this period,
towards African sculptures, lneaning the gaze of modern artists
and cubists in particular. 255 In fact, a stricto sensu ethnographic
analysis seemed to hirn to conle from a "dubious process," one
that was quite sinlply reductive because it was inapt at defining
the fonnal specificity of objects thernselves, favoring instead a
narrowly functionalist, iconographic or "symbolic" question. 256
Instead, it was better to "start with objects," that is to say with
the forms that these objects had created. It was better to start

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by recognizing the autonomy of African sculptures, their orga-

nization as a "compact mass," with the fact that their "parts are
aligned, not according to the beholder's point ofview, but frorn
within thelnselves," with their generalIy rnonolithic and soli-
tary character, that is to say, with the capacity of each to present
itself as a "self-sufficient being, unneedful of any aid."257
PowerfulIy autonornous forms, then, and not "syrnbols" in
the trivial sense. PriInaryobjects (whieh does not rnean archaic),
not "secondary," nor answerable as such to a specifie attention
and therefore to a "forn1al," as Carl Einstein says, or even "for-
malist," analysis. 258 But Carl Einstein's strength-his flash of
genius-was not to stop there, and to refuse a/so to see in these
objects the tin1eless lllOnuments of an "art for art's sake" or a
purely optical experience. Carl Einstein had taken, fron1 the
esthetics scholar Konrad Fiedler, the idea that beauty in itself
is l10t the fundan1ental elernent of the world of iInages, and that
the object of a "knowledge of art" or of a KUl1stwissenschaft, can-
not be reduced to the optical conditions of its stylistic deploy-
Inent alone. 259 Form, for Carl Einstein, was taken seriously for
its own structure in that it was explicitly thought of in tern1S of
a symptom,260 that is, like a paradigrn that is at the same time
historieal, anthropologieal, and rnetaphysical.
Thus, a careful consideration of the texture of objects, the
definition of their specifie structure, notably their vollunetric
closure-all of this was artieulated in the no less attentive con-
sideration of a context, in which the autonon1y of forms was
clarified by its delnand. Thus, the fonnalist gaze called upon, as
its necessary dialectical respondent, an authentically anthropo-
logical and historical gaze, that is to say a gaze that is attentive
to the conditions of existence, of use and of presentation of the
analyzed fonns. 261 Su ch an approach to sculpture atternpted,
therefore, not to separate what we could calI the singularity of
the fonn and its use value as weIl as its power of the gaze, its
power of fascination-in short, its aura, its "anthropological
density," its effieiency as an irnage. A simple and brilliant obser-

Buried Face

vation would have sufficed, one which Carl Einstein gives us at

the heart of his text. The essentially religious nature of the Afri-
can statuary lnakes every sculpture, not a Il1irnesis of sorne tran-
scendent divinity, but the divinity itself, that is to say, "self-suf-
ficient being, unneedful of any aid," "soInething self-sufficient,
transcended, and unentangled," in short a thing in itselfwhich
is monolithic, sÎInple, powerful, perfectly non-theatrical, non-
pictorial, non-psychological. The religious is not "symbolized"
by the sculpture, the aura is not "represented" by the sculpture;
aIl of this is embodied, in actuality, aIl of this is immanent in
the form, in the texture of the object, in the distancing that the
object, in its fOrInal autonOlny, necessarily Îlnposes. This is
what Carl Einstein called a "formaI realism" of the sculptural
object. 262

There is no doubt that in the Cube, stretched between a question

of geolnetric reduction and a question of "mythical" overdeter-
lnination (I anl speaking of its nature as a private InoIlUlnent,
an object of individual mythology), GiacOlnetti sought a simi-
lar articulation between forll1 and intensity. That is why, with
regard to the sculpture, we can talk about an "anthropological
density". This is why its closure as a monolithic and mysteri-
ous object produced, in front of its own creator, that "hermetic
n1ythical reality" and that auratic "distancing" that Carl Ein-
stein spoke of regarding African idols. This is why it possesses
the crystallized, "fixed," and perfectly "impersonal" character
that Carl Einstein saw in the African masks or sculpted heads. 263
This is why, finaIly, it responds exactly to the "plastic integra-
tion" analyzed by Einstein when he said that such objects
manage to overcon1e any opposition from the abstract and the
organic264 -which the Cube, in my view, manages to do in the
most exelnplaryway.
The Cube appears to us as the paradoxical n10nun1ent of an
"organic dissimilarity". This is a way of expressing, here, the
paradox of what 1 called earlier an abstract anthrOpOl110lphism:

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on the one hand the question of the hurnan figure ernerges with
force, the question of "rnan," of Anthroposj and on the other
hand, with no less force, ernerges the question of absence as
a process of "abstraction," the process stated in the Latin verb
abstraho, rneaning the act of separating, of subtracting, of puIl-
ing sonlething or someone far away frOlTl SOlneone else, in
short, the act of consigning a relation to the powers of absence.
Between these two poles, form-morphé-plays its role of inter-
face or dialecticallnediation perfectly: it develops, crystallizes
in order to give to absence a packing efficacy, an intensity of
the gaze (it will, as such, be apprehended or iInagined to be a
"suprelne residue," a relnainder of hUlnanity), and in order to
engage the human in the defective, defonning process, of a sort
of neutrality in which fonn, refusing to "tell" anything at aIl,
tends to becOIne its own referent, its own residue, and its own
carrier of intensity.
We can understand, then, how fonn, in this light, could be
called a thing in itself, but that it might not be erected to the
"self-satisfied" level of a thing for itself. Form, here, is for the
Other, that is,for the absence of the Other. A fault arouses it and
main tains it constantly in a state of fallen relnains. It responds
weIl indeed to the beautiful expression used by Michel Leiris,
the "supreule residue"-which aInounts to stating differently
its status as symptom. This nleans that any fonnal econOlny,
however autonOInous it nlay be-and even because it is autono-
nlous, singular in its texture, in its signifying organization-is
not without a psychological ecol1omy capable of explaining even
its neutral, "disaffected," impersonal and non-psychological
character (here too Michel Leiris's text can guide us, when he
daims that the offended face, erecting its pure lnass, comes, for
hiIn, frOIn an attempt to abolish "that unbearable duality estab-
lished, thanks to the care of our current morals, between body
and soul, lnatter and Inind").265
This psychological econorny, which is different for every
artist and probably so for every signifying work, relnains gener-

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ally lTIysterious. The gaze that we direct towards the Cube has,
however, provided us with a few paralTIeters, no doubt incorn-
pIete, linked to disfiguration, to filiation, to mourning, and to a
"narcissislTI of the dead" at the end ofwhich sculpture will have
beCOlTIe son1ething like a psychological totem in which Giaco-
metti both wanted and did not want to acknowledge himself as
the split subject. The Cube rernains in front ofus like the melTIO-
rial of a buried conflict, and its goal of producing the inhUlTIa-
tion of its own constituents leads us finally to the hypothesis
that it crystallized probably nothing less than a prohibition-or
a series of conflictual prohibitions-and that it rendered monu-
mental sornething like an "olTInipotence of thoughts," that is,
a structure of obsession. The Cube would then be the totem of
a taboo, so to speak. But in which sense should we understand
ExactlyinthesensethatFreudintended. Exactlyinthe sense
that he understood the "taboo" fron1 ethnologists of his tin1e in
order to bring about his own rneta-psychological construction.
For it is surprising to see that the fundalTIental characters of
the taboo in Freud are aIl present-and on an essential, non-
anecdotal level-in the structure and the elaboration of the
Cube. There is the element of constraint (which earlier 1 called
alienation) that, in 1934, precipitated GiaCOlTIetti's whole atti-
tude towards abstraction and hurnan figuration, a constraint
that already could be seen in the series of portraits of the father;
Freud spoke of taboos by saying initially that "they do not differ
in their psychological nature froll1 Kant's "categorical ÎlTIpera-
tive" but that they rnust be considered fron1 the meta-psycho-
logical perspective of repression, so that the "conscience" (good
or bad, in any case a moral one) should find therein, like its
inevitable destiny, the corollaryof anxiety.266 There is also, in the
taboo, sOlnething that Freud called the omnipotence offathers
and which is never so effective as when fathers are dead, there-
fore "ghosts who COlne back," when they exert their power and
their rnenace frorn a distance that cannot be crossed, the very

Buried Face

distance of loss and of absence. 267 How can we irnagine, then,

that the Cube might have escaped the constraint of the Name
and of Mourning?
In Freud's definition of a taboo, there is the relIlarkable
elernent of the touching phobia which we saw at work in the
particular volumetry of the Cube and in its fantasmatic relation
to the story of the dark 1I1Onolith (at least before Giacornetti
touched up his sculpture by "tattooing" it figuratively). This pho-
bic elernent, writes Freud, borrowing the expression frOlu one
of his obsessive patients, consequently constitutes the object
as an "impossible object".268 An "impossible" object through
excess rather than by default, we nlight say: impossible, not
because it is too incisive visuaIly, or overdetennined in its fun-
damental ambivalence-an alubivalence which is expressed by
the word "taboo," which lueans (like the Hebrew kadosh, like
the Greek agios, and the Latin sacer) sOluething consecrated
but dangerous and worrying, and sOluething sacred but inlpure
and prohibited. 269
We have seen aIl of these traits-beyond the fonnal pro-
cesses that they irnply (sinlilitude and disfiguration, substitu-
tion and contiguity), beyond the secondary elaboration and the
projection that they undergo-at work in the fonual elaboration
and the destiny of the Cube, so that it is possible, regarding this
sculpture, to follow Freud when he claims that "in only a single
field of our civilization has the Olunipotence of thoughts been
retained, and that is in the field of art". 270 Giacornetti hirnself,
in 1933 or 1934, would not have denied su ch a proposition,
since he reluained close to the interests of the surrealists, and
could, like Michel Leiris, join the artistic avant-garde dOluain
to the luore fonuidably "anthropological" domain of conjuring
luagic. 271

We are now, in reality, at the heart of the question that was

addressed earlier-the question of knowing how exactly to
nalue the efficiency of the Cube, its "anthropological density".

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The Freudian indication of the taboo, with its fundarnental

corollaries-an object that is "irnpossible" but terribly signifi-
cant, ambivalent, worrying, emblelllatic of the omnipotence of
a nanle, a loss, a paternity, that is of a relation to filiation that
would produce a genuine, deadly, negative resemblance-all of
this guides us towards the region ofvery particular and particu-
lady efficient iInages that we calI "doubles". The Cube is nei-
ther a portrait in the ordinary sense, nor a work of geometrical
abstraction in the trivial sense, it is a double, its "anthropologi-
cal density" is siInply that of the doubles.
The psychoanalytic tradition, however, has accustOlned us
to Ïlnagining the double in an essentially lnimetic mode-, the
double is the reflection in the lnirror, the identical twin that
reselllbies my every trait and that follows Ine with its own darts.
The nlost studied examples-taken from Hoffmann, Oscar
Wilde, or Maupassant-generally belong to the esthetic wodd
of rOlnanticisnl, which, specificalIy, relnains linked to mimetic
fascination, to illusion, and to an aIl too perfect reselnblance. 272
But this is only a partial vision, first of all because it is historically
limited. In the long term, indeed, the anthropological efficacy
of the double is to be found in rather aniconic objects, objects
that are remarkable for their "abstraction," even their formless
character, while they aIl Ïlnpielnent a powerful anthropOlnor-
phism. The lnost striking eXaInple is the Greek colossos-which
1 have already, along the way, cornpared with the Cllbe-since it
seenlS to constitute its value as a "double" in inverse proportion
to its InÏlnetic value.
ln a culture that has enjoyed the prestige of having, if not
invented, at least produced the most perfect figurative statu-
ary, the colossos appears to a certain extent to be a symptom,
an uncanniness (UnheiInlich) of the very notion of a sculpted
image: a statue-pillar, an archaic fixed statue, without any lirnbs
disengaged fronl the mass, without a personalized face, a sort of
abstract standing stone, the colossos served as a double of one
departed, a sllbstitllte for the absent one in rituals that certain

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archaeological discoveries brought to light in the late nineteen-

twenties. 273 A fanlOus article by Jean-Pierre Vernant, has since
synthesized the fundarnental aspects of the Greek c%ssos, and
we cannot avoid being struck by the analogy that runs its way
between this antique object and the object that we are examin-
ing here. There is first of aIl the unusual and non-evident anthro-
pOlnorphism of the object, which reduces aIl ofits volumetry to
an autonornous massification, closed on itself, in short to sorne-
thing like a petrification or an organic ankylosis. The c%ssos is
a blind and lnute block, lilze a tomb, opaque, immobile like the
lnonolith to which it is reduced, even while it supports ritually
its function as "double," that is to say as "quasi-subject". Mas-
sive and opaque, it is no less linked to the world of shadows,
drealns and fantasies. It originates explicitly in a psychological
econOlny. FinaIly, it is the boundary of a taboo, for it establishes
the liInit of a contact and a non-contact, it isolates the space of
the dead while elnbodying, as Jean-Pierre Vernant says, a space
for its death. It possesses a duplicitous, split structure. It is nev-
ertheless the supporting rack-bounded, Inassive, closed-of
an unliInited space of death. 274
This non-Inimetic character, far frorn contradicting the
Freudian theorization of the double, instead adapts itself rig-
orously, provided its genuine lneta-psychological expression is
questioned, and the latter is nothing other than the Unheimlich,
the uncanny. It lnakes it possible to extend the notion of the
double beyond its nlÏmetic and "rOlnantic" bias. It will allow
us, finally, to speak of the Cube, as an authentic block or crys-
tal of the uncanny. What is the uncanny? An "esthetic object of
anxiety" says Freud (which corresponds exactly to the status of
the Cube in 1934), that is to say an esthetic object which does
not answer to the traditional criteria of the philosophical-and
in particular the Kantian-criteria of the "beautiful object" (to
which Giacornetti sought, after the fact, to reduce his whole
endeavor of 1934).275 The unheimlich object, says Freud, is found
between a problem of something experienced and a problenl

Buried Face

of fonn: it gives a fonn, or a rnass even, to that "OInnipotence

of thoughts" which can rnake every insignificant bit of reality
a sign of dread, a sign of conflict, a mark of prohibition, or a
return of the repressed. 2i6
The Cube would then correspond to that psychological
econorny described by Freud, according to which a form, how-
ever neutral and "abstract" it rnay be, can suddenly become the
visual rack of a wonying psychological return, something which
"was Ineant to rernain secret and hidden and has come into the
open".2ÎÎ There is a "disorienting" (to speak like Freud) or "dis-
integrating" (to speak like GiacOInetti) aspect in this econon1y,
where certain lirnits suddenly vacillate, resulting in the trans-
fonnation and the splitting of spatial, temporal and logical
categories, in which any object is nonnally apprehended. The
unheimlich object, as a "double," does not come from reproduc-
tion-the latter only gives a liInited category, and applies to a
nurnber of objects that have nothing worrying about them-,
but from repetition understood in the Ineta-psychological sense
which is a sense that is far lllOre fonnidable. 2is When repetition
"returns to us" visuaIly-too fmniliar, too close not to be felt
as dangerous, and not to arouse repulsion-aIl the qualities
of the object are split, and the impression of "danger" cornes
frOIn that very structure, frOIn that double distance; something
far away approaches us, an aura fascinates us and attracts us,
but its real rneaning-the return of a repressed -rnakes us turn
away frorn it; the object siInultaneously becomes too clear, like
the sign of a present over there, and formidable, obscure, like
the sign of an over there of absence; it caIls on us and enCUln-
bers us-like a space that is at the sarne time obsidional and
unliInited, "abstract," around us and in us-by its solitude, its
separation, its lirnitation as object-crystal; we no longer know if
it is too alive or too dead. In a sense, it knocks us to the ground.
It is affinned through its fundarnental arnbivalence. 2i9
We understand, 1 believe, that the fundarnental efficacy of
the double, far frOIn expressing itself in a capacity of mirnetic

Buried Face

reproduction, results essentially from its capacity for repetitive

redoubling, and even selfredoubling: it does not inevitably "rep-
resent" a hurnan body, it redoubles it; ifit acquires the worrying
power of becoming a substitute for it, and of looking at us, it is
first of aIl that it redoubles itself, in a way of engendering itself.
A way ofbeing autonornous as a subject, as a "living" being capa-
ble of existing, concrete, without the help of anyone else. A way
of being, correlatively, inhuman and "abstract" like death, or
like a ghost. Such is its paradoxical anthropomorphisrn, which
is weIl expressed by the double rneaning of the word body which
applies as nluch to anirnated beings as it does to mere material
objects. Freud explained this with the example of the epileptic
fit which dehulnanizes the subject, making hiIn resernble at
one rnOlnent an inert block, and at another an anirnal shaken in
every direction by an inhurnan life; and the automaton, which
gives the inanimate object a sort of strangely "living" indepen-
dence. 280 But we can go lnuch further and see in the polyhedron,
invested with the powers ofpsychological repetition, an equally
strong carrier of fonnidable strangeness.

For the Cube was indeed that object in which aInbivalence and
conflict, taboo and psychological repetition ruled. The Cubewas
conceived as double, it was constructed as double, constantly
split, redoubled, then nlorally buried for that very reason. It was
not a miInetic double, nor even a psychopathological one like
the heads sculpted before that by F.X. Messerschnlidt. It was a
more subtle double, a Inore conflictual double, no doubt, and
therefore Inore cOlnplex, which interiorized psychological rep-
etition in its process of elaboration as weIl as in its concrete for-
maI constitution. The Cube, as we saw in the beginning, was not
"a" cube, but instead it split, to say the least, the nonnal nmn-
ber offacets of a cube, to suggest sornething like the crystallized
sunl1nation of two objects. But GiaC0111etti was not satisfied with
this fragile indication. He perfonned a series of genuine splits
on his object, which finished up drawing the arborescent struc-

Buried Face

ture of a semantic as weIl as syntactical overdetermination. Two

plaster casts, as 1 said earlier, were initially modeled, and both
were engraved after the fact-each one redoubling the lines
of the face by rneans of drawings which, in turn, graphically
redoubled the crystalline structure of the object. The bronze
version-which was comrnonly made in six copies-was lim-
ited to two copies, at the sanle time identical in their volmnetry,
and different with regard to their "graphical" destiny.
What did the progressive elaboration of the Cube show, if
not the structural stubbornness of this process of splitting? An
act of drawing and an act of volumetry, trace and mass at the
same tiIne, the Cube makes us understand how a transparent
cage could becOlne opaque, packed, become a dark crystal while
Inaintaining in a virtual state its nature as a cage for bodies, or
a sarcophagus. It will have Inade us adrnit both the siInplicity of
the Inonolithic rnass and the cOlnplexity of the irregular faces.
It will have shown us its power to Inelancholically welcOlne
something like a portrait of the absent one, and the reciprocal
gesture of a figurative and narcissistic demand. It will have split
in front of us, right down to the narne that signs it, the naIne
"GiacOlnetti," caught between paternity and filiation, between a
representation of a dead person (it too split into silenced events
and into re-elaborated stories, with aIl their cortèges of subtle
repetitions and contiguities) and a representation oflife.
One of the first consequences of this structure of endless
splitting will have been to consign the Cube to the status of an
indecisive genre, or, better, an impossible genre. Giacornetti's
sculpture remains too powerfully inaninlate not to be erected on
this nlute "life" expressed by the words "dread," "meulOry," or
"mourning". In front ofus, it rernains sOlnething like an object
of a vivacious mourning, and as a double it dis orients whoever
seeks within it the exact boundary of the living (of the face, of
the character, or of the quasi-subject) and of the dead person (of
the skull, of the petrified, or of the funerary stele). On the other
hand, it tells us nothing of its sex: it is not the crucial role of the

Buried Face

paternal series that will allow us to speak of it shanlelessly as a

"rnasculine" object for eXaInple. The strongworks-the dialec-
tical ÎInages-are no lllOre "ML" than "Mrs."; even rnore they
are no Inore "Dad" th an "MUln". The specific abstraction of the
Cube consisted precisely in displacing, splitting, deconstruct-
ing such categories: the "unknown sign" of an unknown gen-
der, the Cube tends in reality towards a neuter gender, that pet-
rified fOrIn of bisexuality created psychologically by the "death
narcissisrn" whose powerful Îlnprint we recognized during our
analysis. 281
A second consequence, already developed, was to under-
stand the Cube according to a network of contradictory spa-
tialities, and therefore to nlake it an object with impossible
dimensions. In it, the "unlÎlnited and abstract" space of death
is certainly at work, as GiacOlnetti clairned to understand it; but
its facets constitute also the geometrical vise of a box that tight-
ens what it contains, that liInits or concentrates its own space.
Larger than an object, slualler than a monuluent, the Cube can
be thought of according to the paradoxes of scale and of Inonu-
nlentality, inherited fr01Il Brancusi. 2821t can also be understood
through that other phenornenon of the period, which we also
find in Brancusi, Derain, Freundlich or Csaky, and that is the
nlassified, almost Inonulnental, apprehension of heads envis-
aged as solids. 283
But this dimensional paradox does not stop splitting itself:
if the Cube is a head, as its creator one day claiIned, then it is
an impossible, hypochondriac, excessive head, which is aIl
the nlore "disintegrating" because it remains obstructed, with
neither a front nor a profile, without any sylnnletry with which
to situate it. If it is an adult's body, we can only experience it
constrained inside the bars of a cornpact cage, one that evokes
the shrinking, the curled up intertwining that so Inany civiliza-
tions inlposed on the dead as a preventative nleasure against
their tabooed return, or their threatening return. 284 If it is a
child's body, we can only experience it negatively, mortaIly, or


in a sense ITlOnstrously. But the Cube is none of that, or it is aIl

of that at the same time. There relnains of its overdeterrnina-
tion only the "simple" appearance-we should place the word
in inverted COInn1as so as not to forget that that simplicity itself
is split too-with a sort of organic stele. A stone that is literally
"sarcophagus," meaning "flesh-eating," that would guard the
memory ofwhat it doon1s to absence. 285 Erected like the tomb-
stone in the cernetery in Borgonovo, but also leaning, banal and
defective, as though caught in the infinitely slow act of its own
fall or its own drift into the ground (this is the irnpression given
by the steles of old ]ewish cerneteries, certain tired lnegaliths,
the great heads of Easter Island). We find ourselves in front of a
geornetrical construction that seems at the Saine tiIne to with-
hold and to solidify sornething-a body, for example-and to
let it faIl, to let it undo itself, to lnake it bury itself.
The Cube would becorne split again between its vocation as
an object, which is solitary as such, displaceable, insensitive to
place, and its stele-like or boundary-like nature, which tends
to impose itself like the mark of a precise place. This would be
the third consequence of its double nature: the Cube lays out
before us the paralneters of an impossible place. Why did Giaco-
lnetti create two plaster casts of his polyhedron? Was it simply
to implicate their reciprocal spacing, that is to say the place to
Ineasure their splitting? Why does the oldest photograph of the
Cube, published in the fifth instaIln1ent of Minotaure, in May
1934, show two identical bases placed one in front of the other
(fig. 76)? And if the work was entitled Part of a Sculpture in 1935
(fig. 30), was it for the sake of sornething like bringing another
sculpture into the presence of the polyhedron with-or several
other sculptures-as GiacOInetti had do ne in 1932 in Palace
at 4 a.m., or in the lnagnificent Projectfor a Square, whose ele-
lnents were scattered around the artist's studio (fig. 77)?
It is therefore quite probable that the Cube was conceived,
at one n10ITlent in its elaboration, as a "character" in a couple
(let us think of the little work from 1933 entitled Mother and

Buried Face

Fig. 76: Alberto Giacometti: The Cube (1934) with its pedestal, plaster.
1934 titled Nocturnal Pavilion in Minotaure.

Daughter), or even a group (let us think of Trois personnages

dans un pré, reproduced in Minotaure, also in 1933, fig. 78).
GiacOlnetti, as we know, was to relnain attached to his works
in the forrn of "places" or "squares," undefined places cohab-
ited by SOIlle figures, heads or bodies brought together without
regard for their differently diInensioned statures. But it would
be useless and wrong to stop at this InOlnent, a Inere stage in a
structure of transformations, in order to reduce the Cube to a
nlere "piece," like some signifier in a sculptural group.286 Gia-
conletti set hÏInself the task of nlaking the Cube "lose its place,"
and of giving to it a solitude that he wished to be delneaning,
while it continued to express the local paradox, the fundarnen-
tal paradox of the object. What should we caU this paradox?
What should we caIl a place in which objects, bodies brought
together, know how to live absolutely alone and folded in on


Let us call that place-that "impossible" place, a restrictive

place-a cemete1y, that is to say a place for being absent and
for being there in spite of everything, there, as fallen remains.
A place for representing the paradox of this object of mou rn-
ing which is the Cube, this "nocturnal pavilion," that iInpos-
sible abode, a place for being there, absent. That is to say, there,
buried, there inhurned. And not exactly invisible, since every
there possesses its own visual clue, albeit the clue of disappear-
ance. Between 1933 and 1934, the ground opened under Gia-
cometti's feet, and we can irnagine his artistic situation-the
extreme rarity of the production, the closeness of a definitive
renunciation-in the irnage of the place in which he had not
found the strength to bury his artist father. At the end of this
long year of lnourning, after having erected the real tOlnbstone
in the cernetery of Borgonovo, GiacOlnetti had to decide "to
stop playing" (fig. 69-70), to stop harrning the reality of figures
and the tradition of sculptural paraIneters (the portrait genre,
in particular); to stop thinking of sculpture in the outrageous
tenns of a very particular "surrealisnl". The Cube renlains, to us,
like the rnurdered remains-the synlptonl-ofthis tearing, this
rupture. It no longer "plays," unlike the Surrealist Table (fig. 23)
which continued to do so. It lnarks a pause, it Inarks the tiIne of
a plunge into mourning before the opening up of the tirne for
renewing with figurative painting, with the portrait, and with
Ayearortwo before, Giaconletti had "played" at rnakingthis
extraordinary horizontal sculpture, this playground hollowed
out with cupules and entitled No More Play (fig. 79). Rosalind
Krauss has very pertinently centered our gaze on the "90 0 rota-
tion of the axis of rnovelnent," that is to sayon the formaI replay-
ing of the horizontality in this iInportant work,2S7 But our refIec-
tion on the Cube can clarifY the pronouncernent elaborated by
GiacOllletti here and elsewhere (for eXaIuple in the Palace at
4 a.m.), or in the sculpture frorn 1931 entitledMan, Woman, and
Ch ild) i it is because horizontality is affirrned diaiectically, in a

Buried Face

Fig. 77: Georges Brassaï: Giacometti's studio in 1933, with the Woman witlz
Hel' Throat eut and the Elementsfor tlze Projectfor a Place. 1933 in

Buried Face

Fig. 78: Alberto Giacometti: Trois personnages dans un pré (circa 1930),
plaster models. 1933 in Minotaure.

double tension: on the one hand with the hollowing out or the
anfractuosities scattered over the surface;288 on the other hand,
with a punctual reaffirrnation, like an epiphany, of its vertical-
ity in the two "characters" placed like the king and queen in a
game of chess. In short, Giacon1etti does not clairn the "scene"
or the playground of the ground until it is confronted with the
visual question of its dug-out or virtual under-ground, and the
arltl1fopon10rphic steles which mark its "taking shape," the
en1ergence of an object in this horizontal place which is every-
where excavated.
Ground, under-ground: looking at No More Play, we realize
it simply describes the layout of a celnetery. But a totally over-
whelmed cemetery, fantaslnatically turned upside down, sud-
denly opened to the ernergence ofburied bodies. Yves Bonnefoy
saw the powerfullink that tied this work to the iconography of
the Last ]udglnent, as Fra Angelico had in1agined it in the n10st
striking version perhaps, since it is the lnost radical and the

lluried Face

Fig. 79: Alberto Giacometti: No More Play (1932), marble, wood and
bronze, 4,10 x 58,00 X 45,20 cm. Patsy R. und Raymond D. Nasher Collec-
tion, Dallas.

rnost powerfully geometric (fig. 80).289 But how should we inter-

pret this relniniscence of religious iconography? Is it to give the
last word to the resurrection of bodies? Is it to situate Giaco-
rnetti's sculpture on the side of a supernatural rather than sur-
realist "presence"? To bring into play a liturgical paradigln in
this sculpture's efficacy, as Georges Charbonnier, in his inter-
view with the artist, continuously asked?290 Absolutely not. The
"cemetery"-work frorn 1932, like the Cube frmn 1934 (which is
erected, however, with the sarne diInensions as a funerary stele),
does not play that game. Their untiInely and inspired charac-
ter is to be found instead in the fact that their nIles of play-or
their rivalry-will not be translnitted, nor understoodj and that
they invent places that are absolutely incapable of consensus.
On the one hand, indeed, their displaced character and their
powerful fonnal work distances theul froul any collective belief
and InyttlOlogYj on the other hand, their latent character-at the
same tirne private and overdetermined-distances theul, unam-
biguously, frorn any stylistic c1osure, from any modernist reduc-

Buried Face

Fig. 80: Fra Angelico: Last]udgment (circa 1433), tempera on wood (detail).
Florence, Museum San Marco.

tion, aIl the nlore so from any tautological view on fornl (a view
according to whic h this work would only let us "look atwhat there
is to be seen"291). If the Cube, fonnaIly, recalls the vocabulary of
the most ancient religious statuary revisited by Brancusi, it also
anticipates the literaI but "intense" cubes of Alnerican miniInal-
ism, for example the dark sculpted volmnes by Tony Slnith, 292 or
the little hollow cube that Sol LeWitt invented in 1968 in order
to nlake "an object to bury the object". 293 Giaconletti crystallized
this fragile and inventive memory and this double avoidance
(neither belief, nor tau toi ogy; neither archaisln, nor exactly
modernisnl) by investing an abstract object with the powers of
the image. Because it was powerfully anthropomorphic, Giaco-
metti's sculpture confused the way its formaI specificity was to
be looked at. Consequently it did not enter the nonnal process
of a developlnent of style, and instead was dOOlned to relnain
singular and sterile, to relnain without any future in GiacOlnet-
ti's work. Because it was powerfully abstract, this sculpture also
confused the way of 100king at its signification as image in the

Buried Face

ordinary sense (that is, in the sense of its aspectual imitation of

sOlnething or sOlneone). It was only an "irnage" in that it has a
fragile equilibrium, an equilibriurn dOOIued to faIl, and which
even works towards its own falling: between emergence and
burial, between resemblance and dissimilarity. It was only an
"image" in that it presented itself-between face and place-as
the nmrdered, faIlen, yet calm, crystalline relnains of an untold
relation and tearing. With no iconography. And that is why its
efficacy-its singular and liInited efficacy, its telnporary effi-
cacy-will be forgotten one day. Giacometti had thus created
his Cube according to the powerful, but fragile diInensions of
an impossible temporality.
In the end, aIl ofthis created an object that the art historian
could only qualifywith difficulty, because it resists being placed
between a "before" and an "after," because it escapes any place
that is nonnally given in this chronological and numeric series
that we calI a catalogue. The Cube remains anachronistic and
innulnerable, and it is aU of that together for the very reason
that it does not offer the sign of a style, but instead a symptom
stretched between a fonnal economy and a psychological econ-
orny. A symptonl, that is to say the singular crystallization of
impossible tinles because they are tied up in conflictual ways,
of places, and genres and of impossible dünensions because
they are associated in a conflictual way. This is what justified
the choice of a sort of methodological and interpretative zigzag-
ging; and this is what denlanded the ceaseless running around,
frOln one face of this object to another, as though anl0ng the
boxes of a square or lnagic "cube".
The idea that the Cube is a sylnptom does not me an in any
way that it arises from a clinic or a psychopathology. It simply
means that it presents its visual singularity as the sign of an
overdetennination that is constantly at work, and in front of
which interpretation nmst constantly divide and split up. That
is why the Cube renlains the object of an impossible number,
like its adrnirable "twin" frorn 1934, entitled 1+1=3, suggesting

Buried Face

Fig. 81: Alberto Giacometti: 1+1=3 (1934), plaster, height 160,00 cm.
Destroyed, photographed by Ernst Scheidegger in the Maloja studio
(Foundation Ernst Scheidegger-Archive).

Buried Face

the operation of a luysterious, non-arithluetical engendering

(fig. 81). The Cube is therefore severa l, one and two and tluee,
up to twelve or thirteen and even lllOre, because it is power-
fully overdetennined; it is two because it was invested with the
magic of doubles; it is one because it is literally unique, without
any lineage in Giacometti's work, and even because it rernains
a hapax legOluenon in the history of luodern art; and finally,
it leans towards zero, firstly because it is constructed as "now
the void" (and also "hand holding the void"), like the Invisible
abject, and then because its creator sought to annihilate it, bury
it, rnake it zero before our eyes-to give it over to that absence of
which it had, for a while, been the efficient crystal.


1 Samuel Beckett: The Complete Shorter Prose, 1929-1989, ed. S. E. Gon-

tarski, (New York: Grove Press, 1995), p. 197-198.
2 [Editors' note: With "volume" (volume) Didi-Huberman refers to the
three-dimensional extension of things as weIl as to the sculptural soIid
(insofar as it is a weighted volume or density), in addition to the extension
of hollows and voids, and to specific sculptures as weIl. Didi-Huberman's
particular employment of the term "volume" is cIosely linked to his use of
"mass", "counter-mass" and "massification," with which he sometimes
describes the fabrieation of sculptural volume by cutting and hollowing out
(aIl the while alluding to problems of balancing weight, mass and volume
in sculpture) and sometimes the mate rial mass. In his reconfiguration of
the tenus "mass" and "volume" throughout his book, the author implic-
itly reassesses the established discourse around Alberto Giacometti's later
works, particularly as regards their problematization and refiguration of
sculptural space, or of sculpture as space. Didi-Huberman's highly specifie
use of "volumetry" (volumétrie) is part of this continuing endeavor.]
3 Two plaster casts were created by Giacometti: one remains invisible,
the otherwas buried in 1987 in the collections ofthe Musée national d'Art
moderne in Paris. See Valerie J. Fletcher, "23. Cube," in: id., ed., Alberto
Giacometti, 1901-1966 (Washington: Hirshhorn Museum/Smithsonian
Institution, 1988), p. 108. Moreover, two bronzes were produced by Susse:
one is in the collection of the Maeght Foundation; the other is at the Kunst-
haus in Zurich. Numerous technical questions remain unanswered, in par-
ticular regarding the differences between the two plaster casts, the exact
date ofthe production ofthe bronzes, the fate of the bases that Giacometti
originally intended for them, the problem of the titles, and the technique
of engraving used afterwards, at the time of the casting. But one must point
out that, today, both the objects and the documents have been rendered
literally inaccessible ... [Editors' note: Didi-Huberrnan is describing the
situation in 1993. The plaster cast of the Cube Didi-Huberman caIls "invis-
ible" is now owned by the Giacometti Foundation (Kunsthaus Zurich) and
on display at the Kunstrnuseum Basel.]
4 Alberto Giacometti: "Entretien avec André Parinaud" (1962), Écrits
(Paris: Hermann, 1990), p. 269-279, here p. 271. [Editors' note: AIl quota-
tions from Écrits are translated by Shane B. Lillis (as weIl as most transla-
tions out of texts that are originaIly in French). Existing translations into
EngIish are mentioned in addition. For a translation of Écrits, see: Alberto
GiacOInetti: Works, Writings, Interviews (Barcelona: Ediciones Poligrafa,
200 7)].


5 Ibid., p. 271-272.
6 Ibid., p. 272.
7 On the general presentation of the Cube and the problem ofits dating,
see Franz Meyer, Alberto Giacometti. Eine Kzmst existentieller Wirklichlceit
(Frauenfeld-Stuttgart: Huber, 1968), p. 89; Carlo Huber,Alberto Giacometti,
(Zurich: Ex Libris, 1970), p. 42-44, 88-90; Reinhold Hohl, Alberto Giaco-
metti (Lausanne: Clairefontaine, 1971), p. 104-105; Michael F. Brenson,
The Early Wor/e of Alberto Giacometti: 1925-1935 (Baltimore, Ph.D. diss.,
Johns Hopkins University, 1974), p. 174; Fletcher (ed.), "23. Cube," p. 108-
109; Christian Klemm, ed., Die Sammlung der Alberto Giacometti-Stiftwzg
(Zurich: Pro Litteris, 1990), p. 80-81 and 157-158.
8 On this period in general, compare above all Hohl, Alberto Giacometti,
p. 102-108; Brenson, The Early Wor/e ofAlberto Giacometti, p. 165-191; Yves
Bonnefoy, Alberto Giacometti. Biographie d'une œuvre (Paris: Flammarion,
1991), p. 209-254. English translation: Alberto Giacometti. A Biography of
His Work, translated by J. Steward (New York: Random House, 1999). A
recent and well-documented exhibition was devoted to this period: Alberto
Giacometti-Retour à lafiguration, 1933-1947 (Geneva, Rath/Paris: Centre
Georges Pompidou, 1986-1987). In the catalogue one can find a whole spec-
trum ofinterpretations, from the most "existential" (the return to figurative
work as a "return to life" according to Paul Bruguière, "L'Œuvre de la vision
Giacometti de 1933 à 1944," ibid., p. 8-17, here p. 8) to the most mediocrely
"sociological" ones ("1933-1934 was the paroxysm of the consequences of
the gTeat depression which paralyzed the Pari sian art market for a number
of years. Dropped by their art dealers, many visual artists who had partici-
pated in avant-gardist productions returned to a more conventional figura-
tive work, and, in order to survive in this slump in sales, accepted commis-
sions for portraits or contributed to the fashion for bourgeois still lifes ... "
Christian Derouet, "Proposition pour le retour à la figuration d'Alberto Gia-
cometti," ibid., p. 66-73, here p. 66). This point ofview obviously seems too
superficial regarding Giacometti, but the author was rigllt to point out that
this period still has not been studied enough to be properly evaluated today.
9 See Hohl,Alberto Giacometti, p. 102, 104, 105.
10 "Its monolithic fonn, with no evident symbolic allusions, appears to
be a purely formaI composition without meaning ... " Fletcher, "23. Cube,"
11 Regarding the analytical character of the assemblage of cubist sculp-
ture, see Rosalind Krauss, Passages in Modem Sculpture (Cambridge-Lon-
don: The MIT Press, 1977), p. 39-67 and particularly p. 47-51; Margit RowelI,
ed., QU'est-ce que la sculpture modem? (Paris: Centre Georges Pompidou/
MNAM, 1986), p. 26-27, who shows cIearly the ph,torial origin of cubist
sculpture "whose treatment excluded the formula of the cIosed monolith"
(p. 26). Compare also the lovelywork by Carola Giedion-Welcker, Con tempo-


rmy Sculpture. An Evolution in Volume and Space (London: Faber and Faber,
1960), p. 46-84; as weIl as Abraham M. Hammacher, L'Evolution de la sculp-
ture moderne. Tradition et innovation (Paris: Cercle d'Art, 1971), p. 157-171.
But this does not mean that cubism-pictorial cubism and neo-Cézannian
above aIl-was forgotten by Giacometti during the creation of the Cube.
Yves Bonnefoy (Alberto Giacometti, p. 118) already evoked Georges Braque's
Tête defemme (1909, Paris, MNAM); it is rather the architecture ofthe Mai-
sons à l'Estaque (1908, Berne, Kunstmuseum) that would evoke a relation
with the Cube. On Giacometti and cubism in general, see Jonathan Silver,
"Giacometti, Frontality and Cubism," Art News 73 (1974), no. 6, p. 40-42.
12 See Abraham M. Hammacher, Jacques Lipchitz (New York: Abrams,
1975), p. 64-82. In the same sense, we could reflect on another work, the
Tête of 1914, compare Harvard H. Arnason, Jacques Lipchitz. Sketches in
Bronze (London: PaIl MalI Press, 1969), p. 35.
13 That is to say, that of the inaugural conference on "Italian Art and
International Astrology in the Palazzo Schifanoia in Ferrara" (1902) in Aby
Warburg, The Renewal ofPaganAntiquity. Contributions to the Cultural His-
tOly of the European Renaissance, translated by David Britt (Los Angeles:
Getty Research Institute for the History of Art and the Humanities, 1999),
P·5 6 3-591,
14 See Brenson, The Early Work of Alberto Giacometti, p. 176-178 and
15 See Hohl, Alberto Giacometti, p. 104. It is true that in the exhibition
entitled Thèse-Antithèse-Synthèse (Lucerne, Kunstmuseum, February-
March 1935), the work was exhibited under the title Partie d'une sculpture.
To my knowledge it has not been established who gave it this title. 1 will
return to this important problem later.
16 Let us remember that it was said a long time ago by Erwin Panofsky, in
his fundamental article entitled "On the Problem of Describing and Inter-
preting Works ofVisual Arts," translated by J. Eisner and K. Lorenz, Critical
Inquily 38 (Spring 2012), issue 3, p. 467-482, here p. 479: "But in an enterprise
like this-in which the exegesis of a work of art is elevated onto the same
level as that of a philosophical system or a religious belief, for instance-we
must abandon even the knowledge ofliterary sources, at least in the sense of
sources which can be directly related to the relevant work of art. We may weIl
find texts which can enlighten us directly about what Dürer's Melancholia
represents in tenns of its meaning dependent on content, but there are no
texts to throw clear ligllt on what it represents in tenus of its intrinsic mean-
ing. And even if Dürer himself had commented directly on the ultimate aim
of his work (as later artists have attempted on various occasions), it would
soon be clear that even these comments miss the true intrinsic meaning of
the sheet and, rather th an furnish us with its correct interpretation, become
themselves objects in urgent need ofinterpretation."


17 "A glance at Giacometti's antediluvian face reveals his arrogance and

his desire to place himself at the beginning of time." Jean-Paul Sartre,
"The Quest For The Absolute" (1948), Essays in Aesthetics, translated by
W. Baskin (New York: Citadel Press 1963), p. 82-96, here p. 82. We see later
the link between this mythology and the "romantic" model of BalzacÏan
heroes, like Frenhofer inLe Clzefd'œuvre inconnu. And, like any hero worthy
of the name, Giacometti had to stand out from the others, to be alone with
presence, so to speak-and this is basicallywhat Michel Leiris says ("Pierres
pour un Alberto Giacometti," Brisées (Paris: Mercure de France, 1966),
p. 155): "Problem of real presence, presented and solved by Giacometti,
while that problem seems to have escaped the attention of almost aIl our
sculptors ... " Let us remark finally that it was upon this kind of mythology of
the "archetypal artist" that the media coverage concerning the recent exhi-
bition in the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris was constructed.
18 The rnonograph speaks at the sa me tirne-close to the artist's own
words-ofthe "demand for a totality," Jacques Dupin,Alberto Giacometti.
(Paris: Maeght, 1963), p. 9. Eisewhere, he evokes the "pursuit of reality, of
the totality of the real," an act that implies a "purification of the gaze" and
the effort to "hollow out appearance". See also Jacques Dupin, "La réalité
impossible," Alberto Giacometti (Saint-Paul de Vence: Fondation Maeght,
1978), p. 33-47. Reinhold Hohl follows this to the letter when speaking
of a "meeting between reality and existence" (Hohl, Alberto Giacometti,
p. 10 5-135).
19 Dupin, Alberto Giacometti, p. 43. We can see that the opposite posi-
tion-which is anti-metaphysical and which privileges the works of the
surrealist period-could also rej ect the Cube according to symmetrical cri-
teria, for example the formaI criteria of an abandomnent ofhorizontality in
favor of this "traditional" verticality of the statue-of the stature-that the
work so clearly challenges. On this position, see Rosalind Krauss, "Giaco-
metti," in Primitivism in Twentieth Centwy Art. Affinity of the Tribal and the
Modem, ed. byWilliam S. Rubin (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1984),
p. 503-533, here p. 524-525.
20 See Bonnefoy, Alberto Giacometti, p. 243.
21 Ibid., p. 213. Myemphasis.
22 Alberto Giacometti, "Entretien avec Pierre Schneider" (1961), Écrits,
p. 262-268, here p. 263.
23 On the idealist and metaphysical motif of the disegl10 (meaning "draw-
ing," "design," and "intention") as a foundation for the modern system of
the Fine Arts, from the 16th century, see Georges Didi-Huberman, Devant
l'Image. Question posée auxfins d'une histoire de l'art, (Paris: Minuit, 1990),
P·94- 10 3·
24 Dupin,Alberto Giacometti, p. 29-33. Myemphasis.


25 "1 saw Alberto die, 1was at his bedside, 1was holding his hand, Alberto
was looking at me or rather scrutinizing the outlines ofmy face, and draw-
ing me with his eyes like he drew with his eyes and transposed into draw-
ings everything he looked at." Cited by Bonnefoy, Alberto Giacometti, p. 80
(and note 11, p. 533).
26 Jean Genet, The Studio ojAlberto Giacometti (1957), translated by P. Kin
(London: Grey Tiger Books, 2014), without pagination.
27 Ibid. André du Bouchet gives another version of this crystalline per-
spective: "Drawings by Alberto Giacometti-cold blocks detached from
some glaciers with sharply defined faces". (André du Bouchet, "Sur le foyer
des dessins d'Alberto Giacometti" (1965), Alberto Giacometti. Dessins,
1914-1965 (Paris, Maeght, 1969), p. 9). This same text is reprinted, with
others on the artist, in the beautiful collection by André du Bouchet, Qui
n'est pas tourné vers nous (Paris: Mercure de France, 1972), p. 7-24.
28 Alberto Giacometti, "Carnets et feuillets" (circa 1924), Écrits, p. 114.
In the same year, Giacometti wrote the following: "Making a great, united,
and complete whole of masses: a mass whose every part goes one with the
other. AlI parts constructed and drawn logically in their clear and organic
forms. Maintaining at the same time the reciprocal directions of the
masses. The whole of a continuous harmony. Every form entire." ("Carnets
et feuillets" (circa 1924), ibid., p. 112).
29 James Lord, A Giacometti Portrait (New Yorlc Farrar, Strauss & Giroux,
1980), p. 9.
30 Let us recall that it is because his father had Ilot insisted-as he
says-that Giacometti had followed his opinion to the letter: "He spoke
to me about the Grande Chaumière where it was possible to paint and to
draw. First of aIl 1 did not want to, but, since he did not insist, 1 finally made
up my mind to go." (Alberto Giacometti, "Entretien avec le professeur Gott-
hard JedIicka" (1953), Écrits, p. 250-252, here p. 250-251). Regarding this
entire period, see also Bonnefoy, Alberto Giacometti, p. 111-127.
31 Daniel Marquis-Sébie, Le Message de Bourdelle (Paris: L'Artisan du
Livre, 1931), p. 86-87, 110-111. Compare also Hohl, Alberto Giacometti,
p. 232-245. This technique of drawing is not unrelated to the technique
of cutting which was also done in Bourdelle's studio. It is triangulation,
which consists in "cutting and polishing" the block in a steady way, that
is to say "cutting the hard material, in sections and chamfers, following
a three-dimensional rnodel or a pattern, by leaving around the defini-
tive forms a certain quantity of matter" (Marie-Thérèse Baudry, Principes
d'analyse scientifique. La sculpture, méthode etvocabulaire (Paris, Imprime-
rie nationale, 1978), p. 581). It is therefore a more rigorous and geometrical
way to make a sketch. For a historical re-evaluation of Giacometti's aca-
demic training uncler Bourdelle-beyond Alberto's own declarations: "It
didn't teach me very much" ("Entretien avec André Parinaud" (1962),Écrits,


p. 271)-see also Hohl, Alberto Giacometti, p. 24-29, 32, 77. Let us note as
weIl that in his drawings Giacometti radicalized a geometrization found
neither in Cézanne's drawings nor in those of Bourdelle himself. Compare
in particular, Wayne Andersen, Cézanne's Portrait Drawing (Cambridge-
London: The MIT Press, 1970); and Paul Lorenz, Bourdelle. Sculptures et
dessins (Paris, Rombaldi, 1947).
32 Above aIl that of the Aimé Maeght collection in Paris. See Bonnefoy,
Alberto Giacometti, p. 111.
33 Ibid., p. 64.
34 Swiss, private collection. See Kosme Maria di Barafiano, ed., Alberto
Giacometti (Madrid: Museo nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, 1990),
35 See the drawings reproduced in Bonnefoy, Alberto Giacometti, p. 68,
103, 119, 191, 240, 253, 261. Compare also du Bouchet, "Sur le foyer de
dessins d'Alberto Giacometti," p. 33 and 39-41; André Kuenzi, ed., Alberto
Giacometti (Martigny: Pierre Gianada Foundation, 1986), p. 63 and 199.
36 See Bonnefoy,Alberto Giacometti, p. 57-85.
37 The texts in which Giacometti confesses both his obsession and his
inability to produce proper proportions are numerous; see Giacometti,
"Mai 1920," Écrits, p. 71-73, here 71-72; "Cahiers et feuillets" (circa 1931-
1932); ibid., p. 127; "Entretien avec Pierre Schneider," ibid., p. 263-267;
"Entretien avec André parinaud," ibid., p. 271-273; "Entretien avec pierre
Dumayet," ibid., p. 280-286; "Entretien avec David Sylvester," ibid., p. 287-
295, here p. 287-289.
38 On the Problem of proportions, cf. the classic study by Erwin Panof-
sky, "The History of the Theory of Human Proportions as a Retlection of
the History of Styles" (1921), Meanlng in tlze Visual Arts. Papers in and on
Art History (New York: Garden City, 1955), p. 1-25. On the art of drawing,
compare Joseph Meder, Die Handzeiclznung, ilzre Technik und Entwicklung
(Vienna: Schroll, 1923), p. 195 and 618-623. On the stereometric draw-
ings of Dürer, see Walter L. Strauss, Albreclzt Dürer. Tlze Human Figure. The
Complete "Dresden Sketchbook" (New York: Dover, 1972), p. 190-215 (with
an English translation ofDürer's texts).
39 See Alberto Giacometti, "Carnets et feuillets" (circa 1931-1935), Écrits,
p. 130, 142, 165,168, 170,178, 180.
40 Lord, A Giacometti Portrait, p. 85 [translator's note: translation modi-
41 Yves Bonnefoywas right in this sense to dismiss the two categories of
the abstract and the figurative in Giacometti, in order to highlight the pro-
cess of contlict with which the artist was preoccupied: "Nothing in a work
that is not the interior resistance of the mind to the project-that is, the
dream-of an authentic mimesis, totally devoted to what is shown to us


by the world. [... ] Form cannot remain abstract for very long for Alberto,
regardless of desire at different moments. It must immediately become
life again, that is to say, around1934, an obsession with death." (Bonnefoy,
Alberto Giacometti, p. 228 and 217).
42 Bonnefoy in ste ad finds the figure "very dancing, very wiId" (ibid.,
43 "The figures were never, for me, a cornpact mass, but like a transpar-
ent construction. After ail kinds of attempts once again, 1 made cages with
a free construction inside them ... " (Alberto Giacometti, "Lettre à Pierre
Matisse" (1948), Écrits, p. 37-50, here p. 40).
44 Alberto Giacometti, "Entretien avec David Sylvester" (1964), Écrits,
45 Alberto Giacometti, "Carnets et feuillets" (cirTa 1960), Écrits, p. 218.
46 Alberto Giacometti, "Carnets et feuillets" (circa 1946), Écrits, p. 188.
47 Alberto Giacometti, "Le rêve, le sphinx et la mort de T." (1946), Écrits,
p. 27-35, here p. 32-35, and in particular, p. 33-34: "Suddenly, 1 had the
feeling that aIl events were happening simultaneously around me. Time
became horizontal and circular, it was space at the same time and 1 tried to
draw it... [... ] But 1 held on to horizontality, and did not want to lose it and 1
saw the dise become an object."
48 Raymond Roussel, Locus Solus (1914), translated by John Calder
(London: Alma Classics, 2008), p. 41. In French, Locus Solus, (Paris: Pauvert,
1979), p. 64·
49 Alberto Giacometti, "Carnets et feuillets" (circa 1923), Écrits, p. 105-
106, here p. 105.
50 Relations désagrégeantes (Disintegrating relations)-was the original
title that Giacometti had given to Point de l'œil (Point of the Eye) of 1932.
51 Bonnefoy, Alberto Giacometti, p. 209-212, which, very pertinently,
traces a direct path from Woman with Her Throat Cut of 1932 to our Cube.
On the "cruel reveries" of Giacometti in this period, see ibid., p. 49-51.
52 Alberto Giacometti, "Carnets et feuillets" (circa 1934-1935), Écrits,
p. 181. Giacometti had crossed out the words "nothing will happen," as
weIl as the interrogative sequence: "space? [... ] fantasy". On the theme
mentioned, see also ibid., p. 71-72, 127, 134, 263-267 and 271-274.
53 Compare for example Genet, The Studio of Giacometti, without
54 Alberto Giacometti, "Entretien avec André Parinaud" (1962), Écrits,
P·273- 274·
55 See Bonnefoy, Alberto Giacometti, p. 226. The original plaster cast of the
Invisible Object can be found in Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven.


56 On the Invisible O~ject in general, see Hohl, Alberto Giacometti, p. 104;

Bonnefoy,Alberto Giacometti, p. 226-234. Rosalind Krauss gave a salutary cri-
tique of the problems of origin in which everyone (Breton and Leiris, in par-
ticular) wanted to situate the worle See Krauss, "Giacometti," p. 503-533.
57 [Translator's note: this title translates, textually, into English as Hands
lzolding the void, while it plays at the same tirne, orally, on the word "mainte-
nant," "now," which offers a second meaning to the title: Now, the void.]
58 See Bonnefoy, Alberto Giacometti, p. 230.
59 But regarding Giacometti's drawùzgs, which he certainly sensed were
engaged with the question of the abject, a question is directed at the object:
"What is that object upon which he ceaselessly returns, an object that we
might believe only takes a bodily form at the outcome of a prolonged hesi-
tation, whatever the cost, to the extent that we risk seeing it melt and lose
itself in the high wall'?" Du Bouchet, Alberto Giacometti. Dessins, p. 9-10.
Later, speaking specifically of the Cube, the poet speaks of a "palpable
block," but also of an "erratic stone," that is massive and hollowed out
(ibid., p. 21).
60 Compare the catalogue Tlzèse-Antitlzèse-Synthèse (Lucerne, Kunst-
museum, 1935), no. 33, and Brenson, The Early Works of Alberto Giaco-
metti, p. 176-178. In the absence of accessible documents, this problem of
the title remains open.
61 The bird, which is very stylized, appears on the right hand side of the
character in the Invisible abject. See Hohl, Alberto Giacometti, p. 298, devel-
oped in Reinhold Hohl, ed., Alberto Giacometti (New York: The Solo mon
Guggenheim Museum, 1974), p. 22.
62 Genet, The Studio of Giacometti, without pagination. 1 am attributing
to the Cube a sentence that of course was not written about it, but rather
about other, much later sculptures
63 Which is proposed by Brenson, The Early Work ofAlberto Giacometti,
P·17 6-17 8 .
64 Giacometti had created molds of faces and, despite his stated dissat-
isfaction for this mode of "portrait," he kept a few examples in his studio;
and this can be seen in a photograph in which we see a mold stored very
near the Cubist Head.
65 The year 1933 is the more correct date, according to Hohl (Alberto Gia-
cometti, p. 102).
66 See for example, Alberto Giacometti, "Mai 1920" (1952), Écrits,
p. 71-73, here p. 72; "Entretien avec Pierre Dumayet" (1963), Écrits, p. 280-
286. Jean Starobinski spoke in this context of "dimensional trances"
("A Genève avec Giacometti (1943-1945)," Alberto Giacometti-Retour à la
figuration, p. 14-17, quote 16-17), clarifying as follows: "No dimensional
tral1<.~e without the intervention of the void" (p. 17).


67 See Alberto Giacometti, "Entretien avec David Sylvester" (1964), Écrits,

P· 28 9·
68 Alberto Giacometti, "Entretien avec Georges Charbonnier" (1951),
Écrits, p. 241-249, here p. 242. See also Michel Leiris, "Pierre pour un
Alberto Giacometti," p. 150, which situates the problem of scale in the
69 1 am thinldng of course of the final question in the text of 1946 ("Le
rêve, le sphinx et la mort de T.," fig. 22), as weIl as aIl the works mentioned
so far.
70 Du Bouchet, Qui n'est pas tourné vers nOliS, p. 21-22.
71 Hohl, Alberto Giacometti, p. 104.
72 Sartre, "The Quest for the Absolute" (1948), p. 85.
73 Giacometti, "Le rêve, le sphinx et la mort de T." (1946), p. 27-35.
Bonnefoy, Alberto Giacometti, p. 40-45, offers an extensive commentary on
74 Giacometti, "Le rêve, le sphinx et la mort de T." (1946), p. 35. See also
Hohl, Alberto Giacometti, p. 188-191.
75 Giacometti, "Le rêve, le sphinx et la mort de T." (1946), p. 29.
76 Ibid.
77 Ibid, p. 29.
78 Ibid., p. 30.
79 Ibid.
80 See Jean-Bertrand Pontalis, "On Death-Work" (1976), Frontiers in
Psychoanalysis. Beyond the Dream and Psyclzic Pain, translated by C. and
P. Cullen (London: Hogarth, 1981), p. 184-193.
81 Alberto Giacometti, "Je viens d'apprendre avec grand'peine ... " (1965),
Écrits, p. 99. See also Hohl's explanations in Alberto Giacometti, p. 191.
82 Giacometti, "Lettre à Pierre Matisse" (1948), p. 42 and 48.
83 Lord, A Giacometti Portrait, p. 85.
84 Giacometti, "Lettre à Pierre Matisse" (1948), p. 42. The Cube would be
drawn again-and stilIjust as badly-a few pages later in the same letter
(ibid., p. 48).
85 Marcel Jean, Histoire de la peinture surréaliste (Paris: Seuil, 1959),
86 Simone de Beauvoir, La Force de l'âge (Paris: Gallimard, 1960), p. 499-
50 3.
87 Bonnefoy,Alberto Giacometti, p. 169-189.
88 Ibid., p. 130-131, 147-164, 180,200-201,207.


89 " ... 1 imagined with ten'or that 1 would be simply obliged one day to
sit in front of a model on a stool. 1 felt that, in one way or another, 1 had to
succeed." Giacometti, "Entretien avec André Parinaud" (1962), p. 278. My
90 Alberto Giacometti, "Diderot et Falconet étaient d'accord" (1959),
Écrits, p. 81-83, here p. 83; "Entretien avec André Parinaud" (1962), p. 270.
91 Ibid., p. 270. Compare also the words recorded by James Lord: "If 1
could just do a head, one head, just once, then maybe l'd have a chance of
doing the rest," Lord, A Giacometti Portrait, p. 10 (first session).
92 Alberto Giacometti, "Entretien avec Georges Charbonnier" (1951),
Écrits, p. 246.
93 Giacometti, "Lettre à Pierre Matisse" (1948), p. 43. As weil as the inter-
view with Isaku Yanaihara, Écrits, p. 259-260: "Today 1 can see the construc-
tion of your face more cIearly than before/ Yes, it's true! Unless you grasp
architecture from the inside, you cannot paint things." Alberto Giacometti:
"Entretien avec Isaku Yanaihara" (1957), Écrits, p. 253-261, here p. 259-260.
94 Alberto Giacometti, "Lettre à Pierre Matisse" (1948), Écrits, p. 1-52,
here p. 51: "In that place (which he caBs Place 7 figures têtes) 1 recognize
also a precise place where the head takes the place of a stone, there are iso-
lated blocks of granite among the trees, even those heads, 1 had dreamed of
making them around twenty years ago."
95 On these Etudes de têtes (Studies of Heads) from 1934-1935, see
Bonnefoy, Alberto Giacometti, p. 243-248.
96 It is therefore, strictly, a logic of alienation. See Georges Didi-
Huberman, La peinture incarnée (Paris: Minuit, 1985), p. 47-52.
97 And this made him "drop" aB that remained: "[ ... ] By chance, 1 stum-
bled upon a skull that someone loaned to me. 1 had such a desire to paint
it that 1 dropped the Academy for the whole winter. And 1 spent the whole
winter in a hotel room painting the skuB, seeking to cIarify it, to grasp it as
much as possible. [... ] Even today, 1 regret not having gone on to the very
end." Giacometti, "Entretien avec Georges Charbonnier" (1951), p. 245-
246. See also Bonnefoy, Alberto Giacometti, p. 121-123.
98 See William S. Rubin, "Modernist Primitivism," Primitivism in Twentieth
CenturyArt. Affinity of the Tribal and the Modem, ed. William S. Rubin (New
York: Museum of Modern Art, 1984), p. 1-79, here p. 33-35.
99 See Giacometti, "Entretien avec Georges Charbonnier" (1951), Écrits,
p. 246-247. On the overmodeled skulls and the question of the portrait as
a way of managing the disappearing, buried face, see Georges Didi-Huber-
man, "Le visage et la terre," Artstudio 21 (1991), p. 6-21.
100 Giacometti, "Entretien avec Pierre Schneider" (1961), Écrits, p. 262.


101 "We might recall, with regard to this, the giant heads in bronze which,
in later roman art, represented Constantine and Constantius ... " Hohl,
Alberto Giacometti, p. 104.
102 Giacometti, "Le rêve, le sphinx et la mort de T." (1946), Écrits, p. 29.
103 See Pierre Fédida, "L'hypocondrie du rêve," Nouvelle Revue de psycha-
nalyse 5 (197 2), p. 225- 238.
104 1 agree, though coming from a different angle, with a short rernark by
Bonnefoy when he speaks of the Pavillon nocturne, in relation to the Palace
at 4 a.m., as a space for the "sleeper's brain," Bonnefoy, Alberto Giacometti,
105 Regarding this engraving, see Heribert C. Lust, Giacometti. The Com-
plete Graphies (New York: Tudor Publishing Company, 1970), p. 92.
106 See Bonnefoy, Alberto Giacometti, p. 214, which speaks of this sculp-
ture as being "explicitly like the skull of a poor Yorick". And Brenson, The
Early Work of Alberto Giacometti, p. 179-184, refers the work directly to
Giacometti's experiences of death.
107 See Émile Tériade, "Aspects actuels de l'expression plastique," Mino-
taure. Revue artistique et littéraire 1 (1934), p. 42. This choice of the mas-
culine genre seems to me, as an indirect consequence, to refute the inter-
pretation by Hohl, when he sees, in a "cubist" head drawn on the back of
a drawing of the Palace at 4 a.m., "the severed head of the mother" (Hohl,
Alberto Giacometti, p. 101 and 294). On the strongly masculine character
of the Cube and the Cubist Head, see Brenson, The Early Works ofAlberto
Giacometti, p. 174-175 and Fletcher, "23. Cube," p. 108.
108 See Bonnefoy, Alberto Giacometti, p. 62-66 (and p. 57-85).
109 See Giacometti, "Entretien avec le professeur Gotthard Jedlicka"
(1953), p. 250-251. The interview begins with the these words by Jedlicka:
"When Alberto Giacometti speaks of his father, and he often does so, we
become aware of aIl the recognition that he feels towards him," ibid.
110 Giacometti, "Entretien avec David Sylvester" (1964), p. 289.
111 Bonnefoy, Alberto Giacometti, p. 66.
112 Giacometti, "Carnets et feuillets" (circa 1933-1934), Écrits, p. 165
and "Carnets et feuillets" (circa 1934), ibid., p. 168. See also "Carnets et
feuillets" (circa 1933-1934), ibid., p. 180, as weIl as the text from 1933:
"Nothing ever appeared to me in the form of a painting" ("Je ne puis par-
ler qu'indirectement de mes scultptures," ibid., p. 17-19, here p. 17). Bon-
nefoy noticed astutely that when Alberto showed his father drawings or
paintings, it was always in front of a blank page or blank canvas, Bonnefoy,
Alberto Giacometti, p. 533. As though the figures by the father were unfigu-
rable to the son.


113 "It is important to say that in our house the fact of posing was a given
for everyone, for the head of the family used aU of us as his models quite
naturaUy and regularly. Posing for him was a family duty ... " Bruno Gia-
cometti, "Souvenirs fraternels," Alberto Giacometti, ed. André Kuenzi,
p. 37-43, p. 38. Regardingthe paradisiac imageryofthis period for Alberto,
see Bonnefoy, Alberto Giacometti, p. 64.
114 See Lord, A Giacometti Portrait, p. 95.
115 B. Giacometti, "Souvenirs fraternels," p. 37 and 41.
116 See Bonnefoy, Alberto Giacometti, p. 157-159. This uneven part at the
back has never, 1 believe, been photographed.
117 See de Barafiano, ed., Alberto Giacometti, p. 360.
118 One of these photographs of Ernst Scheidegger was first published
by Dupin, Alberto Giacometti, p. 189. See Ernst Scheidegger, Alberto Giaco-
metti-Traces of a Friendship. Spuren einer Freundschaft (Chicago: Univer-
sity of Chicago Press, 2015), who claims that the mask was painted.
119 Georges Bataille, "Le masque" (undated, probably from 1929-1934),
Œuvres complètes, II (Paris: Gallimard, 1970), p. 403-404. On Giacometti's
relation to Bataille in those years, see Bonnefoy, Alberto Giacometti, p. 162-
120 This is shown, for example, in a photograph by Ernst Scheidegger,
taken in 1960, in the Stampa studio: Giacometti can be seen painting right
in front of sculpted heads of his father and his mother. See Scheidegger,
Alberto Giacometti-Traces of a Friendship, p. 43.
121 Compare for example a photograph by René Burri, taken in the studio
in Paris in 1960. But there are many others, see Scheidegger, Alberto Giaco-
metti-Traces ofaFriendship, p. 66-68.
122 Giacometti, "Entretien avec David Sylvester" (1964), p. 289 (the further
context of this statement is cited in this book, p. 92, 94).
123 Giacometti, "Entretien avec Pierre Schneider" (1961), p. 264.
124 Giacometti, "Entretien avec Pierre Dumayet" (1963), p. 285.
125 Giacometti, "Entretien avec André parinaud" (1962), p. 273.
126 Ibid., p. 273, and Lord, A Giacometti Portrait, p. 33, who recounts this
reflection-which would need to be commented on too-according to
which a portrait can start to resemble something, but, strangely, not some-
one (p. 10).
127 See Giacometti, "Le rêve, le Sphinx et la mort de T.," Écrits, p. 30-31;
"Lettre à Pierre Matisse" (1948), ibid., p. 38-30, 44; "Carnets et feuillets"
(circa 1960), p. 218, "Carnets et feuillets" (September 1963), p. 228. Giaco-
metti would decide on an infernal nature of the face: "Hell is right there.
- Where? 1 asked. On the tip of my nose? - No. It's your whole face." Lord,
A Giacometti Portrait, p. 67. The impression given by these texts, when we


refer them to the figurative work which was done at the same time as they
were, is that Giacometti continued to promote values (surrealist or at least
anti-realist values) at a time when the objects no longer really corresponded
to this, or at least correspondedless than the objects from the twenties and
thirties which, as a consequence, he sought to underrnine.
128 Giacometti, "Carnets et feuillets" (cÏl-ca 1960), Écrits, p. 218.
129 Alberto Giacometti, "Le rideau brun" (1933), Écrits, p. 5: "No human
figure is as foreign to me not even a face after having looked at it so much it
closed itselfup everywhere on the steps of an unfamiliar stairs." The poem
is inscribed in a circle which is itself inscribed in a square; and the out-
lines of two lips make the entire poem aface on the page. On this poem,
cf. Chiara Negri, "Sur trois poèmes de Giacometti," Alberto Giacometti, ed.
Kuenzi, p. 221-239.
130 See Lord, A Giacometti Portrait, p. 73-74. We have an indication of the
incisiveness ofthis "geometric anxiety" in the reading by Barnett Newman
in 1948 of Giacometti's anthropomorphic figures: he radicalized in them
both verticality and informality of the material treatment ("They looked as
though they were made of spit," he said, speaking about the bronze works
exhibited in the Pierre Matisse gallery in New York). See Franz Meyer, "Gia-
cometti et Newman," Alberto Giacometti. Sculptures, peintures, dessins, ed.
Suzanne Pagé, p. 59-65.
131 Du Bouchet, Qui n'est pas tourné vers nous, p. 12.
132 Giacometti, "Entretien avec Georges Charbonnier" (1951), p. 244.
133 Ibid.: "Ofthe figure, 1 had only a plaque left, and itwas nevervoluntary,
nor satisfying, quite the contrary. It was always disappointing to see that
what 1 really mastered as a fonn was reduced to so little!"
134 Ibid.
135 Giacometti, "Entretien avec Georges Charbonnier" (1951), p. 244.
Regarding the Têtes-plaques in general, see also Giacometti, "Lettre à Pierre
Matisse" (1948), p. 39, and Bonnefoy, Alberto Giacometti, p. 147-165.
136 Giacometti, "Charbon d'herbe" (1933), Écrits, p. 6.
137 Giacometti, "Entretien avec Pierre Schneider" (1961), p. 263: "The
line-I remember it very weIl-the line that goes from the ear to the chin,
1 understood that 1 could never copy that as 1 saw it, and that it was some-
thing absolutely impossible for me. To work at it furiously was absurd, it
was finished forever. .. "
138 See in particular the Femme (Woman) from 1927, or the Femme qui
marche (Walking Woman) from 1932-1934. These indentations with con-
cave facts suggest a formaI work already present in Brancusi (for example
in the head of the Premier Pas (First Step) from 1913-1914, in the MNAM).


139 And this is enough to min the purely naturalist argument (with a very
Iimited problem, but also limited in the period it considers, i.e. after 1940)
of Denis Milhau, "Rodin et la sculpture anthropomorphe de Giacometti et
Germaine Richier," Rodin et la sculpture contemporaine(Paris: Musée Rodin,
1983), p. 35-44. RegardingGiacometti's relation to Rodin, see Hohl, Alberto
Giacometti, p. 24; Bonnefoy, Alberto Giacometti, p. 316-3 17, 33 2-336, 533,
etc. On the importance of Rodin to the sculpture of the years 1910-1920,
see Alan G. Wilkinson, "Paris and London. Modigliani, Lipchitz, Epstein
et Gaudier-Brzeska," Primitivism in Twentieth Century Art. Affinity of the
Tribal and the Modem, p. 417-451. Regarding Rodin, we should begin with
the strong refiections by Leo Steinberg on the "immersion in space": Leo
Steinberg, "Rodin," Other Criteria. Confrontations with Twentieth-Century
Art (London, Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 1972), p. 322-402
and 417-420, here p. 338-352. And it is, of course, essential to study the
relation, in Rodin, ofheads to bases, beginningwith the innumerable stud-
ies in plaster kept at the Rodin museum in Meudon, Paris, and unfortu-
nately invisible even for a researcher in their totality.
140 Alberto Giacometti, "Hier, sables mouvants" (1933), Écrits, p. 7-9,
P·7- 8.
141 On this notion, see in particular Sigmund Freud, "The Creative
Writer and Daydreaming," translated by D. McLintock, The Uncal1ny, ed.
H. Haughton (penguin Classics: London, 2003), p. 23; and Jacques Lacan,
"Le mythe individual du névrosé, ou poésie et vérité dans la névrose"
(1953), Ornicar? (1979), no. 17-18, p. 289-307. On the fundamental role of
this story in aU of Giacometti's perspectives, see Jean Clair, "La pointe de
l'œil," Cahiers du Musée national d'Art moderne 83 (1983), no. 11, p. 64-99,
142 For an interpretation of the "maternaI" aspect in the story, see
Bonnefoy, Alberto Giacometti, p. 18-30.
143 In a field that might seem far away but that is possibly not,Jean-Pierre
Vernant touched upon this dialectics, with regard to Eros. See Jean-Pierre
Vernant, "Un, deux, trois: Eros," L'individu, la mort, l'amour. Soi-même
et l'autre en Grèce ancienne (Paris: Gallimard, 1989), p. 153-171. We can
remember the numerous elaborations by Jacques Lacan on the dyad and
the ternary structure.
144 See Jean Clay, Visages de l'art moderne (Lausanne: Rencontre, 1969),
p. 146, and Krauss, "Giacometti," p. 519-520, which cites, also, the beauti-
fuI contempormy phrase of Hans Arp: "The stones are full of entrails."
145 See Hohl, Alberto Giacometti, p. 103-104, which correctly links the
theme of the Objet invisible with the excavations implemented by Giaco-
metti in almost aU of his other sculptures at the time, even if they were
reduced to the extreme like the Tête qui regarde.


146 Stéphane Mallarmé, "Le démon de l'analogie" (1864), Œuvres com-

plètes, ed. H. Mondor and G. Jean-Aubry (Paris: Gallimard, 1945), p. 273.
147 1 thank James Lord, who was able to see de visu the monoliths in ques-
tion, for having confirmed this analogy to me. We should note that the
visual configuration of the story of the two monoliths (brilliant/black) is
found elsewhere in the writings of Giacometti, for example in the beautiful
text from 1952 entitled "Un aveugle avance la main dans la nuit"; in this
text we read the following: "Oh 1 see a marvelous and brilliant painting but
it is not by me, it is by nobody. 1 do not see sculptures 1 see blackness ... "
(Écrits, p. 64).
148 This is what we see in a photograph of the studio, taken around 1946
by Emile Savitry, and kept at the Kunsthaus of Zurich. See also valerie J.
Fletcher, "Alberto Giacometti: His Art and His Milieu," Alberto Giacometti,
1901-1966, ed. V.J . Fletcher, p. 18-56, p. 38.
149 Giacometti, "Entretien avec Georges Charbonnier" (1951), p. 245-247.
150 Giacometti, "Carnets et feuillets" (circa 1929), p. 123.
151 Giacometti, "Carnets et feuillets" (circa 1959), p. 208.
152 Giacometti, "Carnets et feuillets" (circa 1934)," p. 171.
153 Giacometti, "Carnets et feuillets" (circa August 1933), p. 154.
154 Stéphane Mallarmé, "The Tomb of Edgar Poe", CoZZected Poems.
A bilingual Edition, translated by H. Weinfield (Berkeley, Los Angeles: Uni-
versity of California Press, 1996), p. 71, which continues: "Let this granite
at least mark the boundaries evermore/To the dark flights of Blasphemy
hurled to the future."
155 Genet, The Studio ofGiacometti, without pagination.
156 Giacometti, "Entretien avec Georges Charbonnier" (195 1), p. 245.
157 See Clay, Visages de l'art moderne, p. 151-152.
158 See Hohl,Alberto Giacometti, p. 185-188 ("La légende de Giacometti et
Giacometti par lui-même").
159 See Didi-Huberman, La peinture incarnée (followed by the Chef-d'œuvre
inconnu by Balzac, p. 133-156). We should also cite, among many others,
Baudelaire speaking of those artists who, "long accustomed to exercising
their memory and storing it with images, find that, in front of the physical
presence of the model and the multiplicity of its details disconcerts and as
it were paralyzes his principal facility." Charles Baudelaire, "The Painter
of Modern Life," The painter of Modern Life and other Essays, translated by
J. Mayne (London: Phaidon, 1995), p. 1-35, here p. 17.
160 See on this point Dore Ahston, A Fable ofModern Art (London: Thames
and Hudson, 1980). And on the "quest" as a Cézannian leitmotif, Michael
Doran, ed., Conversations avec Cézanne (Paris: Macula 1991), p. 65, etc.


161 See in general Ernst Kris and Otto Kurz, Legend, My th and Magic in
tlze Image oftlze Artist: A Historical Experiment (New Haven, London: Yale
University Press, 1981); Rudolfand MargotWittkowker, Born UnderSaturn:
The Character and Conduct ofArtists (New York: New York Review of Books,
162 Giacometti, "Entretien avec André Parinaud" (1962), p. 269; "Entre-
tien avec Isaku Yanaihara" (1957), p. 253-254.
163 See Lord, A Giacometti Portrait, p. 72.
164 See Giacometti, "Entretien avec André Parinaud" (1962), p. 270 and
275; "Entretien avec Pierre Schneider" (1961), p. 263.
165 See Adolphe Reinach, Textes grecs et latins relatifs à l'histoire de la
peinture ancienne (1921) (Paris: Macula, 1991), p. 333-343; Georges Didi-
Huberman, "La couleur d'écume, ou le paradoxe d'Apelle," Critique 42
(1986), no. 469-470, p. 606-629.
166 See Giacometti, "Entretien avec Isaku Yanaihara" (1957), Écrits,
p. 256; Lord, A Giacometti Portrait, p. 14 ("The most definitive, courageous
way ofkilling oneselfwould be by cutting one's throat from ear to earwith a
kitchen knife. That would really be taking things in one's own hands.")
167 Giacometti, "Carnets et feuillets" (February 1963), p. 223; "Entretien
avec Pierre Schneider" (1963), p. 268.
168 Alberto Giacometti, "Gris, brun, noir," Écrits, p. 68-70, here p. 70,
"Carnets et feuillets" (1924), ibid., p. 108-110, here p. 109, "Henri Laurens,"
ibid., p. 20-24, here p. 21.
169 Giacometti, "Carnets et feuillets" (circa 1949), p. 198.
170 Giacometti, "Carnets et feuillets" (circa 1924), p. 114.
171 Alberto Giacometti, "A propos de Jacques Callot" (1945), Écrits,
p. 25-26, here p. 26.
172 Giacometti, "Carnets et feuillets" (1924), p. l1l.
173 See Didi-Huberman, La peinture incarnée, p. 15-16.
174 Giacometti, "Carnets et feuillets" (1933-1934 and 1947), p. 161 and
19 0 .
175 1 am referring to the concepts of trace and of dif.fërance here byasso-
ciating spacing with temporization. See Jacques Derrida, "Différance,"
Mw-gins ofPhilosophy, translated by A. Bass (Chicago and London: Univer-
sity of Chicago Press, 1982), p. 1-27 (in particular p. 8-9 and 13-14, on the
"becoming-time of space" and the "becoming-space of time," which are
essentiaI to my arguments). See also Georges Didi-Huberman, Ce que nous
voyons, ce qui nous regarde (Paris: Minuit, 1992), p. 103-123 and 153-16l.
176 According to the beautiful phrase by Pierre Fédida, L'Absence (Paris:
Gallimard, 1978), p. 138.

ln See Krauss, "Giacometti", p. 524-525.
178 Sigmund Freud, "Mourning and Melancholia," translated by S. White-
side, On Mw·der, Mouming and Melanc1lOlia (London: Modern Penguin
Classics, 2005), p. 205.
179 Ibid., p. 205.
180 Ibid., p. 205-207. Further on, Freud speaks of a libidinal process for
"producing an identification with the ego with the abandoned object. In
this way the shadow of the object fell upon the ego, which could now be
condemned bya particular agency as an object, as the abandoned object.
Thus the loss of object had been transformed into the loss of ego, and the
conflict between the ego and the beloved person into a dichotomy between
ego-criticism and the ego as modified by identification." (p. 209) Even if
these lines-and many others-can be read in light of the "Frenhofer"
aspect found in Giacometti, we are only identitying here a paradigm of
meta-psychological interpretation, far from any clinical pretentions.
181 On the explicit links between the Cube and Dürer's Melancholia, see
Brenson, The Early Works ofAlberto Giacometti, p. 201, note 50, based on
spoken comments by Michel Leiris. Bonnefoy insists on the fact that "the
engraving gave Giacometti not the shape of the rhombohedron but the rev-
elation of the meaning that it had for him." Bonnefoy, Alberto Giacometti,
p. 21 4·
182 The dating of the drawings engraved on the second plaster of the Cube
varies among historians: Hohl situates this in 1936-1938 (see Hohl, ed.,
Alberto Giacometti: A Retrospective Exhibition, New York, The Solomon R.
Guggenheim Museum 1974, p. 45), while Fletcher expands the time span
from 1936 to 1946, see Fletcher, "23. Cube," p. 108.
183 Selfpartrait, 1918, pen and ink, 37 x 25,5 cm, Zurich, private collection.
It is reproduced by Bonnefoy, Alberto Giacometti, p. 13. On this Hodlerian
portrait technique, see Hohl, Alberto Giacometti, p. 21. 1 was able, thanks
to the kindness of Margit Rowell, to look closely at the plaster cast in the
Musée national d'Art moderne: nobody until now has remarked that it was
he who was engraved. On one of the lateral faces, we see the outline of a
large circle ; on another, an abstract angular drawing, in which crossed
lines powerfully evoke the metaphor of the diamond used by Jean Genet
(cf. supra, p. 26); finally, another face presents a sketch that very clearly
evokes the-geometrical, polygonal-placing of a head. As for the second
plaster cast, which was used for the bronze version, 1was not allowed to see
it, as 1 mentioned earlier.
184 "The narcissistic identification with the object then becomes the sub-
stitute for the love-investluent, with the result that the love relationship,
despite the conflict with the loved one, must not be abandoned. This sub-
stitution of identification for object-love is a significant mechanism for the


narcissistic illnesses. [... ] So melancholia derives sorne of its characteris-

tics from mourning, and the rest from the process of regression from the
narcissistic object-choice to narcissism." Freud, "Mourning and Melan-
cholia," p. 209-210.
185 Erwin Panofsky, The LiJe and Art of Albrecht Dürer (1943) (Princeton:
Princeton University Press, 2005), p. 229. See also the important work by
Peter-Klaus Schuster, Melencolia J. Dürers Denkbild (Berlin, Geb. Mann,
1991, 2 vol.).
186 Alberto Giacometti, "1 can only speak indirectly about my sculptures"
(1933), Écrits, p. 19. This has to do with the "object on a small board"-like
the characters from 1932-1933 (fig. 79)-in the Palace at 4 a.m.
187 According to the title of a recent exhibition at the museum of mod-
ern art in Saint-Etienne, L'Écriture griffée, Musée d'Art moderne de Saint
Etienne 1991.
188 See Eberhard W. Kornfeld, "L'estampe," Alberto Giacometti, ed. Kuenzi,
p. 118. And, in general, Lust, Giacometti. The Complete Graphics.
189 See the text in which Giacometti equates the ide a of creating a sculp-
ture with that offinishing with it: "One day, in 1958, it became urgent for
me to finish with this leg as quickly as possible after so many years seeing
it in my imagination without feeling a strong desire to create it." Alberto
Giacometti, "A propos de 'La Jambe'" (1960), Écrits, p. 85. Let us not forget
that, in a certain way, Giacometti had already "finished" with one of his
own legs, in an accident that occurred in 1938, in which he was mn over by
a car, and felt the consequences for the rest ofhis life (that is to say, a limp,
which he said he was happy with). As though what was finished became by
definition an object ofsculpture.
190 Alberto Giacometti, "Vous me demandez quelles sont les intentions
artistiques" (1959), Écrits, p. 84.
191 Giacometti, "Carnets et feuillets" (1924), p. 109.
192 Giacometti, "Carnets et feuillets" (1963), p. 227: "If 1 want to work,
work, ifnot, drop it."
193 Giacometti, "Carnets et feuillets" (circa 1932), p. 132-133, here p. 133.
194 Clay, Visages de l'art moderne, p. 147-150.
195 Giacometti, "Je ne puis parler qu'indirectement de mes sculptures"
(1933), p. 17·
196 See Bonnefoy, Alberto Giacometti, p. 27.
197 Here we can see the theoreticallimit that accompanies any reference
to the Cube in terms of "style" or school; indeed we see a mode of surrealist
thinking giving rise to an object that is not; there is an object related, by
some historians, to cubism while it is no longer that, neither in its prem-
ises nor in its form, nor in its meanings. Or rather, here is a sculpture that


only has a relation to cubism through what Giacometti prohibited himself

from doing in 1933, that is to say,paintingj earlier, 1 mentioned the relation
of the Cube to paintings by Braque and Picasso in the years 1908-1909.
198 "1 seek tentatively to catch in the void the invisible white thread of the
marvelous that vibrates and from which facts and dreams escape with the
sound of a stream on little precious and living stones. It gives life to life and
the glowing of the needles and the turning die occur and foIlow each other
alternatively, and the drop ofblood on the skin ofthe milk, but a sharp cry
is heard suddenly which makes the air vibrate and the white earth trem-
ble." Alberto Giacometti, "Charbon d'herbe" (1933), Écrits, p. 6.
199 Giacometti, "Carnets et feuillets" (circa 1934), p. 176-177, where the
French word for life "vie" is misspeIled as "vit".
200 Giacometti, "Carnets et feuillets" (circa 1933-1934), p. 161. The words
are highlighted by Giacometti.
201 Alberto Giacometti, "Ma réalité" (1957), Écrits, p. 77.
202 Hohl,Alberto Giacometti, p. 82-83.
203 "Héraclite, Hegel. We descend and we do not descend twice the SClllle
river." Giacometti, "Carnets et feuillets" (circa 1934), Écrits, p. 170. Let us
remember the two famous aphorisms ofHeraclitus according to which "con-
flict is the fatller of aIl men (polemus pantôn men patèr esti) and "if necessary,
it is war which is common to aIl, and justice which is discord, and everything
comes into being through discord and aIl things that, following discord, are
necessities ... " Heraclitus, fragments 53 and 80. See Jean Bollack and Heinz
Wismann, Héraclite ou la séparation (Paris: Minuit, 1972), p. 185 and 243.
Regarding the Bataillian approach to the Hegelian dialectic in the same
years, see in particular Jean Wahl: "Hegel et Kierkegaard," Revue philoso-
phique de la France et de l'étranger 57 (1931), no. 11-12, p. 321-38oj Victor
Basch: "De la philosophie politique de Hegel," ibid., p. 381-408j Alexandre
Koyré: "Note sur la langue et la terminologie hégéliennes," ibid., p. 409-439,
Georges Bataille and Raymond Queneau: "La critique des fondements de la
dialectique hégélienne," La Critique sociale (1932), no. 5, ps. 209-214.
204 Alberto Giacometti, "Carnets et feuillets" (circa 1944), Écrits, p. 182-
185, here 182. The rest ofthe text is also about this strange li st: "1. Murder/
II. Scatophagy./II1. Sandwich./IV. Clausewitz Sade/V. Synthesis" (p. 184).
205 Ibid., p. 183-185.
206 Ibid., p. 185.
207 Ibid., p. 182. Here again the title of the work from 1934 is echoed,
208 See Plato, Timaeus, 49a-S7e. We should point out two wonderful com-
mentaries on this text by Plato: Jacques Derrida: "Khôra," On the Name,
translated by D. Wood,J .P. Leavey, 1. McLeod (Stanford: Stanford University


Press, 1995), p. 89-129; Pierre Fédida, "Theorie des lieux l," Psychanalyse à
l'Université 14 (1989), no. 53, p. 3-14 and id.: "Theorie des lieux II,'' Psycha-
nalyse à l'Université 14 (1989), no. 56, p. 3-18.
209 Alberto Giacometti, "La voiture démythifiée" (1957), Écrits, p. 79.
210 Alberto Giacometti, "Carnets et feuillets" (circa 1925), Écrits, p. 115.
211 See Pierre Fédida, "Passé anachronique et présent réminiscent,"
L'Écrit du temps (1985), no. 10, p. 23-45. On the dialectical image, see
Didi-Huberman, Ce que nous voyons, p. 125-152, where he comments, in
length, on the notion constructed by Walter Benjamin, The Arcades project,
translated by H. Eiland and K. McLaughlin (Cambridge: Harvard University
Press, 1999), p. 462 (N2a, 3).
212 See, among many other works in the immense bibliography, the clas-
sic compilation, published in French during the period that interests us
here, by James George Frazer, The Fear of tlze Dead in Primitive Religion
(1933) (New York: Biblo & Tannen, 1966).
213 Giacometti, "Je ne puis parler qu'indirectement de mes sculptures"
(1933), p. 19·
214 Lord, Giacometti:A Biography (London: Orion Books, 1997), p. 147-152.
215 See Genet, The Studio of Giacometti, without pagination [translators
note: translation modified], where Genet writes a few pages later: "he
makes statues that at the last resort can delight the dead." Ibid. -and there
would be a lot to say about the double meaning, suggested by Genet, of the
verb ravish (ravùj. Michel Leiris, for his part, insisted on the votive value of
Giacometti's sculptures in general: "Standing votive stones upright, mate-
rializing experiences, giving a lasting consistency to what is indiscernible
and fleeting in any fact at aIl ... " Leiris, "Pierres pour un Alberto Giaco-
metti," p. 149.
216 Regarding this phenomenology of "depressive actions," see Fédida,
L'Absence, p. 79-95.
217 Michel Leiris, "Autre heure, autres traces" (1978), Au verso des images
(Montpellier: Fata Morgana, 1980), p. 93. The words are repeated in the
preface by Michel Leiris, "Giacometti oral et écrit," Écrits, p. ix-xi.
218 See Scheidegger, Alberto Giacometti-Traces of a Friendship, p. 30-34.
219 See Didi-Huberman, "Le visage entre les draps," Nouvelle Revue de psy-
chanalyse (1990), no. 41, p. 21-54.
220 Cited by Bonnefoy, Alberto Giacometti, p. 65.
221 André Green, Narcissisme de vie, narcissisme de mort (Paris: Minuit,
1983), p. 127.
222 Ibid., p. 133-173 ("L'angoisse etle narcissisme") and p. 198-201 (where,
significantly, the paradigm of the father is proposed like a "primordial
absence-like an absence of the principle of kinship" producing the sym-


bolic dimension of a "[disembodied] phallus, void of substance, hollow and

abstract..." (ibid., p. 199)).
223 Ibid., p. 22-23.
224 Sartre, "The Quest for the Absolute" (1948), p. 82.
225 Genet, The Studio of Giacometti, without pagination [translators note:
translation modified].
226 See Hohl, Alberto Giacometti, p. 252. Regarding these monoliths
sculpted with Max Ernst, cf. the notes of Hendel Teicher in the catalogue
Alberto Giacometti-Retour à lafiguration, p. 18, in which the link is rnade
between these objects and the Trois personnages dans un pré reproduced
in the article by Maurice Raynal, "Dieu-table-cuvette," Minotaure.
Revue artistique et littéraire 1 (1933), no. 3-4, p. 40. According to Ernst
Scheidegger (Alberto Giacometti-Traces ofa Friendship, p. 16), the tomb-
stone was begun and designed by Alberto, but finished by Diego.
227 See Hohl, Alberto Giacometti, p. 31, and Giacornetti, "Lettre à Pierre
Matisse" (1948), p. 43 (the two la st words added by Giacometti by hand and
underlined twice).
228 See Hohl, Alberto Giacometti, p. 79, citing Michel Leiris and Jacqueline
Delange, Afrique noire. La création plastique (Paris: Gallimard, 1967), p. 243.
Hohl completes his comparison with other African objects from the Rietberg
museum in Zurich, which Giacometti obviously knew.
229 See Hohl, Alberto Giacometti, p. 297, which evoked, in particular,
beyond Oceanic art, ambos from the high Middle Ages in Venice and in
Torcello, admired by Alberto and Giovanni during a trip together in May
1920.1 will not go any further into the description ofthis tombstone which
1 know only through rare photos that were taken by Ernst Scheidegger.
230 See Giacometti, "Entretien avec André Parinaud" (1962), p. 272; Dupin,
Alberto Giacometti, p. 43. See also supra, p. 202, note 18.
231 See Jaques Lacan, Télévision (Paris: Le Seuil, 1973), p. 22: "It is the real
that allows one to untie effectively what the symptom consists of, which is
a knot of signifiers."
232 See Benjamin, The Arcades project, p. 462 (N2a, 3): "It's not that what
is past casts light on what is present, or what is present its light on what is
past; rather, image is that wherein what has been comes together in a flash
with the now to form a constellation. In other words, image is dialectics at
a standstill. For while the relation of the present to the past is a purely tem-
poral, continuous one, the relation of what-has-been to the now is dialec-
tical: is not progression but image, suddenly emergent.-Only dialectical
images are genuine images (that is, not archaic) ... ".
233 It was recently reprinted by Denis Hollier: Documents (1929-1930)
(Paris, J .-M. Place, 1991), 2 vol.


234 Michel Leiris, "Alberto Giacometti," Documents. Doctrines, archéolo-

gie, beaux-arts, ethnographie 1 (1929), no. 4, p. 209-210.
235 Thejournal's subtitie contained two adjoined words: "Beaux-Arts" and
"Ethnographie". In this context, see Catherine Maubon: "Michael Leiris à
Documents," Rivista di Letterature moderne e comparate 28 (1985), p. 283-
298; "Documents: une expérience hérétique," Pleine Marge (1986), no. 4,
p. 55-65; "Les revues littéraires à l'écoute de l'ethnologie (1925-1935),"
Saggi e Ricerche di Letteraturajrancese 26 (1987), p. 93-121.
236 Regarding this genealogy, see in particular Paul Oskar KristeIIer, "The
modern system of the arts: a study in the history of Aesthetics" (1951),
Renaissance Thought and The Arts. Collected Papers (Princeton: Princeton
University Press, 1990); and Didi-Huberman, Devant l'image (Paris: Minuit,
1990), p. 65- 10 3.
237 This can be seen immediately when we look through the journal, for
example in the articles by Georges Contenau, "L'art sumérien: les conven-
tions de la statuaire," Documents. Doctrines, archéologie, beaux-arts, ethno-
graphie 1 (1929), no 1, p. 1-8; C. T. SeItman, "Sculptures archaïques des
Cyclades," ibid. 1 (1929), no. 4, p. 188-193; Henri Martin, "L'art solutréen
dans la vallée du Roc (Charente)," ibid. 1 (1929), no. 6, p. 303-309; Carl Ein-
stein, "Exposition de sculptures moderne," ibid. 1 (1929), no. 7, p. 391-400;
jiujiro Nakaya, "Figurines néolithiques du japon," ibid. 2 (1930), no. 1,
p. 25-32; René Grousset, "Un cas de régression vers les arts "barbares": la
statuaire du Kafiristan," ibid. 2 (1930), no. 2, p. 73-78; Paul jacobs-Thal, "Le
têtes de Roquepertuse," ibid. 2 (1930), no. 2, p. 92-95; Georges Limbour,
"Eschyle, le carnaval et les civilisés," ibid. 2 (1930), no. 2, p. 96-102; Carl
Einstein, "A propos de l'exposition de la galerie Pigalle," ibid. 2 (1930),
no. 2, p. 104-112; Louis Clarke, "L'art des îles Salomon," ibid. 2 (1930), no. 5,
p. 276-281; Eckhard von Sydow, "Masques-janus du Cross-River (Camer-
oun)," ibid., 2 (1930), no. 6, p. 321-328; Michel Leiris, "Le caput mortuum
ou la femme de l'alchimiste," ibid. 2 (1930), no. 8, p. 461-466. Regarding
the relations between Giacometti, Bataille and Documents, see Bonnefoy,
Alberto Giacometti, p. 162-176.
238 This is the article by Ralph von Koenigswald, "Têtes et crânes," Docu-
ments. Doctrines, archéologie, beaux-arts, ethnographie 2 (1930), no. 6,
P·35 2-35 8 .
239 See Georges Pudelko, "L'art étrusque," Documents. Doctrines, archéol-
ogie, beaux-arts, ethnographie 2 (1930), no. 4, p. 222-225.
240 Georges Bataille, "Figure humaine," Documents. Doctrines, archéolo-
gie, beaux-arts, ethnographie 1 (1929), no. 4, p. 194.
241 Georges Bataille, "Bouches," Documents. Doctrines, archéologie, beaux-
arts, ethnographie 2 (1930), no. 5, p. 299-300.


242 Georges Bataille, "Informe," Documents. Doctrines, archéologie, beaux-

arts, ethnographie 1 (1929), no. 7, p. 382.
243 Georges Bataille (with Marcel Griaule and Michel Leiris), "Metamor-
phose," Documents. Doctrines, archéologie, beaux-arts, ethnographie 1 (1929),
no. 6, p. 332-334.
244 Bataille, "Informe," p. 382.
245 Georges Bataille, "Space," DOCllments. Doctrines, archéologie, beaux-
arts, ethnographie 2 (1930), no. 1, p. 41.
246 Ibid., p. 41-43.
247 Georges Bataille, "Abattoir," DOCllments. Doctrines, archéologie, beaux-
arts, ethnographie 1 (1929), no. 6, p. 329. There, too, the role ofphotographic
illustration rigorously prolongs Bataille's literary and theoretical strategy:
a magnificent photo by Eli Lotar (p. 328) shows a deserted and geometric
place in which the eye suddenly recognizes a series of severed animal hooves,
carefully arrangedj sixteen pages later in the same issue, ten legs belong-
ing to women cut by a curtain-in the journal Fox Folies of the Moulin-
Rouge-offer an atrocious reply to this vision of geometry and cruelty. Two
other photographs by Eli Lotar (p. 330) push to the limits the idea of a produc-
tive place oftheformless: the butchers shown in the act of cutting up a body
are acephalous themselves. But one page later (p. 331), two images by Jean
Painlevé exhibit the gripping counterpoint of formless heads seen full on:
they are, seen very close up, looking at us, heads of crustaceans.
248 Leiris, "Le caprlt mortuum ou la femme de l'alchimiste," p. 465.
249 Ibid., p. 466. Rosalind Krauss discovered analogous processes in the
photographs-which were exactly contemporaneous-by Man Ray, Bras-
saï ad Jacques-André Boiffard, before those, a little later, by Hans Bellmer.
See Rosalind Krauss, "Corpus delicti," Amour Fou. Photography and Surre-
alism, ed. Rosalind Krauss and Jane Livingston (New York: Abbeville Press
1985), p. 78-95.
250 For a general presentation of the work of Carl Einstein, see Liliane
Meffre, Carl Einstein et la problématique des avant-gardes dans les arts plas-
tiques (Berne-Frankfurt: Lang, 1989).
251 Carl Einstein, "Aphorismes méthodiques," Documents. Doctrines,
archéologie, beaux-arts, ethnographie 1 (1929), no. 1, p. 32. The text begins
as follows: "The history of art is the struggle of aIl optical experiences, of
invented spaces and figurations."
252 It is worth remarking that Carl Einstein chose no less than five repro-
ductions of works by Giacometti in his work, L'Art du XX" siècle (Berlin,
PropyHien, 1931) (2nd edition).


253 Carl Einstein, "On Negro Sculpture," translated by C.H. Haxthausen

and S. Zeidler, October 107 (Winter 2004), p. 122-138 [translators note:
translation modified].
254 Ibid., p. 126.
255 Ibid., p. 128-129.
256 Ibid., p. 127.
257 Ibid., p. 130.
258 Ibid., p. 127, which engages in the paradox of claiming that African
sculpture "signifies nothing, it does not symbolize," p. 130.
259 See Konrad Fiedler, "Aphorisms" (1914, posthumous), translated
into French by E. Dickenherr and A. Pemet, in Roberto Salvini, ed., Pure
Visibilité et Formalisme dans la critique d'art au début du XX" siècle (Paris:
Klincksieck, 1988, p. 101): "The prôtos pselldos (the original lie) in the field
of esthetics and the reflection on art consists of the identification of art
with beautyj as though the artistic need were destined to provide man with
a world of beautyj this initial error engenders aIl other misunderstand-
ings." Regarding the re-use of this Fiedlerian theme by Carl Einstein, see
Liliane Meffre, "Aspects de la théorie de l'art de Carl Einstein," Cahiers
du Musée national d'Art moderne 1 (1979), no. 1, p. 14-15. On the other
hand, Jean Laude cites the following note by Carl Einstein to Daniel-Henri
Kahnweiler: "Cubism would not have enthused us so much if it had only
been a matter ofpure optics." Uean Laude, "Un portrait," Cahiers du Musée
national d'art moderne 1 (1979), no. 1, p. 10).
260 Ibid., p. 13.
261 Let us remark that this anthropological "contextualisation" entered
explicitly into the formalist project itself, just as the Russian theol'eti-
cians- Boris Eichenbaum, Juri Tynjanov, Viktor Shklovskii, or Roman
Jakobson, aIl of them left out of Roberto Salvini's collection citecl
above-had described its elaboration in those yeal's, roughly between 1915
and 1934. 1 would l'efer the reader to my own work, Ce que nous voyons, ce
qui nOlis regarde, p. 165-172. We should note that the fundamental texts of
the Russian formalists were translated and presentecl in French by Tzvetan
Todorov, Théorie de la littérature. Textes des formalistes russes (Paris: Le
Seuil, 1965).
Les us remark, finally, that Carl Einstein's mistrust of the ethnographic
inquiry does not contradict in any way this articulation of the formalist and
anthl'opological gazes, for it refers to an historical state of the ethnological
method itself. When Lévi-Strauss's structuralism envisaged the objects of
ethnology asforms-i.e. as systems of transformations-the contradiction
of the two "gazes" disappeared. Carl Einstein's thought, from this view-
point, would be an authentically pre-structuralist thought.


262 Einstein, "On Negro Sculpture," p. 129-133, which is not far, here,
from an anthropological question that was recently developed by Marc
Augé, Le Dieu objet (Paris: Flammarion, 1988).
263 Einstein, "On Negro Sculpture," p. 130-131.
264 Ibid., p. 130. Many years later, minimalist sculptor Donald Judd took
up-but to deny its synthesis-a similar score: "It would be a great discov-
ery to find a form that is neither geometric nor organic." Donald Jucld, cited
by Benjamin Buchloh, "Formalisme et historicité. Modification de ces con-
cepts dans l'art européen et américain depuis 1945" (1977), Essais histo-
riques J. Art contemporain (Villeurbanne: Art Edition, 1992), p. 188.
265 Leiris, "Le caput mortuul1Z ou la femme de l'alchimiste," p. 462.
266 Sigmund Freud, Totem and Taboo, translated by J. Strachey, The Stan-
dard Edition, (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1990), p. xxviii.
267 Ibid.
268 Ibid., p. 35-43.
269 Ibid., p. 24.
270 Ibid., p. 113.
271 See for example Michel Leiris, "L'île magique," Dowments. Doctrines,
archéologie, beaux-arts, ethnographie 1 (1929), no. 6, p. 334-335.
272 See Otto Rank, "Le double" (1914), translated by S. Lautman, Don juan
et le double, (Paris: Payot 1990), p. 39, 75-88 (on the reflection), p. 89-104
(on twins). Sarah Kofman uses, regardingthe double, the expression "abuse
of resemblance. See Sarah Kofman, "Vautour rouge-Le double dans
Les Elixirs du diable d'Hoffmann," Mimèsis des artiwlations, ed. Sylviane
Agacinski et al., (Paris: Aubier-Flammarion, 1975), p. 120-132
273 It has to do principallywith the cenotaph ofMidea, discovered in 1927.
The relation and the interpretation of the excavation were carried out in
France in the early thirties. See notably Charles Picard, "Le cenotaphe de
Midéa et les colosses de Ménélas," Revue de philologie, de littérature et de
l'histoire anciennes 59 (1933), no. 7, p. 341-354.
274 See Jean-Paul Vernant, "Figuration de l'invisible et catégorie psy-
chologique du double: le colossos" (1962), Mythe et pensée chez les Grecs, II,
(Paris: Maspero, 1965), p. 65-78. And, more recently, by the same author,
Figures, idoles, masques (Paris: Juilliard, 1990), p. 25-30.
275 See Sigmund Freud, "The Uncanny" (1919), translated by D. McLin-
tock, Penguin Modern Classics (London: Penguin, 2003), p. 121.
276 Ibid., p. 147-156.
277 Ibid., p. 132.
278 Ibid.
279 Ibid.


280 Ibid, p. 224.

281 In an article on the notion of the double, André Green also recognizes
the incisiveness of the neuter, André Green, "Le double et l'absent" (1973),
La Déliaison. Psychanalyse, anthropologie et littérature (Paris: Les Belles
Lettres, 1992), p. 65. He elaborates more extensively in Narcissisme de vie,
narcissisme de mort, p. 22-23, 208-221, etc. Let us note in passing that the
word colossos, in Greek, is neuter, not by rejecting but rather by reuniting
the masculine and the feminine genres (the so-called "animated" gender):
see Émile Benveniste, "Le sens du mot colossos et les noms grecs de la
statue," Revue de Philologie, de littéraire et d'historie anciennes 58 (1932),
no. 6, p. 118-135, P.133.
282 See Rosalind Krauss, "Echelle/monumentalité. Modernisme/post-
modernisme. La ruse de Brancusi," QU'est-ce que la sculpture moderne?,
P·24 6- 2 50 .
283 See Giedion-WeIcker, Contemporary Sculpture, p. 38-48.
284 See on this subject, Rank, Don]uan et le double, p. 139-141. Beyond
this anthropological recurrence of corporal links, processes of "reduc-
tion" or of wrapping in cloth in a number of funerary rites, we can think
of the impression of slight shrinking suggested in general by funerary
objects-coffins or corpses-because they are arranged horizontally.
285 On this widespread mineraI mythology, see Rank, ibid., p. 142-147.
286 As we read in Hendel Teicher: "Du minotaure au labyrinthe," Alberto
Giacometti, retour à lafiguration, p. 18-65, p. 34.
287 See Krauss, "Giacometti", p. 521-527.
288 We should note that the regular anfractuosities-orthe cupules-which
return so often in Giacometti's work between 1926 and 1934, constitute a
decisive formaI aspect of the steles of the funerary megaliths of antiquity and
even prehistory. Archaeologists have noted this on the Greek colossof (see
Picard, "Le cénotaphe de Midéa," p. 347-349), and we find it again in the old-
est known tombs, for example the famous rock with cupules in La Ferrassie
(see Didi-Huberman, "Le visage et la terre").
289 See Bonnefoy, Alberto Giacometti, p. 224.
290 See Giacometti, "Entretien avec Georges Charbonnier" (1951), p. 241-
242 and 248-249.
291 1 am anticipating, here, the theoretical dividing lines developed in par-
allel in Ce que nOlis voyons, ce qui nous regarde.
292 This relation has already been suggested by Jean-Pierre Criqui, "Tric-
trac pour Tony Smith," Artstudio (1987), no 6, p. 17-21 and p. 38-51, p. 50.
293 See Alicia Legg, ed., SolLeWitt (New York: The Museum of Modern Art,
1978), p. 164.

Mira Fliescher and Elena Vogman

In the Face of the Unface

Within Giacornetti's œuvre, the Cube is seen both as an excep-

tion and as a figure of crisis in the transition to the artist's late
worle Giacometti hilnself was ambivalent, if not critical about
the Cube, although he didn't destroy it as he did rnany other
works. In this he enlphasizes the work's special status, and gives
it a certain coherence when he says he "never" Inade an abstract
sculpture, "with the exception of the big cube," which he actu-
aIly "considered" as a head, which is to say he had "never done
anything that was reaIly abstract."l Abstract and not abstract,
because considered a head, which also means not really a head.
Thus in Inany ways the Cube is situated on the threshold of the
problenl that Giacometti and Inost of his critics recurrently see
as central to his work: the relationship between abstraction, fig-
uration (i.e. hUlnan figure or figurative portrayal of the hUlnan
being) and modes of looks. In Giaconletti's artistic exploration
of this relationship, Jean Genet saw hiIn dealing with a specifie
"solitude" which he narned the "wound, singular, different for
each, hidden or visible, that aIl 111ankind keeps within itself,
that it preserves and to which it retires when it wishes to leave
the world for a ternporary but profound solitude."2 Loneliness,
solitude, is connected with singularity. It marks the singular-
ity of the Other, a singularity that is also shared, as it belongs
to everyone, but also unshared (and thus lonely), because it is
unique and alone in its very universality. 3

1 Alberto Giacometti, inJames Lord,A GiacomettiPortrait (1965, revised

1980) (New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2001), p. 85.
2 Jean Genet, The Studio of Giacometti (1957), translated by P. Kin
(London: Grey Tiger Books, 2014), without pagination.
3 "Solitude, as 1 understand it, doesn't me an a miserable condition but
rather a secret royalty, the deep incommunicable, and more or less obscure
awareness of unassailable singularity." Ibid.

Mira Fliescher and Elena Vogman

While Genet deliberately and paradoxically describes this

loneliness as "universal identity,,4 in his Relllbrandt fragments,
GiacOlnetti's critics merged the artist's existential presupposi-
tion of humanness with phenomenological issues in order to
underline a successful portrayal of the human employing as
a bringing to life or the translations of perception into depic-
tion. 5
Georges Didi-Hubennan gives this reception a very differ-
ent twist in a double lnanœuvre entitled The Cube and the Face.
On the one hand he is concerned with Giacornetti's Cube, which
apparently stands outside these questions. On the other he only
hints at this thelnatic cornplex, through which Giacornetti him-
self built up his own artistic legend in his writings, in order to
reinterpret it, yet without rejecting its blind aspects as lnere
error. Rather, they becOlne sylnptollls of a problem that the Cube
sets as a permanent exercise. The Cube is central here because
it is precisely this singlIlar and mnbivalent rnany-sidedness that
allows the essential probleln of GiacOlnetti to unfold around and
through this sculpture, without further building up the artistic
legend. Instead, Didi-Huberman expands the discussion of the
fundamental paradigm of artworks, of depictability and its COln-
plex ternporality.
Consequently the book addresses the Cube, and does so
with an almost programmatic Ineticulousness. The Cube, con-
fusingly enough, is not a six-sided cube at aIl. Indeed it is a

4 Jean Genet: Wlzat Remains of a Rembrandt Tom into Four Equal Pieces
and FlZlslzed down tlze Toilet and Rembrandt's Secret (1958), translated by
R. Hough (New York: Hanuman Books, 1988), p. 12.
5 Essential to this is the funclamental text by Jean-Paul Sartre, "The Quest
For The Absolute" (1948), Essays in Aestlzetics, translatecl by W. Baskin, ecl.,
(New York: Citaclel Press 1963), p. 82-96. For the examination of the rela-
tionship between portrait and incliviclual in respect of phenomenological
concepts of perception, see for example Max Imclahl, "Relationen zwischen
Portrat und Indivicluum," Manfred Frank and Anselm Haverkamp (eds.),
Individualitiit, Poetik und Hermeneutik, vol. 8 (Munich: Wilhelm Fink 1988),
p. 587-598; and Thierry Dufrêne, Giacometti Genet. Masques et portrait
moderne (Paris: Éditions l'insolite, 2006).

In the Face of the Unface

many-surfaced riddle having l1lore skIes th an its receptiol1 has

noticed to date. Its underside-that is, its basis-had been over-
looked. What the reception saw as the doubling of a cube in a
twelve-sided sculpture, in reality has thirteen skies, one ofwhich
stubbornly conceals itself frOl11 view in order to base the whole
object. This is one side, that is, the one side more that seerns to
be buried in both the cube and its reception. Regarding this
side, in the title of his book and in the structure of his chapters,
Didi-Huberman plays out a differentiation, possible in French
(and in English), in the rneaning of "face." The French title uses
the word visage, which refers to the hurnan face, but the 12+1
chapters go through the cube one side after the other using the
wordface, which apart frorn the impersonal, unernotional face
(which to some extent l11ay be referred to as visage in English),
also means surface, wall, side, front and aspect. So two sides of
the face are variously and contrarily faceted in the Cube. Neither
a regular geol1letrical cube, nor a doubled cube, it has 12+1
sides (faces). It is like a head, thus it is at once a he ad and not
a head. And if a he ad is expected to show a face, then the Cube
fulfills this only where there is a face (visage) incised into one
ofits si des (faces), which in turn is a kind of double portrait (of
GiacOl11etti father and son), while on another side GiacOl11etti's
signature can be found, and on a third a view or portrait of the
cube itself. Multiplied or added facialities: portraits, traces, inci-
sions, 12+1 sides, in the sense of surfaces. They are concentrated
into an almost one-meter-high object that is too small to indi-
cate a hUl11an counterpart, but large enough to stand as a rnas-
sive, many-sided, rnany-faced body-object that in GiacOl11etti's
words has volume. 6
The play onface and visage is no Blere puni like the num-
ber of facets that Didi-Hubennan follows up in his 12+1 chap-
ters, whose last has the sarne title as the first, it originates in

6 "It has volume." Giacometti in Lord,A Giacometti Portrait, p. 9. This is

how Giacometti characterizes his still unfinished Portrait ofJames Lord.

Mira Fliescher and Elena Vogman

the Cube itself. Face derives frorn the Latin facies, rneaning
(anlOng other things) the outer appearance, the exterior, the
look; shape, figure, fonn; face; type, condition and configura-
tion; aspect. This heterogeneous derivation points to the ten-
sion onto which Didi-Hubennan shifts the reception of both
the Cube and Giacornetti's œuvre by Ineans of the sculpture as
a figure of crisis. If the Cube was considered the expression of
both a creative crisis (a struggle with abstraction, with surreal-
iSln and cubisln) and a personal one (the death of GiacOInetti's
father), Didi-Huberrnan is less interested in the productivity
of the crisis for the artistic psychology and fonnation of the
œuvre that the Cube rnight display; rather, he shows that the
Cube subverts the subsequent insertion of GiacOInetti into an
old artistic myth, which Sartre too invokes with the question
"How to make a rnan out of stone without petrifying hirn?"ï
Didi-Hubennan would rather "turn the tenns of this question
upside down-and would turn upside down too its referential,
figurative and humanist, bias-by asking us to understand
'how to n1ake a stone with a Inan without representing hiIn."'8
As the elnbodiment of a productively open dialectic between
the obstinacy of sculpture as a "lnere thing" and a figuration
that has to go through this "thing" but can't enter into it, the
Cube originates frOIn death and extends towards death (father's
death, Inere thing, n10nolithic "gravestone"p by holding two
alterities in conflict: The other/person and the otherness of
the Inaterial flip froIn the one into the other, while they oppose
both one another as weIl as their respective observations. And
in the sanie rnove they still gaze out of the 12+1 faces/sides
of the Cube as weIl while they are closing up as the surfaces
of a compact crystal. They allow then1selves to be seen and

7 Sartre, "The Quest for the Absolute," p. 85.

8 Georges Didi-Huberman, Tlze Cube and tlze Face. Around a Sculpture by
Alberto Giacometti, in this volume, p. 62.
9 Ibid.

In the Face of the Unface

withdraw, while bestowing an uncanny gaze that is not (only)

On the level of portrayal the Cube seems to embody the
notions "impossible"l0 and "impossible, no ... "11 at the same
time. Giacometti is apparently unable to cope with it: some-
times he caIls it a failure, sometimes he advocates the final step
of abstraction, "before reaching the 'waIl'."12 He clears it into
the back of the studio, fetches it back again and has it cast in
bronze twentyyears later. With regard to the death ofhis father,
the Cube fails to provide closure, just as his conflict between
"abstract object," "mere rnaterial" and figuration resists resolu-
tion. Head, wall, side, surface, signature, portrait, stone (pierre),
father (père), visage, face: they are juxtaposed in a dialectic of
face-àjace (dispute), of awkward shifts of focus, of a face-to-
face, and yet they are siIuultaneously woven into the faceted
sides of a prisnlatic cube. They look out of it, as it were, without
being fixed or dissolved in a synthesis, except in that of a rift.
But why does this alubiguous object, whose alubiguity is
only increased by the conflict between its luany-sidedness and
the C0111pact solidness of its volmue, now becOlue a point of
departure from which central questions of figuration can be
dealt with? Precisely through this unresolved rnany-sidedness
itself. For Didi-Huberman, contrary to GiacOluetti, does not dis-
miss this as a "failed synthesis."13 At least up to a certain point
in the history of the Cube,t4 its unsettling, unresolved aspects
were the necessary foundation of its success. lt doesn't airn for

10 Translated from Alberto Giacometti, "Carnets et feuillets" (circa 1933-

1934) Écrits (Paris: Hermann, 1990), p. 101-327, here 165.
11 Translated from Alberto Giacometti "Carnets et feuillets" (circa 1933),
Écrits, p. 168.
12 Translated by Shane B. Lillis from Alberto Giacometti, "Entretien avec
André parinaud," Écrits, p. 269-279, here p. 272.
13 Didi-Huberman, The Cube and the Face, in this volume, p. 149.
14 Namely to the point at which Giacometti incised his self-portrait onto
one side ofit. See ibid., p. 156-157.

Mira Fliescher and Elena Vogman

reconciliation or closure, but crystallizes both-figurative and

paternal conflict-inconclusively within one another: "thesis
- antithesis - synthesis ad infinitun1" Y A dialectic of this kind
has n10re to do with Bataille th an with Hegel, and it is accompa-
Bied by a fascination with an algebra in which the calculation
is only correct if it operates with a "mysterious, non-aritlunet-
ical engendering"16 or results in the "object of an impossible
number."lï So Didi-Hubennan is interested in a Giacometti who
teaches us to "count differently, for example to imagine that
1+1=3, according to the title of one of his masterpieces frOln
1934 (that is, the period in which he created the Cube),"18 for
there is a dialectic here that continually opens up new aspects.
In The Cube and the Face, despite proceeding from a sculpture,
Didi-Huberman's specific Inethod of opening up Ineaning
through bringing Îlnages, contexts, ÏInplications and fonns
into constellations is a cOlnplementary discussion of Bataille's
abstract anthropon10rphism. The way in which the graphic,
sculptural and conceptual "doppelgangers" of the Cube, which
haunt Giacon1etti's works around 1934, such as The Surrealist
Table or the sketches in the Écrits, interlinking and then sepa-
rating again, enables Didi-Hubennan to apply a Inethod guided
by the object itself. 19
Facet by facet, in 12+1+1 chapters (offering the possibility
of yet another aspect, in a cycle of unending potential inver-
sions suggested by the duplication of the title of the first and
last chapters), Didi-Huberman circUlnscribes the Cube. He

15 Translated by Shane B. Lillis from Alberto Giacometti, "Carnets et

feuillets" (circa 1944-45), Écrits, p. 272.
16 Didi-Huberman, The Cube and the Face, in this volume, p. 198.
17 Ibid., p. 196.
18 Ibid., p. 119. For 1+1=3 see also fig. 81 in this volume.
19 Here it is necessary to point out that this understanding of "object"
refers to the derivation from objicere, and has the sense of something
thrown away, found or there pre-existing. "Method," via hodos, implies a
way or procedure that is not theoretically predetermined but develops on

In the Face of the Unface

goes through it side after side, while the Cube functions as a

prism 20 while opening up a new chapter each tinle, to unfold a
new meaning, without laying claim to overaIl completeness or
authority. For aIl his circurnarnbulations, like the Cube itself, is
based on a blind hidden underside, which can only be circum-
scribed indirectly and lnay not be seen, although it constitutes
(or forms) the beginning and end of the endeavor.

Didi-Huberman's "essay" about Giacometti's Cube provides

a concept that applies to two basic operations of his work in
their innennost dynamics. The French verb essayer initiaIly dis-
plays a genuine openness that oscillates between disquiet and
uncertainty, the poles between which one puts "one's abilities,
rneans of action and of thought to the test". 21 The test implies a
conflict-the confrontation with given conditions-an experi-
ence to which one sublnits oneself and that can bring about a
newway of seeing things. Essayer echoes practice-the repeated
and tireless beginning-again through which a complex structur-
ing of experience OCCLUS over tiIne.
The test to which Didi-Huberman subjects himself is that
enigmatic object whose challenge is described in his first few
pages as a constitutive paradox. The Cube is an object "whose
signification seerns well-buried indeed": both enclosed within
the fonn and exhibited by it. It is not only the polyhedron's
thirteenth side, on which its volume rests, that is "buried" or
"blind,"22 not only its lack of stylistic detenninacy as sculp-
ture-as an object that is "neither sufficiently rigorous to be
'constructivist,' nor sufficiently analytical to be 'cubist,' and
is too geornetrical to tell any story"23_ no t only aIl the art-his-

20 Didi-Huberman, The Cube and the Face, in this volume, p. 25.

21 Essayer: "mettre à l'épreuve ses capacités, ses moyens d'actions, de
pensée," in Le Trésor de la Langue Française informatisé, http://\vww.cnrtl.
fr/definition/essayer (accessed 23.2.2015).
22 Didi-Huberman, The Cube and tlze Face, in this volume, p. 15.
23 Ibid., p. 13.

Mira Fliescher and Elena VOgluan

toricai interpretive variations through which meaning is once

again wrested from absence in the sublirne, the biographical
or the syrnbolic; in the state of being buried, Didi-Huberrnan
sees both a constitutive no de in Giacometti's entire work and
the essential conflict in this unique and fateful sculpture. Both
at once, for the Cube is equally the structural expression of a
tenacious artistic quest and the synlptomatic result of a trans-
formation and distortion. In his nlethodical orientation toward
the psychoanalysis of Siglnund Freud-from The Interpretation
of Dreams to the anthropological writings such as Totem and
Taboo-Didi-Huberrnan takes the buried side as a challenge to
an archaeological interpretation. In his thirteen chapters this
interpretation is pervaded by the consistent sirnultaneity of the
various layers of the Cube-to a certain extent its thirteen sides.
Didi-Hubennan's essential rnethodical prenlise, which pri··
rnarily obtains a dynamic impulse from this apparent aporia,
can be seen in this polyphony. Here too the essay describes the
actual nlethod, even the fonn, of this tentative exalnination,
which always operates in-phenOl11enological, philological and
aesthetic-proxÎl11ity to the object; an approach that lllOves,
one could say, at the level of its object's illu11anence. Adorno
fon11ulates these nlutual Îl11plications as a dialectical prob-
lel11 of figuration in his text The Essayas Porm, which is 111uch
quoted by Didi-Huben11an: "A continuous presentation would
contradict 111aterial that is full of antagonisrns as long as it did
not siInultaneously define continuity as discontinuity."24 So
the constitutive discontinuity of an object is what awakens and
provokes the aesthetic consciousness of the essay: "It thinks in
fragl11ents just as reality is fragrnented and gains its unity-by
moving through the fissures.,,25 Thus, continuing with Adorno,

24 Theodor W. Adorno, "The Essayas Form," trans. Bob Hullot-Kentor

and Frederic Will, in New German Critique, no. 32 (Spring-Summer, 1984),
p. 151-171, here 163f.
25 Ibid., p. 164

In the Face of the Unface

we could describe the language in which Didi-Huberman dis-

covers the Cube as a "confIict brought to a standstill,,,26 through
which he scrutinizes the dynaIuic fissures of Giacometti's work
in its various states of tension.
The prismatic light of the Cube even discloses the problern
of a work's emergence as an "interrupted genealogy," which,
however, is understood less in the sense of Giacornetti's llmch-
analyzed turn towards "presence" and "realisrn"-stateluents
bythe artist that Didi-Huberman deconstructs with philological
care and philosophical precision. 2i The concern is rather with
chiasnlus, which describes a dialectic of rnovelnent and stasis,
of monolith and cavity, of authoriallegend and creative defig-
uration as agencies ÏInrnanent in the worle The GiacOIuetti
study opens a network of connections to other works by Didi-
Hubennan, which endeavor to invent new ways of bringing
aesthetics and episteme together. Didi-Hubennan's far-reach-
ing involvelnent with psychoanalysis as a rnode and paradiglll
that on the one hand critically extends the boundaries of tra-
ditional art history, and on the other critiques the archetypical
and subjectivist approach of psychoanalysis with instnlluents
frOIu the history of knowledge and discursive analysis, is itself
one of the chiaslnatic elements in his work. The question of
the place of thinking links the metaphysical focus to aesthetic
and epistenlÏc paradigms. To be Iuore exact, how can a work (of
art) embody questions ("incarner les questions"28)? The entire
probleluatic of The Cube and the Face can be read as a prisinatic
and continually recomiuencing development of this very para-
digrn. "So before the skull as sign, before the skull as object,
there is the skull as place-the place that dis quiets thought
yet situates it, envelops, touches and unfolds it. "29 This is how

26 Ibid.
27 Didi-Huberman, The Cube and the Face, in this volume, p. 125.
28 Georges Didi-Huberman, Être crâne. Lieu, contact, pensée, sculpture,
(Paris: Minuit, 2000), p. 30.
29 Translated from Didi-Huberman, Être crâne, p. 34.

Mira Fliescher and Elena Vogman

the question is taken up and responded to again, like an echo,

in the later essay Être crâne [Being the SkulI], from 2000. Fur-
thennore, how can a place of thinking, which is anat01nically
situated in the head, be brought together with the absence of a
face? Knowledge and aesthetics are at odds here, which poses
a further question: is knowledge identical with recognition,
identification or even experiencing-as-similar? Didi-Hubennan
continually makes use of the problematic of the gaze frmn a
philosophical perspective as one of experienceability and figu-
rability. So once again this question is articulated before ("en
face") or in the face of the Cube. How can we describe a place
in which different "orders of reality" are interlocked, and what
kind of thinking operates sin1ultaneously on many levels of
meaning and perception without ever fonning a synthesis? The
answer is given in a dialogue between Giacon1etti's readings
of the 1930s-Hegel, Kojève, Bataille, Freud and others-and
an extended conternporary interpretation of these theoreticai
Hnes in the psychoanalysis of Pierre Fédida or Derrida's read-
ing ofPlato, for example. Fr01n this perspective, thinking about
sculpture as the place of a question lneans taking it as the equiv-
aIent of a topology of the psyche; that is, reading it on the level
of its figurability. In "Théories des lieux" Fédida describes this
level as "lnetapsychological text," which operates using abstrac-
tion. 30 However, this process of abstraction differs fr01n philo-
sophical discourse, which is restricted to the logical character-
ization of conditions of figuration, in its specific "consideration
of figurability" in the theoretical sense: the lnode of the n1eta-
psychological text "preserves this aptitude for displacements
and transfers of Inetaphorical and fictional fonns in the figuraI
resource itself disposed by these fonns." Proceeding froln this
assmnption, "an answer can't ernerge except in the course of

30 Translated fronI Pièrre Fédida, Le site de l'étranger. La situation

psychanalytique (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1995), p. 270.

In the Face of the Unface

its own process of figuration,"'u which embraces its object of

analysis in its textual rhythm, its diverse shifts and concentra-
tions, openings and fissures, transformations and continuities,
and answers it. Understood in this way, abstraction, which
refers both to the object of the Cube and its method of analysis,
becOInes conceivable less as an aspect of a generalization th an
as a process of singularization.
This lllethod of singularization is in no way understood as
a means of producing a unity in Didi-Huberrnan's study, par-
ticularly in regard to the paradigm of the face. The Cube, as
already lnentioned, has at least two faces. On the one hand,
in the self-portrait, it presents the signature of the artist, who
seeks to create a kind of enigmatic and delicate monUlnent to
his loss (of his father, of lneaning, of the ability to love); on the
other hand the face is also problernatized as diversity: a sÏInul-
taneously positioned, irregular structure of facets, which the
phenOlnenological aspect of the sculpture opens up, dissects
and perhaps even explodes over the course ofDidi-Hubennan's
study. So in order to approach the face of the Cube-both the
cOInplex genesis of the engraving in the bronze, which was only
made after 1954, and the sculpture's arnbivalent status as a
work of art, lnyth and topos in GiacOInetti's œuvre-its specifie
telnporality is brought into focus. The "intervening situation"
that Didi-Hubennan lnentions near the beginning of his text is
analyzed through Giacornetti's work as a paradoxical process
of sÎlnultaneous crystallization and explosion: as the work of
a time of interval, which causes the nocturnal "poetics of the
gaze" frOIn the drawing Lunaire to become so uncannily real in
the Cube.
Didi-Hu bennan' s temporality of the Cube could be su bsunled
under the poetological concept with which Yuri Tynianov, theo-
retician of the Fonnal School, described a "new seeing" in poetry:

31 Ibid. p. 271.

Mira Fliescher and Elena Vogtllan

"New verse rneans-new seeing. And the rise of these new phe-
nome na only occurs in those interim periods [promeiutkzl when
inertia ceases; we only actually know the effect of inertia -the
interinl period, when inertia is lacking, appears to us, according
to the optieallaws of history, as a de ad-end ... History, however,
knows no dead-ends. It only knows interim periods."32 Tynianov
explains the creation ofnew interim periods, whieh he poetologi-
cally and historically juxtaposes with linearity and evolution, as a
problenl of spatialization, and he situates it in the concrete topol-
ogy-in the graphie verse structure and dynarnic-of poelns. In
the tirne around 1924, when Tynianov wrote his text, Giacornetti
was beginning to refIect on an analogous problem in sculpture:
"A way of lnaking a figure ... construction in lnasses. "33 For" space
does not exist. You have to create it, but it doesn't exist, nO,"34
as he put it years later in 1949. The poetologieal problenl of the
"density" of the verse sequence described by Tynianov coincides
with Giacometti's sculptural search in the poetic principle of
space-tiIne concentration. This orders the relationship between
elements in a kind of constellation, or to be lnore precise, in a
crystal that enables a new seeing.
But how does the crystal inscribe the paradigrn of the face?
What gaze or sight does it construct, and how? Discovering
the Cube as a crystallized interiIn period not only means read-
ing it against the grain of linear stylistie progression; perhaps
even more radieally the probleln is posed of being beheld by
tiIne, of the "anadyornenic rhytlun" of the dream, whieh-as
in the drawing Lunar, frOIn 1935 (fig. 33)-inwardly subverts,
shifts and also reproduces the spatial phenOInenology of the
Cube through the gaze of a lnask. In a chapter frorn A Thousand

32 Translated from Yuri Tynianov, "Die Zwischenzeit," in ibid., Der Affè

und die Clacke. Erziihlllngen, Drama, Essays, trans. Renate Landa (Berlin:
Volk und Welt, 1975), p. 450-498, here 489.
33 Alberto Giacometti:" Carnets et feuillets" (circa 1924), in Écrits, p. 114.
34 Alberto Giacometti: "Carnets et feuillets" (circa 1924), in Écrits, p. 198.

In the Face of the Un face

Plateaus Deleuze and Guattari ask "How do you dismantle

the face?"35 ("comlnent se défaire le visage?"). They describe a
rnovelnent that applies in every respect to the operation of the
Cube when they delineate "two figures of destiny, two states of
the faciality Inachine"36: on the one hand the "despotic" counte-
nance of the Pantocrator in Byzantine icons and lnosaics, which
follows the viewer with his omnipresent gaze; on the other the
Renaissance faces of the Passion, which "cross glances and turn
away frorn each other," like the Christ of the Quattrocento, "with
sidelong glances drawing rnultiple lines," taking up a complex
spatiality, "integrating depth into the painting itself.'>3ï But in
this typology Deleuze and Guattari are not interested in the
front or the profile as such, but in an in-between, a transition.
It is this turn ("le détournelnent") to the profile as an instance
of unrecognizability that distorts the Olnnipotence and identifi-
ability of the face. It produces a fissure, as it were; not the one
that reproduces antiquity, that brings forth a new Passion fig-
ure, but one that for a moment fiIls and transcends the order of
the representation with disparate "life lines".
This rnotif of the turn, which is inscribed into the face of the
Cube because of its genuine polarity, likewise anticipates later
writings by Didi-Hubennan on the telnporality of images, above
aIl his study of Aby Warburg, L'image survivante. In the sense of
the "iconology of the interval" exalnined by Warburg, this turn
or twist can be discovered as a "place of thought", as an interval
that doesn't siInply bring about a transformation of the figure
but relocates and intensifies it. 38 This kind of face has something

35 Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, "Year Zero: Faciality," A Thousand

Plateaus: Capitalismus and Schizophrenia (1980), trans. Brian Massumi
(Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987), p. 167-191, here 186.
36 Ibid., p. 184.
37 Ibid., p. 184f.
38 See Georges Didi-Huberman, L'image survivante: Histoire de l'art et
temps des fantômes selon Aby Warburg (Paris: Minuit, 2002), p. 433-452.
(English edition upcoming from Penn State Press.)

Mira Fliescher and Elena Vogman

unsettling about it, as it siI11ultaneously integrates two contra-

dictory features-both the front and the profile. Oscillating
between "mourning and desire," cavity and envelope, between
the paradigm of proper name and eerie revenant, it is priI11arily
a "place to experience a threshold."39 Us face is pervaded by dis-
quiet as ifby a tic, a twitch, which Deleuze and Guattari de scribe
as an immanent conflict: "It is precisely the continually refought
battle between a faciality trait that tries to escape the sovereign
organization of the face and the face itself, which clal11ps back
down on the trait, takes hold of it again, blocks its line of flight,
and reimposes its organization upon it.,,40
So the Cube unites two contradictory elel11ents: between
a pen11anent setting-in-n10tion, which opens up the "loss of
face" as a virtual space, a totality of the possible-and thus per-
haps "disquiets" it-and an iI11manent tying-back, in which
Didi-Huben11an so precisely and carefully traces Giacornetti's
"individual 111ythology." (Deleuze and Guattari always discuss
the two 111ovel11ents of de- and re-territorialization in relation
to the plane-the territorium.) This all-en1bracing in-between
therefore takes the Cube close to that desirable but al11bivalent
place described by Jorge Luis Borges in his story The Aleph: "1
saw the Aleph frOI11 every point and angle, and in the Aleph 1 saw
the earth and in the earth the Aleph and in the Aleph the earth;
1 saw rny own face and my own bowels; 1 saw your face; and 1 felt
dizzy and wept, for 111y eyes had seen that secret and conjectured
object whose nal11e is COI11mon to alll11en but which no 111an
has looked upon.,,41 This shÏI11mering arnbivalence can be read
as the el11bodirnent ofthe paradox that Didi-Hubennan situates
in the Cube between "a cavity that is too large and an envelope
that is too sl11all.,,42 In this vertiginous in-between, the Cube is

39 Didi-Huberman, The Cube and tlze Face, in this volume, p. 131.

40 Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, p. 188.
41 Jorge Luis Borges, "TheAleph" (1945),
links/literature/borges/aleph.html, aeeessed Mareh 13, 2015.
42 Didi-Huberman, The Cube and the Face, in this volume, p. 134.

In the Face ofthe Unface

above aIl a critical place that because ofits polarities would sug-
gest the aleph less as possibility-that is, a place in which you
couldlinger-but as the place of a sheer impossibility. Yet this
place is not entered frOI11 a philosophical or fiction-theoretical
direction but on the level offonn: on an aesthetic and genuinely
anthropologicallevel where the Cube becomes the real result of
a logic of neither-nor, becomes the "crystal or the 'synthesis' of
a tearing," which doesn't resolve the conflicts but crystallizes
thern. 43 It belongs to a certain extent to a "third kind of being,"
to invoke Plato's irnage:B

A heterodox dialectic of world-liness-in opposition to tran-

scending presence or to Hegel's logic of synthesis-is described
by Bataille, Michel Leiris and Carl Einstein as publishers and
authors of the anthropological journal Documents, which
appeared in Paris between 1929 and 1931 and was eagerly read
by GiacOI11etti during those years. Didi-Huben11an's contextu-
alization of the Cube in the visual processes and frequent nlon-
tages of Documents shows that the monolith's pervasive "geom-
etry of cruelty" has nothing to do with the formation of unity.
Rather, the crystalline structure of the Cube operates with opti-
cal nlldtiplication and denuding cuts, and in the same monlent
alters the hunlan figure. In an extensive reading of Documents,
Didi-Huberrnan indicates how in the journal, tiI11e is spatialized
and questioned through the juxtaposition of ethnological and
historical mate rials, as weIl as cubist and surrealist works. In
Didi-Huberman's subsequent book, La Ressemblance informe,
ou Le gai savoir visuel selon Georges Bataille [Fon11less Resem-
blance, or the Visual Gay Science of Georges Bataille], this
rnontaged heterogeneity turns into the central paradigl11. The
aesthetic of alteration becOI11es the method that sets Bataille's

43 Ibid., p. 154·
44 Ibid.

Mira Fliescher and Elena VOg1nan

disquieting anthropology in motion against self-aggrandizing

philosophical systellls and formaI art-historical hierarchies.
The lllOntage in Documents appears here as a subversive equiva-
lent to Sergei Eisenstein's rnontage of attractions. One could
say that Didi-Hubennan's view of the visual dialectics of disin-
tegration and rnultiplication retrospectively dialecticizes the
Cube in a dual perspective. One the one hand, on the phenonl-
enological and poetologicallevels, it marks its place as a con-
stitutive heterogeneity, which has its analogy in the essayistic
way of writing; on the other it suggests this as a paradigln that
discovers a prinlal rnultiplicity and a genuine processuality in
every aesthetic object. The work as object is countered by the
work as process, which in its potential for disintegration, criti-
cally dislnantles any idea of continuaI developrnent and any
holistic organization based on lnateriality.
In the Cube this chronic incOlupleteness and processuality
constitutes the disquieting and paradoxical unrecognizability
that is sculpturallY figured in its vollllne. How does the polyhe-
dron-in and through the eyes of Didi-Huberman-succeed in
portrayingthis place ofimpossibility? How, in its countenance,
does it cause the appearance of a paradoxical facelessness, an
unface? The answer lllight be sought in the "and" that Didi-
Hubennan places between Cube and face, and that includes
the ambivalence of a dialectical doubling as a Inethodological
rnove prompted by an object that offers no answers but dou-
bles, lnultiplies the questions-like the sides of its Vollulle. In
his text "Masques-Janus du Cross-River (Calneroun)," which
appeared in Documents in 1930, Eckhard von Sydow analyzed
a series of enigrnatic visual objects. The article is interspersed
with reproductions of Carneroonian Janus masks: "Heads that
present diarnetrically opposed faces."45 Various ornaInents

45 Translated from Eckhard von Sydow, "Masques-Janus du Cross-River

(Cameroun)," Documents. Doctrines, archéologie, beaux-arts, ethnographie 2
(1930), no. 6, p. 321-328, here 322.

In the Face of the Unface

on the masks, their disparateness and their disproportional

heads, their often contrasting colors and sizes, ultimately the
absence of physiological or physiognornic similarity to the local
population (likewise the strange presence of "Caucasian traits"
detected by the author)-all this, according to Sydow, brings
about the "unexplained" bizarreness of the Inasks. 46 But he
nonetheless attelnpts an interpretation: the unsettling double-
facedness derives from a deep psychological "antithesis," from
an anthropological constant that Sydow locates in the "sub-
lime" and "delnonic" aspects of hmnan existence. 47
Yet the Inysterious power of the masks, which is also
revealed in their sheer visual presence, seems to subtly under-
mine Sydow's explanation; as if the credibility of the argu-
ment is deprived in the mOInent when the Janus head doubles
its delnonic horror, thus decisively not elnbodying, as Sydow
daims, the counterbalancing, "sublÏIne" opposite pole. For the
Inasks instead Inultiply the "obscure elnbodirnent of chaos"
that Bataille saw as a linlenal phenOlnenon of aIl Iuasks, as
their formless resemblance, which has incorporated "the fig-
ure of Iny own death," as he writes in "Le Inasque."48 The sanIe
abstract anthropOlnorphisln that Bataille exaInines in his texts
and visual montages in Documents is also inherent in the dis-
torted nature of the face of the Cube. For Didi-Hubennan, the
manifold processes of multiplication and forceful disintegra-
tion appear to a certain extent as sylnptomatic gestures of a
work whose fate should not only be sought in a stylistic break
or an artist's biography but also in the "insidious passions"49 of
man, now beconle the fonn that the Cube attempts to invoke.
Furthennore, he traces a somewhat differently weighted
Janus-headedness in the Cube. This not only lies in the conflict-

46 Ibid., p. 322-324.
47 Ibid., p. 3 2 4.
48 Georges Bataille, "Le masque", Œuvres complètes, II (Paris: Gallimard,
1970), p. 403-404·
49 Ibid., S. 73.

Mira Fliescher and Elena Vogman

ridden rneanings of the sculpture; it also (even) pervades the

aesthetic problem of GiaCOInetti: the white of his plaster casts,
the darkness of his bronzes, the experiments with space and
volume, with the material, with abstraction and figurativeness,
the continuurn between portrait and the thinghood of sculp-
ture. These are aIl concentratedly opposed to the sides of the
Cube, as in aface-àjace that crystallizes the question of the turn
or détournement between Inask and face in the face of figura-
tive disintegration: face and unface; visage andface continually
arise frOIn the gulf of their conflict. The Cube gives this conflict
"fonn," which oscillates between portrait and mere thinghood.
For the attelnpt to make the countenance of the ather, its sin-
gularity or solitude, into sculptural subject rnatter requires the
existence of the sculpture and thus the mask in the sense of an
irnage or view. 50 And when Jean Genet, to return to his essay on
GiacOInetti, says that he won the artist around by answering his
question as to whether his plaster casts would lose sornething in
bronze with "No. Not at all [... ] but rather [... ] it's the bronze that
has gained,"Sl it is because winning is not the victOly of the one
over the other but a gain. And this "win" has nothing to do with

"GiacOInetti knew that a brain couldn't live in a bronze

skull, even ifhe did have the exact Ineasurernents ofM. René
Coty's. And as the he ad would be a bronze, and so that it
Inight have a life, and for the bronze to also be alive allrnust
therefore be as it is ... so that's clear isn't it?"52

50 For the visual-theoretical significance of the mask, see also Dieter

Mersch andJorg Sternagel, "Gesicht - Maske Antlitz," in Stephan Günzel
and Dieter Mersch (eds.), BiZd. Ein interdisziplindres Handbuch (Stuttgart:
Metzler, 2014), p. 329-336.
51 Jean Genet, The Studio ofGiacometti (1957), without pagination.
52 Ibid.

In the Face of the Unface

While Emmanuel Lévinas, who founds his ethics in the pres-

ence of the Other, took an arnbivalent attitude to art (although
not in full coherence), because it threatened to drown out the
presence of the Other in its irnagined iInage and sensuousness, 53
in Genet's idea of "winning" another dimension stands out, as
the gain opens up an aesthetic ethic of the fissure in which, with-
out presenting a likeness, a trace ofthe Other is kept alive even in
the bronze. 54 Genet is wise enough to sirnply hint at this but not
to cast it into a fonnula. What his text states to be "c1ear" disap-
pears in the ellipsis, which suggests an impossible possibility.
Gain is also no SlIlOOth calculation here. The ahnost ingenious
title 1+1=3 may serve once again as an example: the plus sign is
perhaps also counted in its skewed reckoning. Read in this way,
a conflict is introduced between the established functionality
of the fonllula, in which the "+" represents an uncounted, as it
were invisible conjunction, and its materiality, which requires
three eleillents or characters in order to exist at aIl. Instead of
usingthe "+" as an operation ofportrayal-as in the functional-
ity of the formula-which only makes sense in withdrawal, this
"false calculation" indicates a possible gain, a surplus, which
doesn't result fr01n l11ere sununation but from a conflict-ridden
situation: rnaterial and portrait, process and crystalline fixation,
addition and subtraction, the practice of the "+" and its result as
enigmatic surplus, in aIl produce a perception quite different

53 Lévinas's criticism is primarily anchored in the paradigms of classical

representation and the iInagined image.
54 For the face see "The Trace of the Other," trans. A. Lingis, Deconstruc-
tian in Context. Literature and Ph ilosop lzy , ed. Mark Taylor (Chicago: Uni-
versity of Chicago Press, 1986), p. 345-359. On ambivalence to art compare
Lévinas's critique of the portrait, which he dismisses as representation, as
mere "exempla" of lifeless idols, in Emmanuel Lévinas "The Prohibition
against Representation and 'The Rights of Man,'" Alterity and Transcen-
dellce, trans. Michael B. Smith, London: The Athlone Press, 1999, p. 121-
130, here, P.129, with his deliberations on art and aisthesis in "Sein ohne
Welt," Existence and Existents, trans. A. Lingis (Dordrecht, Boston, London:
Kluwer Academic Publishing, 1988), p. 52-63.

Mira Fliescher and Elena Vogman

from an art than follows a logical conjunction. And this rnakes

sense not despite, but precisely because of a paradoxieal, con-
flict-ridden constellation. 55
The "fundarnental tension" whieh the Cube sets up an
uncompleted process of InultipIication, setting and subver-
sion, "between a purely geornetrical place and an always anx-
ious, always problelnatie portrait, fallen into the hidden sides
of the object, but effective in its virtuaIity," reveal the work -
for Didi-Hubennan- as an "iInpossible portrait."56 In it, an
"abstract object" is invested "with the powers of the image,"57
whieh in this respect looks and addresses-although not sirn-
ply as an abstract anthroponlorphic Other, but-and this is
the crux of the nlatter-as an Other that constitutes its own
gaze. 58 In the practical thought of such a rnaterial-oriented
and dialectieal aesthetics of difference it is the very tensions
that open up an experience of alterity. That is, the irresolvable
divergence between stasis and conflict, object and sculpture,
figuration, subversion and abstraction, rneaning and rnystery,
portrait and lnask, between portrait and the sheer lnass of the
material, between side and visage, open up-through the fis-
sure-the singularity specifie to every elelnent involved in this
tension. Outside of detennined Ineaning, imagined iInage and
representation there lnight be sOlnething like a "substitution"
of the presence of the Other in Lévinas's sense. 59 But while
Lévinas sees the presence of the Other as an epiphany without

55 See also Dieter Mersch, Epistemologies ofAestheties (Zurich: diaphanes,

201 5).
56 Ibid., p. 142.
57 Ibid., p. 155·
58 See also Dieter Mersch, "Bild und Blick. Zur Medialitat des Visuellen,"
Christian Filk, Michael Lommel and Mike Sandbothe (eds.), Media Synaes-
theties (Cologne: Halem Verlag, 2004), p. 95-122.
59 For substitution with Emmanuel Lévinas, see Otherwise Than Being or
Beyond Essence, translated by A. Lingis (Pittsburgh: Duquesne OP, 1998), p.
55, 67-68, 159, 160. The term doesn't refer to a substitution but an advoca-
tion, even a commitment to the Other, that can thus be wider applied onto
materialities and the ressemblance informe.

In the Face of the Unface

aisthesis,60 Genet provides a different point of view for which

Didi-Huberman, almost en passant, supplies the necessary ana-
lytical basis. Art has to face the unface (as it has to unface the
face), it has to bring both into a conflict-ridden form or informe,
and it has to allow itself to be gazed at by both. In the fissures
of this Janus-headed conflict the sides [faces) of an object are
gifted with visage, and it becomes what Giacometti aspired to:

60 See Lévinas, "The Trace of the Other," p. 349-352.


Fig. 1, 2, ], 4, :;,8,9, ,.p, ,p, 43, .J.J, 46, .J7, 48, .J9, 50, 51, 52, 64, 67, 72, ï]: Denis Bernard. lîg. 6, 53,69,
7°,75,81: Ernst Scheidegger (hlUndation Ernst Scheidegger-Archivel. l'ig. 7: in !Joeumcnts. Doctrincs,
archéologie, beaux-arts, ethnographie 2 (1930), no. 1, p. 19 Fig. 10: in Georges Didi-Huberman: lc Cube
et le visage. Autour d'une sculptur d'Alberto Giacometti (Paris: Macula, 1993), p. 33, fig. 12. Fig. 11: in ibid.,
fig. 13. Fig. 12, 22, 37, 55, 56, 57: Kunsthaus Zurieh (Alberto Giacomctti-l'oundation). Fig. 11: Collection
Paul Bruguière, in Yves Bonnefoy: Giacometti. Eine Biographie seines Werks (Bern, Sulgen, Zurich: Benteli
2(12), p. 191, fig . 173. Fig. q: Priva te Collection, in Bonnefoy: Giacomctti, p. 261, fig. 237. Fig. 15: trustee:
Siichsische Landesbibliothek - Staats- und Universitiitsbibliothek Dresden (SLUB), lnv.-Nr.: Art. piast.
22.Jl, recorded by Hermann Grogmann (September 1957). Fig. 16: in Robert Bruck: Das Ski::enbuch l'on
Albrecht Dürer (Stragburg: Heitz & Mündel, 19(5), plate 60, page 1.J3 b, StL 103 (loss of war) Trustee:
Siichsische Landesbibliothek - Staats-und Universitiitsbibliothek Dresden (SLUB), manuscript collection,
lnv.-Nr.: MscLDresd.R.147J, recorded by Gundula Kürner (Februar 1970). Fig. 17,18, 19: Kunstmuseull1
Basci (Department of Prints and Drawings). Fig. 20: Labyrinthc 2 (1946), no. 22-23, fig. 13. Fig. 21: in Didi-
Huberman: Le Cubc et le !lisage, p. 50, fig. 2}. l'ig. 23: ibid., p. 52, fig. 25. Fig. 2.J: in Bonnefoy: Giacometti,
p. 5.Jl, fig. 56L Fig. 25: Collection Fondation Giacometti, Paris, inv. 1994-, © Succession Alberto Giacom-
etti (Fondation Alberto ct Annette Giacometti, Paris + ADAGp, Paris) 2015. Fig. 26: Collection Fonda-
tion Giacometti, Paris, Inv. 1994-1485, © Succession Alberto Giacometti (Fondation Alberto ct Annette
Giacometti, Paris + ADAGP, Paris) 2015. Fig. 27: in André Breton und Paull~luard: Dictionnairc abrégé du
surrealisme . Photographies, illustrations, lettrines (Paris: Éditions Corti, 1938), p. 58. Fig. 28, 29, 39: The
Museum of Modern Art (Mo1vU\), New York, © Photo SCALA, Florenz 2015. Fig. 30: in Lu:emer Illustrierte,
1935/02/28, no. 9, p. 4· Fig. 31' Bonnefoy: Giacometti, p. 213, fig, 194. Fig. 32,33: © Suecession Alberto
Giacometti (Fondation Alberto et Annette Giacometti, Paris + ADAGP, Paris) 2015. Fig. 34: in Bonnefoy:
Giacometti, p. 245, fig. 22]. Fig. 35: Didi-Huberman: Le Cube et le visage, p. 86, fig. 37. Fig. 36: Norwich,
University of East Anglia, Sammlung Sir Robert und Lady Sainsbury. Fig. 38: in Didi-Huberman: Le Cube
et le visage, p. 89, Fig. 40. l'ig. 40: ibid., p. 9]. Fig. .J5: in Bonnefoy: Giacometti, p. 157, Fig. Q9. Fig. 54:
Succession Alberto Giacometti (Fondation Alberto et Annette Giacometti, Paris + ADAGP, Paris) 2015.
Fig. 58: Didi-Huberman: Le Cube et le visage, p. 131, fig. 60. l'ig. 59: Dieter Brunner: Die obere Halfte
Die Biiste seit Auguste Rodin (Bonn: Wachter Verlag, 2(05), p. 7 L Fig. 60: Paris, Musée d'Orsay, in Anne
Rivière, Bruno Gaudichon und Danielle Ghanassia: Camille Claudel. Catalogue Raisonne (Paris: Adam
Biro, 1996), p . 104. Fig. 61: bpk/Al,'Yptisches Museum und Papyrussammlung, Staatliche Museen Ber-
lin. Fig . 62, 63: in Albrecht Dürer: Das druckgraphische Werk, vol. 1: Kupferstiche, Eisenradierungen und
Kaltnadelbltitter, eeL by l'vlatthias Mende, Rainer Schoch, Anna Scherbaum (München, London, and New
York: Prestel, 2(00), p. 181, Kat.-no. il. Fig. 65: in Georges Didi-Huberman: Le Cube et le !lisage, p. 164,
fig. 67. Fig. 66: in Robert Bruek: Das Skizzenbuch von Albrecht Dürer, plate 131, page 182 b, 183 b, Str. 139,
160 (loss of war). Trustee: Siichsisehe Landesbibliothek - Staats- und Universitiitsbibliothek Dresden
(SLUB), Manuscript Collection, Inv.-Nr.: MscLDrescl.R.147.f, recorded by Waltraud Rabich (November
1970). Fig. 68: in Valerie J. Fletcher (ed.):Alberto Giacometti, 1901-1966 (Washington: HirshhornMuseum/
Smithsonian Institution, 1988) p. 38, fig. 7. Fig. 71: Musées royaux d'art et d'histoire, Brussels, in Dieli-
Huberman: LI' Cube et le visage, p. 196, fig. 73. Fig. 74: in Documents Doctrines, archéologie, beaux-arts,
ethnographie 2 (1930), no. 8, p. 24. Fig. 76: in Minotaure 1 (1933), no. 3-.J, p. 47. Fig. 78: in klinotaure 1,
no. 3-4, 1933, S. 40. Fig. 79: Patsy R. und Raymond D. Nasher Collection, Dallas . r'ig. 80: in Mina Gre-
gori: UJJi:ienund Palazzo Pitti Die Gemiildesammlungen von FlorellZ (Munich: Hirmer, 199.J), p. 66, fig. 71


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