Seeking out the minor lights of friendship in a time of fascism
Dante once spoke, in his Divine Comedy, of the miniscule lights, in the twenty-sixth canto of the Inferno, who, contrary to the great lights that shined bright within the sublime circles of Paradise, frailly wandered in the somber pockets of glimmering light within the darkness. Pliny the Elder was once preoccupied by a type of fly named pyrallis or pyrotocon, which was only able to fly within fire: “as long as it remains in the fire, it can fly; when its flight takes it out too far a distance, it dies.”
Through his readings of Dante, Pasolini, Walter Benjamin, and others, Georges Didi-Huberman seeks again to understand this strange, minor light, the signals of small beings in search of love and friendship. Their flickering presence serves as a counterforce to the blinding sovereign power that Giorgio Agamben calls The Kingdom and the Glory, that artificial brilliance that once surrounded dictators and today emanates from every screen. In this timely reflection, much needed in our time of excessive light, Didi-Huberman’s Survival of the Fireflies offers a humble yet powerful image of individual hope and desire: the firefly-image.
Georges Didi-Huberman is lecturer at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales in Paris. He has published more than twenty books on art history and philosophy and received the 2015 Theodor W. Adorno Prize.
Lia Swope Mitchell is a writer and translator in Minneapolis.