Unknown artist, Dancers I–IV, oil on canvas Finnish National Gallery / Sinebrychoff Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Henri Tuomi and Hannu Pakarinen

Peer-Reviewed Article: Res(is)tance of Remains

Ari Tanhuanpää, PhD, Senior Conservator, Finnish National Gallery

On the reste that is not but which nonetheless remains

In this article, my aim is to approach the artwork’s being, taking as my starting point Jacques Derrida’s quasi-concept the reste (remains), and the neologism he derived from it, restance – especially as he discusses them in a number of his works. The essay consists of my reading of Derrida’s essay Athens, Still Remains (2010) (Demeure, Athènes, 2009)[1], which Derrida wrote to accompany the photographs Jean-François Bonhomme had taken in Athens. But, to start, let us take a look at a modest, unsigned painting lying in storage at the Sinebrychoff Art Museum: a tiny painting from a series of four, depicting a dancer. A great deal of its paint has fallen off, which gives it a certain charm. It is as if the dancer is dancing in the middle of the ruins – or is it, rather, that she remains motionless while the blanks around her dance? This is a strange pas de deux. One has the impression she is just about to disappear, any time now.[2] But the dancer seems to resist her total disappearance, just as the painting, even in its present, pitifully fragile and fragmentary state, as I claim, resists its complete downfall. I would like to suggest that both the dancer’s and the painting’s mode of being is not subsistence but rather restance – or, to use another word Derrida was fond of: demeurance/demourance (‘abidance’).[3] In its current condition, the painting could be described as a ruin – however, it must be emphasised that it is not a reste, as the reste is not, whereas the artwork as a physical artefact undeniably is.

[1] Jacques Derrida. Athens, Still Remains. Trans. Pascale-Anne Brault & Michael Naas. New York: Fordham University Press, 2010, originally published as Demeure, Athènes. Paris: Éditions Galilée, 2009 [1996]. Perhaps the most notable early occurrence of remain(s) in Derrida’s oeuvre is Glas – according to Charles Ramond, the ‘quasi-totality of Glas, from the first line, can be considered as a meditation on the remain(s)’. Derrida begins this book with a quote from Jean Genet: ‘what remained of a Rembrandt torn into small, very regular squares and rammed down the shithole.’ Jacques Derrida. Glas. Trans. John P. Leavey & Richard Rand. Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1986 [1974], 1; Charles Ramond. Dictionnaire Derrida. Paris: Ellipses Édition, 2016, 200.

[2] Georges Didi-Huberman has referred to somewhat similar phenomena using the term aperçue (a feminine past participle of aperçevoir, French for ‘to perceive’), see Georges Didi-Huberman. Aperçues. Paris: Les Éditions de Minuit, 2018.

[3] Generally, le reste has been translated into English as ‘remains’, ‘remainder’, ‘remnant’, or ‘residue’, sometimes also as ‘rest’. Restance, in turn, has been translated as ‘remainder’, ‘remaindering’, or ‘remaining’. Derrida once said that he ‘cannot say whether or not remainder, by itself, adequately translates restance, but it matters little since no single word, out of context, can by itself ever translate another word perfectly’. Jacques Derrida. ‘Limited Inc a b c’. Trans. Samuel Weber, in Limited Inc. Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press, 1988 [1977], 52; Jacques Derrida. Given Time: I. Counterfeit Money. Trans. Peggy Kamuf. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1992 [1991]. For Derrida on translation as a whole, see his ‘Des Tours de Babel’. Trans. Josef F. Graham, in Difference in Translation. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1985, 165–207.

Featured image: Unknown artist, Dancers I–IV, oil on canvas, 19cm x 13cm.
Finnish National Gallery / Sinebrychoff Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Henri Tuomi and Hannu Pakarinen

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