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For many years, Aby Warburg had been widely known and unread, and it was only in the 1980s that the situation radically changed. The present paper addresses the issue of Aby Warburg’s present-day popularity. The scholar turned his attention to tiny, heterogeneous details that flawed the purity and unity of works of art (inanimate accessory forms, draperies and hair, or figures composed all’antica). An interest in margins is characteristic of the postmodern way of thinking, one sensitive to otherness, to the deconstruction of seemingly coherent narrations and microhistories. Ernst Gombrich emphasised the fact that Warburg was a man of the nineteenth century. The key evidence of that was to be his concept of culture, derived directly from the evolutionism. Yet, the Warburgian vision of culture cannot be understood merely as a dead, historical idea. The notions of Pathosformel and Nachleben der Antike embrace problems that are fundamental for all aspects of cultural studies. Warburg investigated, how old values are transformed into new ones. Nowadays memory, as a social and cultural phenomenon, is one of the most important subjects of research, whereas before World War II this problem, with the exception of the research of Warburg and Halbwachs, was hardly explored. Therefore the concepts of the Hamburg scholar are still interesting and inspiring also in that regard. Additionally, the expansion of the scope of scholarly interest to embrace all manifestations of visuality is in keeping with the postmodern pictorial turn or iconic turn. German Bildwissenschaft, too, grows out directly from the ideas of Warburg. The scholarly discipline pursued by the Hamburg intellectual may be called ‘cultural seismography’: while finding in old and contemporary paintings symptoms of shakes contained in the recurrent Pathosformel filled with ever new contents, he discerned the imminent threats, and from the height of his observatory tower – that is, the refuge of his vast library – he was able to pass the diagnosis on.
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