Sensing—Feeling—Imitating. Psycho-Mimeses in Aby Warburg


The concept of mimesis (Nachahmung) recurs throughout almost the entire temporal and thematic span of Aby Warburg’s work. This is not to say that Warburg ever developed a systematic account of mimesis as such, and not even of the role which mimesis specifically plays in the production, reception, and general cultural functioning of images – themes  central to his Kultur- and Bildwissenschaft, as well as to his art historical studies. The absence of such a systematic analysis, or even a concise and reliable definition, is hardly surprising, since Warburg was anything but a builder of systematically organized theoretical or scientific edifices. Yet, the insistence with which the topic returns in his writings demonstrates at least a systematic interest on Warburg’s part and allows his readers to formulate a few organizing observations. The present contribution offers a cross-section of a number of Warburg’s works, reaching from his early Grundlegende Bruchstücke zu einer pragmatischen Ausdruckskunde and a few of his art historical studies, to comparatively late texts such as the lecture on the snake ritual of the Hopi tribes and the introduction to the Mnemosyne-Atlas, a thematically organized inventory of transhistorically recurring figural patterns – bodies caught in movement and gesticulation – in the visual arts from Greek antiquity to Warburg’s present.