Unreal Nature

April 20, 2014


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:42 am

… one thing remains unthought when one attempts to conceputalize work as (self-)emancipating: the difficulty of work, its painful dimension …

This is from the essay ‘Labor’ found in The Sense of the World by Jean-Luc Nancy (1993):

… Insidiously, without truly being proposed as such, the thesis of labor as having its end in itself is gaining ground across what is in reality a generalized becoming-laborious of social existence.

Once one has sidestepped the traps of this illusion, one finds oneself confronted with the fundamental question: the question of how to pass from necessity to freedom while holding onto labor, which is to pass from production to creation, or in terms that are more rigorous (more Aristotelian and more Marxist) to pass from poiesis to praxis, from the activity that produces something to the activity through which the agent of the action “produces” or “realizes” him/herself.

One can put it also this way: it is a question of the passage from “surplus value” determinable as extortion of added value, “surplus value” measurable in terms of labor force and/or labor time, to “surplus value” no longer determinable as “value,” and thus to a beyond of value, to the absolute value — not measurable in terms of any other thing (as Kant said of “dignity”) — of an end-in-itself or a pure autoteleology (which is, moreover, each time singular and incomparable). All of economics and all of “political economy,” including its critique are at stake here.

In still other words: what is at stake is the passage from labor to art, from the one “teknē” to the other. Or from technique to “itself,” if that is possible.

[ ... ]

… At the very least, one thing remains unthought when one attempts to conceptualize work as (self-)emancipating: the difficulty of work, its painful dimension (which in French, for example, appears in the etymology of the word travail). Is emancipated work and/or is the work through which work would liberate itself (from itself) still painful? What would labor without pain mean? It is not merely a question of words. Much more radically, to be sure, it is an ontological question: it is a matter here of the ontology of necessity, of the necessity of the “body,” “nature,” and “needs.” To put it in Heideggerian terms, perhaps we are lacking an existential analytic of pain, an existentiale of painfulness, but one that would not supply pain with a sacrificial justification of any sort.

Is the passage from necessity to freedom a passage from pain to pleasure? Does the passage itself involve no pain? And pleasure itself? What is the role of the (historically proximate) category of the “sublime” here, as a mixture of pain and pleasure? Is there such a thing as sublime labor?




April 19, 2014

The Flashlight of the Tongue

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:41 am

… the voice is precisely that which is never audible to phonology …

This is from Beyond Words: Sobs, Hums, Stutters and other Vocalizations by Steven Connor (2014):

… The distinction between frontal and posterior sound values is finally a distinction between matter and immaterial, or between something and nothing. The mouth is a furnished room, with items disposed in an orderly way in its space; the throat, and all the other inner compartments on to which we may feel it dimly and indistinctly give, is vacuity itself. The mouth is a place that can be selectively and sequentially lit up by the flashlight of the tongue — even the craggy absence left by a missing filling is turned into a positive by the tongue’s haggling at it. The throat is a dark place, a space therefore of indeterminate shape and extent. The throat is a gulf of nothingness. It is the place in the mouth in which the nothingness of pure gurgling, the pure agitation before articulation, can be heard as articulation.

… It [the throat] is the point (even though it never exactly comes to a point) at which the nothing of pure, purblind guzzle and gargle becomes the something, or rather, the many different distinguishable things, of speech. Nothing becomes something. And yet, in thus becoming more definite, more articulate, speech also seems to become less material, less bodily. The glutinous, clinging ur-plasm of speech is sublimated in the crucible of the mouth into mobile sense and meaning. It is now, in Aristotle’s terms, ‘a particular sound that has meaning, and not one merely of the inbreathed air, as a cough is.’

… If language is not just what is abstractly given in structures and relations, but also what is historically made of these structures, or of what we profoundly seem to wish to be true of language, whether on rational or irrational grounds, then what Janis Nuckolls describes as ‘a kind of sound-symbolic creativity that is protracted through generations, below the threshold of awareness for most, yet assented to and thereby engineered by entire communities of speakers’ must be regarded as something language is as well as something we do to it.

I am not entirely opposed to the suggestion that sounds begin to gather a kind of magical significance, though this comes about as all magical effects do, not by inherence but by a kind of supervenience. The number thirteen has no power to bring luck or misfortune. But the attention paid to the number thirteen by superstitious people, or by people (like me) who are determined not to surrender to superstition, actually gives it a supervenient power of being fearfully attended to and having its effects scrutinized. This implies that when we examine the magic embedded or enacted in words, we are examining the aptitude to read those words in that way — the magical effect being an effect of magical attribution, or according of magical power.

The difficulty here is that the two strains, of magical belief, and the skeptical anatomy of it, are hard to keep completely separate in practice. In fact, there might be said to be a chiasmic oscillation between them, which is the same oscillation as is to be found in thinking about magical thinking. Magic does not exist in that there really is no omnipotence of thoughts. But the thought that there may be omnipotence of thoughts is a powerful and a dangerous thought (dangerous because it can itself become omnipotent). There is nothing to fear from magic, but plenty to fear from thinking there might be such a thing. Rationalists like me have a hard time keeping our thinking about magical thinking free from magic — especially, perhaps, when we irrationally deny or forget the force of magic in rationality.

… Voice and language envelop and exceed each other. Voice contains language, for there is nothing in language that cannot be given voice to or taken up into voice. But language also contains voice, since what we call a language is the sum total, or the imaginary horizon, of all possible occasions of speech. Voice is the soul of language, but, as Aristotle is at pains to assert, language is the soul of voice, what gives it its essential meaning (for without language and without meaning, the voice is merely noise). But voice is also a kind of noise within, or parasite upon, language. As Mladen Dolar observes, the voice is precisely that which is never audible to phonology — which is why phonology, from phone, may also be thought of as phonos, murder, the assassination of voice. The voice is accent, accident, occasion, all of them signifying etymologically the way in which things fall out.

… The voice moves between these two extremes in its relations with itself. Sometimes, the voice seems to touch itself with the most erotically delicate of touches, a touch that withdraws from and in the process yields place to itself, a doubling that consolidates, like an echo or an aura. But sometimes the voice also seems to turn on itself, shaking itself to pieces as though gripping itself terrier-like in its own teeth.

My most recent previous post from Connor’s book is here.




April 18, 2014

To Compel Something That I Cannot Visualize

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:46 am

… (were it not for this, painting would be the simplest thing in the world, since in Nature any old blot is perfectly right and correct)

The following are from ‘Notes 1985′ found in Gerhard Richter: The Daily Practice of Painting; Writings 1962-1993 edited by Hans-Ulrich Obrist (1998):

22 February 1985. ‘Formal conception,’ ‘composition,’ ‘line,’ ‘distribution of light and shade,’ ‘balance or disparity of color’ — such concepts are meant to explain that what counts in a work of art is not its content, the representation of an object: the thing represented is there only to serve the realization of those formal concerns, which are the truly important thing, the real point of the painting. Someone wrote about Hausmann’s Nude, Back View that the real statement of the work was the ‘design,’ the ‘swelling and contracting of the lines, the juxtaposition of masses and planes, the contrast between shaded and fully lit passages’ — and described the nude itself, its erotic and existential message, as the banal and earthly aspect, which is spiritualized and transcended through art. Happily, the exact opposite is the case: the line and all the formal elements are as boring as only line can be, and the only interesting thing is the naked woman, her partly familiar and partly alienated physical presence, which fascinates by virtue of its subtle multiplicity of meanings.

[ ... ]

18 May 1985. … So I am blind as Nature, who acts as she can, in accordance with the conditions that hinder or help her. Viewed in this light, anything is possible in my pictures; any form, added at will, changes the picture but does not make it wrong. Anything goes; so why do I often spend weeks over adding one thing? What am I making that I want? What picture of what?

[ ... ]

28 August 1984. … But the problem is this: not to generate any old thing with all the rightness and spontaneity of Nature, but to produce highly specific pictures with highly specific messages (were it not for this, painting would be the simplest thing in the world, since in Nature any old blot is perfectly right and correct).

Even so, I have to start with the ‘blot,’ and not with the new content (if I could exempt myself from that, I should then have to look for an appropriate way of representing it). With all the techniques at my command, especially those of elimination, I have to try to compel something that I cannot visualize — something that goes further and is better and more right then my own pre-existing opinion and intention — to appear as an existing picture of something.




April 17, 2014

The Song that Sang to Us

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:53 am

… the song that sang to us from the very dawn of our consciousness in the womb — a song that seemed to come from everywhere and to be part of us before we had any conception of what “us” meant — that this song is the voice of another and that she is now separate from us and we from her.

This is from the ‘Foreword’ by Walter Murch; to Audio-Vison: Sound On Screen by Michel Chion (1994):

We begin to hear before we are born, four and a half months after conception. From then on, we develop in a continuous and luxurious bath of sounds: the song of our mother’s voice, the swash of her breathing, the trumpeting of her intestines, the timpani of her heart. Throughout the second four-and-a-half months, Sound rules as solitary Queen of our senses: the close and liquid world of uterine darkness makes Sight and Smell impossible, Taste monochromatic, and Touch a dim and generalized hint of what is to come.

Birth brings with it the sudden and simultaneous ignition of the other four senses, and an intense competition for the throne that Sound had claimed as hers. The most notable pretender is the darting and insistent Sight, who dubs himself King as if the throne had been standing vacant, waiting for him.

Ever discreet, Sound pulls a veil of oblivion across her reign and withdraws into the shadows, keeping a watchful eye on the braggart Sight. If she gives up her throne, it is doubtful that she gives up her crown.

[ ... ]

… For as far back in human history as you would care to go, sounds had seemed to be the inevitable and “accidental” (and therefore mostly ignored) accompaniment of the visual — stuck like a shadow to the object that caused them. And, like a shadow, they appeared to be completely explained by reference to the objects that gave them birth: a metallic clang was always “cast” by the hammer, just as the smell of baking always came from a loaf of fresh bread.

Recording magically lifted the shadow away from the object and stood it on its own, giving it a miraculous and sometimes frightening substantiality.

…The essential first step that Chion takes is to assume that there is no “natural and preexisting harmony between image and sound” — that the shadow is in fact dancing free.

… The challenge that an idea like this presents to the filmmaker is how to create the right situations and make the right choices so that bonds of seeming inevitability are forged between the film’s images and sounds, while admitting that there was nothing inevitable about them to begin with.

… We take for granted that this dancing shadow of sound, once free of the object that created it, can then reattach itself to a wide range of other objects and images. The sound of an axe chopping wood, for instance, played exactly in sync with a bat hitting a baseball, will “read” as a particularly forceful hit rather than a mistake by the filmmaker.

… in my own experience, the most successful sounds seem not only to alter what the audience sees but to go further and trigger a kind of conceptual resonance between image and sound: the sound makes us see the image differently, and then this new image makes us hear the sound differently, which in turn makes us see something else in the image, which makes us hear different things in the sound, and so on. This happens rarely enough (I am thinking of certain electronic sounds at the beginning of The Conversation) to be specially prized when it does occur — often by lucky accident, dependent as it is on choosing exactly the right sound at exactly the right metaphoric distance from the image. It has something to do with the time it takes for the audience to “get” the metaphors: not instantaneously, but not much delayed either — like a good joke.

[image from Wikipedia]

The question remains, in all of this, why we generally perceive the product of the fusion of image and sound — the audio-vision — in terms of the image. In other words, why does King Sight still sit on his throne?

One of Chion’s most original observations — the phantom Acousmêtre — depends for its effect on delaying the fusion of sound and image to the extreme, but supplying only the sound — almost always a voice — and withholding the image of the sound’s true source until nearly the very end of the film. Only then, when the audience has used its imagination to the fullest, as in a radio play, is the real identity of the source revealed, almost always with an accompanying loss of imagined power: the wizard in The Wizard of Ox is one of a number of examples cited, along with Hal in 2001 and the mother in Psycho. The Acousmêtre is, for various reasons having to do with our perceptions (the disembodied voice seems to come from everywhere and therefore to have no clearly defined limits to its power), a uniquely cinematic device. And yet …

And yet there is an echo here of our earliest experience of the world: the revelation at birth (or soon after) that the song that sang to us from the very dawn of our consciousness in the womb — a song that seemed to come from everywhere and to be part of us before we had any conception of what “us” meant — that this song is the voice of another and that she is now separate from us and we from her.




April 16, 2014

All People Guard Their Beliefs

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:45 am

… All people guard their beliefs and contrive to interpret their behaviors as consonant with and expressive of them.

This is from Symbol and Politics in Communal Ideology: Cases and Questions edited by Sally Falk Moore and Barbara G. Meyerhoff. I start with the editors’ Prologue, and their introduction to the first part, which is on ‘Spontaneity’ (as opposed to ‘Tradition and Regulation’ which will be covered in the second part of the book):

… A campus commune provided a rich basis for identifying manipulations of ideology in the face of the problem of daily living. This commune, theoretically anarchistic, publicly claimed, among other things, that all visitors were welcome to stay as long as they liked, that no one should be expelled, and that membership was utterly open. In fact, the commune was troubled regularly by long-term visitors or “crashers” who contributed nothing to group life and drained its resources. No mechanism or procedure for expulsion existed, since membership selection was “not a problem,” because, by fiat, self-selection should have sufficed. Revision of the ideology was assiduously avoided on this critical point.

… Rather than confront the necessity for establishing regulations that would violate their ideology on two counts — one, that not everyone is a suitable member, and two, that formal procedures should replace spontaneous, individual motives and desires as a basis for making decisions — they publicly confessed that they had fallen short of their ideals, chastised themselves, and repented, with pledges to try harder in the future. It was a ritual of renewal and an affirmation of ideology, repeated many times in the life of the groups.

[ ... ]

… Collective action presents great difficulties to groups with an antiplanning ideology. The carrying out of complex projects that require coordination, subordination of individual desires, and delayed gratification is highly problematic, especially in those groups which aspire to provide members with a complete way of life. Communes based on an antiplanning ideology in which people live full-time must struggle continually with ways of taking action and legislating affairs.

… Some of the specific stratagems employed by the antiplanning social forms are illuminating. We have touched on the disguise which is made in the form of claiming regularity to be accidental, reflecting individual peculiarities and talents. Regularities are construed to be one-of-a-kind events, particularized so as to have no implications for the ideology. A variation on this theme was the interpretation of behaviors as manifestations of accidents. Decisions can be arrived at by the use of I Ching, and group antagonisms can be viewed as reflecting mysterious supernatural forces of all sorts, from witchcraft to Jungian typologies. All events provide explanations which sidestep attribution of predictability and do not carry the implication of possible remedy through design, intention, or planning, since accident and destiny are beyond human, rational control. The affinity for surrealism in art is another manifestation of the preference for understandings which appear in accidental configurations, underscoring the non-sense of life and relationships.

Short-lived encounters, postponements, simple collective projects, and the use of drugs to provide retreat into subjectivity are frequently used in avoiding conflict, but result in an adumbrated, much-limited social life. Self-help also appears in individual crises in lieu of group regulatory procedures, but requires no collective interpretation. Issues are also avoided by ad hominem analyses which attribute them to personal idiosyncrasies. When confrontations with failure are not avoidable, communards, for example, developed rituals of contrition which become occasions for reaffirming rather than questioning their ideology. Purge and purification rites, often conducted in group therapy-like sessions, effectively refocused attention on particularities of people and events. Inevitably, contaminating outside influences would be cited, and pledges to throw them off more assiduously consolidated rather than threatened ideological commitment.

[line break added to make this easier to read online] Ambiguity was employed in various forms in avoiding confrontations that threatened the ideology. The devaluation of logic, reason, and precise verbal communication, the stress on permissiveness, and the use of symbolism to convey messages were also useful in bypassing awareness of conflicts or differences. Thus a complex, often ingenious, range of stratagems replaced procedures. This is not to attribute an exceptional malevolence or dishonesty among adherents to the ideology of antiplanning. All people guard their beliefs and contrive to interpret their behaviors as consonant with and expressive of them. Regularities in masking regularity are no more than a vocabulary appropriate to these kinds of groups and movement, and in other belief systems different accommodations can be found. It is our task here to bring out some of the forms particular to these cases and leave to others the identification of idioms of adjustment suitable to other explanatory beliefs.




April 15, 2014

Operatic Romanticism That Is Still Sincere

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:47 am

… It was by his very vulgarity that Courbet was able to attain to a completeness of statement …

This is from ‘Review of an Exhibition of Gustave Courbet’ (1949) found in Clement Greenberg: The Collected Essays and Criticism, Vol. 2, edited by John O’Brian (1986):

… He put his century into his art so completely that he practically forced his successor, Manet, to turn toward the future before he was quite ready. Who knows but that without Courbet the impressionist movement would have begun a decade or so later than it did — aside from the fact that he himself sowed some of the seeds of that movement? He was a great artist.

… Ingres and Delacroix also expressed their age, but their taste was too cultivated to permit them to surrender to it so frankly. It was by his very vulgarity that Courbet was able to attain to a completeness of statement in certain directions that redeemed the vulgarity in part. He might have been a greater artist could he have transcended his age, but some of the enjoyment we get from his art arises precisely from the fact that he did not, that his art is at rest within itself, and lacks many of those tensions we feel elsewhere in the great art of the nineteenth century.

Burial at Ornans, 1850 [image from WikiPaintings]

[ ... ]

… I do not like Courbet’s portraits, but they are sensitive in feeling if not in actual painting. His nudes, which I usually like even less, manage however to be less crass and poetic at the same time [see here: scroll to Nudes under Artworks by Genre]. Courbet always had trouble in asserting figures in a background, but he achieved some of his greatest triumphs precisely in this matter, and their mood of figure-cum-foliage almost redeems some very inanimate nudes. It is the same mood that compensates at times for the vulgarity of Balzac and Berlioz, an operatic romanticism that is still sincere.

Courbet’s great fault was his refusal to be cultivated (this does not mean he was not an erudite painter), which was an effect, it seems, of his egotism and self-indulgence. He had small powers of self-criticism, and after reaching artistic maturity in his thirties he stopped developing. As the catalogue for the Courbet exhibition at Wildenstein’s says: “From now on his work simply alternated between good and bad. From now on, it was merely a question of landscapes, marines, portraits, nudes — depending upon circumstances.” Marx would have said that this was a typical symptom of the petty-bourgeois attitude toward existence, with its reluctance to take risks and its distaste (see Proudhon) for history. I would not dispute this, but I would add that it was also the sign of a temperament that had a great capacity for pleasure and was largely immune to the anxiety which can prevent even the calmest artist from being satisfied with success in the present.

The Wave, 1870 [image from WikiPaintings]




April 14, 2014

A Third, Fourth, Fifth

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:44 am

… I have tended to believe that things might have other aspects than the two we have mentioned (a third, fourth, fifth aspect) …

This is from ‘Zeus the Explorer’ by Giorgio de Chirico (1918):

Once the gates in the idiotic stockade that enclosed the various bleating or lowing “groups” have been breached, the new Zeuses take off alone to discover the curiosities that nestle like moles throughout the crust of the terrestrial globe.

“The world is full of demons,” said Heraclitus of Ephesus, walking in the shade of the porticoes at the mystery-fraught hour of high noon, while within the dry embrace of the Asiatic gulf the salty water swelled under the warm south wind.

One must find the demon in every thing.

The ancient people of Crete painted an enormous eye in the middle of the narrow bands that circled their vases, on their household utensils, and on the walls of their houses.

Even the fetus of a man, a fish, a chicken, a snake in its first stage is exactly an eye.

One must discover the eye in every thing.

This next is from ‘On Metaphysical Art’ also by Giorgio de Chirico (1919):

… I enter a room, I see a man sitting in an armchair, I note a bird cage with a canary hanging from the ceiling; I notice paintings on the wall and a bookcase with books. None of this startles nor astonishes me because a series of memories which are connected one to the other explains to me the logic of what I see. But let us suppose that for a moment, for reasons that remain unexplainable and quite beyond my will, the thread of this series is broken. Who knows how I might see the seated man, the cage, the paintings, the bookcase! Who knows with what astonishment, what terror and possibly also with what pleasure and consolation I might view the scene.

Giorgio de Chirico, Strange Travelers, 1922 [image from WikiPaintings]

The scene, however, would not be changed; it is I who would see it from a different angle. Here we meet the metaphysical aspect of things. By deduction we might conclude that everything has two aspects: a normal one that we almost always see and which is seen by other people in general; the other, the spectral or metaphysical which can be seen only by rare individuals in moments of clairvoyance or metaphysical abstraction, just as certain bodies that exist within matter which cannot be penetrated by the sun’s rays, appear only under the power of artificial light, under X-ray for example.

For some time, however, I have tended to believe that things might have other aspects than the two we have mentioned (a third, fourth, fifth aspect), all different from the first but closely related to the second or metaphysical.

Finally, this last is from ‘The Quadrant of the Spirit’ by Carlo Carrà (1919):

… I feel that I do not exist in time, but that time exists in me. I can also realize that it is not given to me to solve the mystery of art in an absolute fashion. Nonetheless, I am almost brought to believe that I am about to get my hands on the divine. Quite aside from seeming a reprovable thing, such an art may make me look unforgivably frivolous.

I feel as if I were the law itself, not a simple rendezvous of elements. How could the advocates of naturalism ever make me believe that all art is reducible to things constructed by manual skill?

… Alas! Now I see that I have been the blind man for whom the enchantments of life were destroyed when his sight was restored. My idea runs the risk of being upset if it outstrips certain capacities.

I believed in and swore by the flattering concept of my mind. Fugitive voluptuousness; then enthusiasms inflict heavy loss.

Carlo Carrà, The Engineer’s Lover, 1921 [image from Wikipedia]




April 13, 2014

(assuming that it ought to last)

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:47 am

… This is no longer “becoming-secular” but “becoming-worldly,” that is to say the restitution of sovereignty within existence, naked existence.

This is from the essay ‘Politics I’ found in The Sense of the World by Jean-Luc Nancy (1993):

… One could say: love begins in pure truth (punctuality, myth) and must, in order to last, come to make sense (assuming that it ought to last), whereas the political begins in pure sense (undifferentiated and value being-toward) and must punctuate itself into truth (the first punctuation having the form of power). For this reason, they have been set up, in our tradition, as two interconnected and antagonistic paradigms,each exposed, in a sense, to the other, each attracting and repelling the other.

Just as the becoming-sense of love can go so far as to deprive love of truth (and thus, at the same time, of sense — of “erotic” sense, at least converting it into “political” or “social” sense: the family), so the becoming-truth of the political can go so far as to absorb sense into itself. What one calls “totalitarianism” is the complete presentation of a sense in truth: myth, that is, but myth as reality, without the différance of its narrative. It is the immediate being-there or immanence of myth. In the fascist version, truth is the life of the community, in the Nazi version, truth is the conflagration of the people, and in the communist version, truth is humanity creating itself as humanity. Life, fire, creation: three figures of completed sense, signifying itself and absorbing itself without remainder in its signified, that is, in its referent — for truth here is a concrete punctuation. On this account, politics must be destiny, must have history as its career, sovereignty as its emblem, and sacrifice as its access.

[ ... ]

… As much as Rousseau “secularizes” Sovereignty, he gears down its truth by deferring its sense, by opening up for it an unheard-of history that is still our own. This is no longer “becoming-secular” but “becoming-worldly,” that is to say the restitution of sovereignty within existence, naked existence.

… Decision is existence as such, and existence, inasmuch as it does not take place for one alone or for two but for many, decides itself as a certain in of the in-common. Which one? Decision consists precisely in that we have to decide on it, in and for our world, and thus, first of all, to decide on the “we,” on who “we” are, on how we can say “we” and can call ourselves we.




April 12, 2014

Insisting Itself into a Kind of Truth

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:47 am

… the source of this magical power is just noises made by air, cartilage and saliva. … But is the fact that people believe in something that has nothing to it itself something, or nothing?

This is from Beyond Words: Sobs, Hums, Stutters and other Vocalizations by Steven Connor (2014):

… Even apart from the direct mimicking of speech baulked or bulked by oral pleasure, the m sound may be regarded as a primary phoneme — one which human children across many different cultures produce earlier and more easily than many other sounds. [ ... ] The vocable um, which functions in English as a linguistic placeholder, is a kind of silence made audible — the sound of not speaking, that keeps the channel open when where there is no communication. It is a vocal noise that impersonates voice.

… The plumped out pause that is the um is perhaps a minor form of the Big Nothing embodied in the mystical vocable Om, or Aum, that is supposed simultaneously to saturate and evacuate the thoughts of the meditator.

… The magical thinking expressed through the letter m is reinforced by the fact that a large group of words in the lexical field related to magic employ it: myth, music, meditation, magic, mysticism, dream, imagination, the mantic, the numinous (indeed, something of the incantatory power attaching to the words phenomenon and phenomenological indicate their affinity to this phonaesthetic cluster, despite the fact that the phenomenon is the opposite of the noumenon). It is perhaps the prominence of the m-sounds in Coleridge’s ‘five miles meandering with a mazy motion’ in ‘Kubla Khan’ that makes this line seem mimetic, the suggestion perhaps being that mazes and maziness that are confusing to the eye have a stupefying effect.

… Freud called magical thinking ‘omnipotence of thoughts,’ for the belief in magic is a belief in the magical power of thinking to make the world conform to it. But magical thinking is also often characterized by its conviction, or at least assertion, of the limits to thought, along with the irrational curtailing of the powers of reason, and the deliberate projection of mysterious powers or realities that lie beyond it: if you cannot know what you cannot know, you can still relish the delicious assurance that you cannot know it. Words that rumor of the numinous and the mysterious are often the carriers of this thought that assiduously keeps itself at a distance from itself, while remaining serenely confident nevertheless of its power to take the measure of the immeasurable, imagine the fact of unimaginability, name the unnameable. Magical thinking operates in the mode of amplified murmur, of assertion without articulation, of mime and intimation, lullabied by the slumberous humming of these nasals.

… In this sense, the um is another diagram of the mouth as such, abstracted to its twin actions of opening and closing. The noises of the voice are the voice of the vocal apparatus itself heard in parallel and in excess to the voice. Where the voice seeks to shape the mouth and the speaking voice in accord with meaning, these noises seek to pull the meaning back into the shape of the speaking apparatus, to draw the whole round world into the hollow O of the mouth. And the most mouthy sound of all is the one that seems to draw everything back into the mouth, the m.

… writers have been drawn to the strong implication of the lips produced by m sounds. Dylan Thomas’s ‘The Force That Through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower’ mimes different kinds of mouths at work in speaking, sucking, leaching and finally, devouring. There is a force that ‘dries the mouthing streams’; the speaker is ‘dumb to mouth’ to his veins that ‘the same mouth sucks’ as sucks at a mountain stream and is equally ‘dumb to tell’ (unable to tell, or dumb in order to indicate dumbly) how ‘the same crooked worm’ (tongue, finger, pen, penis) is at work in his writing. Joyce’s ‘allwombing tomb,’ the equivalence of life and death, is carried through the poem’s humming labials. To be ‘dumb to tell’ implies both that the speaker is unable to tell, and therefore dumb, and also that being dumb might itself be a kind of telling, mutism being assimilated to utterance.

… If it is true that langauge is in essence and in itself fundamentally arbitrary, with no given or necessary relationship between particular sound-forms and particular areas of reality or experience, it is also true that human users of language, who are also, by that very token, human producers and transformers of it, are powerfully influenced by conscious and unconscious assumptions about the relations between sound and sense, many of them magical. As a theory of the essential nature of langauge, phonosemantics may be — no, certainly is — erroneous, but the error has a distinctive form and force. Like many other forms of magical thinking, it is a form of error that bends things into its image, insisting itself into a kind of truth. So I am arguing, not for the simple actuality of the effects of the bilabial nasal, considered as what Margaret Magnus calls a ‘god in the word,’ or consonantal ‘archetype,’ but for the reality of the fact that we seem, in our uses of and attitudes towards language, to assume this actuality.

[line break added to make this easier to read online] Rather than a mythic actuality, it is therefore a mimic or as-if actuality. Possibly swallowing, or myself being taken in by phonaesthetic fantasy, I have had to assimilate myself to the mimic magic, the magical mimesis, of this taking-to-be-true. The magic of sound iconicity and its associated forms of mouth-mysticism are ultimately founded on– nothing; founded, that is, on the fact that the source of this magical power is just noises made by air, cartilage and saliva. The mouth is magical because, as the vehicle of speech, it constantly translates hardware into software, making something (meaning) out of nothing (mere sounds), and nothing (idea) out of something (matter). But is the fact that people believe in something that has nothing to it itself something, or nothing? If the primal cavity of the speaking mouth has indeed so often seemed to be full of magic, this may be literally enough because there is nothing in it.

My most recent previous post from Connor’s book is here.




April 11, 2014

Exactly What We Need

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:47 am

… Brutal, stupid and brazen, like a peepshow (i.e. unequivocally pared-down ballet): therefore radical, and therefore exactly what we need …

The following are from ‘Notes 1984′ found in Gerhard Richter: The Daily Practice of Painting; Writings 1962-1993 edited by Hans-Ulrich Obrist (1998):

23 April 1984. I have committed myself to thinking and acting without the aid of an ideology; I have nothing to help me, no idea that I can serve in return for being told what to do, no regulation that tells me how, no belief to show me the way, no image of the future, no construction that I can place on things in order to be given an overriding meaning.

I recognize only what is, and in my view any description and pictorialism of what we do not know is meaningless. Ideologies seduce; they invariably exploit ignorance and legitimize war.

13 June 1984. Lack of culture, directness, immediacy, spontaneity, authenticity (!): this is pared-down art, which avoids all artificiality, which no longer tries to take us in, which eliminates as a distraction all artistic skill and all complexity of reference. Brutal, stupid and brazen, like a peepshow (i.e. unequivocally pared-down ballet): therefore radical, and therefore exactly what we need — what liberates us from cultural constraints — what is really going to make us happy.

[ ... ]

21 September 1984. Certainly, Piloty, Makart and all those other Salon artists were far more influential in their own day then Manet, Mondrian and the like: i.e. they were even more important to society, and not only in the negative sense that they supported the reactionary status quo. They also supported a social order that may have been untenable but nevertheless basically performed its social function: unjust, antisocial or criminal though it was (is, and will be), it was necessary. There is no way out of that; all that is left is Utopia, a more or less vague, insubstantial Hope. But what I meant to say was something different, which is this: that these Salon artists, whom we today barely remember — however unimportant, inane, bloated and moronic they are — these very Salon artists represented the mind and spirit of their own time. I can barely believe this myself, but I have to assume that it was so — not only because the importance of these so-called artists is on record in the old magazines, but because we see the same thing today. What represents our own time, and actually keeps it alive, is the very same Salon trash, which we need, produce in vast quantities, discuss, comment upon, record in exhibitions, texts and films — and which is the mind and spirit of our time, our Zeitgeist. And I think that a short-lived elitist phenomenon such as the movement that produced Minimal and Conceptual Art is the exception that might have been expressly designed to prove the rule.

It was all over in no time. And then came retribution: trash painting and trash sculpture by the ton and by the square mile, eagerly swallowed by a greedy society. Art in the real sense does exist, but it is almost impossible to recognize with any certainty. …

19 October 1984. Glenn Gould, Goldberg Variations. For a year, two years, I have listened to almost nothing else. What is beginning to irritate me is the perfection. This totally absurd, boring, malevolent perfection. No wonder he died young. I ought to listen to the radio.




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