Unreal Nature

April 24, 2014

This Humid, Viscous Quality

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:46 am

… it transforms the human being into a thing, into vile, inert, disposable matter, with its entrails and osseous cavities.

This is from Audio-Vison: Sound On Screen by Michel Chion (1994):

The house lights go down and the movie begins. Brutal and enigmatic images appear on the screen: a film projector running, a closeup of the film going through it, terrifying glimpses of animal sacrifices, a nail being driven through a hand. then, a more “normal” time, a mortuary. Here we see a young boy we take at first to be a corpse like the others, but who turns out to be alive — he moves, he reads a book, he reaches toward the screen surface, and under his hand there seems to form the face of a beautiful woman.

What we have seen so far is the prologue sequence of Bergman’s Persona, a film that has been analyzed in books and university courses by the likes of Raymond Bellour, David Bordwell, Marilyn Johns Blackwell. And the film might go on this way.

Stop! Let us rewind Bergman’s film to the beginning and simply cut out the sound, try to forget what we’ve seen before, and watch the film afresh. Now we see something quite different.

First, the shot of the nail impaling the hand: played silent, it turns out to have consisted of three separate shots where we had seen one, because they had been linked by sound. What’s more, the nailed hand in silence is abstract, whereas with sound, it is terrifying, real. As for the shots in the mortuary, without the sound of dripping water that connected them together we discover in them a series of stills, parts of isolated human bodies, out of space and time. And the boy’s right hand, without the vibrating tone that accompanies and structures its exploring gestures, no longer “forms” the face, but just wanders aimlessly. The entire sequence has lost its rhythm and unity.

[image from Wikipedia]

… Added value is what gives the (eminently incorrect) impression that sound is unnecessary, that sound merely duplicates a meaning which in reality it brings about, either all on its own or by discrepancies between it and the image.

… each kind of perception bears a fundamentally different relationship to motion and stasis, since sound, contrary to sight, presupposes movement from the outset. In a film image that contains movement many other things in the frame may remain fixed. But sound by its very nature necessarily implies a displacement or agitation, however minimal. Sound does have means to suggest stasis, but only in limited cases.

… In the course of audio-viewing a sound film, the spectator does not note these different speeds of cognition as such, because added value intervenes. Why, for example, don’t the myriad rapid visual movements in king fu or special effects movies create a confusing impression? The answer is that they are “spotted” by rapid auditory punctuation, in the form of whistles, shouts, bangs, and tinkling that mark certain moments and leave a strong audiovisual memory.

Silent films already had a certain predilection for rapid montages of events. But in its montage sequences the silent cinema was careful to simplify the image to the maximum; that is, it limited explanatory perception in space so as to facilitate perception in time.

… If the sound cinema often has complex and fleeting movements issuing from the heart of a frame teeming with characters and other visual details, this is because the sound superimposed onto the image is capable of directing our attention to a particular visual trajectory.

… One of the most important effects of added value relates to the perception of time in the image, upon which sound can exert considerable influence. An extreme example, as we have seen, is found in the prologue sequence of Persona, where atemporal static shots are inscribed into a time continuum via the sounds of dripping water and footsteps. Sound temporalizes images in three ways.

The first is temporal animation of the image. To varying degrees, sound renders the perception of time in the image as exact, detailed, immediate, concrete — or vague, fluctuating, broad.

Second, sound endows shots with temporal linearization. In the silent cinema, shots do not always indicate temporal succession, wherein what happens in shot B would necessarily follow what is shown in shot A. But synchronous sound does impose a sense of succession.

Third, sound vectorizes or dramatizes shots, orienting them toward a future, a goal, and creation of a feeling of imminence and expectation. The shot is going somewhere and it is oriented in time.

… When a sequence of images does not necessarily show temporal succession in the actions it depicts — that is, when we can read them equally as simultaneous or successive — the addition of realistic, diegetic sound imposes on the sequence a sense of real time, like normal everyday experience, and above all, a sense of time that is linear and sequential.

… Imagine a peaceful shot in a film set in the tropics, where a woman is ensconced in a rocking chair on a veranda, dozing, her chest rising and falling regularly. The breeze stirs the curtains and the bamboo windchimes that hang by the doorway. The leaves of the banana trees flutter in the wind. We could take this poetic shot and easily project it from the last frame to the first, and this would change essentially nothing, it would all look just as natural. We can say that the time this shot depicts is real, since it is full of micro-events that reconstitute the texture of the present, but that it is not vectorized. Between the sense of moving from past to future and future to past we cannot confirm a single noticeable difference.

Now let us take some sounds to go with the shot — direct sound recorded during filming, or a soundtrack mixed after the fact: the woman’s breathing, the wind, the chinking of the bamboo chimes. If we now play the film in reverse, it no longer works at all, especially the windchimes. Why? Because each one of these clinking sounds, consisting of an attack and then a slight fading resonance, is a finite story, oriented in time in a precise and irreversible manner. Played in reverse, it can immediately be recognized as “backwards.” Sounds are vectorized.

The same is true for the dripping water in the prologue of Persona. The sound of the smallest droplet imposes a real and irreversible time on what we see, in that it presents a trajectory in time (small impact, then delicate resonance) in accordance with logics of gravity and return to inertia.

… Added value works reciprocally. Sound shows us the image differently than what the image shows alone, and the image likewise makes us hear sound differently than if the sound were ringing out in the dark. However for all this reciprocity the screen remains the principal support of filmic perception. Transformed by the image it influences, sound ultimately reprojects onto the image the product of their mutual influences. We find eloquent testimony to this reciprocity in the case of horrible or upsetting sounds. The image projects onto them a meaning they do not have at all by themselves.

Everyone knows that the classical sound film, which avoided showing certain things, called on sound to come to the rescue. Sound suggested the forbidden sight in a much more frightening way than if viewers were to see the spectacle with their own eyes.

… [In Liliana Cavani's The Skin] An American tank accidentally runs over a little Italian boy, with — if memory does not fail me — a ghastly noise that sounds like a watermelon being crushed. Although spectators are not likely to have heard the real sound of a human body in this circumstance, they may imagine that it has some of this humid, viscous quality. The sound here has obviously been Foleyed in, perhaps precisely by crushing a melon.

… In Franju’s Eyes Without a Face we find one of the rare disturbing sounds that the public and critics have actually remarked upon after viewing: the noise made by the body of a young woman — the hideous remains of an aborted skin-transplant experiment — when surgeon Pierre Brasseur and his accomplice Alida Valli drop it into a family vault. What this flat thud (which never fails to send a shudder through the theater) has in common with the noise of Cavani’s film is that it transforms the human being into a thing, into vile, inert, disposable matter, with its entrails and osseous cavities.

My previous post from Chion’s book is here.




April 23, 2014

The Danger

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:46 am

… and wherever they found it or expected to find it, there they lingered.

This is from the essay ‘Organization and Ecstasy: Deliberate and Accidental Communitas among Huichol Indians and American Youth’ by Barbara Myerhoff, found in Symbol and Politics in Communal Ideology: Cases and Questions edited by Sally Falk Moore and Barbara G. Myerhoff. My selections focus only on the ‘American Youth’ parts of her essay:

The term “communitas,” as used by Victor Turner, refers to a type of interpersonal relationship that may and does occur almost anywhere and in all kinds of societies — complex and simple, archaic and modern, unplanned and planned. This usage of communitas differs from the historical, temporal, and spatial limmits usually implied by “community,” and emphasizes that communitas is not limited to communities and is not necessarily more intense or common in that or any other given social type of relationship.

Communitas is only comprehensible in terms of “structure,” which is its opposite; indeed communitas is “antistructure.”

… It is only when the whole man is permitted to act spontaneously, without social responsibility and accountability, that communitas can develop. By definition, communitas cannot take place within structure, for it is ecstatic, literally an escape from the self. The spirit, in soaring flight, is liberated from the body and, correspondingly, from the social and historical rootedness that provides the daily mortal context. Of course, no one remains in a state of ecstasy indefinitely, so there must be ways of entering and leaving this condition, paths, as it were, between communitas and structure. Some societies provide such paths and chart the passages, and others leave them to chance, a risky business as will be seen.

In communitas, men involve their most private selves totally with one another and without the slightest suggestion of purpose or instrumentality. This is what Buber called Zwischenmenschlichkeit, and it is a transformative, often mystical experience. Without communitas, man and society are incomplete; yet without structure, existence is impossible. Dazzled by the power and joy of communitas, men often come together and attempt to institutionalize this condition by establishing utopian societies, but these efforts flounder when, as Turner puts it, “men find that they have to produce life’s necessities through work … to mobilize resources.”

… The example of accidental communitas used here [as opposed to the deliberate communitas of the Huichol Indians] is “Woodstock,” a reference to the florescence of American youth culture during the middle and late 1960s, known variously as “the counterculture,” “hippie culture,” “flower power,” the “Woodstock Nation,” and so forth. The high point of the movement was thought by many to have occurred in the summer of 1968 at an outdoor rock-music festival in Woodstock, New York. It lasted four days, was attended by approximately 500,000 young people, and was widely seen as constituting the fullest realization of the group’s most cherished values. In this case, Woodstock provides an excellent example of ad hoc communitas. It never recurred, at least not with the same intensity or in the same proportions, and the memory of it, the confusion and grief over its loss, made a considerable contribution to the ultimate dissolution of the Nation. In this interpretation, Woodstock became a kind of lost paradise, haunting and elusive to its devotees, both for those who had actually been there and for those who knew it vicariously and mythically.

[ ... ]

… [After Woodstock] Life in the counterculture continued, and various styles of accommodation to an ideology based on ecstasy and accident were developed. Individual enterprises were carried on, enterprises that were tedious, and hardly at all in accord with spontaneous desires. Dishes were washed, dogs and babies were fed, planes and buses were caught, term papers were written. These feats were accomplished in various ways, four of which are by way of: tripping out, flip-flopping, the circuit, and the commune.

Skipping over ‘tripping out’ and ‘flip-flopping’:

… A third form of accommodation to the collapse of the Woodstock Nation was a kind of regular circuit made periodically by a number of the students when pressures built up in their ordinary lives. They would take off suddenly, alone or in groups of two and three, departing with a minimum of funds, clothes, and provisions, and cluster at freeway onramps holding hand-lettered signs indicating their destination. In actuality, their destination was not a place but a condition, that of communitas, and wherever they found it or expected to find it, there they lingered. It could occur anywhere, with anyone, and it was necessary to remain open and alert to this possibility at all times. Some events, place, and people were more promising than others, but communitas, they had learned, could not be scheduled, no matter how good the drugs, the music, the setting.

Yet the diminishing likelihood of finding communitas did not deter them from seeking it and, when they found it, seizing upon it as if it would never return. [ ... ] And though the freeway onramp was infinitely less satisfactory and shorter-lived than Woodstock, it was better than relinquishing the vision entirely. The young people who had chosen this mode of adapting to the loss of the Woodstock communitas still spent most of their time in the life of structure — working, going to school, enacting everyday routines (often aimlessly), until, overwhelmed by the old memories, they bolted.

[ ... ]

… the ultimate danger of communitas is not its capacity to disturb the social order within which it occurs. (I refer here to the danger which is alive and ecstatic, and finally unknowable.) The source of its danger is men clinging together in the state of roleless wonder that prevailed in the First Times. Rolelessness is formlessness and nakedness, where people abandon themselves to each other without any boundaries, to be at each other’s mercy in acute uncertainty. This venture into chaos, outside of society and self, can never be made safe. Man in the realm of the gods, the animals, the dead, and the spirits dares not ask for maps and procedures. This is the perilous passage back to Beginnings where one can hope to overcome human loneliness and separateness, but may also risk losing his soul and never returning at all. The danger, then, is not that of being alone, but of not being at all.

… The trick is always in the balance. Communitas may become bounded and rigid, a kind of totalitarianism of the sacred, as Turner points out, and this happens in monastic orders, nudist camps, communes, and religious sects, where the chosen way is guarded too diligently from the philistine at the gate. Structure is then instituted from within, growing more strident in its demands for conformity to the supremacy of the group life. Thus communitas “becomes what it beholds” and is engulfed by internally originating structure. The “group mind” absorbs the individual, and once more duty replaces freedom.

… The problem, evidently, is one of equilibrium. But it is a paradox to speak of balance in ecstasy.

My previous post from this book is here.




April 22, 2014

The Structure of the Given World

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:46 am

… The best modern painting, though it is mostly abstract painting, remains naturalistic in its core, despite all appearances to the contrary.

This is from ‘The Role of Nature in Modern Painting’ (1949) found in Clement Greenberg: The Collected Essays and Criticism, Vol. 2, edited by John O’Brian (1986):

… The decisive difference between cubism and the other movements appears to be in its relation to nature. The paradox of French painting between Courbet and Cézanne is that, while in effect departing further and further from illusionism, it was driven in its most important manifestations by the conscious desire to give an account of nature that would be more accurate or faithful in context than any before. The context was the medium, whose claims — the limitations imposed by the flat surface, the canvas’s shape, and the nature of the pigments — had to be accommodated to those of nature. The previous century of painting had erred in not granting the claims of the medium sufficiently and Cézanne, in particular, proposed to remedy this while at the same time giving an even more essentially accurate transcription of nature’s appearance. As it turned out, the movement that began with Cézanne eventually culminated in abstract art, which permitted the claims of the medium to override those of nature almost entirely Yet before that happened, nature did succeed in stamping itself so indelibly on modern painting that its stamp has remained even in art as abstract as Mondrian’s. What was stamped was not the appearance of nature, however, but its logic.

… While the impressionists had been interested in the purely visual sensations with which nature presented them at the given moment, the cubists were mainly occupied with the generalized forms and relations of the surfaces of volumes, describing and analyzing them in a simplified way that omitted the color and the “accidental” attributes of the objects that served them as models. Taking their cue from Cézanne, they sought for the decisive structure of things that lay permanently under the accidents of momentary appearance, and to do this they were willing to violate the norms of appearance by showing an object from more than one pont of view on the same picture plane. But in the end they did not find a completer way of describing the structure of objects on a flat surface — blueprints and engineer’s drawings could do that more adequately and had already withdrawn the task from the province of art. Instead, the cubists found the structure of the picture.

… flatness became the final, all-powerful premise of the art of painting, and the experience of nature could be transposed into it only by analogy, not by imitative reproduction. Thus the painter abandoned his interest in the concrete appearance, for example, of a glass and tried instead to approximate by analogy the way in which nature had married the straight contours that defined the glass vertically to the curved ones that defined it laterally. Nature no longer offered appearances to imitate, but principles to parallel.

Pablo Picasso, Girl with a mandolin (Fanny Tellier), 1910 [image from WikiPaintings]

… The positivist aesthetic of the twentieth century, which refuses the individual art the right to refer explicitly to anything beyond its own realm of sensations, was driving the cubist painter toward the flat, non-illusionist picture in any case, but it is doubtful whether he would have been able to make such superlative art of it as he did without the guidance of nature. Forced to invent an aesthetic logic ex nihilo (which never happens in art anyway), without reference to the logic by which bodies are organized in actual space, the cubists would never have arrived at that sense of the totality, integrity, economy, and indivisibility of he pictorial work of art — an object in its turn too — which governs genuine cubist style. By drawing an analogy with the way in which an object’s form and identity possess every grain of the substance of which it is composed, the cubists were able to give their main problem, that of the unity of the flat picture plane, a strict and durable solution.

As the poem, play, or novel depends for its final principle of form on the prevailing conception of the essential structure that integrates an event or cluster of events in actuality, so the form of a picture depends always on a similar conception of the structure that integrates visual experience “in nature.” The spontaneous integrity and completeness of the event or thing seen guides the artist in forming the invented event or object that is the work of art. This seems to me to be always true, but it is particularly important to point it out in the case of cubism since cubism has evolved into abstract art, and abstract art seems — but only seems — to conceal its relation to nature.

Picasso, Braque, Gris, Léger, Klee are never able to dispense with the object in nature as a starting point; no matter how far they may go at times toward the abstract. Without the support of nature, Picasso and Braque would not have had the means of organizing their beautiful collages, utterly remote from the models as they seem, into the intense unities which they are. The integrity, the self-subsistent harmonious fact of mandolin, bottle, or wineglass called up an echo that was largely unrecognizable no doubt, but which became as valid, because of its form, within the order of art as the original perception of the mandolin or bottle was within the order of practical experience.

George Braque, Woman with a Mandolin, 1910 [image from WikiPaintings]

Other, later masters have been able to do without the object as a starting point. But I feel that outright abstract painting, including Mondrian’s pictures certainly do. It is not because they are abstract that the works of the later Kandinsky and his followers fail to achieve coherence and substantiality, remaining for the most part mere pieces of arbitrary decoration; it is because they lack a sense of style, a feeling for the unity of the picture as an object; that is, they lack almost all reference to the structure of nature. The best modern painting, though it is mostly abstract painting, remains naturalistic in its core, despite all appearances to the contrary. It refers to the structure of the given world both outside and inside human beings. The artist who, like the nabis, the later Kandinsky, and so many of the disciples of the Bauhaus, tries to refer to anything else walks in a void.




April 21, 2014

Spiritual Indelicacy

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:38 am

… I will soon put my cheek to your cheek, expecting the welcome of the prodigal, and be glad of it …

In the three extracts, below, I’m interested in the transformation and/or conflict between the first and the last. The first is from ‘Art — and the Personal Life’ by Marsden Hartley (1928):

As soon as a real artist finds out what art is, the more is he likely to feel the need of keeping silent about it, and about himself in connection with it. There is almost, these days, a kind of petit scandale in the thought of allying oneself with anything of a professional nature. And it is at this point that I shrink a little from asserting myself with regard to professional aspects of art. And here the quality of confession must break through. I have joined, once and for all, the ranks of the intellectual experimentalists. I can hardly bear the sound of the words “expressionism,” “emotionalism,” “personality,” and such, because they imply the wish to express personal life, and I prefer to have no personal life. Personal art is for me a matter of spiritual indelicacy. Persons of refined feeling should keep themselves out of their painting, and this means, of course, that the accusation made in the form of a querulous statement to me recently that “you are a perfectionist” is in the main true.

Landscape, New Mexico, 1916 [image from Wikipedia]

I am interested then only in the problem of painting, of how to make a better painting according to certain laws that are inherent in the making of a good picture — and not at all in private extraversions or introversions of specific individuals. That is for me the inherent error in a work of art. I learned this bit of wisdom from a principle of William Blake’s which I discovered early and followed far too assiduously the first half of my aesthetic life, and from which I have happily released myself — and this axiom was: “Put off intellectual and put on imagination; the imagination is the man.” From this doctrinal assertion evolved the theoretical axiom that you don’t see a thing until you look away from it — which was an excellent truism as long as the principles of the imaginative life were believed in and followed. I no longer believe in the imagination. I rose one certain day — and the whole thing had become changed. I had changed old clothes for new ones, and I couldn’t bear the sight of the old garments. And when a painting is evolved from imaginative principles I am strongly inclined to turn away because I have greater faith that intellectual clarity is better and more entertaining than imaginative wisdom or emotional richness.

Three years later, in 1931 letter to Carl Sprinchorn, Hartley writes:

… I am trying to return to the earlier conditions of my inner life, and take out of experience as it has come to me in the intervening years that which has enriched it, and make something of it more than just intellectual diversion. It can be done with proper attention and that is to be my mental and spiritual occupation from now on. In other words, it is the equivalent of what the religious-minded do when they enter a monastery or a convent and give up all the strain and ugliness of Life itself — and if I were younger with the same experience I am not at all sure I wouldn’t do something like that now.

Finally, six years beyond that letter (and nine years from the 1928 quote), in ‘On the Subject of Nativeness — A Tribute to Maine’ (1937), Hartley writes:

… And so I say to my native continent of Maine, be patient and forgiving, I will soon put my cheek to your cheek, expecting the welcome of the prodigal, and be glad of it, listening all the while to the slow, rich, solemn music of the Androscoggin [river] as it flows along.

Robin Hood Cove, Georgetown, Maine
, 1938 [image from the Whitney Museum site]




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]




Older Posts »

The Shocking Blue Green Theme. Blog at WordPress.com.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 34 other followers