Unreal Nature

July 26, 2014

Not the Light that Guides Them

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:47 am

… these truths are only the clothing of forces; they are practices, not the light that guides them. … The plurality of truths, an affront to logic, is the normal consequence of the plurality of forces.

This is from Did the Greeks Believe in their Myths?: An Essay on Constitutive Imagination by Paul Veyne (1983):

… Like the Dorzé, who imagine both that the leopard fasts and that one must be on guard against him every day, the Greeks believe and do not believe in their myths. They believe in them, but they use them and cease believing at the point where their interest in believing ends. [ ... ] Lévi-Strauss’s sorcerer believes in his magic and cynically manipulates it. According to Bergson, the magician resorts to magic only when no sure technical recipes exist. The Greeks question the Pythia and know that sometimes this prophetess makes propaganda for Persia or Macedonia; the Romans fix their state religion for political purposes by throwing sacred fowl into the water if these do not furnish the necessary predictions; and all peoples give their oracles — or their statistical data — a nudge to confirm what they wish to believe. Heaven helps those who help themselves; Paradise, but the later the better. How could one not be tempted to speak of ideology here?

… Contradictory truths do not reside in the same mind — only different programs, each of which encloses different truths and interests, even if these truths have the same name.

… truths are not sprinkled like stars on the celestial sphere; they are the point of light that appears at the end of the telescope of a program, and so two different truths obviously correspond to two different programs, even if they go by the same name.

… Religion, politics, and poetry may well be the most important things in this world or any other; nevertheless, in practice they occupy only a narrow band of our existence, and they tolerate contradiction all the more easily since it generally passes unnoticed. This does not mean that these beliefs are any less sincere and intense. The metaphysical importance or individual sincerity of a truth is not measured by its wavelength. In any case, we speak of truths in the plural and believe that the history of religions has something to gain from this.

… these truths are only the clothing of forces; they are practices, not the light that guides them. … The plurality of truths, an affront to logic, is the normal consequence of the plurality of forces.

… causality is always at work, even among those who supposedly undergo its effects. The master does not inculcate an ideology in the slave; he has only to show that he is more powerful. The slave will do what he can to react, even creating an imaginary truth for himself. The slave undertakes what Léon Festinger — a psychologist with an innate shrewdness, whose insights are instructive — calls a reduction of dissonance.

… this conflict takes place on a conscious level, or rather at a level situated just beneath it, where we know full well what it is we must not discover. Betrayed husbands and blind parents see what they must not see from a long way off, and the furious and anguished tone of voice with which they instantly retort leaves no doubt concerning their unwitting lucidity.

… We have already seen that it is important to know that opinions are divided, and this results in the Balkanization of each mind. Unless one cultivates disrespect as a heuristic method, one does not simply dismiss out loud what many believe, and, by the same token, one does not condemn it mentally, either. One believes in it a bit oneself.

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




July 25, 2014

The World’s Most

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:51 am

Are people who lack confidence better artists?

This is from the 2005 ‘SPIEGEL interview, conducted by Susanne Beyer and Ulrike Knöfel’ found in Gerhard Richter: Writings 1961-2007 edited by Dietmar Elger and Hans Ulrich Obrist (2009):

Mr Richter, your paintings fetch record prices at auction. You’re considered the world’s most expensive artist. The more famous you become, and the more worldwide acclaim you receive, the more pronounced your reputation grows for being shy and unapproachable. Is it advantageous to be perceived as an expensive mystery?

Certainly, though I don’t see myself as a mystery. I’m just fairly reserved. I was never that good with words — I don’t enjoy talking — and that makes me a little shy. I’m also fundamentally skeptical towards myself, hence towards others as well. And that’s why I’m never shure if what I do is right or whether it’s any good.

We can’t believe that, coming from the world’s most sought-after artist.

But you have to. I’ve always admired that wonderful self-assuredness in others. For example, the inbred confidence of my colleague George Baselitz. He can just walk onto a stage and start talking. Or, in the past, as a student at the [Dresden] Academy, I was always amazed that my fellow students could be so enamored with their own creations that they could sit in front of them and sing their own praise. When I paint, I tend to be disappointed that the result is just another painting.

Just another painting — that art collectors would give their right arm for. Mr. Richter, your modesty comes across as coquetry.

There’s not much reason to be smug. Why shouldn’t I be a little deferential in the face of all the masterpieces in the history of art? You can’t really philosophize about the essence of art anyway. It’s impossible to explain, let alone prove, what’s so good about a painting by the Dutch master Pieter Saenredam — you can only see it. But there is one consolation: uncertainty can be quite a motivating force.

Are people who lack confidence better artists?

I have no idea. After all, I don’t know how Mr. Rubens felt.

Pieter Saenredam,The Interior of the Buurkerk at Utrecht, 1644

[ ... ]

Aren’t the prices that your works command reason enough to feel self-assured? We’re talking about millions of dollars being bid at auctions. There must be more than one collector who has become rich by selling one of your early works.

When you hear about these record sums, it’s flattering, of course, but at the same time it’s shocking. Above all, this kind of thing is not a good source of motivation. In fact, when I’m in a bad mood, I see this kind of success as a sign that something has gone askew in the world — that the buyers know nothing about art, and that I somehow conned them. And they do indeed tend to pay far too much for art. There is a huge discrepancy between the true value and relevance of art and the insane prices people are paying for it.

What’s so terrible about spending a lot of money on art?

There are buyers who bid via telephone for a work of art they’ve never actually seen. That’s not art appreciation — it’s neglect. And it’s a factor that contributes to diminishing culture. People’s appreciation of art, their interest in art, is waning. Perhaps all people want to do is invest their money. But they don’t need art.




July 24, 2014


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:43 am

… the narration declares its responsibility to the thesis that any overview of events such as the ones in this film will be slightly off-center, in dubious epistemic focus, explanatorily disconnected, and, in various ways, incomplete.

This is from Narration in Light: Studies in Cinematic Point of View by George M. Wilson (1986):

… Often … a complex of expressive behavior includes a finely nuanced action or response that is almost impossible to discriminate. Other psychologically meaningful stretches of activity include items of behavior separated by long duration and occurring in widely distanced locations. For this reason, an observer is not situated to follow the unfolding patterns through their full extent. The embodiment of the mental in human action is something we characteristically perceive only in a scattered, piecemeal, and erratic way. Similarly, we suppose that every event has causal antecedents that stretch back more or less indefinitely through time and causal consequences that stretch forward just as indefinitely. Again, no observer has perceptual access to even most of the primary links in any of these causal chains.

… Film gives us the ability to pick out from the complicated and obscuring blur of experience those aspects of phenomena that constitute such a pattern and to reassemble for the screen the latent unity that the limitations of ordinary experience would disguise.

… the idea that fiction films can ever successfully and honestly realize the purposes just described has been the brunt of a lot of influential “anti-narrative” criticism.

… Any norm or schema of filmic exposition which purports to select out and analyze significant phenomenal patterns is liable at the same time to exclude other aspects of the phenomena whose inclusion would destroy the seeming significance of the subject under view. Relatedly, the use of analytic film procedures can suggest an interpretation of the depicted situation which derives more from our conventionalized reading of those procedures and less from the facts of the situation itself. And, of course, the implied interpretation may be false.

… In our ordinary experience of the world, nothing outside of us singles out for our attention the most significant aspects of, and patterns in, the space-time slices we perceive. Nothing presents us with the telling close-up or the synoptic long shot, and nothing cuts the moments of perception into a segmented, transparent ribbon that adheres to a “dramatic logic” in the visible action. For this reason, the phenomena we witness often appear to us as puzzling, indeterminate, ambiguous, and without a guiding structure. This is a fundamental truism about our fragile perceptual connection to the world and, as a fact about our universal limitations as perceivers, it is one that has the deepest human consequences. Naturally, it is no part of the conceptions that underlie most traditional narrative film to deny these undeniable propositions, but it is a part to treat these propositions as specifying conditions that it is the function of film narrative and narration to transcend. The idea, as discussed before, is to extend our perceptual powers in ways that cut through some of the limitations and unveil the perspectives that they hide.

… the alternative style that Bazin envisages would respect the continuity and complexity of the spatio-temporal integration of a field of action while being willing to leave the causal and psychological/teleological integration of the action less articulated. In regard to the appropriate shift in style, he hails the use of greater depth of field and the more frequent occurrence of long takes as its most typical components.

He also cites Jean Renoir as the most important exponent of the kind of film narration that he is trying to describe and names The Rules of the Game as one of its leading instances. Certainly, one does have a sense of the narration of that film as struggling under limitations that any embodied observer would face. It represents a continued and intermittently frustrated attempt to keep under surveillance a complex of interlocking activities which progressively become too irrepressible and impenetrable to be kept effectively in sight. Characters that seem to have been misplaced five minutes before pop up suddenly in deep focus, screened by some action in the foreground, an action that subsequently results in inexplicable tears or evolves into an unexpected piece of farce. These people are likely not so much to enter and exit a scene as to fall by graceful happenstance into the tracking camera’s range.

from the rabbit hunting scene in The Rules of the Game [image from Wikipedia]

… The film assembles the fragments of a spectacle that almost no one in 1939 was prepared to see. The film’s governing attitude is not a blanket skepticism about human knowledge and perception, and the fragments it assembles tell a great deal. But the narration declares its responsibility to the thesis that any overview of events such as the ones in this film will be slightly off-center, in dubious epistemic focus, explanatorily disconnected, and, in various ways, incomplete. The audience sees that these fragments cannot honestly be joined into a well-shaped whole and, in some respects, they see why. In accomplishing this, The Rules of the Game discovers a new form for narrative film.

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




July 23, 2014

‘we are symbols and inhabit symbols’

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:48 am

… Symbolic statement has tended to be viewed as preferable to realistic statement because, it is argued, it is capable of conveying more general and more profound meanings.

This is from Symbols: Public and Private by Raymond Firth (1973):

… Pervasive in communication, grounded in the very use of language, symbolization is part of the living stuff of social relationships. Western literature is shot through with references which recall to us questions of existence and identity in symbol terms. In an essay on The Poet, Emerson wrote of the universality of the symbolic language: ‘things admit of being used as symbols because nature is a symbol’ (but so is culture) — ‘we are symbols and inhabit symbols.’ In Sartor Resartus Carlyle held that in a symbol there is both concealment and revelation. Oriental writings show analogous views. What is it in such statements that some of us find so attractive? Is it truth or illusion about human personality?

… Marilyn Monroe, labeled one of the greatest sex symbols of her time, is said to have commented that she thought symbols were ‘those things that clashed together.’ Beneath her wit, it may be, lay a sense of how vague such labels of symbol really are.

… for many of us the prime relevance of an anthropological approach to the study of symbolism is its attempt to grapple as empirically as possible with the basic human problem of what I would call disjunction — a gap between the overt superficial statement of action and its underlying meaning. On the surface, a person is saying or doing something which our observations or inferences tell us should not be simply taken at face value — it stands for something else, of greater significance to him.

… [The] classical symbolist view in literature, which had its analog in painting (see later), made two kinds of statements about symbols which in effect challenge much of the anthropological approach to the subject. They asserted the primacy of the private recognition of the symbolic; and they claimed that the referent or reality itself, can be apprehended only through the symbol. An anthropologist is concerned primarily with the public use of the symbolic, and his aim is to separate symbol from referent so that he may describe the relation between them.

… How does one identify an object or an action as symbolic, not only for the interpreter but also for the author of it, when he provides no overt clue? It is an issue which should concern anthropologists more than it has done heretofore. … [A]n anthropologist faced by a problem of identification of private symbols [in real life as opposed to in literature] can ask justification of his attribution because what he observes has consequences.

[ ... ]

… [in the visual arts] study … reveals, in addition to the rich and fascinating content and system of thought involved, a couple of points of more methodical interest. One is the quest for symbols which obviously operated in the Middle Ages as it does today — a search for some concrete representation of what is not evident to the senses but is felt to be of prime meaning. The other point is the difficulty of symbolic transfer — of ensuring that the object created or selected by one person as a symbol is identified by other persons as having the same meaning. This difficulty is increased when even though the creator of the symbol deliberately set it up as such, he is long since dead and no check can be made of the inferences as to his intentions. And it exists in another form when the imputation is of unconscious symbolism, which needs most careful collateral evidence to justify. It is evident that medieval painters and sculptors meant more by their work than just illustration; this is clear from the bestiaries and from contemporary theological writings. But whether our modern interpretations of the clerics actually conform to what the artists and craftsmen meant, seems often to be an open question.

… Developments in the twentieth century became even more complex as attention focused more strongly on the significance of other than purely descriptive or ‘naturalistic’ values in art. In Britain a philosophic note was struck by R.G. Collingwood, who in traditional idiom saw art as the pursuit of beauty, which he defined as imaginative coherence, but regarded this coherence as qualitatively different from the coherence of an object of thought. It was in his view an immediate or intuitive awareness of relations between parts of the object, involving a ‘symbolic vision’ which is a ‘premonition’ of the truth explicitly reached by science and philosophy.

… there is the conception of symbolization as a process of reference, not to objects of the external world as ordinarily perceived, but to some other reality — whether in the mind of the artist, in that of the observer, or in the innate quality of existence in general. And cutting through such categorizations are the efforts of some modern artists to avoid all symbolization whatever, to present their creative effort as a direct confrontation with experience, in the attempt to provoke a dynamic reaction and change the situation. ‘In proportion as the artist is pure, he is opposed to all symbolism,’ wrote Roger Fry. Yet even abstract painting, while rejecting the traditional symbolism of conventional representational art, acquired a symbolic value in the quality of the response evoked in the viewer. Though it may be claimed that non-objective art has broken through the process of symbolization itself by confronting the viewer with a ‘direct experience’ of the forces involved in the creation of the painting, this claim has proved hard to maintain in its entirety. The language of identification with creative forces of nature in which some exponents of abstract art clothed their arguments; the influence of systems of mystical thought on some abstract painters (for example the theosophy of Kandinsky and Mondrian); the attempt to give personal significance to formal structures — this has tended to involve symbolic forms of expression at some stage. Michel Seuphor states that to Mondrian femininity is symbolized by the vast horizontal receptacle of the sea; masculinity is symbolized by the wooden pilings against which the waves break and which protect the dunes from the sea.

… Even where it is held that the conformations of non-objective art are ‘symbolic only of themselves,’ and the term ‘metasymbolic’ has been introduced to discuss their achievement in analytical style, it has been argued that what has been involved has been a spiritual revolution, and ‘the history of the destruction of the outer world of appearance signifies a gradual spiritualization of art, for it leads to ever more symbolic statements.’ In an early statement on the issues Herbert Read distinguished between symbolism in the ordinary sense, employing concrete imagery, and symbolism which employs abstractions without parallel in visual experience and operates by unconscious or intuitive process. One of the most articulate movements of this last type, surrealism, made an endeavor to utilize a dialectical process of artistic activity opposing conscious and unconscious, reason and unreason, deed and dream.

… There are two significant points in all this. One is that for the most part the creative symbolism of these art forms has been implicit, not explicit; the process of exploration, identification and labelling of symbolic patterns has often been done by observers and interpreters, unacknowledged by and often unknown to the artists concerned. Secondly, when such symbolic pattern has been recognized in their work, it has been part of the modern canon to claim for it a clearer autonomy, a greater dignity in the aesthetic scene. Symbolic statement has tended to be viewed as preferable to realistic statement because, it is argued, it is capable of conveying more general and more profound meanings.

Problems of the relation of private symbols to public symbols are raised especially in such art. How does the individual vision of the artist become translated into the set of symbols which win public acceptance? Does art arise from a fundamental paradox — the equal insistence on the creative effort of an individual, and on the capability of his product to be recognized and accepted by a body of other individuals — a public? Does the artist’s belief that he alone must be the ultimate judge of the validity of his effort mask a parallel belief that only if the result of his effort is acceptable to some other individual can he himself accept it as valid?

A great range of views opens up here. If the artist sees art as basically a means of communication he obviously must try for a code by which what he has to ‘say,’ that is paint or sculpt, can be interpreted by those to whom he wishes to communcate.

… [If not, then] The artist says in effect: interpret the painting in your own way, in terms of your own experience, let the combinations of line, mass and color convey their own message to you — or more strictly, let them suggest to you some stirring of the sensibilities which will make for you a cognizable experience, an ‘event.’ Symbolic meaning in the more figurative sense is not expected — may be even denied. There is a belief in a direct relation between the physical object and the appreciation of the viewer so that the forms of the painting do not ‘stand for’ something else than themselves. They are expected to evoke reaction without the mediation of other images. According to the fashionable ‘structuralist’ phraseology, the art forms ‘mediate’ directly, in a primary way, between the raw impulse-phenomena of human nature and the culturally defined position of the spectator. There is also a further attempt to reduce the importance of the material art object, in favor of the mental image — hence ‘conceptual art,’ ‘minimal art,’ ‘hyper-realism’ and other varieties of concern to obliterate as far as possible the humanist elements in art.

But as I see it, the artist is not in fact eliminated as interpreter. It is recognized that we are confronted by a personal aesthetic of the artist. And even in the most advanced fields of modern art there is still curiosity on the part of art critics and public as to what the artist ‘intended’ by the work. The artist himself often shows no particular reticence in explaining what he has meant to do, sometimes in naïve theoretical terms.




July 22, 2014


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:47 am

… It is the tragedy of Ryder that he attempted to go too far too fast — alone.

This is from ‘Review of an Exhibition of Albert Pinkham Ryder’ (1947) found in Clement Greenberg: The Collected Essays and Criticism, Vol. 2, edited by John O’Brian (1986):

The total impression made by the centenary exhibition of Albert Pinkham Ryder’s paintings at the Whitney Museum is that of an unrealized vision. The vision itself, had it been more completely precipitated, would have sufficed to establish the artist beyond dispute as the greatest American painter. As it is, taking the evidence of this show into account, I would find it uncomfortable to argue his case against Eakins’s and Homer’s.

The evidence is unsatisfactory because of its scantness and because of the bad physical condition of many of the canvases themselves. As Lloyd Goodrich explains in a well-written catalogue note, Ryder “strove half-consciously and without adequate training, for the richness of the old masters. His pictures were built up with underpainting and layer on layer of pigment and glazes. … Unfortunately he had little knowledge of traditional techniques, and in trying to secure his effects he used dangerously unsound methods. He painted over pictures when they were still wet, thereby locking the under surface in before it had dried and hardened, so that the different surfaces dried at different rates of speed, causing serious cracking. He used strange mediums — wax, candle grease, alcohol; and he made much too free use of varnish. In showing visitors his paintings he would wipe them with a wet cloth or literally pour varnish over them”

The Race Track (Death on a Pale Horse), 1895

Ryder was beyond question one of the most original and affecting painters of his time, whether in Europe or this country. In the task of stating his originality he seems to have had no help at all from his contemporaries. Taking his departure from the academicism that dominated his age — he mentioned Corot and Maris as his favorite painters — he had to cut his art out of the whole cloth and search in isolation for a means to convey the surprisingly new things he had to say.

Seacoast in Moonlight (or Moonlit Cove), 1890

Ryder’s main impulse was to simplify nature into silhouetted masses of darks and lights; color was a matter of dark and light modulations within these masses. The primary effect is of simple blocked-out pattern, startling because of the emotion discharged by the novelty of a relatively few shapes, novel in their contours and in their placing. Yet his most successful canvases — I think here of Moonlight on the Sea and The Forest of Arden — owe more of their effect to a subtle, rhythmic weaving together of color and value tones. Where the picture did not stand or fall entirely by the placing of three or four large shapes, the artist was able to retrieve his uncertainty and clumsiness by imposing a general, all-inclusive tonal harmony. Here Ryder resorted to more conservative means and renounced in effect such complete correspondence between his vision and its embodiment as he attempted in his more startling but less successful pictures — where he attempted to qualify the solid simplicity of the silhouette by building up a thick, enamel-like surface that by reflected light would intensify the few color tones.

The Forest of Arden, 1888-1897

The moral is that one should never go too fast in art. It is the tragedy of Ryder that he attempted to go too far too fast — alone. I say tragedy, because Ryder had, obviously, gifts enough to have made him a major artist in a better place and time. Once again it is necessary to register another casualty of American provincialism.




July 21, 2014

Make It Rich

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:51 am

This is my first post from Defining Moments in Art: Over a Century of the Artists, Exhibitions, People, Artworks, and Events that Rocked the World, general editor Mike Evans. The book features items sequentially, starting in 1863 and ending in 2008. I am reading it back-to-front (starting in 2007) because I enjoy going from recent to distant more than the reverse:

Key Event Damien Hirst’s US$100 million diamond skull is unveiled; Date 2007; Why it’s Key Damien Hirst upped the stakes in the art market with what was reputed to be the most expensive piece of contemporary art

… The unveiling of the skull to an expectant gathering of media folk took place at the White Cube Gallery in London’s smart St. James district. It was part of an exhibition called Damien Hirst: Beyond Belief, which also occupied Jay Joplin’s other white Cube space in the East End of the City.


Three by three, with their viewing time limited to ten minutes each, the journalists were ushered into a totally dark “holy of holies,” in which the glistening artifact stood alone, lit by four narrow beams of light. Some reported the dazzle was so great they could hardly see the piece itself.


Key Artwork Ruth Smoking series by Julien Opie; Date 2006; Why It’s Key Trademark series of contemporary British figurative artist

… What he makes are visual haikus, which read as “cool” or “hot” in the most direct ways possible. The sparsity of his visual vocabulary speaks to our most basic desires, as his figures establish themselves as “beautiful,” “elegant,” “sexy,” or even “rich” with shockingly few lines and colors.


… “Eighteenth-century Japanese wood cuts give this series its directioin,” Opie said in an interview. “My work is not a homage to past art or artists, it is something entirely of itself, but the references give it direction and make it rich.”



Key Artwork Another Place by Anthony Gormley; Date 2005; Why It’s Key Monumental work in a public space by one of Britain’s leading figurative sculptors


… “At high water, the sculptures that are completely visible when the tide is out will be standing up to their necks in water.” A whispering communication with forgotten levels of history, as well as a kind of acupuncture of the landscape, the work is also an acupuncture of people’s dreamworld.


To be continued …




July 20, 2014

Water Within Water

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:42 am

… it must make demands on itself, call to itself, ask itself, implore itself, want itself, desire itself, seduce itself …

This is the essay ‘Elliptical Sense’ in A Finite Thinking by Jean-Luc Nancy (2003):

… What makes sense about sense, what makes it originate, is that it senses itself making sense. (To sense the sense or to touch the being-sense of sense, even if it were to be senseless [ ... ] . To touch the body of sense. To incorporate sense. Scratching, cutting, branding. Putting to the test of sense. I shall write about nothing else.)

… Sense must interrogate itself anew (though it is in this “anew” that everything begins; the origin is not the new, but the “anew”); it must make demands on itself, call to itself, ask itself, implore itself, want itself, desire itself, seduce itself as sense. Writing is nothing other than this demand, renewed and modified without end.

… If sense were simply given, if access to it were not deferred, if sense did not demand sense (if it demanded nothing), sense would have no more sense than water within water, stone within stone, or the closed book in a book that has never been opened. But the book is open, in our hands.

[ ... ]

… This body is made of flesh, of gestures, forces, blows, passions, techniques, powers, and drives; it is dynamic, energetic, economic, political, sensuous, aesthetic — but it is none of these meanings as such. It is the presence which has no sense, but which is sense, its ellipsis and its advent.




July 19, 2014

Perpetual Suspense

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:51 am

… the Greeks had two attitudes: a naïveté that wants to believe in order to be charmed, and this sober order of perpetual suspense that we call scientific hypothesis.

This is from Did the Greeks Believe in their Myths?: An Essay on Constitutive Imagination by Paul Veyne (1983):

… Criticizing myths did not mean proving they were false but rediscovering their truthful basis. For this truth had been overlaid with lies. “All through the ages, many events that have occurred in the past, and even some that occur today, have been generally discredited because of the lies built up on a foundation of fact. … Those who like to listen to the miraculous are themselves apt to add to the marvel, and so they ruin truth by mixing it with falsehood.” But where do these lies come from, and what purpose do they serve?

… Legend has its origin in the popular genius, which makes up stories to tell what is really true. That which is most true in legends is precisely the marvelous; that is where the emotion of the national soul is revealed.

… The Greeks always thought that the human sciences were normative rather than descriptive, or, rather, they never even thought to make a distinction.

… Two schools exist, then: the criticism of legends by historians and the allegorical interpretation of legends by the majority of philosophers, including the Stoics. From this will emerge the allegorical exegesis of the Bible, destined for fifteen hundred years of triumph.

… For all that, they did not consider that myths and poetry conveyed a revealed wisdom, for they just as often quoted proverbs and etymologies for the same purpose. … What did poetry, myths, etymologies, and proverbs all have in common? Did they serve as a type of proof by general consensus? No, since prose — or, quite simply, any phrase heard from the lips of a passer-by — would then have been equally acceptable as proof. Was it the ancient quality of the evidence? No, since Euripides was also called as a support.

The explanation, I imagine, is that poetry belongs to the same realm as vocabulary, myth, and figures of speech. Far from taking its authority from the poet’s genius, poetry despite the poet’s existence, is a sort of authorless speech. It has no locutor; it is what “is said.” Thus it cannot lie, since only a locutor would be able to do that. Prose has a speaker, who tells the truth or else lies or is mistaken. But poetry has no more of an author than vocabulary does. It resembles myth, and the profound reason that makes the Greeks say that a poet by definition creates myths is perhaps linked less to the frequency of mythological allusions in poetic works than to the fact that myth and poetry draw their authority from themselves. … They do nothing bur reflect things as they are. They express the truth as naturally as springs flow, and they could not reflect what does not exist.

… Speech is a simple mirror. By speech, Greeks understood myth, the lexicon (or rather, etymology), poetry, proverbs — in short, everything that “is said” and speaks by itself (since we are only repeating it). Consequently, how could speech speak of nothing? … In order to be mistaken, to lie, or to speak about nothing, one must speak of what is not. Thus, what is not must be, in order for one to be able to speak of it. But what is a nonbeing that is not nothing?

… To reflect nothingness is not to reflect; likewise, to reflect a fog will mean reflecting in a confused way. When the object is cloudy, so is the mirror. Degrees of knowledge will thus be parallel to those of being; all of Platonism is there. The young Aristotle will still be ensnared in the following problem: the principle according to which everything is destructible must therefore itself be destructible; but if this principle perishes, then things cease to perish … What is said of things shares the fate of things. A science of what is confused will therefore be a science that is itself confused, a poor speculative knowledge. On the contrary, a science will be noble if the things that it reflects are themselves elevated.

“In the fables of which we were just now speaking,” writes Plato, “owing to our ignorance of the truth about antiquity, we liken the false to the true as far as we may.” Plato is not being ironic. Falsehood, we know, is nothing but inexactness, and so we rectify inexact traditions to rediscover what seems to be the truth. In modern terms, we formulate probable historical hypotheses. Beholding their mythical age, the Greeks had two attitudes: a naïveté that wants to believe in order to be charmed, and this sober order of perpetual suspense that we call scientific hypothesis. But they never rediscovered the tranquil assurance with which, once back in the truly historical period, they believed the words of their predecessors, the historians, whom they echo. They express the state of scientific doubt that they maintain before myth as well as they can by saying that the heroic era was too far away, too effaced by time, for them to be able to discern its contours with complete certainty.

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




July 18, 2014

By Other Means

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:46 am

… In the end it doesn’t matter what I paint, it’s always about this same quality.

This is from the 2004 ‘Interview with Benjamin H.D. Buchloh‘ found in Gerhard Richter: Writings 1961-2007 edited by Dietmar Elger and Hans Ulrich Obrist (2009):

[ ... ]

And so, the way one can see color in, say, Matisse as the color of the body or as natural color, or as a corresponding to sensory experience, or even to the experience of happiness — has that never been conceivable in your use of color?

No, that’s correct, a kind of tense cheeriness, something shrill or, also, evil.

That’s a wonderful contradiction. What exactly is that, a tense cheeriness?

… an artificial one, one with gritted teeth, that conveys a threat as well.

[ ... ]

Why do you think that there is no painting any more?

Because I never see it any more. Films, however, which in contrast to so-called painting have something to say, something to offer. It is kind of astonishing that painting is even still exhibited, and when you see on top of that how much effort the art critics put into poeticizing meaning around these paintings, then the laughable role of painting today really becomes clear.

So you see painting as an already dying culture. Is that with sadness, or with satisfaction?

With sadness. There were times when this culture came to life. For example after the war, first in France, or then in America. There you had wide swathes of the Western world believing that a Barnett Newman was something wonderful and exciting. There’s really not much of that left any more.

[ ... ]

Well, isn’t what you want to preserve there this extreme ambiguity of your work, a contradictoriness unimaginable for anyone else, which really can only be produced by painterly means?

No, it could be produced by other means as well. For my Panes of Glass, the same criteria apply as I use in judging a painting by Chardin. That’s what it’s about, for me.

What about when, in the present moment, you paint the [micro] structure of silicate [from photographs]?

In the end it doesn’t matter what I paint, it’s always about this same quality.

Wouldn’t that be conceivable with other means?

Yes, quite naturally, with what have you — with video, film, photography and so forth, no boundaries.

So it’s more about a specific definition of the differentiated subjectivity, not specific techniques that need to be rescued?

I would never want to rescue a technique.




July 17, 2014

Perceived Significance of Various, Usually Misleading, Types

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:44 am

… our impression of transparency is likely to seem based upon nothing more than a baffling dream of perceptual access …

This is from the chapter ‘Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest‘ in Narration in Light: Studies in Cinematic Point of View by George M. Wilson (1986):

… Charming and resourceful as Thornhill may be, Hitchcock and [scriptwriter] Lehman never really attempt to give him a psychological complexity rich and resonant enough to make his personal transfiguration a matter of great moment or serious concern. Indeed, even at the film’s cliff-hanging climax when Thornhill definitively puts behind him his vacuous past by proposing marriage to Eve and when, in this way, the question of the new man he has become is rather explicitly broached, the whole topic seems deliberately underplayed in a casual, if not tongue-in-cheek, manner.


… What I shall argue for may be provisionally stated thus: North by Northwest presents us with a kind of wry apologia for the sort of illusionistic art — more specifically, for the sort of illusionistic cinema — that Hitchcock, paradigmatically, has always practiced. For this is a film in which the protagonist is both implicated in and thrown up against the fact that the contemporary world is a world that consistently generates and exploits the same varieties of illusionism that are directly characteristic of film itself. In a sense, the spectator’s problem of “reading” a film is revealed to be not so very different from any person’s problem of reading the world and his own (potentially tenuous) position in it.

The film picks Thornhill out as a member of these legions ["great herds of city dwellers ... like cattle ... "], and it is simply a chance misidentification that lifts him, as it were, into the higher orders of art and mayhem. The spies, American and other, who elevate him out of his boring existence tend to hover about murderously under the most banal of covers. It is just this combination of the banality of absolutely everything with the ever-present possibility of disastrous mischance that makes the film’s world seem so ludicrously dangerous. Vandamm appears principally in the part of an exporter-importer of objects d’art (and of government secrets), but he does a lively turn as a UN diplomat as well. The members of his group pop up and down in various guises, which include the Glen Cove matron and her housekeeper, a gardener, a gentlemen’s secretary, and an industrial designer. The spies on the other side play at the same game. The head of the American agents is known as “the Professor” and his ordinary-looking colleagues are identified as “the Cartoonist,” “the Stockbroker,” “the Housewife,” and “the Journalist.”

[ ... ]

… Here, in summary, is Thornhill’s epistemic situation. Segments of physical reality have been judiciously arranged to generate perceived significance of various, usually misleading, types. The bases of perceptual judgment are controlled through assorted tricks of juxtaposition and elision; these devices play upon the perceiver’s habits of expectation and bias. The field of action is filled with a parade of performers who bear a problematic relation to their roles. This is the art of the cinema with a vengeance, and the vengeance is wreaked on Roger Thornhill. Once his identity has become inextricably intertwined with Kaplan’s, his experience is qualitatively indistinguishable from the viewing of a Hitchcock retrospective. Indeed, insofar as Thornhill serves as a surrogate for members of the audience, the ultimate joke may be on the detached viewer of this Hitchcock film. For it is wholly unclear how much detachment can be justified when the film itself postulates a radical collapse of the normal division between ordinary perception and cinematic representation.

… the mental trick in accepting transparency in film viewing is to suppress our knowledge about the film qua artifact in such a way as to make possible a perceptual relationship to narrative constituents which will be experienced as being as direct as our paradigmatic viewing outside the theater and the movie house. What Hitchcock has accomplished in North by Northwest is to construct and show us a version of what is recognizably our world, but a version in which the perception of the characters, Thornhill’s most especially, has lost most of the qualities that would make it a paradigm of directness. If we were to accept — say, for the course of the film — the notion that our experience might really be, more than we suppose, a great deal like Thornhill’s, then the effect would be both funny and a little baffling. For there we would be in our seats pretending to ourselves that we were seeing directly through the screen into Thornhill’s circumstances, while he, at the same time, is grappling with the gradual discovery that his own direct perception of those circumstances places him in the situation of a disoriented primitive visiting the motion pictures. And on our present assumption that we are sitting there identifying with his epistemic situation, our impression of transparency is likely to seem based upon nothing more than a baffling dream of perceptual access which only the magic of film could have induced in the first place.

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




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