Unreal Nature

October 10, 2014

The Thing That Was Missing

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:33 am

… people no longer knew exactly what they were trying to do.

This is from What is Art? Conversations with Joseph Beuys edited with essays by Volker Harlan (2004):

[ ... ]

Beuys: All my life I have returned to this same question time and again: What is the need — that is, what is the truly objective constellation of forces working in us and the world — that justifies the creation of something like art?

… I found that art had undergone a kind of parallel development with science, an academicism, with a long tradition going back to the Renaissance, and that people no longer knew exactly what they were trying to do. On the one hand there were teachers who, as I saw it, approached the problem as an anatomist or surgeon would in an operating theater: approaching things in a mimetic way, based entirely on the observation of what is there before you, reproducing it from this same perspective, on paper or in spatial form, in other words, copying. On the other hand, there were those teachers who had a radical stylistic approach of their own. However, the source and impetus of their intentions was very hard to discern. They demonstrated a stylistic approach that, if you like, derives from ‘abstract art’ — which is a kind of popular concept — that asserts that abstract form can also be art.

[line break added to make this easier to read online] That both these positions obviously had something to do with this question was clear. In this sense, I had teachers whom one could truly call artists. However, the thing that was missing was that all these fundamental questions, that is, the fundamental research into art and its function, could not be answered at the academy. And this increased my resolve to pursue the matter myself. For now, I’ll just say this. And I have been pursuing it ever since, though I’m not pretending that I haven’t gone some way towards subverting and shaking things up a little in this field. However, one thing in particular seems clear to me: if this question does not become the central focus of such research, and is not resolved in a truly radical way that actually sees art as the starting point for producing anything at all, in every field of work, then any thought of further development is just a waste of time.

Beuys_FeldmanPoster
[image from Wikipedia]

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

October 9, 2014

Refraction

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:50 am

Deleuze’s film-philosophy is, like every other theory of its type, a kind of remake, using films as stand-ins for philosophers and philosophical concepts …

This is from Philosophy and the Moving Image: Refractions of Reality by John Mullarkey (2009). Continuing through his chapter on Deleuze:

… It is not a matter, then, of action/movement being absent or present (and therewith, the time-image erupting or not) in the artwork or the artist, but different kinds of actions/movements that are different on account of their extra-artistic relations with the art (which is not reducible only to its audience). Nor is it that we should believe in artists more than art (as Marcel Duchamp claimed), or in the ‘total social fact’ more than either of these, but in the varying combinations of all three. Indeed, it will be argued in subsequent chapters that many of the properties of film that Deleuze rejects — story, representation, action, movement, actuality — can be shown to be more complex and multiple than he gives them credit to be, on account of their relationality with audience, culture and technology.

… there is no doubting the fact that [Deleuze] is modernist as regards the autonomy of art: ‘a work of art is a new syntax, one that is much more important than vocabulary and that excavates a foreign language in language.’ The ‘work of art’ has a ‘necessity of its own.’ The distinction between true, creative art and the commercial artwork (so-called) must be maintained. Indeed, any attempt at deconstructing it only plays into the hands of capitalism and its requirement for rapid turnover (as opposed to art’s essential need for different, lengthier durations).

[ ... ]

… I have argued that Deleuze’s film-philosophy is, like every other theory of its type, a kind of remake, using films as stand-ins for philosophers and philosophical concepts, as the ‘new means of philosophical expression’ that [Deleuze's book] Difference and Repetition called for as early as 1968. But our argument here is not forwarded as a prescription, the exposure of a mistake: in itself, it is only one more redescription, another remake.

Cinema 1 and 2 are a remake of film as such. A remake is a part of what it does, it is an instantiation or exemplification rather than a representation (that is mistaken or not mistaken) — ‘a take’ on the reality of film that exemplifies only itself and instantiates only the Real of film (not film itself, but its resistance to theory). What Deleuze writes about Citizen Kane, L’Année dernière à Marienbad, and so on, is neither totally right nor totally worng, for on one level these films clearly are about the past, about the ‘virtual’ persistence of the past. And the level where this is true is at the Deleuzian level, where it takes what it does for film in its ‘take’ and uptake. What Deleuze actually exemplifies here is nothing other (nothing transcendent/al) than the Deleuzian theory’s own mixture of refraction with (or resistance from) the film-Real.

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

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

October 8, 2014

Given Any Two Terms

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:43 am

… Given any two terms, we can never exclude the possibility that one may become the symbol of the other.

This is from Rethinking Symbolism by Dan Sperber (1974):

… many societies have a symbolism but not a known key to it. Among those that have a key, many reserve it to a minority while the majority are witnesses of and even actors in the symbolic activity. In those societies which have a key and divulge it freely, many symbols are explained neither by that key nor by any other. If the cryptological view of symbolism were valid, it would have to admit that the mass of humanity obsessively manipulates tools whose usage it does not know, and reiterates messages whose sense it is ignorant of.

… In form, symbolic motivations resemble technical ones. Just as we say that a product is good for a certain purpose because it has certain qualities, so we seem to say that an object is good for symbolising this or that because it has these or those properties.

But what characterises a technical motivation, and all rational motivation come to that, is that it is based on a general principle: if one says that glass is good for making bottles because it is transparent and tasteless, one implies that these qualities are desirable for a bottle. If one made a complete list of the desired qualities, of all products having these qualities, one could say that they are good for making bottles, and of a product having none of these qualities, that it absolutely would not suit. A motivation is only valid if it is generalisable in this way.

Symbolic motivations, on the contrary, are absolutely not generalisable.

… freedom of connection is particularly clear in the symbolic use of figurative language. Given any two terms, we can never exclude the possibility that one may become the symbol of the other.

… This same lack of generalisability that makes motivations fail as discourse on symbolism conversely characterises them as a discourse in symbolism, and not at all as a discourse that interprets but, on the contrary, as a discourse that must be interpreted.

… No conscious and shared knowledge justifies a semiological view of symbolism. I have shown that the unshared conscious knowledge, which constitutes the exegesis of symbols, also fails in this respect; exegesis is not an interpretation but rather an extension of the symbol and must itself be interpreted. A final hypothesis remains possible: the second term of the pairs (symbol, interpretation) necessary to a semiological approach might be part of an unconscious knowledge; symbols might be interpreted according to a code that humans share, without being aware of it.

Ernest Jones, in his essay ‘The Theory of Symbolism’ in which he defends Freud’s position, brings up the problem posed by the multiplicity of symbolic associations. As he points out, these associations are much more numerous and diverse than those proposed by Freud. The latter may even all be missing without this making interpretation impossible. The systematic pairing of several thousand symbols with a hundred or so ideas — says Jones — seems again brought into question. Nevertheless, Jones justifies it by two considerations. Firstly, only unconscious associations are really symbolic: ‘Only what is repressed is symbolised; only what is repressed needs to be symbolises. This conclusion is the touchstone of the psycho-analytic theory of symbolism.’ Secondly, ‘the primary ideas of life [are] the only ones that can be symbolised — those namely concerning the bodily self, the relations to the family, birth, love, and death.’ In other words, he asserts that two criteria — unconscious character on the one hand, and belonging to a short list of possible symbolisations on the other — are co-extensive, and that therefore the data isolated by Freud do constitute an autonomous system.

… if one examines a concrete symbolic system in its entirety, instead of remaining content to assemble isolated examples found here and there that conform to the thesis one wishes to defend, it seems clear that symbolic associations are multiplex, that they may be culturally explicit or implicit, individually conscious or unconscious, inside or outside the domain of interpretation defined by Freud (and after him by Jones) without these three distinctions overlapping. In these conditions, the problem posed by this multiplicity of symbolic associations remains entire, and Jones’ attempt to resolve it fails. The proposed distinction between the symbolic and the metaphorical is based on two criteria that are not co-extensive, and therefore it must be abandoned. The associations proposed by Freud may enter into symbolic interpretation but they are not necessary to it.

It will now be simple to show that in any case, these associations are not sufficient either, and that even if we supposed that they were always made, and made exclusively (which Jones admitted was not the case) they do not constitute an interpretation of symbols. Considered as interpretations, these associations are not, in fact, less mysterious than the symbols themselves.

… Attempts to construct a symbolic system by placing symbols end to end are generally repaid by failure: nothing could be less symbolically efficacious than the Cult of the Supreme Being founded by Robespierre, or the sexual symbols of intellectually pretentious pornographic films. These manipulations of symbols certainly provoke effects, but never quite those that were anticipated. It is not that these symbols once put into play are difficult to decode; on the contrary. It is just that the decoding of symbols is neither necessary nor sufficient to constitute a symbolic system.

The very notion of the symbol is a secondary or cultural development of the universal phenomenon that is symbolism.

… I suggest, therefore, that the notion of the symbol, at least provisionally, be removed from the vocabulary of the theory of symbolism, and be described only as a native notion.

We now see more clearly why the two semiological views discussed so far — the cryptological and the Freudian — are bound to fail. They both agree, without prior discussion, to answer ‘What do symbols mean?’ Yet this question presupposed, firstly that symbols are defined and secondly, that they do have meaning. As these presuppositions are erroneous, the question as posted is impossible to answer. And that is exactly where its symbolic import lies: the inevitable failure of all attempts assures, at one and the same time, their reduplication. Thus, exegetical and psychoanalytical attempts seem to obey a cultural plan — in appearance, to interpret symbolism; in fact to recreate it. For all keys to symbols are part of symbolism itself.

My previous post from Sperber’s book is here.

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

October 7, 2014

The First Fresh Glance

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:47 am

… it is as if you had to catch them by surprise …

This is from ‘On Looking at Pictures: Review of Painting and Painters: How to Look at a Picture: From Giotto to Chagall by Lionello Venturi’ (1945) found in Clement Greenberg: The Collected Essays and Criticism, Vol. 2, edited by John O’Brian (1986):

Most books that propose to tell you how to look at pictures turn — usually very early — into expositions of how pictures get to look the way they do. Lionello Venturi’s Painting and Painters: How to Look at a Picture: From Giotto to Chagall is no exception.

Professor Venturi’s conclusion states: “The first impression of a picture is quite vague, and it is only after an analysis of all its components that we may really understand the meaning of each of them and of the picture as a whole.” This sentiment seems to me highly misleading if not completely wrong. The process of looking at a picture is infinitely more complex in scheme than that; it cannot be analyzed into discrete, sequential moments but only, if at all, into logical moments (though logic as such has little to do with the experience of art). Doesn’t one find so many times that the “full meaning” of a picture — i.e. its aesthetic fact — is, at any given visit to it, most fully revealed at the first fresh glance? And that this “meaning” fades progressively as continued examination destroys the unity of impression? With many paintings and pieces of sculpture it is as if you had to catch them by surprise in order to grasp them as wholes — their maximum being packed into the instantaneous shock of sight. Whereas if you plant yourself too firmly before looking at a picture and then gaze at it too long you are likely to end by having it merely gaze blankly back at you.

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

October 6, 2014

Who Questions

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:50 am

… persistently asking “who” questions about artists and artworks, commuting biography into art and art into biography — the monograph construes the otherwise distinct works of an artist as a mutating whole …

This is from Art as Existence: The Artist’s Monograph and Its Project (2006) by Gabriele Guercio:

… The aspiration to focus on the state of being singular, consciously or unconsciously, pervades and informs the monographic tradition; the renewed interest in singularity, therefore invites an exploration and reconsideration of that tradition. In fact, monographs did not necessarily take the artist’s identity for granted as a stable substratum to be reconstructed a posteriori. Insofar as they approached the visual arts by means of the interplay between an artist’s life and works, they were almost compelled to unravel the artist’s identity within the incessant doing and undoing of the modes of identification he or she could attract both as a maker of works and as a human being.

… And exhaustion of the grand art historical narratives not only casts doubt on the methodologies that had previously sustained the discipline but also suggests another reason why the monograph and its model are worthy of attention. This exhaustion can be seen as the symptom of a need to reorient the understanding of art from impersonal totalizing views of the artistic phenomena toward a discourse that acknowledges and confronts the discrete nature of works and artists, even their absolute insularity.

… Art as existence is this book’s underlying motif, where “as” indicates equation and confrontation between two polarities as well as mutual displacements, condensations, and transferences. If we take “existence” in its Latin etymon existere — to step forth, out, forward; to arise; to be — then the very act of posing art “as” existence suggests that artistic phenomena be regarded in relation to their making, effecting, and existing. The monograph tends to ascribe to artworks and artists the ability to exist without the assurance of a firm ground. Artworks engender immaterial dynamics within and outside their material boundaries, and artists manifest conditions of being and becoming for the human subject that are inextricable from the creative process.

… The monograph stubbornly tries to account for the immanence of art as existence by approaching artworks and artists in terms of singularity and presence.

… Molded upon the life-and-work dialectic — persistently asking “who” questions about artists and artworks, commuting biography into art and art into biography — the monograph construes the otherwise distinct works of an artist as a mutating whole, ascribing to them the ability either to bear witness to life by offering models for living it or to embody life by uniting objective and subjective components. As such, the monograph interlocks the dimension of the living with that of the nonliving and radically reinterprets the objecthood of artworks through its refusal to look at them as if they were confined within an autonomous realm.

-Julie http://www.unrealnature.com/

October 5, 2014

Outside Itself

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:51 am

… things expose the self, refuse to allow it to come to rest in itself and instead drag it and stretch it outside itself without ever leaving it to itself.

This is from the essay ‘Res ipsa et ultima‘ in A Finite Thinking by Jean-Luc Nancy (2003):

… (On the one side … on the other: but are there two sides to the thing? Granted, it’s hard to imagine a thing without sides, but is the inside a side? It is latent, not lateral. And can the latent be lateral to the rest of laterality? … )

… The problem can be resolved by resolving the name. Stop saying “thing” and say instead cogitans / extensum, relational / exposed.

… 1. On the one hand, they [things] border me, touch me — from a distance or from any distance, it’s still a touch and all senses are senses of touch, including common sense and the sense of understanding or reason — they set me up within the multiple spaces of their spacings and according to the modes of contact particular to their respective faces, their grains, their textures (rough, shiny, prickly, harsh, supple, tight, loose, vaporous, sticky … ); equally they lead me to touch in turn, in an infinite number of ways, in infinite directions, with infinite gestures, in infinite senses.

Everything that touches thus — brushing up against, penetrating, distancing, knocking into, absorbing, presenting, kicking itself, hiding away, simply leaning against — all that makes up the world. The world is nothing other than the touch of all things. …

… 2. On the other hand, things expose the self, refuse to allow it to come to rest in itself and instead drag it and stretch it outside itself without ever leaving it to itself. “Self” is the universal relation of sense that runs through everything, from atom to man, from chlorophyll to plasma, from stone to iron and from grain to flesh, the relation that endlessly relates itself without ever relating anything more than what is exposed to what is exposed; the interiority of an infinite exterior.

… The two [relation and exposure] are the same, the same thing — insofar as they turn things toward one another; but they differ absolutely — have nothing in common — since relation refers to an inside and exposure to an outside. They never encounter one another; rather, they pass through one another. The fact that one moves in the other, and vice versa, doesn’t change anything; they are oblivious to one another and exclude one another as they change roles.

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

October 4, 2014

The Justification of his Life

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:49 am

… the role is jealous of all other roles.

This is from the essay ‘Edwin Arlington Robinson: A Brief Biography’ found in The Collected Essays of J.V. Cunningham (1976):

Robinson was a man almost without biography who became a legend to his friends. He was decent, reticent, likable, and contrary — he himself called it selfish. He was not going to work for a living. He would do nothing but write poetry, except at times prose fiction or drama for their economic potentialities. But in this he failed; prose was not his language. And unsuccessful prose he ultimately transmuted to poetry. The prose sketch of 1894, “in a lighter vein,” “of a philosophic tramp … looking for rest” becomes in a few years Captain Craig.

Edwin_Arlington_Robinson_1888
Robinson at age 19 [image from Wikipedia]

To think of oneself as a poet has serious consequences, even if one’s dignity precludes the dionysiac role of a Hart Crane. The professed poet must keep writing, “scrivening to the end against his fate,” for it is the justification of his life. So he wrote too much, and when written out he could not swear off. Again, the role is jealous of all other roles. Without an independent income and a secure place in society loneliness, dispossession, chronic indigence follow. Finally, the role is vatic; the poet must intuit and communicate a meaning in the universe. So he kept asking the inadmissible question, What is it all about? especially considering the pain. That it was unanswerable he thought guaranteed the question. He spoke again and again of the Light, which was not the Grail, now a woman, now “The light behind the stars,” and always something that blurs “man’s finite vision with misty glimmerings of the infinite.” He believed in love and in belief with “a kind of optimistic desperation.”

Edwin_Arlington_Robinson
Robinson later in life [image from Wikipedia]

… Though he wrote too much, he wrote much that was distinctive and good, and even in the dull wastes there are fragments. He commanded from the beginning the full range of late Victorian styles, from the flat naturalistic prose line (and his own special roundabout pentameter) through incantatory jingle and the tightly rhymed stanzas of the light verse tradition to the full diapason of Romantic rhetoric: “Something of ships and sunlight, streets and singing, / Troy falling , and the ages coming back / And ages coming forward.” He had a gift for simile, “the stillness of October gold / Went out like beauty from a face,” and especially for the abstract simile: the recurrent cadger “Familiar as an old mistake, / and futile as regret.” He could secure the commonplace with the right epithet: “At someone’s tinkling afternoon at home.” He could manage unobtrusive profundity: “Love builds of what Time take away, / till Death itself is less than Change,” and mark the quiet defeat of a life:

…………….. nor was there anything
To make a daily meaning for her life …
But the blank taste of time.

(This post is here because I’m reading Cunningham’s essays; I was not aware of Robinson before today. I do like the bits of his poems quoted above.)

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

October 3, 2014

Your Decision

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:40 am

… I don’t think I fully understand the process.

This first is from a 1980 interview with Katrina Martin, found in Jasper Johns: Writings, Sketchbook Notes, Interviews, edited by Kirk Varnedoe and compiled by Christel Hollevoet (1996):

[ ... ]

Katrina Martin: See, I’m really asking maybe too broad a question, which is where does the image come from? How do you get an image where there wasn’t an image?

Jasper Johns: Well, this comes from a thought basically. … The thought has certain implications, you have to do a certain amount of work. … I’m always interested in the physical form of whatever I’m doing and often repeat an image in another physical form just to see what happens, what the difference is. And to see what it is that connects them and what it is that separates them. Because the experience of one is rarely the experience of the other, for me, at any rate.

Next is from a 1982 interview with Riki Simons:

[ ... ]

JJ: Certain subjects impose themselves on you and others do not. It is a state of mind that makes you receptive to particular things that appear alive, lively, or interesting. I don’t know either what it is in someone’s personality and mind that determines whether one does this, or something else. The continuity of the logic is determined by something I know nothing about, that I’m not familiar with.

And soon as a subject draws me, possibilities emerge. So it’s an important event. You can’t just align all the possibilities in a row and then choose from them. You feel your decision is something necessary.

Next is from a 1986 interview with Gerald Marzorati:

[Johns] has made more than three hundred prints over the past twenty-six years. [ ... ] He wonders if anyone sees what he sees when looking at his print, if anyone feels what he feels. “How can you be sure?” he says. “My own feelings can change about a work. Sometimes, when I’m working, I may feel a work has a certain … a certain spirit. But later I wonder how I ever had that feeling. I can remember having it, but can no longer feel it.”

Lastly, this is from a 1988 television documentary:

[ ... ]

JJ [speaking of auction sales]: I don’t think I fully understand the process. When it begins, you’re pleased that you can make something and sell it. It allows you to devote yourself to the work that you want to do. As it expands, and the value of the work increases, at a certain point you see that the society takes over in the determination of the value of the work and the meaning of the work.

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

October 2, 2014

What It Is to See

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:49 am

… This is the power of the ‘false’ as such; the power to create untruths, the power not to correspond (with the old ‘truth,’the formulaic truth), but to respond to the world of change by instantiating it anew.

This is from Philosophy and the Moving Image: Refractions of Reality by John Mullarkey (2009):

… The question set at the end of [Deleuze's] Cinema 1, portentous though it may seem, is whether cinema can ‘attack the dark organization of clichés.’ Can cinema extract a new image from our clichéd world at the end of the movement-image? For the cliché is not just bare repetition, it also marks out our ‘mental deficiency,’ ‘organized mindlessness’ and ‘cretinization.’ The crisis for cinema, then, is also one for our culture and philosophy, for our ability, fundamentally, to think anew.

In What is Philosophy? Deleuze makes it the artist’s task to struggle against the clichés and repetitions of opinion. And, after Hitchcock, after 1945, cinema certainly seemed in need of a new artistic image. Would one emerge to save it? Would film survive to fight the good fight against cliché?

… So what does it do? In a reflexive move typical of modernism, the time-image [of Deleuze's Cinema 2 ] thematizes the lack of creativity in the movement-image [of Deleuze's Cinema 1 ], the historical exhaustion of the movement image. The cliché is embraced in order to be resisted, by taking a failure of form as new content. The five characteristics of the new image, then, are ‘the dispersive situation, the deliberatively weak links, the voyage form, the consciousness of clichés, the condemnation of plot.’ Together, they transform a vice into a virtue, wrestling a new image from the bare repetitions of Hollywood. It can do this because, by thematizing a failure, the time-image gives us a direct representation of what reality is like itself: time as breakage, as wound, as fissure, as crack, as differential — all the features that Deleuze’s process philosophy explores across its corpus. Time out of joint is true time, for time really is what puts things out of joint, what Nietzsche, James, Bergson and Heidegger said before him: when somehting breaks, when a habitual act fails to find its target, it emerges (as it really is) into consciousness. When vision fails, we see (the truth of) vision, we see the searches in L’Avventura or Ladri di biciclette. We don’t see the thing, but what it is to see (or not see) the thing. We see the process of seeing.

… The new time-image was needed to meet the challenge of the cliché. It was born to restore our belief in the world, to awaken us from our cynical, hackneyed lives.Where the movement-image weakened itself in formulaic, ‘false’ movements, it is superseded by and subordinated to the time-image. This is the power of the ‘false’ as such; the power to create untruths, the power not to correspond (with the old ‘truth,’the formulaic truth), but to respond to the world of change by instantiating it anew. Cinema tries to restore our belief in the world by creating reasons to believe in this world: ‘we need an ethic or a faith … a need to believe in this world.’ How is this done? By inventing new relationships between sound and vision, new types of space, and even new kinds of body (that correspond to a ‘genesis of bodies’ rather than fixed organic coordinates). The power of the false is the power of creation, invention or novelty.

… The curious fact about Cinema 2, however, is that the most powerful embodiment of the time-image throughout the book is not an image at all but the lack of one: the irrational cut. Indeed, the irrational cut is the paradigm case for Deleuze. It is more than just false continuity; though, for such cuts come in diverse forms, be it

the steady form of a sequence of unusual, ‘anomalous’ images, which come and interrupt the normal linkage of the two sequences; or in the enlarged form of the black screen, or the white screen, and their derivatives.

What matters in each case is that the cut now exists for itself, no longer for what it conjoins, but for its own disjunctive value. The cut, being itself now cut through and broken (irrational), gives us a vision of real time. It captures the essence of how the movement-image differs from the time-image, the disjointedness of the latter being rendered fully in a mutilated joint.

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

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

October 1, 2014

Whose Rationale Escapes Me

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:45 am

… no list gives, no rule generates, a set of pairs (symbol, interpretation) such that each occurrence of a symbol finds in it its prefigured treatment.

This is from Rethinking Symbolism by Dan Sperber (1974):

Two criteria have, by turns, served to delimit the field of symbolism. According to the first criterion, the symbolic is the mental minus the rational; according to the second, it is the semiotic minus language. In one case as in the other, it is a residue.

… I am among the Dorze of southern Ethiopia and I am studying their symbolism. Someone explains to me how to cultivate fields. I listen with only half an ear. Someone tells me that if the head of the family does not himself sow the first seeds, the harvest will be bad. This I note immediately. [Sperber goes on to give several more examples of that kind.]

… I note then as symbolic all activity where the means put into play seem to me to be clearly disproportionate to the explicit or implicit end, whether this end be knowledge, communication or production — that is to say, all activity whose rationale escapes me. In short, the criterion I use in the field is in fact one of irrationality. I don’t know that other anthropologists proceed differently.

There are thus three possibilities: either the criterion of irrationality is worthless and thinking we are delimiting the field of symbolism we are only gathering the bric-à-brac of our ignorance; or else, as mystical minds would have it, the criterion of irrationality is the right one, and symbolism is not open to scientific investigation; or else the criterion of irrationality delimits symbolism — albeit approximately — without defining it, which will require explanation.

***

The second criterion — that symbolism is the semiotic minus language — seems to displace the first. Indeed, it is said, there is no irrational symbolism, there is only poorly interpreted symbolism.

… The word ‘meaning’ has so many meanings that it always fits in somehow. It is said indifferently that the word ‘moon’ means the moon, that ‘Hear, hear!’ means approval, that fever means illness, and that the election of the new president means nothing good. Meaning and reference, meaning and connotation, meaning and diagnosis, meaning and prognosis, are confused. But what may be confused harmlessly in ordinary speech should be carefully distinguished in philosophical or scientific exposition. Especially in the latter one should not introduce the notion of meaning without having sufficiently circumscribed it, having shown that it is relevant and that it leads to better work.

… The one single condition that would permit the consideration of symbolism as a code is not fulfilled: no list gives, no rule generates, a set of pairs (symbol, interpretation) such that each occurrence of a symbol finds in it its prefigured treatment. Here I run up not only against the postulate of many scholars, but even against the common sense that knows a transitive verb ‘to symbolise,’ and for which it is necessary that symbols symbolise something. Yes, but what?

… The semiologist, not at all discouraged, looks for what symbols symbolise, and since the answer is neither in the field of his intuition nor in that of his perception, it must be that it is hidden: either one hides it or it hides itself. Whence come the only two possible semiological views: cryptological symbolism or unconscious symbolism. [ Sperber will argue against both of these views.]

To be continued …

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

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