Unreal Nature

April 10, 2014

With and Through Screens

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:45 am

… the very act of screening has become an intimate part of our sexuality.

This is from the conclusion to Screening Sex by Linda Williams (2006):

… The publication of sex in all forms I have examined in this book has never been a making public of that which properly belongs to the private — George Steiner’s “night words” shouted from the rooftops. A we saw, perhaps most forcefully in the examination of Brokeback Mountain‘s publicity campaign, a movie about two cowpokes who think their sexual pleasure is “nobody’s business” but their own, offered gay anal sex its widest publicity. Publicity is not necessarily the exposure of something that is more properly private. It does not contaminate “an otherwise sealed interiority.” It is, as Thomas Keenan has said, what belongs to everyone and to no one in particular. Publicity is promiscuous, it exposes us to, it involves us with, others, even and perhaps especially others who are not physically present to us there with us in the same time and space.

The carnal knowledge that we gain from screening sex is, finally, not a matter of seeing “it.” It is not a matter of arriving at an ultimate degree of frankness, explicitness, and least of all maturity. However much I have been rooting, throughout this book, for American moving images to grow up and integrate hard-core art into the fabric of adult narratives beyond the various ghettos of pornography and to put an end to the awkward “long adolescence of American movies,” we cannot cure the dishonesty and bad faith about sex with more explicitness. And however much I would root for the sight of a few more convulsing clitorises to answer the seeming ubiquity of money shots, I do not really believe that more realistic depictions of female pleasure are the answer.

After more than a century of screening sex, perhaps the most important lesson I would like to draw from the last stage of this impressionistic chronicle is that the very act of screening has become an intimate part of our sexuality. The point therefore should not be to discover that screening sex brings us so much closer, spatially or temporally, to “real sex.” Rather, it should be to discover that viewers and now users, have become habituated to these new forms of mimetic play with, and through, screens.

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

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

April 9, 2014

Pons Asinorum

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:46 am

… Perpetual signification machines can do no more work than perpetual motion ones; occurrence must break in somewhere.

This is my final post from The Anthropology of Experience edited by Victor W. Turner and Edward M. Bruner (1986). It’s from the book’s epilogue, ‘Making Experiences, Authoring Selves’ by Clifford Geertz:

R.P. Blackmur, writing, I think, about Henry James and the charge that James’s work was so rarefied because he had not lived enough, remarked that no one, artist or otherwise, is ever really short of experience. We all have very much more of the stuff than we know what to do with, and if we fail to put it into some graspable form (not, of course, the case with James in any event) the fault must lie in a lack of means, not of substance.

… We cannot live other people’s lives, and it is a piece of bad faith to try. We can but listen to what, in words, in images, in actions, they say about their lives. As Victor Turner, the moving force in all these studies and in so much more in recent anthropology, argued, it is with expressions — representations, objectifications, discourses, performances, whatever — that we traffic: a carnival, a mural, a curing rite, a revitalization movement, a clay figurine, an account of a stay in the woods. Whatever sense we have of how things stand with someone else’s inner life, we gain it through their expressions, not through some magical intrusion into their consciousness. It’s all a matter of scratching surfaces.

Even this, however, is trickier than it seems. It is not enough, as has recently been more and more suggested, to record streams of directly given cultural materials (chants, myths, dialogues, rites, life histories, designs, terminologies) and then, translating strictly, simply get out of the way so as to let them shine in their own light — an updated version of that most persistent ethnographic will-o’-the-wisp, brute fact. [ ... ] The burden of description, saying what it is others are saying, is not so easily shed.

It is here that “experience,” the elusive master concept of this collection, one that none of the authors seems altogether happy with and none feels able really do without, becomes the asses’ bridge all must cross. [ ... ] If what James Boon, following Alexander Pope at the appropriate distance calls the Machinery of culture is not to spin on in some frictionless paradise where no one fears or remembers or hopes or imagines, nobody murders or rescues or revolts or consoles, it [cultural analyses] must engage some sort of felt life, which might as well be called experience. Perpetual signification machines can do no more work than perpetual motion ones; occurrence must break in somewhere.

… The Durkheimian manner, that has been for so long the favored mode of dealing with symbolic materials in anthropology — the “see, it fits!” clanish-thoughts-for-clanish-societies approach to things — is silently but firmly discarded.

… Experiences, like tales, fetes, potteries, rites, dramas, images, memoirs, ethnographies, and allegorical machineries, are made; and it is such made things that make them. The “anthropology of experience,” like the anthropology of anything else, is a study of the uses of artifice and the endlessness of it. The wrenching question, sour and disabused, that Lionel Trilling somewhere quotes an eighteenth-century aesthetician as asking — “How Comes It that we all start out Originals and end up Copies?” — finds in these essays some beginnings of an answer that is surprisingly reassuring: it is the copying that originates.

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

April 8, 2014

A Fresh Response to a Fresh Reality

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:54 am

… As our painting and sculpture abandon naturalism they find more and more stimulating precedents outside the historical and social orbit of Western culture.

This is from the essay ‘Jean Dubuffet and “Art Brut” ‘ (1949) found in Clement Greenberg: The Collected Essays and Criticism, Vol. 2, edited by John O’Brian (1986):

Jean Dubuffet is perhaps the one new painter of real importance to have appeared on the scene in Paris in the last decade. Though himself an erudite and sophisticated artist, he professes to despise cultivation, tradition, professional skill — all that which makes art “fine” — and to see genuine value only in the rawest forms of pictorial representation: graffiti, scrawlings on walls and sidewalks by untrained or impatient hands, the drawings of very young or untalented children, mudpies; “art brut,” “raw” art, art in its first and most rudimentary and least conscious stages. This is not at all the same thing as what is called “primitive” or naive art (Rousseau le Douanier, Alfred Wallis, Bombois, Vivin, Kane, Pickett, Bauchant, et al.), which is a relatively recent phenomenon and is in almost every case the result more or less of an untutored or visually innocent or only half-talented person’s attempt to approximate traditional easel painting. The “primitives” do not appear in force until the popular diffusion of museum art is made possible by reproductions and journeyman copies. Art brut, however, does not depend on history or culture as much as that. It is found essentially the same in all times and places, wherever anyone without training, interest, or artistic aspirations tries to communicate something graphically.

Dubuffet_grand-maitre-of-the-outsider-1947
Jean Dubuffet, Grand Maitre of the Outsider, 1947 [image from WikiPaintings]

Dubuffet discovered art brut at a time when many advanced writers in France were beginning to question the premises of literature itself as a cultivated discipline and some among them were attempting — as they still are — to bring the novel and short story closer to actual contemporary experience by stripping the narrative of its acquired conventions and modelling their prose on colloquial, popular usage, as Hemingway has done. Like these writers, Dubuffet is reacting against a tradition so rich, mature, and recent that it still dominates the scene of its triumphs. Even though it is no longer adequately relevant to contemporary experience, the splendor and abundance of its achievements seem to threaten the originality of those who wish to make a fresh response to a fresh reality. In the face of such a situation, one is apt to decide that nothing less in principle than a radical rejection of the past will be enough to win the artist or writer his freedom. But a rejection of this sort is impossible in practice, however much it may be proclaimed in theory. It is not only that one cannot deliberately discard habits of culture instilled since childhood. Even if one could, the supposedly greater immediacy of the work of art or literature would be bought at the price of an even greater aesthetic impoverishment. New experience demands increased, not lessened, consciousness, and the anti-artistic artist or anti-literary writer can succeed only by transcending or suppressing the past, never by rejecting it. If he does so, he does so falsely, and the result is false. What, after all, is more false than the deliberately primitive?

Despite the appearance of his pictures, Dubuffet has not thrown off the past as he seems to think; he has, on the contrary, extended it by treating it selectively. To be sure, he has saved himself from the oppressive influence of Picasso and Matisse, which in its direct form paralyzes so many of the painters of his own generation in Paris. But he has not passed beyond culture and discipline and his art is not the raw, immediate expression that he himself advertises it as. What Dubuffet has actually done is to exchange one part of the modern tradition for another. Instead of Picasso and Matisse, he has chosen Klee. But Klee is not altogether the spontaneous, “state-of-nature” artist he is taken for. Like Dubuffet, he was stimulated by art brut, but he assimilated cubism first and took from the “raw” art of children and adults only what cubist discipline would permit. In effect, Dubuffet has absorbed cubism through Klee. (Aside from the fact that he probably also absorbed a good deal of it directly for he first started out as a painter, back in the twenties, under the influence of Picasso, and it was only when he returned to painting at the time of the Occupation, after a long absence, that he appears to have oriented his art toward Klee’s.)

Dubuffet borrowed from Klee the key with which to unlock the spontaneity in himself — Klee who by no means repudiated tradition and wanted only to create an ampler one for modern art and was able to do so only under the guidance of cubism. Dubuffet has shown the highest sophistication in using Klee’s influence as he has, making it the foundation of an art more monumental than that of any other of the Swiss master’s disciples. But in order to do this he had to possess the whole extant culture of painting and all that French art, in particular, had to give in the way of a sensuous and knowing manipulation of paint. I believe that this erudition is self-evident in Dubuffet’s art, as is also his very acute and civilized perception of what is and is not relevant to ambitious art in our time. Next to this his talk about art brut only confuses the issue.

Fondation Dubuffet
Jean Dubuffet, The beautiful horned, 1954 [image from WikiPaintings]

Dubuffet’s case demonstrates once again that the “primitivism” of which modern art is so frequently accused is in reality something quite different from what it seems. Instead of being a return to a primitive state of mind (whatever that may be), it represents a new evaluation and opening up of the past such as only erudite artists are capable of. The whole surviving past of art, rather than that of Western Europe and classical antiquity alone, has now been made available to contemporary artists. As our painting and sculpture abandon naturalism they find more and more stimulating precedents outside the historical and social orbit of Western culture. They find these in Africa, Asia, Oceania — and here at home and in the present as well: in the impromptu, rudimentary art of novices, amateurs, children, and lunatics.

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

April 7, 2014

The Night Side of Things

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:41 am

… The tendency to allow oneself to be swamped by things, the ego being no more than the vase which they fill, really only represents a very low degree of knowledge.

This is from ‘Painting is a Wager’ by André Masson (1941):

For us, young surrealists of 1924, the great prostitute was reason. We judged that Cartesians, Voltaireans, and other officials of the intelligence had only made use of it for the preservation of values which were both established and dead, whilst, at the same time, affecting a façade of dissension. And the supreme accusation was that it has given reason the mercenary job of making fun of love and poetry. This denunciation was made by one group with intense energy. At that time there was a great temptation to try to operate magically on things, and then on ourselves. The impulse was so great that we could not resist it and so, from the end of the winter of 1924, there was a frenzied abandon to automatism. This form of expression has survived until today. Objectively I will add that to this immersion in the night — (into what the German romantics call the night side of things) and to the always desirable appeal of the marvelous was added the game, the serious game. I can see us again. None of us, stunned as we were by our magic, whether vain or effective, asked himself if “the contrary of a fault is not another fault” …

Masson_werewolf
André Masson, The Werewolf, 1944 [image from WikiPaintings]

… The process of images, the wonder or the agony of meeting, open a way rich in plastic metaphor: a fire of snow. From this springs its attraction and its fragility, and the tendency to become too easily satisfied, and too far removed, from the laws of proportion and from any tactile understanding of the world.

Whatever it may have been, a few of us were in fear of “the other fault”: of making the appeal to the unconscious something as limited as the discredited rationalism, but all to no good. Towards 1930, five years after the foundation of surrealism, a formidable disaster appeared in its midst: the demagogy of the irrational. For a time this was to lead pictorial surrealism to the trite and to universal approbation. The conquest of the irrational for the irrational is a poor conquest, and the imagination is indeed sad which only associates those elements worn out by dismal reason, such as materials tarnished by lazy habit, by memory (I will refer again to this) picked up here and there, from the works of “amusing natural philosophy,” from the antique shops and from our grandfathers’ magazines.

Masson_the-kill
André Masson, The Kill, 1944 [image from WikiPaintings]

… The tendency to allow oneself to be swamped by things, the ego being no more than the vase which they fill, really only represents a very low degree of knowledge. In the same way a casual appeal to subterranean powers, the superficial identification with the cosmos, false “primitivism” are only aspects of an easy pantheism.

Let us repeat the major conditions which the contemporary work of the imagination must fulfill in order to last. We have seen that automatism (the investigation of the powers of the unconscious), dreams, and the association of images only provide the materials. In the same way Nature and the elements provide the subjects. The real power of an imaginative work will derive from the three following conditions: (1) the intensity of the preliminary thought; (2) the freshness of the vision onto the exterior world; (3) the necessity of knowing the pictorial means most suitable for the art of this time. [ ... ] This certainly does not mean that instinct must give way to reflection and inspiration to intelligence. The fusion of the different elements brought into play by the painter-poet will take place with the flashing rapidity of light. The unconscious and the conscious, intuition and understanding must operate their transmutation on the subconscious mind in radiant unity.

Masson_no-name-1
André Masson, No Name [image from WikiPaintings]

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

April 6, 2014

The Execution

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:43 am

… The execution can only be executed: it can be only as executed.

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

… One could say that music has signified for us significance itself, and even beyond significance the sublime access (say, in the mode of negative theology) to a pure presentation of sense. But in order for this to be the case, it was necessary that it be understood as “an art beyond signification.” The threshold of such a “beyond” is the critical point par excellence of any approach to sense: one can always pass on anew to an ineffable (but sonorous, audible, vocal, evocative) “oversignification,” but one can also keep to the threshold as to the in-significant opening of sense.

… The musical interpretation, or execution, the putting-into-action, or entelechy, cannot be simply “significant”: what it concerns is not or not merely sense in this sense. And reciprocally, the execution cannot itself be signified without remainder: one cannot say what it made the “text” say. The execution can only be executed: it can be only as executed.

Further, music can only be played, including by those who only listen. The entire body is involved in this play — tensions, distances, heights, movements, rhythmical schemes, grains, and timbres — without which there is no music. The “least” song demonstrates it — and even more, no doubt, it is demonstrated by the existence of the song itself, as a permanent, polymorphic, and worldwide execution of musicality. That which is propagated, apportioned, and dispersed with the song, in its innumerable forms, is at the very least — and stubbornly — a playful execution of sense, a being-as-act through cadence, attack, inflection, echo, syncopation …

… music (and along with music, “art,” the entire company of the Muses) becomes the knowledge in action of the sense “beyond,” as the play of pronunciation in the absence of any word or name to be pronounced, the pronunciation not of an “unpronounceable” name but of what is not at all to be pronounced. This is finally perhaps nothing other than pronunciation itself, the articulation — “harmonia” — and thus the modulation and execution of sense as sense itself.

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

April 5, 2014

Referred Pain

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:47 am

… It is the jeopardy of that imaginary entity I have called the voice-body — the phonoplasm or bodily image we build out of every voice, the body with which every voice clothes itself, a body that is almost always at variance with the actual body from which the voice emanates.

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

… The voice is full of obstacles and incursions that form a repertoire of impediments. For what is voice itself but McLuhan’s ‘organized stutter,’ a kind of patterned duress, a straining, stressing or checking of the breath? Some of these unvoiced interruptions of the voice seem to be of some entirely other order, to be sound in the raw, in a zero-degree, ‘unvoiced’ condition, as linguists might say — clicks, hisses, whistles, pops, palatal burrs and purrs. Others merge their foreignness with that of the voice, and appear mantled in it — as, for example, lisping, whispering, growling, croaking, wailing. The sob does not quite do either of these things. For, rather than being a filter or coloration of speech, the sob is a kind of preemptive assault on it, a gag, clamp, or choke. The sob enacts the sense of a rising constriction, a desire for utterance so intense that it seems to bloat and block the means of it.

… Sobbing’s relation to crying exhibits the same indeterminacy as its relation to speaking and, as we will see later, singing. On the one hand, sobbing is simply a particularly intense feature of crying, and so is often to be found as a synecdoche for the act of crying as such, especially in the formula, which seems to have been particularly common in medieval England, ‘sobbing and sighing.’ And yet sobbing is also to be distinguished from crying. It may be regarded as the tense overture or onset of tears, the damming or welling of the tension that will spill over into the unloosed inundation of full-blown howling or roaring. Equally, it may be thought of as the depleted hiccuping into which the wail proper decays. In either case, the sob is the obverse or inside lining of crying …

… We recall that the OED tells us that the word sob is ‘probably of imitative origin.’ But what precisely does the word sob imitate? Certainly, it is very far indeed from the latin singultus and its derivatives, which seem to place the sob firmly amid the tonsils. We seem sure that we can hear the sound of the sob in the word for it, and can hear the sound of sobbing in a wide range of animal and material sounds, even though we may have no very clear idea of what that sound is. The sob is like the phenomenon known as ‘referred pain,’ a pain experienced in a site adjacent to, or distant from the site of a lesion, sometimes because that site does not have the nerves that would make the sensation of pain possible, meaning that referred pain is always felt to be somewhere else than where it is. Our sobs are always apart from as well as a part of ourselves. They take us apart, we find them in the voices of our unlikes, like bells and birds. In a similar way the sob always makes itself heard as something other than it is, for it is the sound of sound consuming itself. It is the jeopardy of that imaginary entity I have called the voice-body — the phonoplasm or bodily image we build out of every voice, the body with which every voice clothes itself, a body that is almost always at variance with the actual body from which the voice emanates.

… But sobbing is also the making of the voice-body, in what Giorgio Agamben follows Aristotle in calling an impotential, the ability to be unable, from which so many of the voice’s resources are made. What rends the voice also renders it up, for the voice is nothing but the mixed economy of these injuries, condemnings, indemnities and redemptions. What are voice-bodies made of? Breath, spit, gristle and desire in equal parts — in other words, sonic scar-tissue. Byron finds in the fifteenth canto of his Don Juan an image of existence itself in this kind of inarticulate eruption or interruption of the voice:

All present life is but an Interjection,
…………….An ‘Oh!’ or ‘Ah’ of joy or misery,
Or a ‘Ha! ha!’ or ‘Bah!’ — a yawn, or ‘Pooh’
…………….Of which perhaps the latter is most true.

But, more or less, the whole’s a syncopé
…………….Or a singultus — emblems of Emotion,
The grand Antithesis to great Ennui,
…………….Wherewith we break our bubbles on the ocean.

In the sob, the voice catches its breath, and therefore both corrupts and captures itself.

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

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

April 4, 2014

Whichever Way, I Am Part of It

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:44 am

… (It can also be viewed another way: that today’s art really is the most wretched and worthless imaginable, like that of some obscure traditional period unmentioned in any history of art; or in other words that we have no art, but a hiatus, which we fill with productivity.)

The following are from ‘Notes 1981′; from a 1982 catalog statement; and from ‘Notes 1983′, in that order; all found in Gerhard Richter: The Daily Practice of Painting; Writings 1962-1993 edited by Hans-Ulrich Obrist (1998):

… Painting is the making of an analogy for something nonvisual and incomprehensible: giving it form and bringing it within reach. And that is why good paintings are incomprehensible. Creating the incomprehensible has absolutely nothing to do with turning out any old bunkum, because bunkum is always comprehensible.

*****

… In abstract painting we have found a better way of gaining access to the unvisualizable, the incomprehensible; because abstract painting deploys the utmost visual immediacy — all the resources of art, in fact — in order to depict ‘nothing.’ Accustomed to pictures in which we recognize something real, we rightly refuse to regard mere color (however multifarious) as the thing visualized. Instead we accept that we are seeing the unvisualizable: that which has never been seen before and is not visible. This is not some abstruse game but a matter of sheer necessity: the unknown simultaneously alarms us and fills us with hope, and so we accept the pictures as a possible way to make the inexplicable more explicable, or at all events more accessible.

Of course, pictures of objects also have this transcendental side to them. Every object, being part of an ultimately incomprehensible world, also embodies that world; when represented in a picture, the object conveys this mystery all the more powerfully, the less of a ‘function’ the picture has. Hence, for instance, the growing fascination of many beautiful old portraits.

So, in dealing with this inexplicable reality, the lovelier, cleverer, madder, extremer, more visual and more incomprehensible the analogy, the better the picture.

Art is the highest form of hope.

*****

27 January 1983. Traditional, supposedly old works of art are not old but contemporary. So long as we ‘have’ them, in the broadest sense of the word, they will never be outworn: neither are we setting something of equal stature alongside them, nor shall we match or surpass their quality. Their permanent presence compels us to produce something different, which is neither better nor worse, but which has to be different because we painted the Isenheim Altar yesterday.

This is not to say that it would be pointless to produce something similar to traditional work. But the better we know tradition — i.e. ourselves — and the more responsibly we deal with it, the better things we shall make similar, and the better things we shall make different.

[ ... ]

13 May 1983. I have always been resigned to the fact that we can do nothing, that Utopianism is meaningless, not to say criminal. This is the underlying ‘structure’ of the Photo Pictures, the Colour Charts, the Grey Pictures [groups of works by Richter]. All the time, at the back of my mind lurked the belief that Utopia, Meaning, Futurity, Hope might materialize in my hands, unawares, as it were; because Nature, which is ourselves, is infinitely better, cleverer, richer than we with our short, limited, narrow reason can ever conceive.

All the deeply wretched, amateurish, jejune images of rejection, abdication and banality that we prize today may well possess this very quality, this very truth. (It can also be viewed another way: that today’s art really is the most wretched and worthless imaginable, like that of some obscure traditional period unmentioned in any history of art; or in other words that we have no art, but a hiatus, which we fill with productivity.) Whichever way, I am part of it.

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

April 3, 2014

Acts That So Importantly Punctuate Our Public and Private Lives

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:42 am

… “Pornography is the sexual act taken totally out of context, and made into a product for consumption, by using the most debased feelings or emotions of people, when in fact in daily life sexual acts are surrounded by emotions, consideration for the partner, pleasure and so on, which do not come within the pornographic depiction.”

This is from Screening Sex by Linda Williams (2006):

… Much of the negative critical reaction to what I have been calling hard-core art films has been premised on the assumption that pornography’s function is to elicit arousal and art cinema’s function is solely aesthetic.

Consider, for example, the Los Angeles Times critic Kenneth Turan’s fairly typical reaction to Breillat’s Romance. Turan argues that “those deluded enough to go to Romance for its unapologetic scenes of masturbation, oral sex, intercourse and intricate bondage are going to be even angrier and disappointed by the torpid, uninvolving quality they exude. Distant sex, no matter how explicit, and bogus posturing turn out to be a deadly cinematic combination.” According to Turan, explicit sex makes any response to it, other than sexual, seem like “bogus posturing.”

What Turan objects to, in a review typical of the film’s American critical reception, is precisely the presence of Marie’s female voice-over trying to make philosophical, political, and emotional sense of her various sexual humiliations. It is as if, for Turan, the French tradition of philosophy in the bedroom spoils the pure pleasure of the sex. But it is precisely the firewall between philosophy, politics, and emotion, on the one hand, and pure pornography, on the other, that hard-core art cinema is breaking down, forging new ways of presenting and visually experiencing cinematic sex. To Turan it would seem that anything other than arousing sex is pure pretension and an automatic turnoff. But what kind of moving-image art do we condemn ourselves to if sex must be so compartmentalized? I would argue that the even greater pretension may be the very idea that sex is mindless. If it seems pretentious to Turan to mix ambivalent emotions and philosophical thought with sex, it is also simplistic to assume that sex is monopathic and totally without thought.

Breillat, for her part, when accused of being a pornographer, argues provocatively that there is no such thing as pornography. What exists instead, she claims in an interview, “is censorship which defines pornography and sees it off from the rest of film. … Pornography is the sexual act taken totally out of context, and made into a product for consumption, by using the most debased feelings or emotions of people, when in fact in daily life sexual acts are surrounded by emotions, consideration for the partner, pleasure and so on, which do not come within the pornographic depiction.”

… I can’t help but think that in an era in which even the notoriously puritanical American public finds the discussion of explicit sex acts unavoidable — whether in legal cases such as Lawrence v. Texas, or in rape hearings that must explicitly detail what penises have precisely done — the continued avoidance of the emotional nature and physical specificity of the sex acts that so importantly punctuate our public and private lives is going to seem increasingly odd in our movies.

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

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

April 2, 2014

There Is No Fiction

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:45 am

… humans are able to absorb and learn behavior so thoroughly that the new behavior knits seamlessly into spontaneous action. … To be conditionable is also to be free is also to be susceptible to enslavement.

This is from the essay ‘Magnitudes of Performance’ by Richard Schechner, found in The Anthropology of Experience edited by Victor W. Turner and Edward M. Bruner (1986):

… Without denying the existence of “culture universals,” or at least an underlying neurologically based ritual process, displays of emotion can be so well feigned by skilled performers as to make distinction between what is “really happening” and what is “skillfully pretended” or “mechanically induced” simply a matter either of social or aesthetic convention. “Lies like truth,” director Harold Clurman said. Or to put it in the form of an old theater joke: The great acting teacher told his students, “Truth is all there is to acting. Once you learn to fake truth the rest is easy.”

… Am I running from the bear because I am afraid, or am I afraid because I am running from the bear? [see James-Lange] There are systems of performer training, both ancient and modern, that say the problem is no problem at all, because both circumstances are true. The human animal is complex enough so that emotions generate actions and actions generate emotions.

Erving Goffman spent much of his life studying the ways people greet each other, deceive each other, manage their “fronts,” and play out their psychosocial roles both consciously and unconsciously. He himself was a superb, if laconic, gamester. What Turner saw in ritual process and d’Aquili et al. identify as part of brain process, Goffman tracked in everyday life:

The legitimate performances of everyday life are not “acted” or “put on” in the sense that the performer knows in advance just what he is going to do, and does this solely because of the effect it is likely to have. The expressions it is felt he is giving off will be especially “inaccessible” to him. But as in the case of less legitimate performers, the incapacity of the ordinary individual to formulate in advance the movements of his eyes and body does not mean that he will not express himself through these devices in a way that is dramatized and pre-formed in his repertoire of actions. In short, we all act better than we know how.

… Clearly the theories of Ekman, d’Aquili et al,, Turner, Pfeiffer, and Lannoy converge. They all say that ritual theater is coexistent with our species: it is wired-in, we are adapted for it — and we are labile enough to make many things out of it. [ ... ] Human adaptability is nowhere better demonstrated than in our stunning capacity to lie, simulate, pretend, imagine — to make art, especially performative art, that cannot be distinguished from the real thing even at the level of ANS [autonomic nervous system] response. Performances, when they are not con games, (ranging from the shaman Quesalid described by Lévi-Strauss to those games that are never uncovered, and there are many), are strictly framed by rules — sometimes labeled ritual, sometimes labeled aesthetic convention — so that spectator-participants can be reassured concerning what is “actual” and what is “feigned” — though each society has its own often shifting definitions of these terms. I would say that everything imaginable has been, or can be, experienced as actual by means of performance. And that, as Turner said, it is by imagining — by playing and performing — that new actualities are brought into existence. Which is to say, there is no fiction, only unrealized actuality.

… This brings us back to the basic paradox: humans are able to absorb and learn behavior so thoroughly that the new behavior knits seamlessly into spontaneous action. Performance magnitude means not only size and duration but also extension across cultural boundaries and penetrations to profound levels of historical, personal, and neurological strata. To be conditionable is also to be free is also to be susceptible to enslavement. What, then, is the “ordinary behavior” of humans? Neither this nor that, neither here nor there, but fundamentally betwixt and between.

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

April 1, 2014

The Highest Praise an Artist Can Be Given

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:46 am

… In my opinion the highest praise an artist can be given is to say that, even when many of his individual works are not completely achieved in their own terms, their general, “floating” quality is so strong and simple that it serves to move the spectator as effectively as only the masterpieces of other artists can do.

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

The supremacy of Matisse among living painters is a consolation, but it also offers a peculiar problem. Picasso and Braque painted in the decade 1909-1920 what I think are by and large the most important pictures so far of our century. Yet neither appears to be the complete painter by instinct or accomplishment that Matisse is — the brush-wielder and paint-manipulator par excellence, the quiet, deliberate, self-assured master who can no more help painting well than breathing. Matisse may at times execute superficial work, he may do so for years, but he will never lack sensuous certainty. I do not think we can say the same of Picasso or Braque. Picasso, the very type of genius in the twentieth century, paints, if anything, less well than Braque while yet twice the artist. This paradox, like that of Matisse’s preeminence, only the future, I feel, will be able to resolve.

It is held by some people of informed taste in modern art that Matisse’s contribution was exhausted by at least 1920 … . Though I could not agree that exhaustion was the term to apply to an artist capable of the still lifes Matisse turned out in the twenties, it did seem until recently that his ambition had slackened in the last three decades and that, if he still handled paint as paint better than Picasso did, his art had become far less relevant than Picasso’s, or even than Miró’s, to the highest aims of painting. [ ... ] Yet it was always to be expected that some glorious final statement, such as those of Titian, Renoir, Beethoven, Milton had issued would come from him …

[ ... ]

… In my opinion the highest praise an artist can be given is to say that, even when many of his individual works are not completely achieved in their own terms, their general, “floating” quality is so strong and simple that it serves to move the spectator as effectively as only the masterpieces of other artists can do. This was true of Cézanne’s painting toward the end of his life, and it now seems true of Matisse’s. The best picture on hand, and the only one felt through as completely in design as in color, is the Large Interior in Red of 1948 — a masterpiece, incidentally, that demonstrates once more how much greater Matisse’s chances of complete success are when he stays away from the human figure.

Matisse_large-red-interior-1948
Large Red Interior, 1948 [image from WikiPaintings]

… he puts his picture together in accordance with the implicit rule of easel painting and arrives at a massive simplicity that pertains more to the Italian Renaissance and classical antiquity than to the Orient. In the Large Interior in Red a few rather simple rectangular forms are played against a few somewhat more complicated ovals, all these embedded in an intensely red background that swallows both floor and wall in the same abstract space. Though this red background is the most emphatic feature of the picture, the picture itself remains easel painting in the fullest sense, and anyone who in the face of it still talks about Matisse’s “Oriental decorativeness” as if that were the most important thing to say about his art is a victim of journalism.

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

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