Unreal Nature

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.




July 16, 2014

Of Cruelty and Poetry

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:50 am

… when we enter whatever theater our lives allow us, we have already learned how strange and many-layered everday life is, how extraordinary the ordinary.

Final post out of From Ritual to Theatre: The Human Seriousness of Play by Victor Turner (1982):

… Acting, like all “simple” Anglo-Saxon words, is ambiguous — it can mean doing things in everyday life, or performing on the stage or in a temple. It can take place in ordinary time or in extraordinary time. It may be a way of working or moving, like a body’s or machine’s “action”; or it may be the art or occupation of performing in plays. It may be the essence of sincerity — the commitment of the self to a line of action for ethical motives perhaps to achieve “personal truth,” or it may be the essence of pretence — when one “plays a part” in order to conceal or dissimulate. The former is the ideal of Jerzy Grotowski’s “Poor Theatre”; the latter happens every day “at work.” A spy, con-man, an agent provocateur — each of these has skill in “acting.” The same person, in different situations, in a single day, can “put on” an act, or “act divinely.” Yet these opposites coincide in our common parlance; we speak of “playing a role,” when we intend a reference to some civically serious activity, such as an advisory role to a president. On the other hand, we talk of “great acting” on the stage as the source of some of our deepest “truest” understandings of the human condition. Acting is therefore both work and play, solemn and ludic, pretence or earnest, our mundane trafficking and commerce and what we do or behold in ritual or theater.

… In a complex culture it might be possible to regard the ensemble of performative and narrative genres, active and acting modalities of expressive culture as a hall of mirrors, or better magic mirrors (plane, convex, concave, convex cylinder, saddle or matrix mirrors to borrow metaphors from the study of reflecting surfaces) in which social problems, issues, and crises (from causes célèbres to changing macrosocial categorial relations between the sexes and age groups) are reflected as diverse images, transformed, evaluated, or diagnosed in works typical of each genre, then shifted to another genre better able to scrutinize certain of their aspects, until many facets of the problem have been illuminated and made accessible to conscious remedial action. In this hall of mirrors the reflections are multiple, some magnifying, some diminishing, some distorting the faces peering into them, but in such a way as to provoke not merely thought, but also powerful feelings and the will to modify everyday matters in the minds of the gazers.

… The proximity of theater to life, while remaining at a mirror distance from it, makes of it the form best fitted to comment or “meta-comment” on conflict, for life is conflict, of which contest is only a species.

… theater, though it has abandoned its former ritual, claims to be a means of communication with invisible powers and ultimate reality, and can still assert, particularly since the rise of depth psychology, that it represents the reality behind the role-playing masks, that even its masks, so to speak, are “negations of the negation.” They present the false face in order to portray the possibility of a true face.

… Some modes of “experimental theater” have recently addressed themselves to the problem of presenting the whole role-playing world of mundane modern society with “acting” as its creative alternative, the stage as the locus of the emergent individual, alienated from himself in a world which insists on men and women masking themselves in a flickering series of shadowy personae. These are not the grand personae of tribal or feudal cultures, where the creation of oneself as a “public man” or “public woman” was a work of art, involving high style in dress, manners, and deeds as Richard Sennet demonstrates, but the picayune personae of office, factory, or classroom underlings, with only vestiges of familial personae left to manipulate at home from the dregs of a weary day. Here mundane, indicative-mood acting seems to be the domain of the fictive, the false, the rejection of “definite and determinate identity.”

Schechner is fond of quoting the child psychologist Winnicott’s formulation, “from me to not-me,” to express this process to theatrical maturation. The me, the biological-historical individual, the actor, encounters the role given in the script, the not-me; in the crucible of the rehearsal process a strange fusion or synthesis of me and not-me occurs. Aspects of the actor’s experience surface which tincture the script-role he or she has undertaken, while aspects of the dramatist’s world-view or message embodied in the script and particularly as understood from the perspective of the “character” being played penetrate the essence of the actor as a human being. The director’s role is mainly catalytic, he assists the alchemic or mystical marriage going on as the actor crosses the limen from not-me to not-not-me.

… by keeping in hand the life-line of the playscript, the saving fiction, as it were, Schechner saves his theater from what Jacques Derrida has called “the monological arrogance of ‘official’ systems of signification.” And by keeping open the possibility of modifying the playscript — which, in a sense, also becomes a not-me and a not-not-me, like the actors themselves, the script itself may be saved from “the monological arrogance of official” interpretations which have tended to ossify poetic inspiration into “classical modes of presentation.” Works of dramatic genius require many ages to be adequately, let alone fully, manifested; it is the task of each theatrical generation to rotate them anew in terms of its own experience.

… We have to go into the subjunctive world of monsters, demons, and clowns, of cruelty and poetry, in order to make sense of our daily lives, earning our daily bread. And when we enter whatever theater our lives allow us, we have already learned how strange and many-layered everyday life is, how extraordinary the ordinary. We then no longer need in Auden’s terms the “endless safety” of ideologies but prize the “needless risk” of acting and interacting.

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




July 15, 2014

So Much Reality

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:49 am

… Whistling is perhaps as real as the dark but it is not as real as the fear it dissembles.

This is from ‘The Situation at the Moment’ (1948) found in Clement Greenberg: The Collected Essays and Criticism, Vol. 2, edited by John O’Brian (1986):

… To define the exact status of contemporary American art in relation to the history of art past and present demands a certain amount of mercilessness and pessimism. Without these we shall not know where we are at. There is no use in deceiving ourselves with hope.

… The activity that goes on in Paris, the talk, the many literary and art magazines, the quick recognition, the tokens of reward, the crowded openings — all these, which once were signs of life, have now become a means of suppressing reality, a contradiction of reality, an evasion. Whistling is perhaps as real as the dark but it is not as real as the fear it dissembles. What is much more real at this moment is the shabby studio on the fifth floor of a cold-water, walk-up tenement on Hudson Street; the frantic scrabbling for money; the two or three fellow-painters who admire your work; the neurosis of alienation that makes you such a difficult person to get along with. The myth that is lived out here is not a new one; it is as old as the Latin Quarter; but I do not think it is ever lived out with so little panache, so few compensations, and so much reality. The alienation of Bohemia was only an anticipation in nineteenth-century Paris; it is in New York that it has been completely fulfilled.

I would say that most of the best painting done in this country at the moment does not reach the public eye, but remains west of Seventh Avenue, stacked against the wall. It is not a case of the unknown genius in a garret — there are very few geniuses — so much as that of the unknown art in a social pocket. After all, the easel painting is on its way out; abstract pictures rarely go with the furniture; and the canvas, even when it measures ten feet by ten, has become a kind of private journal.

[ ... ]

… The only solution to the crisis would be an increasing acceptance by the public of advanced painting, and at the same time an increasing rejection of all other kinds. “Destructiveness” towards what we now possess as American art becomes a positive and creative factor when it is coupled with a real longing for genuinely high art, a longing that will not be deceived into satisfaction with anything else than the genuine, and which is protected against such deception precisely because it goes hand in hand with the courage to reject and to continue rejecting.




July 14, 2014


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:40 am

… the moment the story is elaborated, the boredom sets in. The story talks louder than the paint.

This is from a ‘Statement’ from Francis Bacon (1952):

[Art is a] method of opening up areas of feeling rather than merely an illustration of an object.

The object is necessary to provide the problem and the discipline in the search for the problem’s solution.

A picture should be a re-creation of an event rather than an illustration of an object; but there is no tension in the picture unless there is the struggle with the object.

Real imagination is technical imagination. It is in the ways you think up to bring an event to life again. It is in the search for the technique to trap the object at a given moment. Then the technique and the object become inseparable. The object is the technique and the technique is the object.

Francis Bacon Three Studies of the Human Head, 1953

Next is from a Bacon ‘Statement’ from the following year, 1953:

… He [Matthew Smith] seems to me to be one of the very few English painters since Constable and Turner to be concerned with painting — that is, with attempting to make idea and technique inseparable. Painting in this sense tends towards a complete interlocking of image and paint, so that the image is the paint and vice versa. Here the brushstroke creates the form and does not merely fill it in.

Francis Bacon, Study of a Baboon, 1953

Finally, this is from a 1963 Bacon interview by David Sylvester:

[ ... ]

… Why do you prefer to begin on another canvas than to work on?

Because sometimes then it disappears completely and the canvas becomes clogged, there’s too much paint on it; just a technical thing and one can’t go on.

Is it because of the particular texture of your paint?

I work between thick and thin paint. Parts of it are very thin, and parts of it are very thick. And it just becomes clogged, and then you start to put on illustrational paint.

What do you mean by that?

Can you analyze the difference, in fact, between paint which conveys directly, and paint which conveys through illustration? It’s a very close and difficult thing to know why some paint comes across directly on to the nervous system and other paint tells you the story in a long diatribe through the brain.

[ ... ]

In the complicated stage in which painting is now, the moment there are several figures on the same canvas the story begins to be elaborated. And the moment the story is elaborated, the boredom sets in. The story talks louder than the paint. This is because we are in very primitive times once again, and we haven’t been able to cancel out this story-telling between one image and another.




July 13, 2014

Strange Signals from Afar

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:44 am

… The infantile man destroys because he can’t tolerate the obstacle of complexity, the subtlety of the mechanism, the detours, the delays of the process. Equally, though, he can’t support the simplicity or the delicacy of the various points of contact, the spacings of interplay.

… What we need are voices that are singular, distinct, and that do not properly understand one another, voices that call to one another, that provoke one another.

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

… Destruction, as the term itself implies, attacks what is “constructed” (or “instructed”). It defeats, breaks, devastates, pillages, and renders an edifice, a composition, a structure unrecognizable, unidentifiable. It uproots or dissolves what binds, joins, and gives rise to the whole. Destruction attacks the bond and the joint as such.

… Successful destruction has always tended to efface even the memory of the existence that has been destroyed, and even the possibility of posterity (salt on the ruins of Carthage), offering only the assurance that this — or that, this one here, that one there — never existed and would never exist. Destruction strives not simply to annihilate a being, but to shatter the very structure that renders it possible, reaching into its origin and its end, tearing from it its very birth and death.

… The desire to destroy resents connection, interplay, assembly and its complexity: it resents the fold (it resents not the completed structure, but that which structures; not the assembled but its assembly; not the folded, but the fold). And in order to destroy, we fold to the extreme, we squeeze, we break. The infant destroys because there’s no question of considering or exploring the assembly of the object, of the machine. The infantile man destroys because he can’t tolerate the obstacle of complexity, the subtlety of the mechanism, the detours, the delays of the process. Equally, though, he can’t support the simplicity or the delicacy of the various points of contact, the spacings of interplay. As such, the culture of destruction is a culture that renders itself and other cultures opaque, dissembling the arrangement of their systems or of their sense. A culture of the opacity of sense.

Which is also to say, culture of an excessive demand for sense.

Excessive because it makes demands.

… Not to destroy the other involves more and is more difficult than respect or even love for the other. It involves being sensitive to the necessary secret, to the elusiveness of the sense of both the other and oneself. It involves being sensitive to play without childishness; it involves being sensitive to separation.

We can be certain that what we destroy will no longer escape, will no longer conceal itself, will no longer make strange signals from afar. What we destroy we have in our hands, then in our fist, then under our feet — and then nowhere. What we don’t destroy subsists somewhere. This is the discrete grandeur of tombs; they are not monuments but distinct places, and that is why they stand in stark contrast to the “mas grave.”

The destroyer wants to suppress this “somewhere,” this plurality of places. The destroyer dislikes places — the interplay of presences, their sense. The space of destruction is a dislocated space, a space without place, undifferentiated, deserted, chaotic. In the same way, the time of destruction is an annulled time, stretched out and empty; instead of the future, what might have been is petrified, made present as stillborn.

… there is no one voice, since any such voice would no longer be singular. Nor can the ego and destruction be effaced in a communal invocation. What we need are voices that are singular, distinct, and that do not properly understand one another, voices that call to one another, that provoke one another.




July 12, 2014

Sincere Blindness

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:51 am

… he must respect different ideas, if they are forces, and must partake of them a little.

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

… One does not know what one does not have the right to ask (whence the sincere blindness of so many husbands and parents), and one does not doubt what others believe, if they are respected. Relationships among truths are relationships of force.

… This is the paradox: there were people who did not believe in the existence of the gods, but never did anyone doubt the existence of the heroes. And with reason: the heroes were only men, to whom credulity had lent supernatural traits, and how could one doubt that human beings now exist and have always existed? Not everyone, on the other hand, was disposed to believe in the reality of the gods, for no one could see them with his own eyes. As a result, during the period that we are going to study, the fourth century A.D., absolutely no one, Christians included, ever expressed the slightest doubt concerning the historicity of Aeneas, Romulus, Theseus, Heracles, Achilles, or even Dionysus; rather, everyone asserted this historicity.

… All of this changes in the Hellenistic period. Literature is intended to be learned.

… by the grace of the grammarians and rhetoricians, Myth is put into manuals, thereby undergoing a codification that will simplify it and cast the great cycles as official version and strand the variants in oblivion. It is this learned vulgate, meant to serve the study of classical authors, that constitutes the mythology familiar to a Lucian. it is the mythology that will be taught to the young scholars of classical Europe.

[ ... ]

… the human past was seen to be preceded by a wondrous period that formed another world, real in itself and unreal in relation to our own.

… In this civilization, nothing was seen beyond a nearby temporal horizon. People wondered with Epicurus whether the world was a thousand years old or two, no more, or, with Aristotle and Plato, whether it was not eternal but ravaged by periodic catastrophes, after each of which everything began again as before — which came down to thinking like Epicurus. Since the life-rhythm of our world is so short, the world could traverse considerable evolutions: the Homeric period and the heroic generations constituted Antiquity in the eyes of this ancient civilization. When Virgil wishes to depict archaic Carthage as it must have been eleven centuries before his own time, he gives ia a Homeric character.

… A true background lies behind every legend. Consequently, when the historians move from the totality, which is suspect, to the detail and to individual myths, they once again become cautious. They question myths as a group, but not a one of them denies the historicity forming the basis of any legend. The moment it is no longer a question of expressing his overall doubt but offering a verdict on a specific point and engaging his word as serious scholar, the historian begins to believe again. He clings to the task of sorting and safeguarding the true kernel.

… it is one thing to believe that in the past there were already kings and another entirely to believe that there were monsters, which no longer exist. The principles governing the criticism of traditions that would obtain for the next millennium were in place; they were already there with Plato.

So Strabo, as befits a scholar, can separate the true from the false. Dionysus and Heracles existed; they were great travelers and geographers; and so legend claimed that they had triumphantly covered the entire earth. Odysseus existed but did not make all the voyages that Homer attributed to him, for the poet had used this ploy to teach his listeners useful geographical details. As for Jason, the ship Argo, and Aeëtes, these are “things that are agreed upon by everybody,” and, up to that point, “Homer tells his story, agreeing … with matters of history.” Fiction begins when the poet claims that the Argonauts reached the Ocean. Other great voyagers, Theseus and Parithous, explored so much of the world that legend claimed that they had gone as far as Hell.

… Earlier the object of naïve credulity, hesitant skepticism, and daring speculations, myth is now treated with a thousand precautions. But these precautions are very calculated. When filling out the contours of some legend, the writers of the Hellenistic and Roman periods seem to hesitate. They often refuse to speak in their own name. “People say …,” they write, or “according to myth.” But in the next sentence they will be very definite concerning another point of the same legend. These shifts between daring and reserve owe nothing to chance. They follow three rules: state no opinion on the marvelous and the supernatural, admit a historical basis, and take exception to the details.

… These three attitudes tolerated one another, and popular credibility was not culturally devalued. This peaceful coexistence of contradictory beliefs had a sociologically peculiar result. Each individual internalized the contradiction and thought things about myth that, in the eyes of a logician at least, were irreconcilable. The individual himself did not suffer from these contradictions; quite the contrary. Each one served a different end.

Take for example, a philosophical mind of the first order, the physician Galen. Did he, or did he not, believe in the reality of Centaurs? It depends.

When he is speaking as a scholar and laying out his personal theories, he speaks of the Centaurs in terms that imply that for himself and his more select readers these marvelous beings had barely any present reality. Medicine, he says, teaches reasonable knowledge, or “theorems,” and the first condition of a good theorem is that it be perceivable by the senses. “For, if the theorem is unrealizable, in the manner of the following statement, The centaur’s bile relieves apoplexy, it is useless because it escapes our apperception.” There are no Centaurs, or at least no one has ever seen one.

… But when the same Galen no longer seeks to impose his ideas but to win new disciples, he seems to pass to the side of the believers. Summarizing his whole view of medicine in one hundred pages and determined to give the most lofty idea of this science, he offers an account of its high origin: the Greeks, he says, attribute the discovery of the different arts to the sons of the gods or to their familiars. Apollo taught medicine to his son Asclepius. Before him, men had only a limited experience with some remedies, herbals, “and, in Greece lay therein, for example, all the knowledge of the centaur Chiron and the heroes of whom he was the teacher.”

… This confusion corresponds to a sectarian politics of alliance. Regarding myth, the Greeks lived for a thousand years in this state. The moment an individual wishes to convince and be recognized, he must respect different ideas, if they are forces, and must partake of them a little. Now we know that the learned respected popular ideas on myth and that they themselves were split between two principles: the rejection of the marvelous and the conviction that legends had a true basis. Hence their complicated state of mind.

Aristotle and Polybius, so defiant when they are confronting Myth, did not believe in the historicity of Theseus or Aeolus, king of the wind, out of conformity or political calculation. Nor did they seek to challenge myths, but only to rectify them. Why rectify them? Because nothing that does not presently exist is worthy of belief. But then, why not challenge it all? Because the Greeks never admitted that the mythmaking process could lie to everyone about everything. The ancient problematic of myth, as we will see, is bounded by two dogmas that were unconscious, for they were self-evident. It was impossible to lie gratuitously, or lie about everything to everyone, for knowledge is only a mirror; and the mirror blends with what it reflects, so that the medium is not distinguished from the message.

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




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