Unreal Nature

April 13, 2014

(assuming that it ought to last)

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:47 am

… This is no longer “becoming-secular” but “becoming-worldly,” that is to say the restitution of sovereignty within existence, naked existence.

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

… One could say: love begins in pure truth (punctuality, myth) and must, in order to last, come to make sense (assuming that it ought to last), whereas the political begins in pure sense (undifferentiated and value being-toward) and must punctuate itself into truth (the first punctuation having the form of power). For this reason, they have been set up, in our tradition, as two interconnected and antagonistic paradigms,each exposed, in a sense, to the other, each attracting and repelling the other.

Just as the becoming-sense of love can go so far as to deprive love of truth (and thus, at the same time, of sense — of “erotic” sense, at least converting it into “political” or “social” sense: the family), so the becoming-truth of the political can go so far as to absorb sense into itself. What one calls “totalitarianism” is the complete presentation of a sense in truth: myth, that is, but myth as reality, without the différance of its narrative. It is the immediate being-there or immanence of myth. In the fascist version, truth is the life of the community, in the Nazi version, truth is the conflagration of the people, and in the communist version, truth is humanity creating itself as humanity. Life, fire, creation: three figures of completed sense, signifying itself and absorbing itself without remainder in its signified, that is, in its referent — for truth here is a concrete punctuation. On this account, politics must be destiny, must have history as its career, sovereignty as its emblem, and sacrifice as its access.

[ ... ]

… As much as Rousseau “secularizes” Sovereignty, he gears down its truth by deferring its sense, by opening up for it an unheard-of history that is still our own. This is no longer “becoming-secular” but “becoming-worldly,” that is to say the restitution of sovereignty within existence, naked existence.

… Decision is existence as such, and existence, inasmuch as it does not take place for one alone or for two but for many, decides itself as a certain in of the in-common. Which one? Decision consists precisely in that we have to decide on it, in and for our world, and thus, first of all, to decide on the “we,” on who “we” are, on how we can say “we” and can call ourselves we.




April 12, 2014

Insisting Itself into a Kind of Truth

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:47 am

… the source of this magical power is just noises made by air, cartilage and saliva. … But is the fact that people believe in something that has nothing to it itself something, or nothing?

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

… Even apart from the direct mimicking of speech baulked or bulked by oral pleasure, the m sound may be regarded as a primary phoneme — one which human children across many different cultures produce earlier and more easily than many other sounds. [ ... ] The vocable um, which functions in English as a linguistic placeholder, is a kind of silence made audible — the sound of not speaking, that keeps the channel open when where there is no communication. It is a vocal noise that impersonates voice.

… The plumped out pause that is the um is perhaps a minor form of the Big Nothing embodied in the mystical vocable Om, or Aum, that is supposed simultaneously to saturate and evacuate the thoughts of the meditator.

… The magical thinking expressed through the letter m is reinforced by the fact that a large group of words in the lexical field related to magic employ it: myth, music, meditation, magic, mysticism, dream, imagination, the mantic, the numinous (indeed, something of the incantatory power attaching to the words phenomenon and phenomenological indicate their affinity to this phonaesthetic cluster, despite the fact that the phenomenon is the opposite of the noumenon). It is perhaps the prominence of the m-sounds in Coleridge’s ‘five miles meandering with a mazy motion’ in ‘Kubla Khan’ that makes this line seem mimetic, the suggestion perhaps being that mazes and maziness that are confusing to the eye have a stupefying effect.

… Freud called magical thinking ‘omnipotence of thoughts,’ for the belief in magic is a belief in the magical power of thinking to make the world conform to it. But magical thinking is also often characterized by its conviction, or at least assertion, of the limits to thought, along with the irrational curtailing of the powers of reason, and the deliberate projection of mysterious powers or realities that lie beyond it: if you cannot know what you cannot know, you can still relish the delicious assurance that you cannot know it. Words that rumor of the numinous and the mysterious are often the carriers of this thought that assiduously keeps itself at a distance from itself, while remaining serenely confident nevertheless of its power to take the measure of the immeasurable, imagine the fact of unimaginability, name the unnameable. Magical thinking operates in the mode of amplified murmur, of assertion without articulation, of mime and intimation, lullabied by the slumberous humming of these nasals.

… In this sense, the um is another diagram of the mouth as such, abstracted to its twin actions of opening and closing. The noises of the voice are the voice of the vocal apparatus itself heard in parallel and in excess to the voice. Where the voice seeks to shape the mouth and the speaking voice in accord with meaning, these noises seek to pull the meaning back into the shape of the speaking apparatus, to draw the whole round world into the hollow O of the mouth. And the most mouthy sound of all is the one that seems to draw everything back into the mouth, the m.

… writers have been drawn to the strong implication of the lips produced by m sounds. Dylan Thomas’s ‘The Force That Through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower’ mimes different kinds of mouths at work in speaking, sucking, leaching and finally, devouring. There is a force that ‘dries the mouthing streams’; the speaker is ‘dumb to mouth’ to his veins that ‘the same mouth sucks’ as sucks at a mountain stream and is equally ‘dumb to tell’ (unable to tell, or dumb in order to indicate dumbly) how ‘the same crooked worm’ (tongue, finger, pen, penis) is at work in his writing. Joyce’s ‘allwombing tomb,’ the equivalence of life and death, is carried through the poem’s humming labials. To be ‘dumb to tell’ implies both that the speaker is unable to tell, and therefore dumb, and also that being dumb might itself be a kind of telling, mutism being assimilated to utterance.

… If it is true that langauge is in essence and in itself fundamentally arbitrary, with no given or necessary relationship between particular sound-forms and particular areas of reality or experience, it is also true that human users of language, who are also, by that very token, human producers and transformers of it, are powerfully influenced by conscious and unconscious assumptions about the relations between sound and sense, many of them magical. As a theory of the essential nature of langauge, phonosemantics may be — no, certainly is — erroneous, but the error has a distinctive form and force. Like many other forms of magical thinking, it is a form of error that bends things into its image, insisting itself into a kind of truth. So I am arguing, not for the simple actuality of the effects of the bilabial nasal, considered as what Margaret Magnus calls a ‘god in the word,’ or consonantal ‘archetype,’ but for the reality of the fact that we seem, in our uses of and attitudes towards language, to assume this actuality.

[line break added to make this easier to read online] Rather than a mythic actuality, it is therefore a mimic or as-if actuality. Possibly swallowing, or myself being taken in by phonaesthetic fantasy, I have had to assimilate myself to the mimic magic, the magical mimesis, of this taking-to-be-true. The magic of sound iconicity and its associated forms of mouth-mysticism are ultimately founded on– nothing; founded, that is, on the fact that the source of this magical power is just noises made by air, cartilage and saliva. The mouth is magical because, as the vehicle of speech, it constantly translates hardware into software, making something (meaning) out of nothing (mere sounds), and nothing (idea) out of something (matter). But is the fact that people believe in something that has nothing to it itself something, or nothing? If the primal cavity of the speaking mouth has indeed so often seemed to be full of magic, this may be literally enough because there is nothing in it.

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




April 11, 2014

Exactly What We Need

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:47 am

… Brutal, stupid and brazen, like a peepshow (i.e. unequivocally pared-down ballet): therefore radical, and therefore exactly what we need …

The following are from ‘Notes 1984′ found in Gerhard Richter: The Daily Practice of Painting; Writings 1962-1993 edited by Hans-Ulrich Obrist (1998):

23 April 1984. I have committed myself to thinking and acting without the aid of an ideology; I have nothing to help me, no idea that I can serve in return for being told what to do, no regulation that tells me how, no belief to show me the way, no image of the future, no construction that I can place on things in order to be given an overriding meaning.

I recognize only what is, and in my view any description and pictorialism of what we do not know is meaningless. Ideologies seduce; they invariably exploit ignorance and legitimize war.

13 June 1984. Lack of culture, directness, immediacy, spontaneity, authenticity (!): this is pared-down art, which avoids all artificiality, which no longer tries to take us in, which eliminates as a distraction all artistic skill and all complexity of reference. Brutal, stupid and brazen, like a peepshow (i.e. unequivocally pared-down ballet): therefore radical, and therefore exactly what we need — what liberates us from cultural constraints — what is really going to make us happy.

[ ... ]

21 September 1984. Certainly, Piloty, Makart and all those other Salon artists were far more influential in their own day then Manet, Mondrian and the like: i.e. they were even more important to society, and not only in the negative sense that they supported the reactionary status quo. They also supported a social order that may have been untenable but nevertheless basically performed its social function: unjust, antisocial or criminal though it was (is, and will be), it was necessary. There is no way out of that; all that is left is Utopia, a more or less vague, insubstantial Hope. But what I meant to say was something different, which is this: that these Salon artists, whom we today barely remember — however unimportant, inane, bloated and moronic they are — these very Salon artists represented the mind and spirit of their own time. I can barely believe this myself, but I have to assume that it was so — not only because the importance of these so-called artists is on record in the old magazines, but because we see the same thing today. What represents our own time, and actually keeps it alive, is the very same Salon trash, which we need, produce in vast quantities, discuss, comment upon, record in exhibitions, texts and films — and which is the mind and spirit of our time, our Zeitgeist. And I think that a short-lived elitist phenomenon such as the movement that produced Minimal and Conceptual Art is the exception that might have been expressly designed to prove the rule.

It was all over in no time. And then came retribution: trash painting and trash sculpture by the ton and by the square mile, eagerly swallowed by a greedy society. Art in the real sense does exist, but it is almost impossible to recognize with any certainty. …

19 October 1984. Glenn Gould, Goldberg Variations. For a year, two years, I have listened to almost nothing else. What is beginning to irritate me is the perfection. This totally absurd, boring, malevolent perfection. No wonder he died young. I ought to listen to the radio.




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.




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.




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.

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.




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” …

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.

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.

André Masson, No Name [image from WikiPaintings]




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.




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.




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.




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