Unreal Nature

January 19, 2018

A Human Being Is Personified by His or Her Voice

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:35 am

… When that persona begins to spread and multiply and come apart … there’s a very strong identification of a human being going through this uncommon magic.

This is from Writings on Music 1965-2000 by Steve Reich (2002). This is from the ‘Early Works (1965-68)’ section of the book:

… By using recorded speech as a source of electronic or tape music, speech-melody and meaning are presented as they naturally occur. It is quite different from setting words to music where one has to fit a number of syllables to a number of notes and decide what their melodic relation will be. In speech, questions of how many notes to a syllable or what their melody will be do not arise; the speech just comes out. Instead of setting words to music, I simply chose the exact segments of recorded speech I was intuitively drawn to as musical material. My original interest in electronic music was the possibility of working with recorded speech.

… I remember it seemed disappointing that tape music, or musique concrète as it was called, usually presented sounds that could not easily be recognized when what seemed interesting to me was that a tape recorder recorded real sounds like speech as a motion picture camera records real images. If one could present that speech without altering its pitch or timbre one would keep the original emotional power that speech has while intensifying its melody and meaning through repetition and rhythm.

Constant repetition through tape loops produces just such a rhythmic intensification.

… I discovered that the most interesting music of all was made by simply lining the loops up in unison, and letting them slowly shift out of phase with each other. As I listened to this gradual phase shifting process, I began to realize that it was an extraordinary form of musical structure. This process struck me as a way of going through a number of relationships between two identities without ever having any transitions. It was a seamless, uninterrupted musical process.

In retrospect, I understand the process of gradually shifting phase relationships between two or more identical repeating patterns as an extension of the idea of infinite canon or round. Two or more identical melodies are played with one starting after the other as in traditional rounds, but in the phase shifting process the melodies are usually much shorter repeating patterns and the time interval between one melodic pattern and its imitation(s), instead of being fixed, is variable. Nevertheless, that this new process bears close family resemblance to the thirteenth century musical idea of round seems to give it some depth. Good new ideas generally turn out to be old.

… The experience of that musical process is, above all else, impersonal; it just goes its way. Another aspect is its precision; there is nothing left to chance whatsoever. Once the process has been set up it inexorably works itself out.

… I realized it was more interesting than any one particular relationship because it was the process (of gradually passing through all the canonic relationships) making an entire piece and not just a moment in time.

… Using the voice of individual speakers is not like setting a text — it’s setting a human being. A human being is personified by his or her voice. If you record me, my cadences, the way I speak are just as much me as any photograph of me. When other people listen to that they feel a persona present. When that persona begins to spread and multiply and come apart … there’s a very strong identification of a human being going through this uncommon magic.




January 18, 2018

The Suspension of Decision

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:47 am

… the mind, eye, and hand sometimes shift in and out of synchronization.

This is from ‘Drawing’ (1981) found in Solar System & Rest Rooms: Writings and Interviews, 1965-2007 by (of) Mel Bochner (2008):

“What you see,” he said, pointing to the wall of drawings, “is the cinema of my sensibility.” — Matisse

Drawing couples a directness of means with an ease of revision. This gives thought and feeling a direct access to visibility. The tools are simple … something to make a mark, an eraser, a sheet of paper. Each material has a particular quality, the choice of which gives a drawing its “color.” Charcoal is dry and burnt, pastel is thick and luminous, conté crayon is crisp and translucent. Different papers are dense or light, resistant or absorbent, bright or dull. The flexibility of these materials in combination is essential to the unique content of drawing.

Drawing can present conclusions. It can record the spontaneous appearance of a thought. It can contain the results of an investigation into the nature of relationships. Or, it can be the clear declaration of a complex idea.

Drawing is also a process of testing differences. In the process of questioning distinctions, the mind, eye, and hand sometimes shift in and out of synchronization. Speculation, or the suspension of decision, leads below the surface of order into the ambiguity of conflicting perceptions. Drawing becomes a meditation on the meaning of certainty. Erasures pile up. Containing the archaeology of its own doubts, the work cuts across the conventions of finish. A tissue of overlaid impulses, the tangle of contradictions suddenly implodes into a drawing.

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




January 17, 2018

Becoming Aware

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:56 am

… The act of becoming aware is, ultimately, nothing less than an affirmation of existence.

This is from the essay ‘Walker Evans, Rhetoric, and Photography’ by Daniel A. Lindley, Jr. (1978) found in Reading Into Photography: Selected Essays, 1959-1980 edited by Thomas F. Barrow, Shelley Armitage and William E. Tydeman (1982):

… In Evans’ photographs of the interiors of the Alabama sharecroppers’ houses, for example, are we not moved primarily by the unconscious artistry of the people who lived in those houses? Has the photograph per se anything to do with the perfect arrangement of silverware and containers on a kitchen wall?

… In the process of painting or sculpting or composing music, the artist is engaged in a cybernetic relationship with the work itself. That is, the artist works slowly, and each new gesture adds to, and therefore changes, what has gone before, both in the work itself and in the mind of its creator. The work teaches the artist, the artist changes and adds to the work, learns something new from these changes or additions, adds something else, learns, adds, and so on.

[line break added] Creation and growth become synonymous and inseparable as the work proceeds toward completion. It is a circular process, a cybernetic loop, often with a life of its own. Novelists, for example, often tell of the feeling that the characters they have created “take over” the motion of the plot. Clearly, then, the maintenance of this loop is fascinating, difficult, and (more important here) only possible over a period of time.

… the most important work in photography seems to take place (1) almost entirely in the mind, and (2) before (just before) or even during, the split second of the exposure. The elegant maintenance of the artist’s cybernetic loop through a long composing process is simply never done in behalf of any one photograph. If it is done at all, it is done as part of the general obligation of the photographer to stay aware of the world and alert to its nuances of light and form. But this is no different from similar obligations imposed by their work upon the writer or the painter. The specifically momentary work of “taking” a picture seems very casual by comparison.

… The act of becoming aware is, ultimately, nothing less than an affirmation of existence. Statements, or images, which are already familiar do not have the power to do this. The power of photographs in the high mimetic mode is derived from a sense of continual movement from a state of inchoate but powerful intuition to a state of a definitive, concrete image.

… Much recent photography, particularly that done in the more advanced settings for photographic studies, seems to me to fail precisely because it does not reaffirm our own insight in this way. It is, instead, idiosyncratic, reflecting a strained effort to look innovative. It is self-conscious without being conscious of the self; it is photography about photography, rather than photography about the resonance between the outside world and our understanding of it.

… this is what the medium of photography finally requires: it demands, on the one hand, the taking of a stance toward the world; and, on the other, the knowledge that light and understanding are, at bottom, the same. Evans has both. There are photographers who know more of light and of the medium, and there are photographers who have developed a stance that serves them well. But the combination is so rare that, when we find it, we know we are in the presence of a body of work which clarifies both our world and ourselves.

My most recent previous post from this book is here.




January 16, 2018

Points of Departure

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:55 am

… The still point of a painting at which figurative imagery becomes mute … [is] … our awareness of the interaction of representation with medium, the coalescence of presence and absence.

This is from the essay ‘Art as Likeness’ (1967) found in Topics in American Art Since 1945 by Lawrence Alloway (1975):

… The success or, better, successes of abstract art have put figurative painting under various pressures. It is not that figurative art has ceased to be produced; on the contrary it is a statistical part of the multi-style abundance of this century’s art. (It is this abundance, this quantity, of artists and styles which is modern about modern art, and not one particular slice of the cake, not one privileged corner.

[line break added] Simple choices of one main line, one way, are nostalgic simplifications of present experience which is nothing if not copious.) In the early twentieth-century polemics of realism versus abstraction, all the vigor, all the subsequent influence, was with abstract artists, but there is no reason that texts, written by artists in defence of their own early work, should continue as limiting cases.

[line break added] To Malevich, realism belonged to the under-developed centuries or to the country; to Mondrian it was an adulteration of pure visual structure; and to Kandinsky the specificity of a realist work destroyed art’s universality and spiritual élan. Thus modernity, concentration and spirituality came to be reserved for abstract art and critics have on the whole accepted, either as cultural reflex or in sophisticated reworkings, these primitive views which of course are no longer adequate to abstract art.

Much of the art criticism devoted to figurative art has been based on a tacit acceptance of the domination of abstract art. Hence those short-lived and embarrassing slogans about a return to the figure or about a New Figuration or Other Figuration. The first claim delegates realism to be merely the revival of an interrupted tradition and the second term tries to claim the rhetoric of abstraction for figurative art.

[line break added] The so-called Monster School of Chicago was presented some years ago as if it were a return (that word again) to deep feelings and real passion after an interim of merely ornamental abstract art. Such crude efforts to turn the tables came to nothing as group promotion but individual artists in the group have prospered (and others have not).

[line break added] Bay Area Figurative painting is probably the best-known and longest-lived figurative group, parallel in certain respects to the East Hampton painters who have existed as an enclave within Abstract Expressionism for years. The common point of the two groups is a rediscovery of Manet and the substitution of him for Cézanne, the previously mandatory model of art and ethics. The adoption of Manet led to a more sensually unified style than was reachable from other points of departure while retaining legible imagery.

The East Hampton realists expanded Manetesque handling into an assertion of the autonomy of paint; it is as if they were enacting for their friends the abstract painters, the Ortega y Gasset – André Malraux view of Manet as the first modern painter (more paint than people). Alex Katz is the tough and adaptive artist to come out of this Long Island – Downtown New York group.

Alex Katz, White Lilies (1966)

… Apropos the position of the East Hampton painters, except for Katz, Fairfield Porter is absolutely their emblem: what is needed are less gestures of special tolerance towards “realists we like,” than a recognition of present stylistic diversity. Only a pluralistic aesthetic is adequate for the first move towards seeing figurative painters straight and not as marginal courtiers or saboteurs around the thrones of abstract artists.

… The still point of a painting at which figurative imagery becomes mute, where action is suspended, is not a result of the triumph of form over content but of our awareness of the interaction of representation with medium, the coalescence of presence and absence.

In figurative painting all events occur in a perpetual present; even the past is only another present …

… Mirror-held-up-to-nature and loving-transcription-of-incredible-event theories are static constructs, quite inadequate to present experience. An art that deals in likeness deals with problems, double-takes, illusions.

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




January 15, 2018

Decided Here and Now, Locally

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:32 am

… To be modernist is to be a work that takes its own conditions of possibility for its subject matter …

Continuing through Kant after Duchamp by Thierry de Duve (1996):

… Here, finally, is a third interpretation of the [‘do whatever’] modern imperative: ‘do whatever so that …’

… When, from inside this empirical domain — which as such doesn’t need to stake a claim to universality, only to culture — the universality of art has become its impossibility and its impossibility nonetheless remains prescribed as a duty vis-à-vis universality, then art as a whole must be judged case by case. When it is more than doubtful that there exists in every man and woman on earth a universal faculty of taste and — even more doubtful — a universal conflation of taste with genius, then we must hold on to the built-in claim to universality of the sentence “this is art” in full consciousness of its impossibility to realize itself in society and in history.

[line break added] When the postmodern is also the posthistorical, when the presupposition or the postulate of history’s direction is categorically abandoned for having been all too materialized as systematic or totalitarian menace, then history’s direction must be decided here and now, locally and in what Walter Benjamin called “the instant of peril.”

… There is a tradition of the whatever, there is a history of the whatever …

… This history or this tradition is transmitted from one artist to another, from one art movement to another, from one historical moment to another, and from one work to another as judgments are transmitted, that is, through judgment: as rejudged prejudices retrospectively constituting a jurisprudential record.

[ … ]

… What about a modernist mayonnaise presenting itself to a formalist culinary critic’s judgment of taste? He finds it awful but he doesn’t stop with his own judgment. This mayonnaise is put together in such a manner, he says to himself while tasting it, that something of the pure ingredients that go into it are to be found in the final results. It brings off the feat of displaying its composition to me, of taking the “conventions of mayonnaise” for its subject matter, of being a self-referential mayonnaise, a “mayonnaise about mayonnaise,” in short, a critique of mayonnaise brought about by the means of mayonnaise itself, “not to subvert it, but to entrench it more firmly in its area of competence” [parodying Greenberg].

[line break added] Perhaps it isn’t very successful, tasting something like Heinz. But it has “taken,” and the emulsion is all the more mysterious in that the cook’s handiwork is not apparent, even though it ends up telling me, if I examine it closely enough, that the necessary and sufficient conditions of mayonnaise-in-general are four in number: egg yolk, oil, vinegar, and mustard.

… not all modern art is modernist. To be modernist is to be a work that takes its own conditions of possibility for its subject matter, that tests a certain number of the conventions of the practice it belongs to by modifying, jettisoning, or destroying them, and that in so doing renders the conventions or conditions thus tested explicit or opaque, revealing them to be nothing but conventions. At the end of this process we should find isolated — stripped bare — the “essential conventions,” otherwise called the necessary and sufficient conditions of the given practice, visible or legible in the work itself.

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




January 14, 2018


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:40 am

… The speech of another, once enclosed in a [different] context, is — no matter how accurately transmitted — always subject to certain semantic changes.

Continuing through the essay ‘Discourse in the Novel’ found in The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays by M.M. Bakhtin edited by Michael Holquist (1981):

… In real life we hear speech about speakers and their discourse at every step. We can go so far as to say that in real life people talk most of all about what others talk about — they transmit, recall, weigh and pass judgment on other people’s words, opinions, assertions, information; people are upset by others’ words, or agree with them, contest them, refer to them and so forth.

… We need only keep our ears open to the speech sounding everywhere around us to reach such a conclusion: in the everyday speech of any person living in society, no less than half (on the average) of all the words uttered by him will be someone else’s words (consciously someone else’s), transmitted with varying degrees of precision and impartiality (or more precisely, partiality).

It goes without saying that not all transmitted words belonging to someone else lend themselves, when fixed in writing, to enclosure in quotation marks. That degree of otherness and purity in another’s word that in written speech would require quotation marks (as per the intention of the speaker himself, how he himself determines this degree of otherness) is required much less frequently in everyday speech.

… The speech of another, once enclosed in a [different] context, is — no matter how accurately transmitted — always subject to certain semantic changes. … Given the appropriate methods for framing, one may bring about fundamental changes even in another’s utterance accurately quoted.

… In order to assess and divine the real meaning of others’ words in everyday life, the following are surely of decisive significance: who precisely is speaking, and under what concrete circumstances? When we attempt to understand and make assessments in everyday life, we do not separate discourse from the personality speaking it (as we can in the ideological realm), because the personality is so materially present to us. And the entire speaking situation is very important: who is present during it, with what expression or mimicry is it uttered, with what shades of intonation?

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




January 13, 2018

In the Impure Current of the Things of the Mind

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:39 am

… It changes into all things, without being itself changed.

This is from “a fragment of” the essay ‘Memories of a Poem’ found in Selected Writings of Paul Valéry (1950; 1964):

… And so here I was once more playing with syllables and images, with similarities and contrasts. Once more, my mind was filled with the forms and the words suitable for poetry and I would forget myself, waiting for it to give me those remarkable groupings of terms that offer us all at once such a happy combination, appearing spontaneously in the impure current of the things of the mind. Just as a definite combination is precipitated in a mixture, so some interesting form is detached from the disorder, or instability, or ordinary state, of our interior morass.

It is a pure sound that resounds in the midst of noise. It is a perfectly executed fragment of an edifice. It is the suspicion of a diamond in a mass of ‘blue ground’; a moment infinitely more precious than all the others and than the circumstances that gave it birth! It provokes an incomparable contentment and an instantaneous temptation; it arouses our hope of finding in its vicinity a whole treasure-trove of which it is the sign and the proof; and this hope often starts a man on a boundless labor.

This next is from “four fragments” from ‘Eupalinos, or the Architect’:

… Let us now consider this great act of constructing. Note, Phaedrus, that when the Demiurge set about making the world he grappled with the confusion of Chaos. All formlessness spread before him. Nor could he find a single handful of matter in all this waste, that was not infinitely impure and composed of an infinity of substances.

He valiantly came to grips with this frightful mixture of dry and wet, of hard and soft, of light and gloom, that made up this chaos, whose disorder penetrated into his smallest parts. He disentangled that faintly luminous mud, of which not a single particle was pure, and wherein all energies were diluted, so that the past and the future, accident and substance, the lasting and the fleeting, propinquity and remoteness, motion and rest, the light and the heavy, were as completely mingled as wine and water when poured into one cup.

[line break added] Our men of science are always trying to bring their minds close to this state. … But the great Shaper acted in contrary wise. He was the enemy of similitudes and of those hidden identities that we delight to come upon. He organized inequality.

… But the Constructor whom I am now bringing to the fore first finds before him, as his chaos and as primitive matter, precisely that world-order which the Demiurge wrung from the disorder of the beginning. Nature is formed, and the elements are separated; but something enjoins him to consider this work as unfinished, and as requiring to be rehandled and set in motion again for the most special satisfaction of man.

[line break added] He takes as the starting point of his act the very point where the god had left off — In the beginning, he says to himself, there was what is: the mountains and forests; the deposits and veins; red clay, yellow sand and the white stone which will give us lime. There were also the muscular arms of men, and the massive strength of buffaloes and oxen. But there were in addition the coffers and store-rooms of intelligent tyrants and citizens grown over-rich by trade. And lastly there were priests who wished to house their god; and kings so puissant that they had nothing more to desire but a matchless tomb …

… This so-weighty metal [gold], when it becomes the associate of a fancy, assumes the most active virtues of the mind. It has her restless nature. Its essence is to vanish. It changes into all things, without being itself changed. It raises blocks of stone, pierces mountains, diverts rivers, opens the gate of fortresses and the most secret hearts; it enchains men; it dresses, it undresses women with almost miraculous promptitude. It is truly the most abstract agent that exists next to thought. But indeed thought exchanges and envelopes images only, whereas gold incites and promotes the transmutations of all real things into one another; itself remaining incorruptible and passing untainted through all hands.

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




January 12, 2018

Looking Drives Us Where It Will

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:34 am

… He keeps picking them up and putting them down again.

This is from the essay ‘Reading Pictures — Possible Access to Gerhard Richter’s Atlas‘ by Helmut Friedel found in Gerhard Richter: Atlas: The Reader (2012):

The teller of a story is at the same time not the teller. The story as such is the real teller, and all tellers know that. — Harry Mulisch, De Procedure, Amsterdam, 1998

… The characteristic of a storyteller or a writer described above can be transferred without further ado to the artist, to the painter Gerhard Richter. It applies especially to the case of Atlas, in which Richter laid out a sequence of pictures that can be ‘read’ in many directions.

Next is from the essay ‘Slow Developer’ by Adrian Searle in the same book:

… It goes on: country lanes winding between cornfields, corpses piled on the road with vultures waiting. Mothers and babies and a food-spattered toddler trapped in his high chair. Innocent things: a toilet roll dangling in cool morning light, an acrobat diving, stags at bay. And guilty things: two women doing something with a cucumber, a man doing something to another woman with a length of pipe, a woman sucking a man’s penis, a Nazi hanging a boy who has something almost like a smile on his face. Humiliated Jews, the camps.

[line break added] Emaciated victims in the hut, touched up with vivid happy colors. Photos of trains going by near the artist’s studio in Cologne. Is it now possible, in Europe, to watch trains without thinking where the lines once led? Is it possible to look at so many images — whether mundane, or titillating and pornographic, or inhuman and horrific and filled with despair — without becoming aware of just how much we like to look, that looking drives us where it will, that we keep on looking?

… Always preoccupied with questions of subject matter, and of manner and genre, Richter has continually asked himself the most basic and fundamental questions an artist, working alone in his studio, can ask: questions of what to paint as much as how to paint. These, one might say, are the first things an artist might ask right at the beginning of a career. They are the questions a child often asks: what shall I paint, what shall I draw? That the artist, now in his 70s, is still faced with what I regard as an existential as well as a creative problem is one of the keys to his art, as well as being its submerged subject.

… Walking among the banked grids of Atlas, one has a growing sense of their proliferation, of Richter’s logic and also of the randomness and multiplicity of the world, its intractability. But there is also a growing sense of Richter brooding, brooding over the images that have made their way into Atlas. It is a dark undercurrent in his art. Richter’s fellow East German and contemporary, Sigmar Polke, seems to me to evince the opposite in his art, a kind of hysteria.

… What Atlas shows us … is an artist committed not to his own aggrandisement or to bolstering society, but pitted, rather, against indifference, and against the numbness of the world. He is also, in a certain kind of way, fiercely mistrustful of images and what they convey. Some photographs, especially those of the Holocaust, are irreducible, and perhaps unpaintable in themselves. He keeps picking them up and putting them down again. You can tell he is in there, thinking them through and unable to think about them. When we look at them, we do the same. And do our own brooding.

My most recent previous post from this book is here.




January 11, 2018

Art Potential

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:15 am

… The “answers” were all to questions that have been answered too often before.

This is from ‘Review: 1969 Whitney Painting Annual’ found in Solar System & Rest Rooms: Writings and Interviews, 1965-2007 by (of) Mel Bochner (2008):

… First some credits. The Whitney is the only New York museum that tries to show art before “history” sorts it out. That isn’t easy. Nobody else is willing to put themselves on the line showing young, unknown, or just barely known, artists. A lot of good work had its first exposure in the Annual. Another point in the museum’s favor is that it doesn’t prejudge.

[line break added] They are not saying explicitly what they think is good. The very bulkiness of the presentation precludes that. This is important in that certain general problems can only be observed under these circumstances. Any disagreement I have with the choices in this Annual has no bearing on the intentions of the museum.

I do not believe that painting for its own sake rates automatic credit as the sole means of making two-dimensional art. There is no reason why it has more art potential than photography or drawing, which are never shown in Annuals. The special place of painting in art is only by weight of consent. It can’t maintain its position much longer, because too much good work is going on outside painting to be ignored. Public opinion shifts in surprising ways. A few years ago many people were outspokenly “anti-painting.”

[line break added] The biggest complaint (even among painters) was that painting was too illusionistic. But this never really seemed to me the major problem. Painting was not problematic because of illusionism. Painting was in trouble because no innovative energy was being generated in it. The 1969 Annual would seem to demonstrate that the tide has turned and there is more intense energy going into painting now than five years ago. However, the weight of numbers has not meant a proportional increase in innovations.

I question the model for current activity even being called “painting.” An anachronistic terminology only keeps the vicious circle closed. Exhibitions which purport to show “what is going on” show only what they are looking for. Inevitably this drifts towards creating “movements.” Although large-scale surveys give many artists their only opportunity to be seen, these artists can be steamrolled into alien associations. … What may not have been inherent in individual works is created by the curatorial juxtapositions of things. Contexts force different things to look the same.

“Issues” revealed by this exhibition are deadeningly blunt. Painting has become little more than a game of problem solving. The problems are of the additive type … “what” plus “what” equals something “new.” Most striking were the obvious similarities from solution to solution. … The “answers” were all to questions that have been answered too often before.

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




January 10, 2018

This Haunt of Brooding Dust

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:47 am

… it is already becoming self-evident to camera man that only camera words have any meaning.

This is from the essay ‘The Harp and the Camera’ by Owen Barfield (1977) found in Reading Into Photography: Selected Essays, 1959-1980 edited by Thomas F. Barrow, Shelley Armitage and William E. Tydeman (1982):

The harp has long been employed as the symbol of music in general, and of heavenly music in particular; just as music itself has been employed as the symbol of heaven on earth. As the English poet Walter de la Mare put it:

When music sounds, all that I was I am
Ere to this haunt of brooding dust I came —

… There is one kind of harp which most of us never have seen. I have never seen one myself. And that is the aeolian harp or, as I shall call it for short, the wind-harp, since Aeolus was the Greek god of the winds. … It is simply a series of strings in a box, which you fix up somewhere where the wind will blow through the strings and the strings will sound. A good place is an open window; and that might perhaps remind us that the earliest windows were … not for letting in the light and keeping out the air, but for letting in both of them together. In fact the word “window” is a corruption of “wind-eye.”

[image from Wikipedia]

… The Italian word camera means a room or chamber; and the camera is of course, a hollow box or little dark room. Unlike the camera the harp has no inside, it does not first of all receive into itself stimuli from without and then respond to them. The wind-harp becomes what it is by itself becoming an “inside” for the environing air, by becoming a modulated voice for it to speak with.

[line break added] If the eyes are shut and there is no other guide, it is very difficult to tell where any particular sound comes from, presumably because the air and its contents are all around us. Well, light and its contents are also all around us. But our eyes are so made that they leave us in no doubt where those contents are place, and how they are disposed.

… If we must think in metaphor (and we must), why not try beginning again on the assumption that primitive man was not a camera obscura but an aeolian harp? Surely it is only by this route that we can hope to understand the origin of myths and of thinking at all.

… Did that enthusiasm of the Romantics for the wind-harp signify that they had come to see the history of Western mind as a kind of war between the harp and the camera — that they foresaw the camera civilization that was coming upon us? If so, they were true prophets, because it certainly has come. The camera up to date has won that war. We live in a camera civilization. Our entertainment is camera entertainment. Our holidays are camera holidays.

[line break added] We make them so by paying more attention to the camera we brought with us than to the waterfall we are pointing it at. Our science is almost entirely a camera science. One thinks of the photographs of electrons on screens and in cloud-chambers and so forth. Our philosophers — it is no longer possible even to argue with most of them, because you cannot argue about an axiom, and it is already becoming self-evident to camera man that only camera words have any meaning.

[line break added] Even our poetry has become, for the most part, camera poetry. So much of it consists of those pointedly paradoxical surface contrasts between words and between random thoughts and feelings, arranged in the complicated perspective of the poet’s own often rather meager personality. Where, one asks, has the music gone? Where has the wind gone that sweeps the music into being, the hagion pneuma, the ruach elohim? It really does feel as though the camera had won hands down and smashed the harp to pieces.

… If then the story of the harp and the camera is to continue instead of ending with a whimper, it will have to be by way of a true marriage between the one and the other. Is it fanciful, I wonder, to think of a sort of mini-harp stretched across the window of the eye — an Apollo’s harp if you will — as perhaps not a bad image for the joy of looking with imagination?

My most recent previous post from this book is here.




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