Unreal Nature

September 25, 2017

Prudence

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:35 am

… it is never a criterion that exempts you from having to judge again; it is merely a guideline that you may or may not follow, a record of prudence that helps you decide whether you should let the experience of your predecessors nourish your own, but which, in any case, you ought to confront with your actual feelings.

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

… Jurisprudence is the legal memory in which society stores the judgments issued in the past over cases similar to those currently submitted, but which the written law could not have foreseen in their singularity. Judges are invited to consult jurisprudence for inspiration but they remain free to contradict it. The closer a legal system comes to common law and the less it depends on the written code, the more important jurisprudence becomes. The history of art — and even more, the history of the avant-garde, namely the history of modern art — resembles such a judicial system.

… The first reader of a book, the first listener to a concerto, the first viewer of a picture already judges the artist’s judgment, while the artist had, through provocations, already lodged an appeal against the prejudices of the times.

… As [with] the historian of art, art for you is a given whose outcome is at stake. But more clearly than most historians of art, you state and take on your responsibilities as judge. Quite possibly this will mean no more than a slight inflection of style, with which you avoid creating the belief that history itself is speaking through your mouth or writing itself through your pen; yet such an inflection of style will be more than the simple scruple or the regret shown by certain art historians — the most honest ones — who admit to the subjectivity of their choices and accountings.

[line break added] It will be both a working method and a moral principle resulting from your knowing that once you admit a recognized work of art into your discourse, it is accompanied by an invisible tag saying “this is art,” and that, though the tag is a given, what it says is not a fact. When, as a historian, you write about something that has already been called art by others — historians who preceded you or critics faster than you — you are taking stock of a judgment registered somewhere on the jurisprudential record, but which nothing forbids you to reverse as long as you are not unaware, nor keep your readers unaware, that a judgment had been passed.

[line break added] Jurisprudence doesn’t have the force of law, but it carries some weight. Yet no matter how heavy it weighs on your judgments, it is never a criterion that exempts you from having to judge again; it is merely a guideline that you may or may not follow, a record of prudence that helps you decide whether you should let the experience of your predecessors nourish your own, but which, in any case, you ought to confront with your actual feelings.

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

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

September 24, 2017

Without Any Distance

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:40 am

… finger it familiarly on all sides, turn it upside down, inside out, peer at it from above and below, break open its external shell, look into its center, doubt it, take it apart, dismember it, lay it bare and expose it, examine it freely and experiment with it.

Continuing through the essay ‘Epic and Novel: Toward a Methodology for the Study of the Novel’ found in The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays by M.M. Bakhtin edited by Michael Holquist (1981):

… For the first time, the subject of serious literary representation (although, it is true, at the same time comical) is portrayed without any distance, on the level of contemporary reality, in a zone of direct and even crude contact.

… It is precisely laughter that destroys the epic, and in general destroys any hierarchical (distancing and valorized) distance. As a distanced image a subject cannot be comical; to be made comical, it must be brought close. Everything that makes us laugh is close at hand, all comical creativity works in a zone of maximal proximity. Laughter has the remarkable power of making an object come up close, of drawing it into a zone of crude contact where one can finger it familiarly on all sides, turn it upside down, inside out, peer at it from above and below, break open its external shell, look into its center, doubt it, take it apart, dismember it, lay it bare and expose it, examine it freely and experiment with it.

[line break added] Laughter demolishes fear and piety before an object, before a world, making of it an object of familiar contact and thus clearing the ground for an absolutely free investigation of it. Laughter is a vital factor in laying down that prerequisite for fearlessness without which it would be impossible to approach the world realistically. As it draws an object to itself and makes it familiar, laughter delivers the object into the fearless hands of investigative experiment — both scientific and artistic — and into the hands of free experimental fantasy.

… The shift of the temporal center of artistic orientation, which placed on the same temporally valorized plane the author and his readers (on the one hand) and the world and heroes described by him (on the other), making them contemporaries, possible acquaintances, friends, familiarizing their relations (we again recall the novelistic opening of Onegin), permits the author, in all his various masks and faces, to move freely onto the field of his represented world, a field that in the epic had been absolutely inaccessible and closed.

… The novel comes into contact with the spontaneity of the inconclusive present; this is what keeps the genre from congealing. The novelist is drawn toward everything that is not yet completed. He may turn up on the field of representation in any authorial pose.

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

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

September 23, 2017

How Quickly the Effort Wanes

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:35 am

… our considered projects, our intentional constructions or fabrications seem very alien to our underlying organic activity.

Continuing through the essay ‘Man and the Sea Shell’ found in Paul Valéry: An Anthology (1956: 1977):

… just as I hesitate in regard to the material [I might use to make a shell], I may hesitate about the dimensions I shall give to my work. I see no necessary dependence between form and size; I can conceive of no form that might not be larger or smaller — it is as though the idea of a certain figure called forth in my mind an endless number of similar figures.

… I feel, finally, that if I have undertaken to produce one particular form, it is because I could have chosen to create entirely different ones. This is an absolute condition: if one can only make a single thing and in a single way, it means that the thing almost makes itself; therefore, such an action is not truly human (since thought is not necessary to it), and we do not understand it. What we make in this way really makes us more than we make it. What are we, if not a momentary balance between a multitude of hidden actions that are not specifically human?

[line break added] Our life is a tissue of such local acts in which choice plays no part, and which in some incomprehensible way perform themselves. Man walks, breathes, remembers — but in all this he is in no way different from animals. He knows neither how he moves, nor how he remembers; and he has no need to know in order to move or remember, nor does he need to know before doing so.

[line break added] But if he builds a house or a ship, if he forges a tool or a weapon, a design must first act upon him and make him into a specialized instrument; an idea must coordinate what he desires, what he can do, what he knows, what he sees, what he touches and manipulates, and must organize all this expressly toward a particular and exclusive action, starting from a state in which he was entirely open and free from all intentions. Once he is called upon to act, his freedom diminishes, relinquishes its rights, and for a time accepts a constraint that is the price he must pay if he wishes to impress upon a certain “reality” the configured desire that he carries in his mind.

To sum up: all specifically human production is effected in successive, distinct, limited, enumerable acts. But up to this point certain animals, the builders of hives or nests, are quite like us. Man’s specific work becomes unique when the separate, independent acts involved require his deliberate thinking presence to provoke them and adjust their diversity to an aim. Man consciously sustains his mental image and his will.

[line break added] We know only too well how precarious and costly this “presence of mind” is; how quickly the effort wanes, how our attention disintegrates, and that what arouses, assembles, corrects, and revives the efforts of our separate functions is of a nature quite different from them; and this is why our considered projects, our intentional constructions or fabrications seem very alien to our underlying organic activity.

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

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

September 22, 2017

As If Someone Were Gagging the World

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:30 am

… But you wait, you give your life’s length to listening …

This is from the essay ‘Teaching a Stone to Talk’ found in Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters by Annie Dillard (1982):

… Nature’s silence is its one remark, and every flake of world is a chip off that old mute and immutable block.

… What is the difference between a cathedral and a physics lab? Are not they both saying: Hello? We spy on whales and on interstellar radio objects; we starve ourselves and pray till we’re blue.

… At a certain point you say to the woods, to the sea, to the mountains, to the world, Now I am ready. Now I will stop and be wholly attentive. You empty yourself and wait, listening. After a time you hear it: there is nothing there. There is nothing but those things only, those created objects, discrete, growing or holding, or swaying, being rained on or raining, held, flooding or ebbing, standing, or spread. You feel the world’s word as a tension, a hum, a single chorused note everywhere the same. This is it: this hum is the silence. Nature does utter a peep — just this one.

[line break added] The birds and insects, the meadows and swamps and rivers and stones and mountains and clouds: they all do it; they all don’t do it. There is a vibrancy to the silence, a suppression, as if someone were gagging the world. But you wait, you give your life’s length to listening, and nothing happens. The ice rolls up, the ice rolls back, and still that single note obtains. The tension, or lack of it, is intolerable. The silence is not actually suppression; instead, it is all there is.

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

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

September 21, 2017

Innovative Impact

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:42 am

Stieglitz’s clouds and Paul Strand’s bowls and fences could count their genesis in the Negro statuary at 291.

Continuing through Modern Art and America: Alfred Stieglitz and His New York Galleries by Sarah Greenough (2000). The Armory Show chapter is by Charles Brock; the African Art chapter is by Helen M. Shannon:

… the unintentional outcome of the [1913] Armory Show was that European modernism received such intense publicity that Americans were blinded to the merits of their own artists. While applauding the organizers’ efforts to promote modernism in general, Stieglitz early on had anticipated their failure to demonstrate that modernism’s destiny was in the hands of American painters and photographers.

[line break added] Ironically, it was the Frenchman, Picabia, who expressed most succinctly the buoyant message demonstrated by the three exhibitions [at 291, before, during and after the Armory Show] discussed here: “the best informed man on this whole revolution in the art of painting … is an American and a New Yorker, Mr. Alfred Stieglitz.” 291’s influence as a modernist center was evident upon Picabia’s return to Paris where his wife, Gabrielle Buffet Picabia, opened a gallery in emulation of Stieglitz, and later in 1917 when Picabia himself published the periodical 391.

[ … ]

… In the June 1914 issue of Camera Work, Alfred Stieglitz announced that four photography exhibitions would open the fall schedule at his gallery 291. The show that opened the season, however, on 3 November, was something quite different. “Statuary in Wood by African Savages — The Root of Modern Art.” This dramatic change of plans indicates Stieglitz’s receptivity to the various streams feeding European, especially French, modernism, in this case the interest in so-called primitive art.

On the announcement card, Stieglitz described the presentation as “the first time in the history of exhibitions that Negro statuary will be shown from the point of view of art,” and this claim is provisionally true.

… Some writers, leery of the current art trends, placed the African works on a higher aesthetic level than that of the European avant-garde. The writer in The New York World argued that “the French apostles have a long road to travel before they can get within hailing distance of their African precursors.” Chamberlin [in The New York Mail] stated that “enamored by their success, Picasso has adopted their limitations — and produced a merely curious, not an admirable, result, like the negroes.”

… The search for modernist primitivism in American art has focused primarily, as in European art, on its manifestations in painting, sculpture, and other traditional media. However, in the United States the encounter with African art produced a different result. By 1914, the same types of works that had disquieted modernists in France and Germany entered 291 already validated as aesthetic objects, framed within a more distanced, “objective,” formal view. While a source for artists of all media, the sculpture at Stieglitz’s gallery may have had its most immediate innovative impact on the development of American modernist photography. Stieglitz’s clouds and Paul Strand’s bowls and fences could count their genesis in the Negro statuary at 291.

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

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

September 20, 2017

Success or Failure

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:44 am

… The success or failure of each round of the game has no reality beyond the record of it.

Continuing through Photography and the Art of Chance by Robin Kelsey (2015):

… In 1973, John Baldessari produced a work entitled Throwing Three Balls in the Air to Get a Straight Line (Best of Thirty-Six Attempts). The work consists of a portfolio of fourteen offset lithographs produced by Galleria Toselli in Milan, including a title plate, a colophon plate, and twelve plates featuring three orange balls against a blue sky. The twelve images, which evidently represent the best of thirty-six attempts to get a straight line, are not numbered, so there is no prescribed sequence.

… In Throwing Three Balls, Balessari provides a schematic representation of photography as a social form. The titular phrase Best of Thirty-Six Attempts alludes to the thirty-six frames of a standard roll of film. Like other makers of snapshots, Baldessari had thirty-six opportunities to capture, from a rapidly changing visual field, configurations matching preset aesthetic criteria. In his schematic representation, those criteria have been boiled down to a simple geometric figure, a straight line. After executing the thirty-six attempts, Baldessari saved the best images and discarded the rest. Every ordinary SLR user did the same. In his failures and successes, others could thus see their own. His chance was their chance.

… When we say that a photograph has “perfectly captured” or “misleadingly represented” an event, our assessment has meaning because of this distinctness, which can leave photograph aligned or misaligned. In Throwing Three Balls, this distinctness has vanished. What each image records is an effort “to get a straight line,” but the measure of straightness only exists in the image. The success or failure of each round of the game has no reality beyond the record of it. The image is not merely a document of the result of one round of the game, it is that result.

[ … ]

Baldessari has found in chance a way to align method and subject, and thereby escape the restraints of inherited dogma. This correspondence allowed him to rebelliously spoof both a flourishing bureaucratic mode of inquiry and the medium that had overtaken painting.

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

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

September 19, 2017

Shelter

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:47 am

… theirs was a rhetoric of no rhetoric.

Continuing through The New York School: A Cultural Reckoning by Dore Ashton (1972):

… Myth, metamorphosis, risk, event-painting — these liberating possibilities were little by little impressing themselves upon the troubled psyches of many New York painters. In the year or two following the fall of France, while Americans were adapting their psychology to war conditions, many artists touched bottom spiritually. The natural habitat developed during the W.P.A. years was swiftly transformed into an even more alien environment than artists had known before.

[line break added] New York quickly became a center for all kinds of war promotion, ranging from information agencies to poster-producing units, which absorbed the energies of many artists and writers. In any case, the sense of community that had at least had an embryonic existence because of the Project, was severely menaced by the exigencies of the war. For a time, the problems of artists seemed all too trivial even to artists. ‘In 1940,’ wrote Barnett Newman, ‘some of us woke up to find ourselves without hope — to find that painting did not really exists. … The awakening had the exaltation of a revolution. … It was that naked revolutionary movement that made painters out of painters.’

[line break added] Gottlieb, in his contribution to the same symposium, agreed: ‘During the 1940s, a few painters were painting with a feeling of absolute desperation. The situation was so bad that I know I felt free to try anything no matter how absurd it seemed. … Everyone was on his own.’ Gottlieb stressed the individualism of the painters in New York, and their sense of ‘aloneness.’ The war produced yet another vacuum, and discouraged all those who, through their incipient sense of the need for a milieu, found once again that it did not, and perhaps could not, exist in American culture.

At precisely this point of moral desperation the arrival of some renowned Europeans — energetic and endemically optimistic — made a difference. Not only did they infuse the New Yorkers with a sense of purpose, but they also helped reconcile various esthetic conflicts; for it was not only Ernst, Tanguy, Masson, Seligmann, and other convinced surrealists who trod the streets of New York, there were also Mondrian, Léger, Glarner, Lipchitz, and Zadkine, among others.

[line break added] When Peggy Guggenheim opened her gallery, she was careful to wear one earring by Tanguy and one by Calder, ‘in order to show my impartiality between surrealist and abstract art.’ Such impartiality was growing steadily. The synthesis of ideas drawn from all modern traditions was certainly one of the major achievements of the period.

[ … ]

… In many ways the existence of surrealist theory provided a shelter for the painters. … Painters, especially those whose consciousness had been invaded by the surrealist periodicals, had retreated from political turmoil. While the literary course seemed to be set in critical and often doctrinaire directions in the early forties, the visual artists were pronouncedly undoctrinaire and eager to retain an attitude of experimental rebellion — again, theirs was a rhetoric of no rhetoric.

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

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

September 18, 2017

The Feeling That They Are Confronting Art

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:51 am

… all those people who make their aesthetic judgments public are people who exercise a critical vigilance … over the collection of things having aroused in them the feeling that they are confronting art.

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

… Along with the number of overwhelming things you love, the incompatibilities among your feelings multiply. Can you possibly love both Wagner and Mozart without recanting? Can you accommodate both Rubens and Mondrian simultaneously? Would you dare name the feeling that might reconcile John Heartfield and Leni Riefenstahl?

… Your personal pantheon is more or less rich, but they exist as a battleground, a babel of tongues, a Borgesian shambles where you ceaselessly pass from one camp, one language, one form to another. Each of the things to be found there is no more than an example of what art is for you; none amounts to a definition, a concept, a theory. When asked for one, all you can say is: “Look, here is some art.”

… in showing, under the name of art, what you have collected, you are no longer a mere art lover. You advertise your tastes, you claim and profess them, you try to get them shared. And if you go so far as to make public your doubts, your uncertainties, your errors of taste, your distastes and even your disgusts by exhibiting — always under the name of art — those things among the cultural products that aroused so many mixed feelings that you judged them to be overwhelming, then you have all the qualifications to be, so to speak, a professional art lover, which is to say, an art critic.

[line break added] Art critics, in the broad sense — chroniclers, specialized journalists, teachers, but also museum curators, art collectors, even art dealers — in other words, all those people who make their aesthetic judgments public, are people who exercise a critical vigilance, not over a corpus of objects or a consensus of receivers, but over the collection of things having aroused in them the feeling that they are confronting art. It is with and about this that they judge and over this that they will be judged. Whatever other things art critics do, whatever criteria come into play when they write, collect, organize shows, buy and sell art, when all is said and done, art critics are public and professional art lovers.

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

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

September 17, 2017

The Presentness of the Present

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:43 am

… It is possible … to conceive even “my time” as heroic, epic time, … one can distance it, look at it as if from afar … But in so doing we are removing ourselves … from the zone of familiar contact with me.

Continuing through the essay ‘Epic and Novel: Toward a Methodology for the Study of the Novel’ found in The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays by M.M. Bakhtin edited by Michael Holquist (1981):

… I will attempt below to approach the novel precisely as a genre-in-the-making, one in the vanguard of all modern literary development. I am not constructing here a functional definition of the novelistic canon in literary history, that is, a definition that would make of it a system of fixed generic characteristics. Rather, I am trying to grope my way toward the basic structural characteristics of this most fluid of genres, characteristics that might determine the direction of its peculiar capacity for change and of its influence and effect on the rest of literature.

I find three basic characteristics that fundamentally distinguish the novel in principle from other genres: (1) its stylistic three-dimensionality, which is linked with the multi-languaged consciousness realized in the novel; (2) the radical change it effects in the temporal coordinates of the literary image; (3) the new zone opened by the novel for structuring literary images, namely, the zone of maximal contact with the present (with contemporary reality) in all its openendedness.

These three characteristics of the novel are all organically interrelated and have all been powerfully affected by a very specific rupture in the history of European civilization: its emergence from a socially isolated and culturally deaf semipatriarchal society, and its entrance into international and interlingual contacts and relationships.

… To portray an event on the same time-and-value plane as oneself and one’s contemporaries (and an event that is therefore based on personal experience and thought) is to undertake a radical revolution, and to step out of the world of epic into the world of the novel.

It is possible, of course, to conceive even “my time” as heroic, epic time, when it is seen as historically significant; one can distance it, look at it as if from afar (not from one’s own vantage point but from some point in the future), one can relate to the past in a familiar way (as if relating to “my” present). But in so doing we ignore the presentness of the present and the pastness of the past; we are removing ourselves from the zone of “my time,” from the zone of familiar contact with me.

… In ancient literature it is memory, and not knowledge, that serves as the source of power for the creative impulse. That is how it was, it is impossible to change it: the tradition of the past is sacred. There is as yet no consciousness of the possible relativity of the past.

The novel, by contrast, is determined by experience, knowledge and practice (the future). In the era of Hellenism a closer contact with the heroes of the Trojan epic cycle began to be felt; epic is already being transformed into novel. Epic material is transposed into novelistic material, into precisely that zone of contact that passes through the intermediate stages of familiarization and laughter. When the novel becomes the dominant genre, epistemology becomes the dominant discipline.

… contemporaneity as such (that is, one that preserves its own living contemporary profile) cannot become an object of representation for the high genres [i.e. poetry, epic, etc.]. Contemporaneity was reality of a “lower” order in comparison with the epic past. Least of all could it serve as the starting point for artistic ideation or evaluation. The focus for such an idea of evaluation could only be found in the absolute past.

[line break added] The present is something transitory, it is flow, it is an eternal continuation without beginning or end; it is denied an authentic conclusiveness and consequently lacks an essence as well. The future as well is perceived either as an essentially indifferent continuation of the present, or as an end, a final destruction, a catastrophe. [For those genres] The temporally valorized categories of absolute beginning and absolute end are extremely significant in our sense of time and in the ideologies of past times.

… Contemporaneity, flowing and transitory, “low,” present — this “life without beginning or end” was a subject of representation only in the low genres. Most importantly, it was the basic subject matter in that broadest and richest of realms, the common people’s creative culture of laughter.

My previous post from Bakhtin’s book is here.

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

September 16, 2017

An Idea That Maintains Itself

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:55 am

… Its parts are joined by something more than the cohesion and solidity of matter.

Continuing through the essay ‘Man and the Sea Shell’ found in Paul Valéry: An Anthology (1956: 1977):

… by what sign [do] we recognize that a given object is or is not made by man?

… The problem after all is no more futile nor any more naïve than speculation about who made a certain fine work in music or poetry; whether it was born of the Muse, or sent by Fortune, or whether it was the fruit of long labor. To say that someone composed it, that his name was Mozart or Virgil, is not to say much; a statement of this sort is lifeless, for the creative spirit in us bears no name; such a remark merely eliminates from our concern all men but one, within whose inner mystery the enigma lies hidden, intact.

On the contrary I look at the object and nothing else; nothing could be more deliberately planned, or speak more harmoniously to our feeling for plastic shapes, to the instinct that makes us model with our fingers something we should delight to touch, than this calcareous jewel I am caressing, whose origins and purpose I wish for a time to disregard.

… I found this one in the sand. It attracted me because it was not a formless thing but one whose parts and aspects manifested an interrelation, a sequence and harmony as it were, that enabled me, after a single look, to conceive and foresee the aspects I had not yet examined. Its parts are joined by something more than the cohesion and solidity of matter. If I compare this thing to a stone, I find that the shell has an identity which the stone lacks.

… My observations thus far concur to make me think it would be possible to construct a shell; and that the process would be quite the same as that of making any of the objects I can produce with my hands by choosing some appropriate material, forming the design in my mind, and proceeding, part by part, to carry it out. The unity, the wholeness of the shell’s form, force me to conclude that a directing idea presides over the execution; a pre-existing idea, quite separate from the work itself, an idea that maintains itself, supervises and governs, while on the other hand and in another area it is put into execution by means of my energies successively applied. I divide myself in order to create.

Then someone made this object. But of what? And why?

To be continued.

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

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

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