Unreal Nature

July 31, 2008


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 2:33 pm

If you set aside the incomparable cruelty and stupidity of human beings, surely our most persistent and irrational activity is to sleep. Why would we ever allow ourselves to drop off if sleeping was entirely optional? Sleep is such a dangerous place to go to from consciousness: who in their right mind would give up awareness, deprive themselves of control of their senses, volunteer for paralysis, and risk all the terrible things (and worse) that could happen to a person when they’re not looking? As chief scientist in charge of making the world a better place, once I’d found a way of making men give birth, or at least lactate, I’d devote myself to abolishing the need for sleep. Apart from the dangers of letting your guard down, there’s the matter of time. Instead of trying to extend the life of human bodies beyond their cellular feasibility, the men and women in lab coats could be studying ways to retrieve all the time we spend asleep.

… Obviating the need to sleep would also take care of the second most absurd thing we do: wake up. You can buy an alarm clock advertised in one of those catalogues of marvellous necessities like LED digital-musical-weather-station-photo-frames and electronic nail-polish driers. The alarm clock is on all-terrain wheels. If you don’t immediately turn it off, it rolls off your bedside table and cruises around the bedroom beeping and flashing until there’s nothing for it but to get out of bed and chase it. Or there’s the airborne alarm clock which takes off from its base and flies around the room making a noise like an infuriated mosquito. Such extreme measures – which must contravene several health and safety regulations – suggest that waking up is not as popular as you might think coming round from unconsciousness would be.

… At any rate, that’s how I’d look at the subject if it weren’t for the fact that sleeping, for all its inherent dangers and waste, is and always has been my activity of choice. Inexpert though I am in all other fields, I am a connoisseur of sleep. Actually, my speciality is not sleep itself, but the hinterland of sleep, the point of entry to unconsciousness. One of my earliest memories of sensual pleasure (though there must have been earlier, watery ones) is of lying on my stomach in bed, the bedtime story told, lights out (not the hall, leave the door open, no, more than that), the eiderdown heavy and over my head, my face in the pillow, adjusted so that I had just enough air to breathe.

That’s only a little bit of the piece. Read on from Jenny Diski: Diary   at the London Review of Books. [ link ] Be sure to read the ending.



The All-Powerful Artist

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:46 am

… For Acconci, the “point beyond which art shouldn’t be pushed is when you start to make a fool of the viewer, take advantage of a viewer’s gullibility. That’s immoral.” He adds, “I don’t like art where the artist becomes all-powerful and either people are used as material or the audience is being turned into a kind of sucker.”

That’s from a long, and good article in ArtNewsOnline, How Far is Too Far?   by Phoebe Hoban. I will give you a bunch of snips that I hope will get you interested, but you really need to read the piece  in full to make sense of it:

… when does shock outweigh artistic value in work that is designed to be provocative? And in a global culture jaded by graphic movies, rap songs, and deliberately repulsive reality TV (think Fear Factor—famous for its “gross stunts” where sexy contestants are covered in maggots or forced to dive into sewage), is such a question even relevant?

… “Something’s being a work of art doesn’t excuse you from moral considerations,” says critic Arthur Danto. “The guy who dumps ink into one of Damien Hirst’s lambs and turns it black—that’s property damage even if it’s a performance. You can murder someone and call it a work of art, but you are still a murderer. Morality trumps esthetics. That’s my view.”

… As for Eccles’s own curatorial responsibility, he says, “It’s not about what the public should or shouldn’t be exposed to; it’s what you should or shouldn’t be complicit in.” Referring to the Sierra tattoos, he adds, “Humiliating people permanently within an artwork in public is for me the antithesis of what we hope an artwork will do.”

… The Whitney Museum’s director, Adam Weinberg, explains, “Our role has been, historically, to follow the lead of artists, and that can mean territory that is not so comfortable, even for curators and directors of institutions. But if you choose to support an artist’s work, unless it will physically endanger the health of someone coming into the building, once we commit to put something on view, then we go where it has to go.”

… Biesenbach, chief curator at P.S.1 and chief curator of media at the Museum of Modern Art, … calls this genre exploitative reality. He explains, “In general, I have made the decision not to be the enabler of new pieces, but to show pieces that already exist.”

… As to why one would employ bodily harm at all, Abramovic answers, “In order to transcend the body. The reason for doing these art actions was not just to hurt myself and see how far it could go,” she insists. “It’s all about elevating the spirit and eliminating fear. It aims very high, and the body is just a tool, and once the body is just a tool, you can go very far. A razor can be like a pencil. Sometimes you need to disturb in order to make the space for somebody to think.”

… This spring, the ante was upped significantly when German artist Gregor Schneider announced plans for a performance piece that centers on a human death. Schneider wants to enlist a moribund person to die in a gallery, or, short of that, display a very recent corpse, in an effort “to show the beauty of death.” Beauty may be nothing but the “beginning of Terror, we’re still just able to bear,” as Rainer Maria Rilke put it. But the deliberate staging of death—the ultimate taboo—still remains well beyond the scope of what is considered acceptable as art.

Read the whole article. [ link ]



To feel anything so deeply

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:39 am

Just because I like it, from Tombstone Blues   by Greil Marcus ( May 20, 2001 ):

“Fair young maid, all in the garden,” begins the probably 17th century English ballad “John Riley” as it appears on the 1960 album “Joan Baez.” It’s the quieting of the tale as Baez moves it on, a little melodic pattern on her guitar flitting by like a small bird as a hushed bass progression follows it like a cat, even more than the voice–the voice of someone already dead, but walking the Earth to warn the living–that told the listener then, and can tell a listener now, that he or she has stumbled into a different country. It was like waking up as an adult, or nearly so, to discover that all the fairy tales of one’s childhood were true–and that, if you wished, you could, instead of the career or the war awaiting you, live them out. In a few old songs, making a drama of hiding and escape, material defeat and spiritual conquest, investing that drama with the passion of her voice and the physical presence of the body that held it, she beckoned you toward a crack in the invisible wall around your city. What would it mean, people all across the country asked the music they were hearing, as the music asked them, to feel anything so deeply?



Real Chicken: Why I like blogs

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:36 am

A hot dog from Yankee Stadium. Potato latkes from the Four Seasons in Manhattan. Sirloin steak at Applebee’s. The jumbo cheeseburger at the University of Iowa Hospital. While it would seem these menu items have nothing in common, they’re all from Sysco, a Houston-based food wholesaler. This top food supplier serves nearly 400,000 American eating establishments, from fast-food joints like Wendy’s, to five-star eating establishments like Robert Redford’s Tree Room Restaurant, to mom-and-pop diners like Chatterbox Drive-In, to ethnic restaurants like Meskerem Ethiopian restaurant. Even Gitmo dishes out food from Sysco.

— Above is from Slate magazine, Every Bite You Take: How Sysco came to monopolize most of what you eat  by Ulrich Boser ( Feb. 21, 2007 )

Sysco food products are everywhere. For example their SmartServe chicken:

Our fully cooked Classic Brand SmartServe glazed chicken breast fillets have the appearance, taste and texture of a whole chicken breast at a much lower cost, plus they offer better portion control, consistent quality and easy preparation.

Unique 3-D technology gives you the look and texture of a solid muscle chicken breast, at a fraction of the cost.

I found this material ( and more ) from a Metafilter posting. While it’s interestingly gross, what it reminds me of is the text media — what I get from news and magazine sources either in print or on the internet. It’s all so fully processed. It tastes like chicken, but it’s really some pulverized reshaped, colored, flavored, preserved mystery meat.

Blogs, on the other hand, are real chicken. Even if it’s sometimes not fresh, cooked from scratch, they’re giving me the real chicken bits ( chosen extracts/quotes ) , sorted out of the processed mish-mash of the commercial media.

Yummy. Thank you to everybody who takes the time to post regularly. You keep me well fed.



July 30, 2008

Rising from a well of pain

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:33 am

The following are from a book review, Songs rising from a well of pain   written by Greil Marcus and that appeared in the Los Angeles Times, July 20, 2003. Read my extracts as if they were written about art of any kind. Don’t worry about understanding the book-review context or references to specific characters. Or, you can read the whole review,  which is very good. First, to give you a minimal, needed bit of setup:

It’s a doubled curse, moving through “The Devil’s Dream” in the shape of two songs: “Black Jack Davey,” the ballad of a dark stranger who steals a young woman from her husband and baby, offering nothing but the certainty of ruin in exchange for the promise of ecstasy; and “The Cuckoo,” a set of blank allegories that describes the simple fact that no man or woman can be at home in the world. These songs were sung in the British Isles long before travelers brought them to the Southern highlands; here, the songs have been sung from before the founding of the United States to the present day.

Now for the parts I especially like:

… “The Cuckoo” is not a ballad; it is a set of seemingly random verses that conventionally begins by invoking a bird that “warbles as she flies” – or “wobbles.” In many variants the cuckoo is linked to the founding of the country, to “The Fourth Day of July,” the first day of the year the cuckoo sings. The singer testifies that he has gambled all over the world and lays his money down one more time. Solely through differences between one singer’s tone and another’s, the cuckoo is described as innocent (“She sips from pretty flowers / To make her voice clear,” the Charlatans sang in a jangly version of “Jack of Diamonds” in San Francisco in 1965, beginning the song as a dance in a saloon and ending it in a single room in a heartbreak hotel, the vamping of the piano and the guitar fading as the vocalist recites the words as if delivering a speech in the mirror) or, as the band Kaleidoscope rendered “Cuckoo” in almost the same words in Los Angeles in 1969 (“She just sucks from / Pretty flowers / Just to keep her voice / Clear”), as a demon, as death on wings.

Despite Janis Joplin’s astonishing dive into “Coo Coo” with Big Brother and the Holding Company in San Francisco in 1966 – there is a wildness in Joplin’s voice that takes the song away from the body of myth it gathers around itself and places the source of the music directly in her own body, her own life, so that it becomes less a play of cryptic symbols than a blues, with Joplin leading up to every “I” in the lyric with a wail so lost and terrified you can feel her falling into the void that has suddenly opened up in the music – “The Cuckoo” has always been a man’s song, about a man’s adventures and failures, his fleeting triumphs and his ineradicable worthlessness, his fantasies of ruling the world and his self-loathing over his inability to master even himself.

The songs pull the men and women of “The Devil’s Dream” through the novel, across its more than 150 years, because Lee Smith reverses their poles of gravity: that is, she reverses their sex. “The Cuckoo” becomes the woman’s story, suffused not with uncertain bravado, as in North Carolinan Clarence Ashley’s definitive male versions from 1929 and the early 1960s, but with glee and sorrow. The bird is always “she” in the song, but as an object of a man’s desire; now it is what the woman wants, and fears, that drives the song. In “The Devil’s Dream,” only women sing “The Cuckoo.” Nonnie Bailey, wife of Moses and Kate Bailey’s surviving son, Ezekiel, sings the song to her children “as she’d sung when her daddy put her up on the counter as a little girl, all those years ago, her high, pretty voice trilling on the last line, ‘And she never sings cuckoo till the spring of the year,’ and for a minute she was that little girl again, so silly and so good.”

And, finally, at the end:

… With the curse never lifting, only finding new bodies to inhabit, “The Devil’s Dream” – the dream the devil dreams with a smile crossing his lips – is a contest, or a race, between “The Cuckoo” and “Black Jack Davey”; “The Cuckoo” wins. That means, finally, that at least some of Smith’s characters, all of them women but certainly not all of her women, those who risk everything for a taste of the life that Rose Anne said had ruined her for life, take their stories back from the devil, who owns every story in “The Devil’s Dream” as surely as Rockefeller owned Standard Oil. That doesn’t mean that some of the women who sing “The Cuckoo” – who in a way pray through it, pray to an unknown, unfixed and undetermined sense of life – own their stories, merely that the devil doesn’t. He has a lien, but if you die before it’s due, you don’t pay. You don’t pay him.

The full piece is well worth reading. [ link ]



Little Janis: Portrait of the Artist as a Young Girl

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:25 am

From her earliest days, Janis displayed a churning intelligence and an insatiable demand to do. She took to reading before she entered school and had a library card as soon as she could walk. Mrs. Joplin read to Janis frequently, but only as a matter of course. “It wasn’t to make her precocious or head of the class or anything of that sort,” she explained. Being an especially bright and curious child, Janis simply learned . Later, it was no secret to Janis’s friends that she was a voluminous reader, although she went out of her way to keep that hidden from her public.

The above quote and what follows are taken from the book, Janis Joplin: Buried Alive  by Myra Friedman. Janis grew up in Port Arthur, Texas, an oil town on the coast, about a hundred miles from Houston. Where it is ” … flat as a mesa. The air is gummy with humidity, and it howls — heat, mediocrity, boredom.”

Mrs. Joplin also said that Janis took quickly to magical tales and is convinced that Janis unraveled her whole life as one spinning yarn that curled endlessly in circles and circles of made-up stories, similar to the gleeful fantasies of her childhood. “You have to understand,” she pleaded, “what kind of things appealed to her” She studied about the theater. She studied “tall-tales of America. She’d spin these tales. It was so far out that you were supposed to understand that it was that way. She tried the same thing with the press — in my opinion. And it backfired….”



… The revolt began unnoticed, likely in Janis’s own mind to have been nothing more than an unfamiliar shadow, a longer look at the sky on night, a poem, a troublesome twinge of the flesh, any or all gone quickly enough and fading with the drift of buried memory. Perhaps a question: “Why not?”An answer: “Because.” Outwardly, for a while at least, everything continued as before. Mrs. Joplin said that Janis’s behaviour was not strikingly different from the other children’s until her senior year in high school, although her intelligence and imagination were quite another matter. Of that, the Joplins were very much aware. Janis’s grades were consistently excellent, and when they were slightly less than that, it was because she was not particularly challenged.

By all accounts, Janis was an astonishingly naive and gullible girl, a leadable child ready to do anything in order to please other people. Arlene Elster, who was a year ahead of Janis at Thomas Jefferson High, admitted that sometimes she and Karleen made up preposterous stories, which they showered on Janis to tease her. Invariably she believed them. Her language, at least until her junior or senior year, was free of gamey embellishment. Karleen laughed at the memory of the “cussing contests” that Janis lost, a forlorn and pathetic contender. Her white-blonde hair had toned down to brown. She was chubby, and a smattering of freckles across her features gave her the air of a church-going innocence endearing to the town’s adults.”



July 29, 2008

Where the Bluebird Sings

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 8:23 am

… the admirable artist Flannery O’Connor said that she dealt in the grotesque because when speaking to the hard-of-hearing one must shout. That remark rather offends me as a reader. I don’t think I am hard-of-hearing; and anyway, with the truly deaf, shouting doesn’t help, it only confuses and annoys.

The above, and all of the chopped extracts that follow are from the book, Where the Bluebird Sings to the Lemonade Springs  by Wallace Stegner. All are from the final chapter, The Law of Nature and the Dream of Man: Ruminations on the Art of Fiction. It’s about writing, but it also works for the making of photographs.

… So long as I am saying what doesn’t interest me, I may as well fill out the list. As I wouldn’t be tempted to exploit the battles or troubles of strangers for my own purposes, or play innovator for the sake of being in on the latest fad, so I have never been driven to thump what Mencken called the booboisie, or foam in rage at the middlebrows, or speak in thunder on the morning’s headlines. Not in fiction. Fiction is too important to be abused that way. In fiction I think we should have no agenda except to try to be truthful. The shouters in thunder roar from their podiums and pulpits; I squeak from my corner. They speak to the deaf, but it takes good ears to hear me, for I want to be part of the common sound, a not-too-dominating element of the ambient noise.

… These attitudes I have grown into slowly. I started, as I just said, with the revolutionary and iconoclastic attitudes of the twenties, the time when I was in college. I vorted with the Vorticists and imaged with the Imagists, and if I had been able to get to Paris I would probably have babbled with the Dadaists in the direction of total intellectual, artistic, and emotional disaffiliation. But there was one trouble. I had grown up migrant, without history, tradition, or extended family, in remote backwaters of the West. I never saw a water closet or a lawn until I was eleven years old; I never met a person with my surname, apart from my parents and brother, until I was past thirty; I never knew, and don’t know now, the first names of three of my grandparents. My family could tell me little, for neither had finished grade school, and their uprooting was the cause of mine.

… And so, though I was susceptible to the dialectic of those who declared their independence of custom and tradition and the dead hand of the past, I had no tradition to declare myself independent of, and had never felt the dead hand of the past in my life. If the truth were told, and it now is, I was always hungry to feel that hand on my head, to belong to some socially or intellectually or historically or literarily cohesive group, some tribe, some culture, some recognizable and persistent offshoot of Western civilization. If I revolted, and I had all the appropriate temptations, I had to revolt away from what I was, and that meant toward  something — tradition, cultural memory, shared experience, order.

… Back where we began. How to write a story, though ignorant or baffled. You take something that is important to you, something you have brooded about. You try to see it as clearly as you can, and to fix it in a transferable equivalent. All you want in the finished print is the clean statement of the lens, which is yourself, on the subject that has been absorbing your attention. Sure, it’s autobiography. Sure, it’s fiction. Either way, if you have done it right, it’s true.




Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:21 am


Same hand; different glove.



July 28, 2008

The Blind Millipede

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 8:11 am

If you are without sight, if the way is twisty and wiggly — and you have a thousand feet, and the ones in front travel over different terrain from the ones at the rear, do you experience a thousand different histories ?


Not having either head or tail  will also tend to fragment history ( this was the only millipede I could find on short notice ).

( Looking at the world from the other side of the argument. If anybody asks, you didn’t see me here. )



The Book Addiction

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 8:05 am

I know what you’re thinking: books are good for you. How can books be an addiction?

When you want them all. All the time.

I have a book about collecting books.




I have a book about making books ( and yes, I have read it ):



( How many cocaine addicts study the cultivation of the coca plant ? )

Every time I see someones list of interesting books, I’m off to Amazon with my 1-Click finger all itchy to buy. For example, in my post  about Jörg Colberg’s photo blog, I mentioned his Amazon Wish List. Which I studied closely. All of the photo books look like must-haves. And at least one of the others, The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin’s Russia   looks like it might be really good.

This morning while scrolling through the Daily Dish blog, there was a post that started, “For Sunday, a paragraph from one of my favorite Atlantic articles of all time: [ link ] The linked article is a long, but well-written rant by B. R. Myers about the state of current literature. Here’s a brief sample:

… Jeering at status-conscious consumers, bandying about words like “ontological” and “nominalism,” chanting Red River  hokum as if it were from a lost book of the Old Testament: this is what passes for profundity in novels these days. Even the most obvious triteness is acceptable, provided it comes with a postmodern wink. What is not tolerated is a strong element of action—unless, of course, the idiom is obtrusive enough to keep suspense to a minimum. Conversely, a natural prose style can be pardoned if a novel’s pace is slow enough, …

Unfortunately for me, the article ended with eight highly recommended books. Eight ! All of which will be calling to me, needing  to be made mine.

My stack of waiting-to-be-read books is one, two, three … twenty-six. I cannot, I must not, I will not buy any more books until I’ve read those. Except for maybe …

Edited to add: Metafilter picked up the Telegraph.co.uk article titled Great Unread Books: Which classics are you ashamed to admit you have never read?  — and as of this moment ( Monday evening ) they have 217 responses. The article itself also has some entertaining comments, for example, this from commenter Walt O’Brian :

Finnegan’s Wake and Ulysses are two I have studiously avoided after having dented the hood of my mental auto with them in the late Sixties. No amount of substance abuse made them palatable….
Portrait of An Artist was so bombastically egotistical and ethnically triumphalistic I considered changing ethnicities …

Dickens, Plato, and Madame Bovary seem to be popular to not read.



Older Posts »

Blog at WordPress.com.