Unreal Nature

January 31, 2009

Present All Along, Beneath and Upholding

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:00 am

A note sounds. Then it sounds again. But everything has changed. Not only is the note colored by a different resonance the second time around, but featureless time has been marked with the beginnings of a grid. The one note at the start defined only a before and an after. The second discloses a pulse. In accordance with this pulse, a third sound appears, but up a step, encouraging the accompaniment — which has not drawn attention to itself so far — to move conversely down.

That’s the first paragraph from an essay, Back to Bach: Two books examine the composer’s life and art by Paul Griffiths in the Feb/Mar 2007 issue of BookForum.

Here is most of the last paragraph from the piece:

Transcendence is here, in how, as time proceeds, eternity is always present — how, in that gorgeous aria from Cantata no. 115, the shadow of a fall reappears again and again; how, in the D Minor Chaconne, the keynote is forever being revisited, with whatever feelings of homecoming or hopeless inevitability; and how, in the Goldberg Variations, the opening dance is there again at the end, “as if nothing has happened” (Geck) or as if it had been present all along, beneath and upholding “a world of sound unfamiliar and unrepeatable” (Williams).

A note sounds. Then it sounds again. But everything has changed.

“The second [note] discloses a pulse.” From thence we proceed in search of transcendence.



January 30, 2009

Performance of Contamination

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:51 am

The censure contends that photographs shouldn’t aestheticize their subjects, because this contaminates the real with visual pleasure.

Could it be that what were in the past necessary and substantive critiques of representation have become, in practical terms, hindrances to actually looking at images?

“Citizenship,” they say, “is transferable from one body to the other, not by legal entitlement or any contractual relationship, but through acts of empathy, affectional identification, and emotional expression on behalf of the other.”

Those are three, widely separated quotes (that will appear, again below, in context) taken from an essay, Nikons and Icons: Is the aestheticization-of-suffering critique still valid? by David Levi Strauss in the June/July/Aug 2007 issue of BookForum.

… In his essay, “Picturing Violence: Aesthetics and the Anxiety of Critique,” Reinhardt cites the aestheticization critiques by Rosler, Solomon-Godeau, and Sekula as definitive but registers doubt about the sufficiency of these critiques. He calls aestheticization “an overly blunt tool for getting at what is most troubling about certain photographs of suffering people” and recognizes the anxiety about such images as “an anxiety . . . of the formal choices and rhetorical conventions, and the resulting transformative work, of representation itself.”

… In a footnote, Reinhardt notes that historian Susan Buck-Morss pressed him on the real sources of anxiety about images of suffering, asking, “Is there not something in images that resists or eludes every effort to fix meaning through language? Might that be the underlying source of anxiety?”

In her essay, “Photography After the Fact,” Duganne addresses the always-contested line between art and documentary by looking at the work of Luc Delahaye, Sally Mann, and Alfredo Jaar and cites Rosler’s brilliant critique of the tradition of “concerned photography” in the 1981 essay “in, around, and afterthoughts (on documentary photography),” in which Rosler accuses concerned photography of embracing “the weakest possible idea of social engagement, namely compassion.” This theme is taken up by Bal in her contribution as “the problem of sentimentality.” Bal’s “The Pain of Images” makes the strongest case for the enduring value of the aestheticization critique but falls back on reductive views of the aesthetic (and of photography), attacking “the indifference of aesthetics” and calling photography “the medium so troublesomely bound up with reality.” Referring to James Nachtwey’s 1993 image of a starving man in Sudan, she writes, “The photograph is less obviously ‘art,’ although also well made to an almost troubling degree,” concluding that “beauty distracts, and worse, it gives pleasure — a pleasure that is parasitical on the pain of others.”

This censure of beauty in the depiction of suffering is never applied to music, and seldom to literature or painting, but often to photography. The censure contends that photographs shouldn’t aestheticize their subjects, because this contaminates the real with visual pleasure. It is the performance of this contamination, the making of the image, that troublesomely implicates us in its foul mixture, where, as Bal writes, “the questions of empathy, sympathy, or identification — of bottomless but directionless emotion as well as the seemingly opposite question of aesthetics and its required disinterestedness — are bound up with the most obvious problem of what the exhibition’s subtitle pointedly calls ‘the traffic in pain.’” Why is the emotion elicited by such images “bottomless” or (necessarily) “directionless”? Is there a political efficacy to empathy? To say that compassion is only the first step toward social justice is one thing; to say that it is destructive to social engagement is quite another. One needs first to feel the pain of others before one can begin to act to alleviate it. And one of the ways humans recognize the pain of others is by seeing it, in images. This emotional attachment to images is unstable and can be manipulated, certainly, but that doesn’t mean it should be disproportionately censured.

That is, roughly, the current moral dilemma for documentar photographers. The following shifts to a different view of the problem: 

… No Caption Needed: Iconic Photographs, Public Culture, and Liberal Democracy approaches the question of the social effects of public images very differently. The authors, Robert Hariman and John Louis Lucaites, who come from the field of rhetoric (which they call “both a practical art and a theory of public address”), are remarkably free of the basic assumptions of the aestheticization-of-suffering discourse. They announce early on that they “take aesthetics seriously,” that they consider photojournalism to be “a patently artistic form of public address,” and that “the zenith of photojournalistic achievement is the iconic photograph.” Challenging “the presumption that visual media categorically degrade public rationality,” they approach photojournalism as “an important technology of liberal-democratic citizenship.”

Taking iconic press images seriously in aesthetic and political terms, they proceed to examine a number of examples, including Migrant Mother, 1936, by Dorothea Lange; Times Square Kiss, 1945, by Alfred Eisenstaedt; Raising the Flag on Mount Suribachi, 1945, by Joe Rosenthal, with Three Firefighters Raising the American Flag at Ground Zero, 2001, by Thomas Franklin; Kent State University Massacre, 1970, by John Filo; Accidental Napalm, 1972, by Nick Ut; Tiananmen Square, 1989, by Stuart Franklin; and Explosion of the Hindenburg, 1937, by Sam Shere, with Explosion of the Challenger, 1986, by NASA. Their close readings of these iconic images employ multiple strategies and tools to investigate how they create “a public culture that lies somewhere between hegemony and resistance.” Avoiding previous approaches that “produce social theory at the expense of what the images are actually doing,” they look hard at the images themselves and at the way they are used, appropriated, parodied, and celebrated.

… Could it be that what were in the past necessary and substantive critiques of representation have become, in practical terms, hindrances to actually looking at images? And that this has contributed to an effective political passivity in the face of a rapidly changing communications environment? Hariman and Lucaites rightly point to “the larger problem identified by Peter Sloterdijk that modernity has entered into a terminal phase of ‘enlightened selfconsciousness’ whereby all forms of power have been unmasked with no change in behavior [my emphasis]. Irony is too widely dispersed throughout modern consciousness, subjectivity too fragmented, the administration of power too cynical, and critique too disposed to reification for unmasking to be other than a reproduction of the world it would change.” [the ‘my emphasis’ is Levi Strauss’s – J.H.]

Rather than seek to unmask “the traffic in pain,” Hariman and Lucaites address public life as “a trafficking in attitudes,” and they follow Kenneth Burke in defining attitudes as incipient actions. “Decisive action,” they write, “actually is rather rare in stable societies and everyday life, but all of life is in fact defined by one’s potential for action.” The formation of attitudes through the propagation of words and images is a large part of life in a functioning democracy, and we devalue it at our peril. To Hariman and Lucaites, the stakes in this struggle involve the shift “from democratic to liberal norms of representation,” that is, “from democracy and the public demands of collectivity to liberalism and the private needs of the individual.” Iconic public images provide a way for us to negotiate collective needs and desires.

… Hariman and Lucaites go a long way toward explicating a defense of empathy as necessary for collective action. “Citizenship,” they say, “is transferable from one body to the other, not by legal entitlement or any contractual relationship, but through acts of empathy, affectional identification, and emotional expression on behalf of the other.”

I have quoted this essay at such length because I think there is a very interesting point made by Hariman and Lucaites. The full piece is good, though a bit scattered. [ link ]


January 29, 2009

More Trace Than Sign

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:32 am

… what would be at stake is whether there is any art left to criticize or historicize, or whether we are left to discuss only our various responses to various objects. The historical return of theatricality as a problem for art would not simply be the resurgence of a theme but the recognition that what Fried calls “beholder-based art” is really not art at all.

Today’s quotes are from an essay, Eye of the Beholder by Robin Kelsey on Michael Fried’s book, Why Photography Matters in  ArtForum (Jan 2009). At risk of confusing you, I’m going to take a bit from near the end, that I found to be most interesting, where the discussion shifts from Fried to Walter Benn Michaels because: “[Fried’s] tacit acknowledgment that after ten chapters this crucial question has yet to be addressed brings a measure of relief, but what immediately follows—to this reader’s disappointment and surprise—is a lengthy discussion of a recent essay on photography by Walter Benn Michaels”. I’ll give some of the essay’s earlier (less interesting) parts following this:

… For Michaels, writing in his 2007 essay “Photographs and Fossils,” the pressing question is whether there are works of art that have a meaning we can argue about—or whether there are simply objects that have different effects on different people. He understands theatricality in Minimalism and after as belonging to a postmodern mind-set in which the experience of a work, not the work itself, matters, and thus subject positions and the politics of identity become paramount. In his view, photography has become crucial because photographs, among all modern artworks, are arguably the most like ordinary objects, the most susceptible (as Barthes explained) to being defined not by the intention of the maker but by the viewer’s affective experience. If Derrida shifted our attention from the sign to the signifier as trace, then the photograph suddenly looms large as an image that is arguably more trace than sign. Photography thus becomes a vital site for working through the crisis of art, for exploring the limits of postmodernism’s assault on ideology and meaning. The test becomes this: If photography sets the productive conditions for the work of art, can the work of art overcome them and survive?

… If Fried agrees with Michaels, we can understand why he does not clearly signal whether his book is a work of criticism or of history. It would presumably be a prolegomenon to either. In other words, what would be at stake is whether there is any art left to criticize or historicize, or whether we are left to discuss only our various responses to various objects. The historical return of theatricality as a problem for art would not simply be the resurgence of a theme but the recognition that what Fried calls “beholder-based art” is really not art at all.

But Fried is far from agreeing with Michaels completely. The divergence in their views is especially evident in their discussions of Barthes’s Camera Lucida (1980). Michaels reads the book through his own sustained engagement with the fallen status of intention in the age of Derrida. For him, photography is artistically important now because it structurally compromises intention. It moves beyond absorption as an intended effect (e.g., Chardin painting a figure seemingly preoccupied with building a house of cards) to the eradication of intention as a source of meaning (e.g., Barthes finding himself pricked by accidental photographic details). This is why Michaels finds the resolute constructedness of photographs by practitioners such as Demand and Wall so vital; by saturating the photograph with signs of intention, they raise the possibility of overcoming photography’s ontological incapacity as a medium of art. According to this way of thinking, the theatricality of the photograph stems not from its production for display, but rather from its status as an indexical trace (and not a representation). Thus, according to Michaels, although the photograph as a purveyor of unintended effects à la Barthes is radically antitheatrical in the Diderotian sense, the result is pure theater because the photograph is rendered an object that depends on the affective response of viewers. Or as Michaels puts it: “It turns what Fried called absorption into what was supposed to be its opposite, literalism.”

As promised, here is a little bit from earlier in the article that is more directly about Fried:

The central claim of Fried’s new book is that in the ’70s and early ’80s, when artists began producing very large photographs for wall display, photography “inherited” the problem of beholding as Fried had described it. According to this claim, because the photographic tableau emerges in the wake of Minimalism and of new concerns about voyeurism and the inherently contaminating effects of beholding, it must acknowledge what Fried terms “to-be-seenness” even as it must continue to resist theatricality.

… What makes the elasticity of Fried’s formula especially problematic is his claim that the work of his chosen practitioners combines antitheatrical measures with an acknowledgment of “to-be-seenness.” At times, this post-Minimalist articulation of the beholder problem makes it difficult to imagine how any pictorial evidence could count against his theory. In other words, a figure not looking out at the beholder is deemed to be absorbed, while a figure looking out at the beholder is deemed to be acknowledging “to-be-seenness.” Even when we add the requirement that every instance of absorption be accompanied by signs of “to-be-seenness” and every acknowledgment of “to-be-seenness” by signs of absorption, the formula remains troublingly capacious. Although it may be useful in discussing the work of Wall, its application to the work of certain other practitioners, including Ruff and Andreas Gursky, seems less apt. For example, although Gursky often makes the beholder’s view extremely detached, this detachment seems—at least to me—less about a modernist aesthetic experience of absorption than about a global economy of disengagement.

This is a good essay, even though it’s loaded with ‘philosopher-speak.’ Recommended if you have the time. [ link ]



January 28, 2009

The Problem of Action

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:53 am

Speaking for many cosmopolitan radicals who once disdained merely tribal loyalties, he writes ruefully that “we had tried to ‘make’ our lives through acts of decision, ‘programs’ that thwarted the deeper, more intuitive parts of our own being.”

That, and all that follows, is all from an essay, Finding the Right Words: Irving Howe in perspective by Morris Dickstein in the Dec/Jan 2005 issue of BookForum.

As I often like to do, I’m posting the extracts below, without comment. I neither claim to agree or disagree with what is said, but I do claim that this material is, for me, very thought-provoking and … good.

… After a period of “painful soul-searching” around 1948, Howe reacted sharply against his own sectarian background and the Marxist criticism it had fostered. He took a growing delight in literature itself, apart from its ideological tendency. Fiedler’s imperious psychoanalytic method, he wrote, “disregards the work of literature as something ‘made,’ a construct of mind and imagination through the medium of language, requiring attention on its own terms and according to its own structure.” We rightly think of Howe as a historical critic, yet he always grounded his commentary in a writer’s language and style, the emotional patterns revealed in the work, and the unique or familiar ways the writer remakes the world.

… Like Lionel Trilling, Howe took every literary work, as he did many political issues, as a moral challenge, a set of embodied convictions on how to live. This led him into sweeping polemics in which he played the provocateur, evoking passionate controversy, though at times he went badly astray. It was the outraged moralist in him that led him to attack James Baldwin and Ralph Ellison for betraying the legacy of rage in the work of their mentor, Richard Wright, and to revile Roth in Portnoy’s Complaint for putting his talent “to the service of a creative vision deeply marred by vulgarity.” The same puritanical streak led Howe to travesty the “new sensibility” of the ’60s as a toxic dose of primitive innocence, a form of moral anarchy, and to wonder “whether this outlook is compatible with a high order of culture or a complex civilization.” Despite a lifetime fighting for social justice, Howe, like other Jewish writers (including Freud and Trilling), found himself caught up in a tragic vision of almost insoluble moral tension and irreconcilable conflict. In a brief essay on Isaac Babel, he picks up Trilling’s cue that Babel, riding with the Red Cossacks through territory dotted with his fellow Jews, “was captivated by the vision of two ways of being, the way of violence and the way of peace, and he was torn between them.” But, typically, Howe, speaking out of his own sense of the conflicts between politics and art, gives a historical coloring to Trilling’s timeless observation, seeing the soldiers’ brutality in political terms: “Babel understood with absolute sureness the problem that has obsessed all modern novelists who deal with politics: the problem of action in both its heroic necessity and its ugly self-contamination.”  

… Howe saw Orwell, like Silone, as a writer trying to live by a consistent set of values after they had lost their ideological underpinnings. Aside from A Margin of Hope(1982), Howe’s 1968 essay on Orwell is perhaps the closest thing he ever wrote to a self-portrait. In it, he describes Orwell as someone who kept his head, and “wrote with his bones” through the worst political episodes of the twentieth century: “the Depression, Hitlerism, Franco’s victory in Spain, Stalinism, the collapse of bourgeois England in the thirties.” Howe writes that “for a whole generation — mine — Orwell was an intellectual hero.” Howe saw in Orwell many of the qualities he aspired to or regretted in himself. Like his other heroes, including Wilson, Orwell was an irascible, even “pugnacious” man, whose essays Howe rightly admired for their “blunt clarity of speech and ruthless determination to see what looms in front of one’s nose.” Howe notes, without really complaining, that Orwell “is reckless, he is ferociously polemical,” even when arguing for a moderate position. In the face of those who see Orwell as some kind of secular saint, Howe doubts that Orwell “was particularly virtuous or good.” Although Orwell “could be mean in polemics,” he sometimes befriended those he had criticized, for he was driven not by personal animus but “by a passion to clarify ideas, correct errors, persuade readers, straighten things out in the world and in his mind.” Howe admires Orwell’s “peculiar sandpapery humor” and the “charged lucidity” of his prose, which nicely describes his own. Like Howe, Orwell “rejected the rituals of Good Form” and “turned away from the pretentiousness of the ‘literary.'” 

… Another hero of his, a figure of genuine moral authority, was the Italian novelist Ignazio Silone, “the least bitter of ex-Communists, the most reflective of radical democrats,” whose later books were nonetheless weakened, Howe believed, by “his exhausting struggle with his own beliefs, the struggle of a socialist who has abandoned his dogmas yet wishes to preserve his animating values,” something Howe himself understood very well.

… Echoing Trilling’s well-known critique of liberalism in The Liberal Imagination: Essays on Literature and Society (1950), Howe described a commitment to socialism in the mid-twentieth century as “a capacity for living with doubt, revaluation and crisis,” yet also called it “an abiding ideal.” Socialism for him became a politics of conscience rather than a specific program or a set of goals; he came to admire figures who put their conscience, as well as their powers of observation, before their theories and ideas.

Read the full piece. It’s excellent. [ link ]



Curiouser and Curiouser

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:45 am

[click to see larger]

Last night, I found myself staring at this photograph. I had been looking at it for about five minutes. It’s caption, in its original context, includes the following, “The male [mallard duck] has a long [corkscrew] phallus (bottom), but the female’s genitals (top) corkscrews in the opposite direction.” A corkscrew should rotate; I was trying to figure, by looking at the photo, how this would work.

Stop. Freeze. Step back from this scene. What the heck was this about? It was late, I had other things that I really needed to do, I am not a duck-genitalia scientist. What possible use would knowledge of the mallard duck’s corkscrew penis have in my own life, now or ever more? Do you think duck’s are interested in people penises? I could pretend that I am interested, more generally, in the novelities of Darwinian evolution, but that was not it. I wanted to know how that thing worked. Period.

We are strange beasts (or at least, I am).

The source article is A Most Private Evolution by Susan Milius in ScienceNews (Jan 16, 2009). It begins, “Maybe female seed beetles have their own what-the-bleep exclamation. Even for insects, it’s difficult to imagine any other reaction to a male Callosobruchus maculatus beetle’s sex organ, which has spikes.” (There are beetle close-up photos.)



January 27, 2009

Improvising in the Moment

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:28 am

Once one fully sees the nature of improvisatory intelligence that is simultaneously musical and ethical, then, Hagberg argues, it seems obvious that utilitarian and deontological theories of right action at a moment are desperately over-simplified, inattentive to what responsiveness, respect, the avoidance of cliché, and the projection of a future out of a remembered past really involve. … The idea that one improvises intelligently in the moment, drawing on a background of both training and talk, so that one is able after the fact to give a learned, retrospective justification of what one did by specifying a process of reasoning that one didn’t just then, in the moment, explicitly go through, further undoes the Cartesian picture of an action as consisting of a bodily movement plus an (explicit, inner, guiding) intention. That picture, like the utilitarian and deontological accounts of right action, both oversimplifies and misdescribes our (sometimes intelligent) being in the world and with others.

I doubt that the above (which is about jazz musicians, but I take to be about artists in general) is sufficient to disconnect us from “the Cartesian picture”,  but for the moment I’ll suspend my disbelief because I would very much like to think that it does.

That quote and all that follow are from an excellent review of a book of collected essays, Art and Ethical Criticism, Garry M. Hagberg editor reviewed by Richard Eldridge in Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews. Here are some further, rather disjointed extracts that I like:

… Noël Carroll’s essay, substantially the richest in Part II, addresses exactly these questions. Narratives, fictional and otherwise, Carroll argues (following Aristotle), are marked by their possession of selected detail. They thus combine particularity and generality, as details are selected for their significance, especially their significance in displaying attitudes and the affective coloration of an experience of a situation. The selection of details as attitudinally and affectively colored matters because of the natures of virtues and vices. Virtues and vices are i) temporally extended dispositions to act or respond, ii) that have ‘insides’ or affective dimensions, and iii) that are displayed differently in different circumstances (45). A narrative is then able to show the interplay of outside (what is done in a context) and inside (attitude and feeling) over time (46). By following a narrative, we may then achieve fuller orientation in the development of our own dispositions (virtuous, one hopes) that are suffused with feeling. We may see how, in this new setting, to go on more coherently in the expression of our attitudes and commitments. “The notion of a meaningful life,” in which the sustained, coherent exercise of virtue is achieved, “is parasitic on the notion of a meaningful narrative” (57), for the relevant coherence just is essentially narratival. One might perhaps wish for a fuller, more historical account of exactly why we moderns are especially prone to forget the powers of narrative to present the universal (shared possibilities of life) in the particular, in favor of the presentations of more immediately sortal, measurement-related universals (mass, velocity, etc.) that are a central business of the natural sciences. This forgetting must have something to do both with the rise of modern science and with the development in modernity of (increasing awareness of) cultural diversity, so that we have, if anything, too many narratives on hand rather than too few, so that general revelatory power may be harder to discern. Given, however, Carroll’s masterful constructive analysis of the powers of narrative, it would be churlish to complain much.

… Paisley Livingston reads Virginia Woolf’s 1920 short story “Solid Objects” as a reduction of Clive Bell’s formalism, showing that it is an absurd characterization of aesthetic experience as a self-sufficient pleasure in pure form. “Rapture does not suffice” (138); there are “cognitive, . . . content, . . . and axiological conditions” (139) for the proper experience of art. Catherine Wilson balances the thoughts, drawn from Bernard Williams, that risk is unavoidable in life and that no value obviously has categorical force in all circumstances of personal life against the thought that we moderns tend to accept some form of (political?) equality as an absolute value. The task is then to develop so far as possible institutions of equal political citizenship without self-piety and the refusal to recognize contingency and complexity. J. M. Coetzee’s novel Disgrace usefully tracks the complexities and difficulties of this task.

… Davies turns to the photographs of Diane Arbus, framed by Susan Sontag’s criticism of them, in order to illuminate the interest of photographic art. Sontag notoriously charged that Arbus’s images exploit their subjects and function pornographically to titillate their viewers and to desensitize them to the grotesqueries of their subjects’ appearances. How, Davies wonders, could a photograph even be charged with doing such things? — Only if, contrary to Roger Scruton’s reading of photographs as necessarily inartistic, merely causally engendered ‘direct’ transcriptions of their subjects, these images do embody thoughts about and attitudes toward their subjects. Since, however, the visually grotesque subjects are presented with striking directness as “confident and accepting of their lives” (225), and so presented, moreover, with their consent, the images are specifically not demeaning or horrible. In representing their subjects both as subjects and as subjects of thought, they are not pornographic, but rather successfully artistic. Here too, as with Landy and Green, one would like to hear more about how and why such artistic success matters ethically. It is clear that there is an achievement of art about which ethical questions have been raised (by Sontag) and settled (by Davies), but then how and why does this work really matter to viewers who do understand what is going on?

Even with all those quotes, I would have liked to include more. I found this to be a wonderfully provocative review. Highly recommended. [ link ]



January 26, 2009

Own Goal

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:41 pm

There is an interesting review of two books, Targeting Civilians in War by Alexander Downes, and Killing Civilians: Method, Madness and Morality in War by Hugo Slim in the Carnegie Council’s Ethics & International Affairs journal. The reviewer is Helen M. Kinsella. I’ll give just a very small part that I thought was especially interesting, though the full article is good:

Downes decisively proves that one of the essential causal mechanisms of civilian victimization is the desperation to win and to lower the costs — human, financial, or reputational — to one’s side. Significantly, he is able to demonstrate this highly original argument against those who posit that the key variable is the type of domestic regime (for example, democracies versus repressive regimes), identity of combatants (whether the enemy is perceived as barbaric or civilized), or type of military organization. In contrast, Downes decisively demonstrates that desperation to win and to lower costs prompt democracies and nondemocracies alike to victimize civilians, and that cultural or racial differences do not correlate with increased civilian victimization.

… Downes’s argument has an additional dimension. As described above, “desperation to win and to save lives on one’s own side in costly protracted wars of attrition” is one cause of civilian victimization. Notably, this cause has nothing to do with the original aim of armed conflict; that is, civilian suffering and killing is attributable to the sequence of events as the armed conflict proceeds. However, the second cause that Downes finds significant does have to do with the original aim — that is, the “belligerents’ appetite for territorial conquest” (pp. 3–4). In this case, the drive to expel and/or cleanse the indigenous population leads to civilian suffering and killing.

The other author, Hugo Slim, has a somewhat different, but equally thought-provoking point of view. [ link ]



Commissioned Histories

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 8:20 am

CANTELON: History Associates is involved in a number of different applications of history. Our first business was, and is, research and writing, primarily books and studies for government agencies and private corporations and law firms—what I would term the traditional kinds of history, though our clientele may not be traditional. We do academic histories and celebratory histories. More recently we have been creating historically oriented websites for a number of clients.

A second branch of the business is archives, or information resources management. We are heavily involved in the development of electronic records archives as well as records audits. We do a good deal of traditional processing of paper records and objects, such as memorabilia, again for corporate clients and government agencies. This division has sales of more than one and a half million dollars a year.

Another major division handles litigation issues requiring an historical perspective. Federal and state environmental laws require that industries pay, or help pay, for environmental damages arising from past actions. For example, utilities may own sites that held gas manufacturing plants in the nineteenth century. Often these are located in industrial areas where there have been numerous subsequent owners who also may have contributed to the pollution. We search the records to see who was doing what, and when, and who other potentially responsible parties might be. We are experts in finding government contracts relating to World War II and the Cold War, when the government was far more interested in production than in environmental concerns. The cleanup could cost a government contractor hundreds of millions of dollars unless it can find the original contract containing a hold-harmless provision that gets the contractor off the hook. History Associates is known as the best company for locating those lost contracts. The 911 for environmental history, if you will.

We recently formed a division that does museum work. It started out with an exhibit we did for the International Spy Museum. That led to photo research and text writing for the Visitors Center at the American Cemetery in Normandy, France, and for the National World War II Museum in New Orleans. We do the picture research. We do the textual research. We do work for the Civil War Preservation Trust, helping to create interpretive text and design visitor trails for various battlefields.

That’s taken from an interview, Historian for Hire: A conversation with Phil Cantelon (with NEH chairman, Bruce Cole) in the Jan/Feb 2009 issue of Humanities magazine. Here is another quote: 

COLE: Is it the case that in doing applied history you need skills that are not taught in the academy?

CANTELON: That’s correct. History Associates has a training program for all our young people. We’ll train them on research. We train them on how to do a budget, how to track a budget. We, in effect, give them a little entrepreneurial training. How do you sell your history? Why is it important to you? Why is it important to your clients? Why do people want it? We also try to teach them to think about taking some risks. I don’t think I took many risks as I went through college and graduate school, because everything was planned out in advance. My parents, who were not college graduates, did not fully understand what I was doing. They wondered if I’d ever leave school and get a job. They grasped what I was doing when I got paid for the first article I ever published, American Heritage in 1967. I got the outrageous amount of $600. But the reaction from one of my mentors, who later became a well-known New Deal historian, was, ‘You don’t want to be published in there. It doesn’t have any footnotes.’ But my parents understood, and then I experienced a different kind of response when a twelve-year-old kid came up to me and said, I read that article. It was really fun.

Read the whole thing. This is not a joke. [ link ]

History, bought, packaged and sold. Don’t you love it?



Favorite Days

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 8:13 am

The linked images, below, listed in order, are from Felix Grant’s Today picture blog. The pictures there are described by Felix (at the top of the page) as “not photography, as such: it’s a series of fragmentary moments which stuck to me,” and they are tiny .jpg reproductions. Nevertheless, the ones I’ve chosen, below, are, in my opinion, superb photographs. Many, many others were engaging and interesting and in many ways excellent. These few are simply my favorites of them all. (The brief descriptions following the links are there in case I jumble the links.):

  1. May 19, 2007 large dark shapes and water
  2. August 21, 2008 (?) there seem to be two for this date — the one I like is the carnival woman
  3. Jan 8, 2005 steam and upside-down coffee cups
  4. May 7, 2007 partial face with walkman
  5. Feb. 16, 2006 faces on and off a bus (or train?)
  6. March 29, 2008 little boy in front of polar bear

Honorable mention that were almost, but not quite as good as the above are

I don’t generally like daily photo efforts, but this blog has grown on me, presumably because I know something about Felix. The cumulative effect is different, and possibly richer than seeing fewer, less often. Also, I might otherwise never have seen most of these pictures because they may not be Felix’s favorites.



January 25, 2009

Alien Form

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:50 am

This is one paragraph from a long, and quite good essay about Nathalie Sarraute’s life and writings, Sensations Under Glass: Nathalie Sarraute Casts a Cold Eye by James Gibbons in the Dec/Jan issue of Bookforum:

Secreted within Sarraute’s youthful confidence as a writer was a longing for a state “beyond comparison,” as she recollected in an interview; a striving toward a nearly beatific ecstasy of purity and autonomy. Writing would always offer the promise of transfiguration, the assumption of an alien form of selfhood, rich and strange. It was precisely this embrace of transformative possibilities that Simone de Beauvoir, discussing Sarraute and the nouveau roman in The Force of Circumstance, castigated as decadent aestheticism. After citing a remark made by Sarraute at a conference in the Soviet Union — “When I sit down at my desk, I leave politics, current events, the world, outside the door; I become a different person” — de Beauvoir lets rip: “How is it possible not to put the whole of oneself into the act that for a writer is the most important one of all — writing? This deliberate maiming of oneself and of one’s work, this escape into fantasies about the absolute, are evidence of a defeatism justified by the depths to which our country has sunk. France, once the subject, is now no more than the object of history; her novelists reflect this degradation.” As expressed here, this attitude makes one fairly cringe. That Sarraute had precariously survived the humiliations of Vichy—she refused to wear the yellow star required of Jews, faked a divorce to protect her husband, and posed as the governess of her own children, under a crafty assumed name keyed to her initials (Nicole Sauvage) — makes especially jarring de Beauvoir’s alignment of France’s supposed postwar “degradation” with the experiments of its writers.

I don’t have any comment; I just find both points of view very thought-provoking.



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