Unreal Nature

November 30, 2009

Stealing and Peeping

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:21 am

… I flunked the eleventh grade and got expelled. I decided I wanted to join the marine corps, because I wanted to be a shit kicker, which I certainly was not. I did not want to go to Vietnam, I never thought about Vietnam. I had a vague desire to shoot guns.

… If you think I’m skinny now, at a hundred and seventy pounds, picture me at a hundred and forty. I got shipped out to Fort Polk, Louisiana. Flying bugs all over the place. Right away, I went from being a big egotistical bully to a craven scaredy-cat dipshit.

This (above and below) is from The Paris Review Interviews: The Art of Fiction No. 201 which features James Ellroy. Picking it up mid-interview:


Is that when you started writing — after your father died?


The first thing I did after he died was snag his last three Social Security checks, forge his signature, and cash them at a liquor store. From ’65 to ’75, I drank and used drugs. I fantasized. I swallowed amphetamine inhalers. I masturbated compulsively. I got into fights. I boxed — though I was terrible at it — and I broke into houses. I’d steal girls’ panties, I’d jack off, grab cash out of wallets and purses. …

photo from Wikipedia

[ … ]


Still, writing couldn’t have been exactly in the forefront of your mind at the time.


But it was. I was always thinking about how I would become a great novelist. I just didn’t think that I would write crime novels. I thought that I would be a literary writer, whose creative duty is to describe the world as it is. The problem is that I never enjoyed books like that. I only enjoyed crime stories. So more than anything, this fascination with writing was an issue of identity. I had a fantasy of what it meant to be a writer: the sports cars, the clothes, the women.

But I think what appealed to me most about it was that I could assume the identity of what I really loved to do, which was to read. Nobody told me I couldn’t write a novel. I didn’t live in the world of graduate writing schools. I wasn’t part of any scene or creative community. I happened to love crime novels more than anything, so I wrote a crime novel first. I didn’t buy the old canard that you had to start by writing short stories, and only later write a novel. I never liked reading short stories, so why the fuck should I want to write one? I only wanted to write novels.

Read the whole thing. It’s good. [ link ]




November 29, 2009


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:18 pm

You cannot hold anything against this calm and tranquil occupation: the story of Zoroaster, that of Plato, that of Jesus Christ and Columbus and Leonardo and Napoleon and many more, did need to get written. In other words, these stories wrote themselves, so to speak. Every one of this cast of characters etched a furrow in the great gray brain of the earth, and we all carry a miniature reproduction of this archetypal brain within us, like a pocket watch or the small round pill of a compass that shows where the sun rises over a worthy citizen’s belly. Later the stories of rare women came into existence; but here a little assistance was necessary, and a logic and a mnemotechnic were invented for the geocentric primary brain that even the historians of today are still proud of. In our most recent century, which has almost died away now, people worked more and more on the paysage intime — they wanted to tell the story of the nameless individuals. Someone finally seemed to notice that battles don’t only take place at Thermopylae or Hastings or Austerlitz, sometimes the battlefield is called Fear or Desire or Ingratitude; that not every discovery is of America; that not every invention has to arrive at gunpowder or the steam engine or the airship in order to be meaningful and, in a certain sense, fruitful. And so it has become the norm to present not true, authenticated heroes, but plausible, authentic-seeming heroes. To this end they have spent the last few decades ripping apart the heroes of the past and the usable contemporaries and putting together new, ever new possibilities from the unrecognizable pieces. These possibilities are supposed to come across as interesting or singular human beings, at least when you look at them in the right light, from a certain angle. And people keep making these attempts, incessantly, keep manufacturing modern legitimacies that make the old measures seem moderate; they’re very happy when one of these specimens, after they attach its head not to its torso but to its right toe, clings to life for a while. That’s how people become clever. In other words, they lay in a collection of more or less serious experiences and then have to rent an extra room to hold all the fruits of their vigorous, diligent research. When you look at it this way, of course, the rare types and unexpected nuances count most heavily. And it may indeed be that mature human beings, standing in sharp contrast to their surroundings, do experience strange things, and in the strangest way too. It is said that their “fate” is of the greatest interest, and two things are meant by this word: that which strikes them from without, and their actions and reactions when faced with these blows and impressions.

From here.




Presence Part II

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 8:01 am

This is the second post for today, taken from the essay, The Photographic Activity of Postmodernism by Douglas Crimp (1980):

… At a recent exhibition [Sherrie] Levine showed six photographs of a nude youth. They were simply rephotographed from the famous series by Edward Weston of his young son Neil, available to Levine as a poster published by the Witkin Gallery. According to the copyright law, the images belong to Weston, or now to the Weston estate. I think, to be fair, however, we might just as well give them to Praxiteles, for if it is the image that can be owned, then surely these belong to classical sculpture, which would put them in the public domain. Levine has said that, when she showed her photographs to a friend, he remarked that they only made him want to see the originals. “Of course,” she replied, “and the originals make you want to see that little boy, but when you see the boy, the art is gone.” For the desire that is initiated by that representation does not come to closure around that little boy, is not at all satisfied by him. The desire of representation exists only insofar as it never be fulfilled, insofar as the original always be deferred. It is only in the absence of the original that representation may take place. And representation takes place because it is always already there in the world as representation. It was, of course, Weston himself who said that “the photograph must be visualized in full before the exposure is made.” Levine has taken the master at his word and in so doing has shown him what he really meant. The a priori Weston had in mind was not really in his mind at all; it was in the world and Weston only copied it.

I vehemently disagree with all of the above. Weston did not (necessarily) “copy” his nude or the idea for that nude from any precedent. He could just as easily, and I would be willing to bet, did at least in part if not entirely, draw his inspiration from the same primal or artistic source as Praxiteles. They share a sensibility, rather than lead and follow. I also think that Crimp and Levine are entirely mistaken in thinking that the image causes one to want to see the boy. The Weston image is the thing. It is not, or is not entirely, a re-presentation. I have never wanted to see Neil or Charis Weston in the flesh after or because I like Weston’s nude photographs of them. The photographs are the original.

What Weston “had in mind” was of his own conception, made from the world. It was not (simply) a copy of the world.

Edward Weston, Neil [torso] 46N, 1925



Presence Part I

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:49 am

The photograph keeps open the instants which the onrush of time closes up; it destroys the overtaking, the overlapping of time.

Maurice Merleau-Ponty

I’m going to make two posts from the essay,  The Photographic Activity of Postmodernism by Douglas Crimp (1980). In this first post, I want to deliberately use his words in ways he did not intend. Where he is talking about performance art — done by performance artists — I’d like you to think about it as if it’s about “found” performance art (probably an oxymoron, but never mind that) “done” by the natural world. As if photography was the business of discovering the world “in the act.” Try it:

… the aesthetic mode that was exemplary during the seventies was performance, all those works that were constituted in a specific situation and for a specific duration; works for which it could be said literally that you had to be there; works that is, which assumed the presence of a spectator in front of the work as the work took place, thereby privileging the spectator instead of the artist.

In my attempt to continue to the logic of the development I was outlining, I came eventually to a stumbling block. What I wanted to explain was how to get from this condition of presence — the being there necessitated by performance — to that kind of presence that is possible only through the absence that we know to be the condition of representation. For what I was writing about was work which had taken on, after nearly a century of its repression, the question of representation. I effected that transition with a kind of fudge, an epigraph quotation suspended between two sections of the text. The quotation taken from one of the ghost tales of Henry James was a false tautology, which played on the double, indeed antithetical, meaning of the word presence: “The presence before him was a presence.”

What I just said was a fudge was perhaps not really that, but rather the hint of something really crucial about the work I was describing, which I would like now to elaborate. In order to do so, I want to add a third definition to the word presence. To that notion of presence which is about being there, being in front of, and that notion of presence that Henry James uses in his ghost stories, the presence which is a ghost and therefore really an absence, the presence which is not there, I want to add the notion of presence as a kind of increment to being there, a ghostly aspect of presence that is its excess, its supplement. This notion of presence is what we mean when we say, for example, that Laurie Anderson* is a performer with presence. We mean by such a statement not simply that she is there, in front of us, but that she is more than there, that in addition to being there, she has presence. And if we think of Laurie Anderson in this way, it may seem a bit odd, because Laurie Anderson’s particular presence is effected through the use of reproductive technologies which really make her quite absent, or only there as the kind of presence that Henry James meant when he said, “The presence before him was a presence.”

… [Talks about the performance art of Jack Goldstein and Robert Longo] … The extraordinary presence of their work is effected through absence, through its unbridgeable distance from the original, from even the possibility of an original. Such presence is what I attribute to the kind of photographic activity I call postmodernism.

[Totally unrelated to photography and the intent of this post, but I see on Laurie Anderson’s Wikipedia page that in 2008, she married Lou “Walk on the Wild Side” Reed.]



November 28, 2009


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:36 am

In-Vitro Meat — aka tank steak, sci fi sausage, petri pork, beaker bacon, Frankenburger, vat-grown veal, laboratory lamb, synthetic shmeat, trans-ham, factory filet, test tube tuna, cultured chicken, or any other moniker that can seduce the shopper’s stomach — will appear in 3-10 years as a cheaper, healthier, “greener” protein that’s easily manufactured in a metropolis. Its entree will be enormous; not just food-huge like curry rippling through London in the 1970’s or colonized tomatoes teaming up with pasta in early 1800’s Italy. No. Bigger. In-Vitro Meat will be socially transformative, like automobiles, cinema, vaccines.

This is from Eight Ways In-Vitro Meat Will Change Our Lives by Hank Hyena in h+1 Magazine (Nov 17, 2009). Below are his eight “ways” along with the first line of each paragraph of his explanation:

  1. Bye-Bye Ranches.
    When In-Vitro Meat (IVM) is cheaper than meat-on-the-hoof-or-claw, no one will buy the undercut opponent.
  2. Urban Cowboys.
    Today’s gentle drift into urbanization will suddenly accelerate as unemployed livestock workers relocate and retrain for city occupations.
  3. Healthier Humans.
    In-Vitro Meat will be 100% muscle.
  4. Healthier Planet.
    Today’s meat industry is a brutal fart in the face of Gaia.
  5. Economic Upheaval.
    The switch to In-Vitro Meat will pummel the finances of nations that survive on live animal industries.
  6. Exotic & Kinky Cuisine.
    In-Vitro Meat will be fashioned from any creature, not just domestics that were affordable to farm.
  7. FarmScrapers.
    The convenience of buying In-Vitro Meat fresh from the neighborhood factory will inspire urbanites to demand local vegetables and fruits.
  8. We Stop the Shame.
    In-Vitro Meat will squelch the subliminal guilt that sensitive people feel when they sit down for a carnivorous meal.

Interesting to think about. There are a lot of comments to the piece. [ link ]

Peter Fischli and David Weiss, Im Teppichladen (In the carpet shop), 1979



We Waited For You

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:30 am

For Now
by John Ashbery

Much will be forgiven those
on whom nothing has dawned. But I wonder,
does our polemic have an axis? And if so,
who does the illuminating? It’s not as though I haven’t stayed,
stinking, in the dark.

[that’s only the first four and a half lines of a longer poem]

by John Ashbery

It’s coming on six o’clock
The sun rehearses an elaborate
little speech, strictly
pro forma — no, wait —
it’s saying something, like
Be glad it’s over.
We waited for you.
I loved you,
and these were the consequences:
bright nights, lit sea,
buttered roofs, dandelion breath.
The dream of seeing it all.

Next year let’s live in harm’s way,
under the big top. Incongruous,
blue will find us, and the sun.

Like the growl of a friendly dog
it backs up, shivers itself
out of here …

“Never heard … anymore.”




November 27, 2009

Postpone Judgment!

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:06 am

Postpone judgment! When starting to read, experience or take part in a photograph (or picture of any kind) first put aside both like and dislike. Leave criticism to the last, or better still forget to criticize.
— Minor White and Walter Chappell, from “Some Methods for Experiencing Photographs,” Aperture vol. 5, no. 4, 1957

Ugo Mulas, Marcel Duchamp, New York, 1965

The 78 year-old chess-obssessed Duchamp is looking at a picture of a much younger version of himself. Click the thumbnail below to see a variation on that picture — and a much larger and better reproduction than the grainy too-contrasty one shown above:

Ugo Mulas, John Cage, 1964

[Ugo Mulas has some good stuff. See Wikipedia, or his own site (though I can’t get any of his thumbnails to enlarge).]

You see, the extraordinary thing about photography is that it’s a truly popular medium … But this has nothing to do with the art of photography even though the same materials and the same mechanical devices are used. Thoreau said years ago, “You can’t say more than you see.” No matter what lens you use, no matter what the speed of the film is, no matter how you develop it, no matter how you print it, you cannot say more than you see. That’s what that means, and that’s the truth.
— Paul Strand, Aperture vol. 19, no. 1, 1974

But necessarily, you can see more than you can say. That’s where the fun begins …



November 26, 2009

Black Hole Flight Simulator

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:53 am

This is totally awesome. You gotta see these (if you haven’t already).

They are videos made by Andrew Hamilton (with help from many others, I’m sure), using the Black Hole Flight Simulator:

This is not an artist’s impression. It is a general relativistic volume-rendering of a super-computed simulation.

Try this one, just as a sample: [ 10 MB video ]

Or the same without the red grid: [ gridless 10 MB video ]

The distortion of the surrounding galaxy is caused by gravitational lensing. More notes:

If you went up to a real black hole, you would not find a red grid on its horizon. But I figure that any self-respecting spaceship would paint the horizon of the black hole with a heads-up display. After all, black holes are dangerous things. The horizon is painted dark red, as a reminder that anything falling through the horizon would appear to an observer outside the horizon to be dim and redshifted.

… The inset to the bottom right of the movie is a clock, which records the time left until you hit the central singularity, the place where space and time as you know them come to an end.

The clock records your “proper” time, the time that you actually experience in your brain, and that your wristwatch shows. In the movie, the clock slows down not because time is slowing down (à la 1979 movie “Walt Disney’s The Black Hole”), but because it is more interesting to run the movie more slowly nearer the singularity, so that you can see more clearly what happens there.

The time is in seconds if the black hole has a mass of 5 millions suns, approximately equal to the mass of the supermassive black hole at the center of our Galaxy. On your trajectory, it takes 16 seconds to fall from the horizon to the singularity.

… The inset to the bottom left of the movie is a map of your trajectory into the black hole. You follow a real free-fall trajectory.

The green region is a “safe” zone where circular orbits are stable.

The yellow region is a “risky” zone where circular orbits are unstable. If you are on an unstable circular orbit, then a tiny burst on your maneuvering thrusters will send you into the black hole, or off into outer space.

The orange region is a “danger” zone where there are no circular orbits, stable or unstable. To remain in orbit in this zone, you must keep firing your rockets. The closer to the horizon you get, the harder you must fire your rockets to keep from falling in.

The red line is the horizon, from within which there is no escape.

The videos links above are from “Journey into a Schwarzschild black hole.” For tons more videos and information, go here and click on  any of the links under the “Index” heading.



Identification with the Aggressor

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:42 am

This is taken from the middle of a very long essay, “Marks of Indifference”: Aspects of Photography in, or as, Conceptual Art by Jeff Wall (1995). (I used the end of this same essay in a previous post.)

… Hovering behind all tendencies toward reductivism was the shadow of this great “reduction.” The experimentation with the “anaesthetic,” with “the look of non-art,” “the condition of no-art,” or with “the loss of the visual,” is in this light a kind of tempting of fate. Behind the [Clement] Greenbergian formulae, first elaborated in the late 1930s, lies the fear that there may be, finally, no indispensable characteristics that distinguish the arts, and that art as it has come down to us is very dispensable indeed. Gaming with the anaesthetic was both an intellectual necessity in the context of modernism, and at the same time the release of social and psychic energies which had a stake in the “liquidation” of bourgeois “high art.” By 1960 there was pleasure to be had in this experimentation, a pleasure, moreover, which had been fully sanctioned by the aggressivity of the first avant-garde or, at least, important parts of it.

… The empty, the counterfeit, the functional, and the brutal themselves were of course nothing new as art in 1960, having all become tropes of the avant-garde via Surrealism. From the viewpoint created by Pop art, though, earlier treatments of this problem seem emphatic in their adherence to the Romantic idea of the transformative power or authentic art. The anaesthetic is transformed as art, but along the fracture-line of shock. The shock caused by the appearance of the anaesthetic in serious work is calmed by the aura of seriousness itself. It is this aura which becomes the target of the new wave of critical play. Avant-garde art had held the anesthetic in a place by a web of sophisticated manoeuvers, calculated transgressive gestures, which always paused on the threshold of real abandonment. Remember [Hans] Bellmer’s pornography, [John] Heartfield’s propaganda, [Vladimir] Mayakovsky’s advertising. Except for the Readymade, there was no complete mimesis or appropriation of the anaesthetic, and it may be that the Readymade, that thing that had indeed crossed the line, provided a sort of fulcrum upon which between 1920 and 1960, everything else could remain balanced.

The unprecedented mimesis of “the condition of art” on the part of the artists of the early sixties seems to be an instinctive reflection of these lines from Theodor Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory, which was being composed in that same period: “Aesthetics, or what is left of it, seems to assume tacitly that the survival of art is unproblematic. Central for this kind of aesthetics therefore is the question of how art survives, not whether it will survive at all. This view has little credibility today. Aesthetics can no longer rely on art as a fact. If art is to remain faithful to its concept, it must pass over into anti-art, or it must develop a sense of self-doubt which is born of the moral gap between its continued existence and mankind’s catastrophes, past and future,” and “At the present time significant modern art is entirely unimportant in a society that only tolerates it. This situation affects art itself causing it to bear the marks of indifference: there is the disturbing sense that this art might just as well be different or might not exist at all.”

The pure appropriation of the anaesthetic, the imagined completion of the gesture of passing over into anti-art, or non-art is the act of internalization of society’s indifference to the happiness and seriousness of art. It is also, therefore, an expression of the artist’s own identification with baleful social forces. This identification may be, as always in modernism, experimental, but the experiment must be carried out in actuality, with the risk that an “identification with the aggressor” will really occur and be so successful socially as art that it becomes inescapable and permanent.

Wall is a good writer. Makes me want to go back and take a longer, slower look at his photographs than I have done so far. 



November 25, 2009


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:51 am

Crow, 1970


To Hide His Deformity, 1971


Reading Two Books, 1971


All photos by William Wegman. And you thought he only did dogs.




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