Unreal Nature

January 31, 2011

Vocation

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:43 am

… The need to think through, to defend, and to extend an approach to social research that takes seriously the proposition that in understanding “others,” uncapitalized and plural, it is useful to go among them as they go among themselves, ad hoc and groping, is producing an extraordinary ferment.

… Who knows the river better … the hydrologist or the swimmer? … It is not … a matter of the shape of our thought, but of its vocation.

This is from the essay “The State of the Art” in the collection Available Light: Anthropological Reflections on Philosophical Topics by Clifford Geertz (2000):

… Those people with pierced noses or body tattoos, or who buried their dead in trees, may never have been the solitaries we took them to be, but we were. The anthropologists who went off to Talensi, the tundra, or Tikopia did it all: economics, politics, law, religion; psychology and land tenure, dance and kinships; how children were raised, houses built, seals hunted, stories told. There was no one else around, save occasionally and at a collegial distance, another anthropologist; or if there was — a missionary, a trader, a district officer, Paul Gauguin — he or she was mentally pushed aside. Small worlds, perhaps, but pretty much our oyster.

This is no longer. When one goes to Nigeria, Mexico, China, or in my own case, Indonesia and Morocco, one encounters not just “natives” and mud huts, but economists calculating Gini coefficients, political scientists scaling attitudes, historians collating documents, psychologists running experiments, sociologists counting houses, heads, or occupations. Lawyers, literary critics, architects, even philosophers, no longer content to “draw the cork out of an old conundrum/And watch the paradoxes fizz,” are getting into the act. Walking barefoot through the Whole of Culture is really no longer an option, and the anthropologist who tries it is in grave danger of being descended upon in print by an outraged textualist or a maddened demographer.

… What we do that others don’t, or only occasionally and not so well, is (this vision has it) to talk to the man in the paddy or the woman in the bazaar, largely free-form, in a one thing leads to another and everything leads to everything else manner, in the vernacular and for extended periods of time, all the while observing, from very close up, how they behave. The specialness of “what anthropologists do,” their holistic, humanistic, mostly qualitative, strongly artisanal approach to social research, is (so we have taught ourselves to argue) the heart of the matter. Nigeria may not be a tribe, nor Italy an island; but a craft learnt among tribes or developed on islands can yet uncover dimensions of being that are hidden from such stricter and better organized types as economists, historians, exegetes, and political theorists.

… The worry on the science side has mostly to do with the question of whether researches which rely so heavily on the personal factor — this investigator, in this time; that informant, of that place — can ever be sufficiently “objective,” “systematic,” “reproducible,” “cumulative,” “predictive,” “precise,” or “testable” as to yield more than a collection of likely stories. Impressionism, intuitionism, subjectivism, aestheticism, and perhaps above all the substitution of rhetoric for evidence, and style for argument, seem clear and present dangers; that most dreaded state, paradigmlessness, a permanent affliction. What sort of scientists are they whose main technique is sociability and whose main instrument is themselves? What can we expect from them but charged prose and pretty theories?

… The need to think through, to defend, and to extend an approach to social research that takes seriously the proposition that in understanding “others,” uncapitalized and plural, it is useful to go among them as they go among themselves, ad hoc and groping, is producing an extraordinary ferment. It is not perhaps entirely surprising that such ferment looks threatening to some of those caught in the middle of it — as Randall Jarrell says somewhere, the trouble with golden ages is that the people in them go about complaining that everything looks yellow. What is surprising is how promising even salvational, it often looks to others.

The conjunction of cultural popularity and professional disquiet that now characterizes anthropology is neither paradox nor sign that a fad is being perpetuated. It is an indication that “the anthropological way of looking at things,” as well as (what are more or less the same thing) “anthropological way of finding out things” and “the anthropological way of writing about things,” do have something to offer the late twentieth century — and not only in social studies — not available elsewhere, and that it is full in the throes of determining what exactly that is.

… Who knows the river better (to adopt an image I saw in a review of some books on Heidegger the other day), the hydrologist or the swimmer? Put that way, it clearly depends on what you mean by “knows,” and, as I have already said, what it is you hope to accomplish. Put as which sort of knowledge we most need, want, and might to some degree conceivably get, in the human sciences anyway, the local variety — the sort the swimmer has, or, swimming, might develop — can at the very least hold its own against the general variety — the sort the hydrologist has, or claims method will one day soon provide. It is not, again, a matter of the shape of our thought, but of its vocation.

Yes, as always, I am thinking of photography while Geertz is talking about anthropology. And though off on a slight tangent to the rest of the piece, that Randall Jarrell quote, “… the trouble with golden ages is that the people in them go about complaining that everything looks yellow,” seems to me to be appropriate for most of the complaints one hears about digital photography.

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

January 30, 2011

To Be Naked

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 8:28 am

… It is widely supposed that the naked human body is in itself an object upon which the eye dwells with pleasure and which we are glad to see depicted. But anyone who has frequented art schools and seen the shapeless, pitiful model that the students are industriously drawing will know this is an illusion.

This is from The Nude: A Study in Ideal Form by Kenneth Clark (1956):

… To be naked is to be deprived of our clothes, and the word implies some of the embarrassment most of us feel in that condition. The word “nude,” on the other hand, carries, in educated usage, no uncomfortable overtone. The vague image it projects into the mind is not of a huddled and defenseless body, but of a balanced, prosperous and confident body: the body re-formed.

… In the greatest age of painting, the nude inspired the greatest works; and even when it ceased to be a compulsive subject it held its position as an academic exercise and a demonstration of mastery. Valásquez, living in the prudish and corseted court of Philip IV and admirably incapable of idealization, yet felt bound to paint the Rokeby Venus. Sir Joshua Reynolds, wholly without the gift of formal draftsmanship, set great store by his Cymon and Iphigenia. And in our own century, when we have shaken off one by one those inheritances of Greece which were revived in the Renaissance, discarded the doctrine of imitation, the nude alone has survived. It may have suffered some curious transformations, but it remains our chief link with the classic disciplines.


(painting) La Source, Gustave Courbet; 1868

… It is widely supposed that the naked human body is in itself an object upon which the eye dwells with pleasure and which we are glad to see depicted. But anyone who has frequented art schools and seen the shapeless, pitiful model that the students are industriously drawing will know this is an illusion. The body is not one of those subjects which can be made into art by direct transcription — like a tiger or a snowy landscape. Often in looking at the natural and animal world we joyfully identify ourselves with what we see and from this happy union create a work of art. This is the process students of aesthetics call empathy, and it is at the opposite pole of creative activity to the state of mind that has produced the nude. A mass of naked figures does not move us to empathy, but to disillusion and dismay. We do not wish to imitate; we wish to perfect. We become, in the physical sphere, like Diogenes with his lantern looking for an honest man; and, like him, we may never be rewarded.

… By long habit we do not judge it as a living organism, but as a design; and we discover that the transitions are inconclusive, the outline is faltering. We are bothered because the various parts of the body cannot be perceived as simple units and have no clear relationship to one another. In almost every detail the body is not the shape that art had led us to believe it should be.

… Greek confidence in the body can be understood only in relation to their philosophy. It expressed above all their sense of human wholeness. Nothing that related to the whole man could be isolated or evaded; and this serious awareness of how much was implied in physical beauty saved them from the two evils of sensuality and aestheticism.

… This feeling that the spirit and body are one, which is the most familiar of all Greek characteristics, manifests itself in their gift of giving to abstract ideas a sensuous, tangible, and, for the most part, human form. Their logic is conducted in the form of dialogues between real men. Their gods take visible shape, and on their appearance are usually mistaken for half-familiar human beings — a maidservant, a shepherd, or a distant cousin. Woods, rivers, even echoes are shown in painting as bodily presences, solid as the living protagonists, and often more prominent. Here we reach what I take to be the central point of our subject: “Greek statues,” said Blake, in his Descriptive Catalogue, “are all of them representations of spiritual existences, of gods immortal, to the mortal, perishing organ of sight; and yet they are embodied and organised in solid marble.” The bodies were there, the belief in the gods was there, the love of rational proportion was there. It was the unifying grasp of the Greek imagination that brought them together. And the nude gains its enduring value from the fact that it reconciles several contrary states. It takes the most sensual and immediately interesting object, the human body, and puts it out of reach of time and desire; it takes the most purely rational concept of which mankind is capable, mathematical order, and makes it a delight to the senses; and it takes the vague fears of the unknown and sweetens them by showing that the gods are like men and may be worshiped for their life-giving beauty rather than their death-dealing powers.

To recognize how completely the value of these spiritual existences depends on their nudity, we have only to think of them as they appear, fully clothed, in the Middle Ages or early Renaissance. They have lost all their meaning. When the Graces are represented by three nervous ladies hiding behind a blanket, they no longer convey to us the civilizing influence of beauty. When Herakles is a lumbering Landsknecht weighed down by fashionable armor, he cannot increase our sense of well-being by his own superabundant strength. Conversely, when nude figures, which had been evolved to express an idea, ceased to do so, and were represented for their physical perfection alone, they soon lost their value.

… The nude had flourished most exuberantly during the first hundred years of the classical Renaissance, when the new appetite for antique imagery overlapped the medieval habits of symbolism and personification. It seemed then that there was no concept, however sublime, that could not be expressed by the naked body, and no object of use, however trivial, that would not be the better for having been given human shape.


(photograph) seated nude; Oscar Rejlander; 1857

… Such an insatiable appetite for the nude is unlikely to recur. It arose from a fusion of beliefs, traditions, and impulses very remote from our age of essence and specialization. Yet even in the new self-governing kingdom of the aesthetic sensation the nude is enthroned. The intensive application of great artists has made it into a sort of pattern for all formal constructions, and it is still a means of affirming the belief in ultimate perfection. “For soule is forme, and doth the bodie make,” wrote Spenser in his Hymne in Honour of Beautie, echoing the words of the Florentine Neoplatonists, and although in life the evidence for the doctrine is inconclusive, it is perfectly applicable to art. The nude remains the most complete example of the transmutation of matter into form.

[It is my intention to pair posts (either on the same day or on consecutive days) from Kendall Walton’s Mimesis as Make-Believe (1990) with posts from Kenneth Clark’s The Nude (1956). I’m doing this rather bizarre and arbitrary juxtaposition because, for me, the obvious contrasts as well as the occasional similarities make both books more interesting.]

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

Make-Believe

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 8:22 am

… make-believe is a pervasive element of human experience, important not just in the arts but in many other areas of our lives as well. Nor is make-believe centrally or paradigmatically or primarily a feature of the arts or an ingredient of “aesthetic” experience — one that sometimes spills over to other things. There is nothing distinctively “aesthetic” about make-believe itself at all.

This is from the Introduction to Mimesis as Make-Believe: on the Foundations of the Representational Arts by Kendall L. Walton (1990):

… If our category is representational art, we face the interminable and excruciatingly unedifying task of separating art from nonart. We can save ourselves some grief by fixing our sights on the class of the representational, whose members may but need not be art. But this lets in many more puzzles. Does this class include clouds or constellations of stars when they are seen as animals? Do passport photographs qualify? X-ray photographs, live television images, reflections? Are chemistry textbooks, historical novels, Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, a love poem, and a love letter written in verse all representational in a single sense, and in the same sense that The Telltale Heart is? What about scarecrows, plastic flowers, dollar bills, counterfeit dollar bills, Monopoly money, the bread and wine used in communion, a child’s boots bronzed and mounted and displayed, a taste of soup, Madame Tussaud’s wax figures, footprints, droodles, coronations, cockfights, graphs, diagrams, playing cards, chess pieces — and, let us add, hobbyhorses and toy trucks? How might we go about deciding? Every one of these items qualifies as “representational” in some reasonable sense of the term, no doubt. The trouble is, that there seem to be too many senses criss-crossing the field and interfering with one another.

I will carve out a new category, one we might think of as a principled modification — not just a clarificatioin or refinement — of an ordinary notion of representational art. I will call its members simply “representational,” preempting this expression for my own purposes and assigning it an extension both broader and narrower than it is usually understood to possess.

…The works of “representational art” most likely to spring to mind are … works of fiction — novels, stories, and tales, for instance, among literary works, rather than biographies, histories, and textbooks. I will concentrate on fiction, and only fiction will qualify as “representational” in my special sense.

… I alluded earlier to a distinction between two kinds of questions to be investigated. On the one hand, there are questions about the role representations have in our lives, the purposes they serve, the nature of appreciators’ responses. The very fact that people make up stories and tell them to one another, the fact that they are interested at all in what they know to be mere fictions, is astonishing and needs to be explained. On the other hand, there are more technical issues concerning the ontological standing of characters and other fictitious entities and the semantic roles of names and descriptions purportedly designating them. There has been a remarkable and unfortunate separation between discussions of these two groups of issues, between, broadly speaking, aesthetically and metaphysically oriented theorizing about fiction. Seldom do investigations of the two kinds intersect or interact. Aestheticians rarely worry about whether there really is a Tom Sawyer or a Moby Dick. Metaphysicians and philosophers of language typically betray little interest in what the point or value of the institution of fiction might be.

… make-believe is a pervasive element of human experience, important not just in the arts but in many other areas of our lives as well. Nor is make-believe centrally or paradigmatically or primarily a feature of the arts or an ingredient of “aesthetic” experience — one that sometimes spills over to other things. There is nothing distinctively “aesthetic” about make-believe itself at all. And works of art are neither the sole nor the primary instances of representation in our sense. They are merely the ones I have chosen to focus on in this study. I will discuss make-believe in children’s games, however, in the course of clarifying it and examining its role in the arts. And I will propose a way of understanding assertions of existence and nonexistence and also certain nonliteral uses of language in terms of make-believe, including ones unconnected with works of fiction or representational works of art. I suspect that make-believe may be crucially involved as well in certain religious practices, in the role of sports in our culture, in the institution of morality, in the postulation of “theoretical entities” in science, and in other areas in which issues of metaphysical “realism” are prominent, although I will offer only the barest hints or less of how my theory might be applied in these directions.

[It is my intention to pair posts (either on the same day or on consecutive days) from Kendall Walton’s Mimesis as Make-Believe (1990) with posts from Kenneth Clark’s The Nude (1956). I’m doing this rather bizarre and arbitrary juxtaposition because, for me, the obvious contrasts as well as the occasional similarities make both books more interesting.]

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

January 29, 2011

Duck with Falling Blueberries

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 8:07 am


e.e. cummings (c. age 10), Untitled (“Edward Estlin Cummings the animal ruler and his matchless group of 32 elephants little and big”), c. 1904


Takako Tomita (female, age 4, Japan), A Train Running in the Sunset


Katia Johand (female, age 7, France), Classic Dance


David Arthur (male, age 5, United States), Untitled


Maya Fineberg (female, age 51/2, United States), Duck with Falling Blueberries

All images are from the Gallery section of the book When We Were Young: New Perspectives on the Art of the Child, edited by Jonathan Fineberg (2006).

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

January 28, 2011

The Viewing

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:10 am

… One hand lies long and flat along her lap: it is elegantly made of bone and is two sizes too large for the keen wrist.

This is from the end of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men by James Agee (text) and Walker Evans (photographs); first published in 1941. In the segment below Agee is describing what he sees in an Evans’s photograph “of Squinchy Gudger and his mother as they are in the open hall; … in a silent, white hour of a summer day.”:

His mother sits in a hickory chair with her knees relaxed and her bare feet flat to the floor; her dress open and one broken breast exposed. Her head is turned a little slantwise and she gazes quietly downward past her son’s head into the junctures of the earth, the floor, the wall, the sunlight, and the shade. One hand lies long and flat along her lap: it is elegantly made of bone and is two sizes too large for the keen wrist. With her other hand, and in the cradling of her arm and shoulder, she holds the child. His dress has fallen aside and he is naked. As he is held, the head huge in scale of his body, the small body ineffably relaxed, spilled in a deep curve from nape to buttocks, then the knees drawn up a little, the bottom small and sharp, and the legs and feet drifted as if under water, he suggests the shape of the word siphon. He is nursing. His hands are blundering at her breast blindly, as if themselves each were a new born creature, or as if they were sobbing, ecstatic with love; his mouth is intensely absorbed at her nipple as if in rapid kisses, with small and swift sounds of moisture; his eyes are squeezed shut; and now, for breath, he draws away, and lets out a sharp short whispered ahh, the hands and his eyelids relaxing, and immediately resumes; and in all this while his face is beatific, the face of one at rest in paradise, and in all this while her gentle and sober, earnest face is not altered out of its deep slantwise gazing: his head is now sunken off and away, grand and soft as a cloud, his wet mouth flared, his body still more profoundly relinquished of itself and I see how against her body he is so many things in one, …

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

January 27, 2011

Narrative Governs

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:46 am

… Narrative governs the disposal of objects and actions in time, without which most memory, and even language, would be impossible.

This is from the essay “Films of Memory” in the collection of David MacDougall’s essays Transcultural Cinema edited by Lucien Taylor (1998):

… In representing sensory and lexical thought, films might be thought to have encompassed the essential elements of memory, for images, sounds, and words tend to dominate our conceptions of our own consciousness. This assumption appears to be endorsed by many current social and political documentaries, which reduce these two categories to a simple format of archival footage (the sensory) and interviews (the lexical). It seems taken for granted that this not only represents memory adequately but also, quintessentially, history.

However, Horowitz’s* third mode of thought, the “enactive,” is neither image nor word, but gesture — experience recalled, one might say, in the muscles. We imagine an action through the feel of it — for example, the sense of moving a hand in a familiar motion, such as stirring coffee. One might call this the kinaesthetic dimension of thought, familiar to ourselves but only observable in others when it is translated into actual physical movement, just as lexical thought is only observable when translated into speech.

… Enactive memory may take precedence over visual or lexical memory. In a French television report a man descends a stairway in a building in which he was imprisoned in total darkness for over a month. Although he can tell us in words the exact number of steps (there are thirty-one) and we can see the steps ourselves, it is in fact the movement of his feet that tells us most convincingly that he knows when he has reached the bottom.

We may postulate that of all the modalities of thought, the enactive is most closely associated with emotion: that, for example, the memory of shame or triumph is largely an enactive, physiological response, although linked to a visual memory of the situation in which it arose. The dynamics of film editing may constitute, after the portrayal of “habitual” gesture, a second level on which films reproduce the qualities of enactive thought, although precisely how this operates deserves further investigation. Eisenstein characterized the effects of montage as “psycho-physiological” phenomena and described how in the film The General Line, a series of increasingly short shots of farmers mowing with scythes caused members of the audience to rock from side to side. At their junctions, film shots produce kinaesthetic responses in the viewer, and much film editing may represent a translation of movement and gesture from enactive thought into a succession of juxtaposed images. Editing also creates imaginary geography — cinematic landscapes of the mind in which we as spectators walk and take our bearings. It is one of the objectives of films of memory to create such spaces, as analogues of the spatial dimensions of memory. Other aspects of enactive memory may be represented in films through the synaesthetic effects of movement, light, color, and texture.

… [To Horowitz’s three modes of mental representation] should perhaps be added a fourth category — that of narrative thought. More than simply a property of the other modes, narrative has, it seems to me, good reason to be considered a further primary constituent of thought. Time, which provides the continuum on which memory is registered, here underpins the arrangement of the sensory, lexical, and enactive into sequences. Narrative governs the disposal of objects and actions in time, without which most memory, and even language, would be impossible. Although a certain part of thought is apparently incoherent (even if, perhaps, the product of a deeper logic) there is little we can think of without assigning it a narrative history or potential. We think within a set of narrative paradigms in which objects have origins and futures, and in which even simple actions are constructed out of a succession of lesser ones. This hierarchy of mental structures is reflected in the syntagmatic structures of many popular cultural products from folktales to films.

*Earlier in the essay, MacDougall gives the gory details of Horowitz and his theories:

… In a discussion of photographic imagery, Victor Burgin has referred to Mardi J. Horowitz’s classification of thought into “image,” “lexical,” and “enactive” categories. Horowitz based his tripartite structure on Jerome S. Bruner’s “three systems for processing information and constructing inner models of the external world” — what Bruner called the “iconic,” “symbolic,” and “enactive.” Both systems resemble, whether directly or indirectly, the sign classification developed by C.S. Peirce and Roman Jakobson, and seem elaborations on them. Although these modalities of mental representation are usually intermingled in actual thought, they correspond very well to the strategies by which films render memory in images, words, and physical movement. Indeed, we may not fully understand how films use these elements, and ultimately how they affect us, until we have a better understanding of the processes of mind.

By “image” Horowitz means not only visual imagery, but the ability to recall sensory experience generally. It is possible to remember a specific smell or sound, or even “hear” in silence an entire Mozart symphony. Thus, although in films we are limited to sounds and visual images (forays into Odorama and Smellvision notwithstanding), Horowitz’s concept of “image” is best understood as sensory thought.

It’s odd that MacDougall seems to imply that Bruner (via Horowitz) left narrative out of his modalities. In my recent post in which Clifford Geertz talks about Bruner, it’s all about narrative.

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

January 26, 2011

To Tell

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:57 am

… People in Marion County, which borders on Chase County, claim to be able to tell at a glance whether a stranger is from Chase or not.

This is from probably my last post (he has a big fat Epilogue that I think I’ll skip) from Getting Back into Place, Second Edition by Edward S. Casey (2009: first edition 1993):

… Where you have been, including where you have traveled, has a great deal to do with who and what you are, although the determination is by no means simple. Just as we have had to reject models of simple location — models based on the primacy of point and position — so we must also eschew any model of simple causation of character and temperament by implacement. Nevertheless, as D.H. Lawrence and Lawrence Durrell both insisted, there is such a thing as “spirit of place.” Many centuries ago, Servius wrote, “Nullus enim locus sine genio est” (for no place is without its genius). But the genius, i.e., the unique Gestalt of traits that make a place this place, is not simple in itself; nor is its working ever simple. William Least Heat-Moon devotes over six hundred pages in his PrairyErth to the thick description of Chase County, Kansas, while admitting that he has not fathomed the place. The usual parameters fail to fit. Yet everyone knows what it is like to live in a place and to be from a place: little ambiguity there. The complexity arises when we ask ourselves just what kind of personal or collective character emerges from a place, what sort of “who” reflects it, and how the reflection is accomplished. People in Marion County, which borders on Chase County, claim to be able to tell at a glance whether a stranger is from Chase or not. But they are hard-pressed to say in what the Chase-character consists, often falling back on particular episodes or incidents in the history of their neighbors.

[ … ]

… What matters on a journey is not movement as such but the form of motion. At the limit, one can travel without moving. Toynbee says of the desert nomads that, strictly speaking, “they do not move.” Or rather, they move in place, that is, in a seasonally determined cycle of places within the region they inhabit on the edge of the desert. Nor does one need the desert to be nomadic in this manner, for there are urban nomads, nomads of the sea, nomads of the mind. One can even be altogether “stuck in place,” as are the main characters of Beckett’s “Happy Days,” and still experience a vivid sense of journeying in that place. Distinguishing between a “tree travel” exemplified by Goethe’s Italienreise and a “rhizome travel” illustrated by Kleist’s Marionettentheater, Deleuze and Guattari remark that “what distinguishes the two kinds of voyages is neither a measurable quantity of movement, nor something that would be only in the mind, but the mode of spatialization, the manner of being in space, of being for space.” But when we de-literalize movement by focusing on the form or mode of motion, we are no longer restricted to two kinds of voyages: not only arborescent trips of tourism (Goethe or Ruskin or Edith Wharton, all in Italy) or rhizomatic underground voyages (Odysseus in the underworld; Dante in Hell; Kafka’s K beneath the hotel, in The Castle) but also voyages of exploration (e.g., Sir Walter Raleigh on the Orinoco) and of scientific discovery (Darwin in the Galápagos), not to mention pilgrimages, which fall into a complex fascicle of different types and subtypes that range from religious to secular and from having fixed routes (e.g. to the shrine at Santiago de Compostela) to possessing varying approaches (e.g., to Banares, City of Lights). In each instance, close inspection would reveal its own “mode of spatialization,” or rather, its own kind of placialization, its own way of getting back into place.

… On my interpretation — as ancient as the Pythagoreans and as contemporary as postmodernism — the priority belongs to Place, not to Mind. Place comes first: before Space and Time (those fellow travelers of Mind) and before Mind and Body (the other regnant modern pair). Yet the priority of place is neither logical nor metaphysical. It is descriptive and phenomenological. It is felt: felt bodily first of all. For we feel the presence of places by and in our bodies even more than we see or think or recollect them. Places are not so much the direct objects of sight or thought or recollection as what we feel with and around, under and above, before and behind our lived bodies. They are the ad-verbial and pre-positional contents of our usually tacit corporeal awareness, at work as the pre-positions of our bodily lives, underlying every determinate bodily action or position, every static posture of our corpus, every coagulation of living experience in thought or word, sensation or memory, image or gesture.

Not to complain, but when he includes “nomads of the mind” in his description of place he’s casting an awfully wide net.

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

January 25, 2011

Rushes

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:34 am

… There was one agonizing shriek from the audience, …

This is from the middle of an interview with Robert Flaherty in the collection Imagining Reality eds. Mark Cousins and Kevin Macdonald (1996). The interview was first published in The Cinema 1950, ed Roger Manvell (1950). In the following, Flaherty is talking about the making of his iconic 1922 documentary film Nanook of the North:

… I soon found when printing the film by the printer that the light from my little electric plant fluctuated too much; so I abandoned electric light and used daylight instead by letting in an inlet of light just the size of a motion picture frame through the window, and I controlled this daylight by adding or taking away pieces of muslin from before the printing aperture of the printer.

The greatest problem was not, however, printing the film or developing it, but washing it and drying it. I had to build an annex to the hut in which I wintered to make a drying room, and the only heating I could secure for this drying room was a stove that burned soft coal! Not only that, but I found that I ran short of lumber and didn’t have enough to complete the drying reel that I set up in the room. So my Eskimos had to scour the sea-coast and finally pick up enough driftwood to complete its construction.

The washing of the film was the worst of all. My Eskimos had to keep a hole chiselled through six feet of ice all through the winter and then haul the water in barrels on a sledge with an Eskimo dog-team up to my hut, and there we all with our hands cleared out the ice from the water and poured it for the necessary washes over the film. I remember the deer hair falling off the Eskimos’ clothing bothered me almost as much as the ice did.

I wonder why he didn’t get reticulation with that kind of temperature change (I’m not sure what “printing the film” means; still film will reticulate, paper prints won’t).

It has always been most important for me to see my rushes — it is the only way I can make a film. But another reason for developing the film in the North was to project it to the Eskimos so that they would accept and understand what I was doing and work together with me as partners.

They were amazed when I first came with all this equipment, and they would ask me what I was going to do. When I told them that I had come to spend a year amongst them to make a film of them — pictures in which they moved — they roared with laughter. To begin with, some of my Eskimos could not even read a still photograph. I made stills of several of them as preliminary tests. When I showed them the photograph as often as not they would look at it upside down. I’d have to take the photograph out of their hands and lead them to the mirror in my hut, then have them look at themselves and the photograph beside their heads before, suddenly with a smile that spread from ear to ear, they would understand.

As luck would have it the first scene we shot for the film was of a tug-of-war with walrus. When I developed and printed the scenes and was ready to project them I wondered if the Eskimos would be able to understand them. What would these flickering scenes projected on a Hudson Bay blanket hung up on the wall of the hut mean to them? When at last I told them I was ready to begin the show, they crammed my little fifteen by twenty hut to the point of suffocation. I started up the little electric light plant, turned out the lights in the room, turned on the switch on the projector. A beam of light shot out, filled the blanket, and the show began. At first they kept looking back at the source of the light in the projector as much as they did at the screen. I was sure the show would flop, when suddenly someone shouted, ‘Iviuk! (Walrus!)’ There they were — a school of them — lying basking on the beach. In the foreground could be seen Nanook and his crew, harpoon in hand, stalking on their bellies toward them. Suddenly the walrus take alarm; they begin to tumble into the water. There was one agonizing shriek from the audience, until Nanook leaping to his feet thrust his harpoon. In the tug-of-war that ensued between the walrus now in the water and Nanook and his men holding desperately to the harpoon line, pandemonium broke loose; every last man, woman and child in the room was fighting that walrus, no surer than Nanook was at the time that the walrus would not get away. ‘Hold him!’ they would yell, ‘Hold him! — Hold him!’

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

January 24, 2011

The Foreign Body

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:21 am

… “[I]dentity . . . can only affirm itself as identity by opening itself to the hospitality of difference from itself or of difference with itself.” [Derrida]

… Vaccination, Serres reminds us, is based upon this principle: the parasite that enters the body as contaminant then protects it against further contamination.

This is from the last essay “Love, Death, and Parasites” by Isabella Winkler in the collection of essays Mapping Michel Serres edited by Niran Abbas (2005):

… “In order to hear the message alone [without noise],” Serres writes, “[the receiver] would have to be identical to the sender.” At the moment there are two terms, sender and receiver, a third one exists between them: a relation that makes the connection, barely. Or from another perspective, a relation that barely manages to keep the terms separated. Static, or the parasite, is this relation, always both uniting and separating. … The parasitic relation, the only possible relation, thus marks both distance and proximity, attraction and repulsion.

… Slipping out of the simple alternative of presence/absence, the parasite is, as Derrida would put it, undecidable in its essence. Serres prefers to call it fuzzy. He takes this term from mathematics, where it designates an alternative to a binary logic. Rather than two discrete binary positions, inside and outside, yes and no, zero and one, a fuzzy subset blurs bivalences into a continuum composed of an infinite number of values. Incorporating an infinite number of values amounts to having no value per se. At once being and nonbeing, the parasite is also fuzzy in its effects: it acts at once as potion and poison. Vaccination, Serres reminds us, is based upon this principle: the parasite that enters the body as contaminant then protects it against further contamination. “The parasite gives the host the means to be safe from the parasite,” Serres writes. The inside then lets itself at once be contaminated and fulfilled, supplanted by the parasite without which, as things turn out, it is not complete. Perhaps one could say that the inside is always attracted to the contaminant despite its efforts to distinguish itself, above all, from that very thing. We said earlier that the parasite is an expert mimic … In order to “avoid the unavoidable reactions of rejection, exclusion” … the parasite even mimics the hosts tissue. “I don’t know if mimicry is entirely parasitic,” Serres writes, “but it is a necessary trick for the robber, the stranger, the guest.” The parasitic foreign body makes a home for itself on the inside, where it is kept in secret as part of the host.

All this has not a little to do with love.

… When Serres writes that “as soon as there are two, there is a medium between us,” he is talking first of all about love; love is for Serres the parasitic relation par excellence. Always between, “neither dead nor immortal,” love is “placed without precision and with rigor in the laws of the logic of the fuzzy area of the threshold, homeless and near the door.” There is no love without bad timing and miscommunication.

… One lover holds vigil over the other’s absence, as if over a dead body. He or she waits for love or the loss of love as one waits for death: with anxiety, in anticipation and already in mourning. Waiting is the lover’s condition of possibility: the one waits for an other to arrive with whom he can fall in love, an arrival that always comes unexpectedly despite its being anxiously awaited. Falling in love offers no reprieve: now the lover awaits the other’s loss. According to Barthes’s encyclopedic fragment A Lover’s Discourse, this loss is at the very origin of love. Anxious about a rendezvous that never lives up to its name, that is, that never takes place, the lover lives in fear of a mourning that has already occurred. … At the moment the desire for the other is formed, the other is already dead, framed in memory.

… “[I]dentity . . . can only affirm itself as identity by opening itself to the hospitality of difference from itself or of difference with itself.” [Derrida]

… To open up to the hospitality of a difference from or with the self creates the necessary conditions for the self to keep a secret from itself. … It keeps something hidden, a body of some sort, and it dissimulates the disguise so the self will not find out.

Worth mentioning, though not essential to the above is that one of Serres’s best known books is The Parasite.

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

January 23, 2011

Cézanne’s Anxiety

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 8:10 am

… what we experience in any mature picture by Cézanne, drawing or painting, is great seriousness before the objects of perception, such seriousness as to require us to put aside the tool kit that we have been considering and then …deliberately refashion tools from it, one by one, reconsidering their uses, never taking them for granted.

This is from Drawing Distinctions: the Varieties of Graphic Expression by Patrick Maynard (2005):

… earlier we considered Cézanne, whose depictions, whether of nature or of people, do not give us a sense of depicted things from the inside, as do Rembrandt’s, but indeed express what is often felt to be a general “aloofness from mankind and from life” — as Novotny says, even an absence of any “mood.” Yet there is Picasso’s well-known remark to Christian Zervos, “What forces our interest is Cézanne’s anxiety — that’s Cézanne’s lesson” — anxiety regarding the artist’s well-known commitment to what he termed “realizing my sensations.” Strictly, that may seem to lie outside our project [which is ‘drawing’], since it has basically to do with color: thus Cézanne’s late comment, “I cannot attain the intensity that unfolds itself before my senses. I do not have the magnificent richness of coloring that animates nature.” Still, it applies as well to his drawings. In writing about Cézanne’s seriousness, Meyer Schapiro stresses …: the bankruptcy of dualisms, attention to features of the marks as drawn marks with depictive purposes, our sense of the artist’s conception in the work. Schapiro expresses it well: “The apple looks solid, weighty, and round, but these properties are realized through tangible touches of color each of which, while rendering a visual sensation, makes us aware of a decision of the mind and an operation of the hand.”

Schapiro continues … “In this complex process, which in our poor description appears too intellectual, like the effort of a philosopher to grasp both the external and the subjective in our experience of things, the self is always present, . . . mastering its inner world by mastering something beyond itself.” Chastened, as philosophers, we must go forward, with help from Schapiro’s insights. According to Schapiro what we experience in any mature picture by Cézanne, drawing or painting, is great seriousness before the objects of perception, such seriousness as to require us to put aside the tool kit that we have been considering and then …deliberately refashion tools from it, one by one, reconsidering their uses, never taking them for granted.


Paul Cézanne; Maison Maira on the way to the Château Noir (1895)

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

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