Unreal Nature

February 28, 2011

Lies At the Back

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 8:20 am

… The great draftsmen … are not content to record a movement, … but press round it, till it approaches some ideal pattern that lies at the back of the imagination.

This is the fifth installment from The Nude: A Study in Ideal Form by Kenneth Clark (1956). Today’s quotes are from the chapter “Energy”:

… Clinging drapery, following a plane or a contour, emphasizes the stretch or twist of the body; floating drapery makes visible the line of movement through which it has just passed. Thus the aesthetic limitation of the nude body in action, that it is enclosed within the immediate present, is overcome. Drapery, by suggesting lines of force, indicates for each action a past and a possible future.

… in the later figures of the Parthenon [drapery] has attained a freedom and en expressive power that have never been equalled except by Leonardo da Vinci. In the so-called Iris of the west pediment, the subtle and complex drapery both reveals the nude figure and accentuates its surging movement, like ripples on a wave. … Male figures, their bodies totally undraped, were kept in motion by their flying cloaks. All through Greek art, and its post-Renaissance derivatives, this convention is used so shamelessly that we are hardly aware of it and have ceased to recognize how much the nude, as an expression of energy, depends on this artificial device.

Skipping over all kinds of history, including Clark’s discussion of the “heroic diagonal” and, starting with Michelangelo, the “heroic spiral” … until, still on Michelangelo:

… This ceaseless tremor, this feeling that every form is, so to say, pawing the ground in its anxiety to be gone, can make its effect only because it is confined by knowledge of anatomy, without which the winds of expressionism would blow the figures out of shape. Conversely, it is this knowledge that allows Michelangelo to take poses from antiquity and develop them to a point of expression far beyond the classic norm. An example is the athlete beside the Persian Sibyl. Strangely, his pose seems to have been suggested by an Ariadne reclining in the lap of Dionysos on a Hellenistic relief. But the muscles of his right shoulder are unlike those of any antique figure, let alone that of a woman. If we compare his back with a classical athlete — for example, the Ilioneus at Munich — we see how far Michelangelo could depart, even in 1512, from orthodox classical proportion. These immense shoulders tapering abruptly into tiny buttocks are, by any standards, a distortion. Yet we accept them because a compelling rhythmic force drives every inflection of the human body before it.

… The athletes of the Sistine confirm a statement made at the beginning of the chapter: that some degree of exaggeration is necessary to a vivid representation of movement. This accounts, in part, for the distortions in the athlete of the Persica, where the line of the thigh and back twists round with terrific emphasis and shoots forward along the upper surface of the arm. But the curious physical structure of Michelangelo’s nudes is not simply a pictorial device; it is part of the inward-looking character of his whole art. If we imagine the figures of fourth-century sculpture suddenly come to life, they would be dazzlingly beautiful men and women; but Michelangelo’s athletes exist purely as vehicles of expression. In life they would be squat and disproportionate.

Speeding through the ages, we end with Edgar Degas:

… If we allow the word “drawing” the meaning a sixteenth-century Florentine implied by the word disegno, Degas was the greatest draftsman since the Renaissance. His subject was the figure in action, his aim to communicate most vividly the idea of movement; and he felt that vividness of movement must somehow be expressed through shapes that convince us that they are complete in themselves. This is the characteristic of disegno: that it enhances the vitality of a form by our recognition of its completeness. The great draftsmen of this kind — Signorelli or Michelangelo — are not content to record a movement, as a Tiepolo might do, but press round it, till it approaches some ideal pattern that lies at the back of the imagination: hence the continual hammering at the same motive, the tracings, copies, and replicas that so astonish the profane.

Edgar Degas, the nude red-haired girl

[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.] The most recent post from Walton’s book was yesterday.



February 27, 2011


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:53 am

… Appreciation of representational works of art is primarily a matter of participation.

… His game world is an expansion of the work world.

Continuing through Mimesis as Make-Believe: on the Foundations of the Representational Arts by Kendall L. Walton (1990), I start with his summary, found at the end of Chapter 5, of where we are so far. (In the following, if you’ve forgotten, “work world” means the world found within the work of literature or painting or whatever. And “appreciators” means you and I, partaking of said work worlds.).

… A proposition is fictional in the world of a work, we recall, just in case there is a prescription that it is to be imagined by appreciators. This brings us, as appreciators, into the picture in a way in which we are not in the case of (other people’s) beliefs and wishes and claims. We are to imagine that Willy Loman lost his job, that Superman rescues people from tall buildings, and so on. Such imaginings are part of our games of make-believe, games that have their own fictional worlds distinct from work worlds. And these imaginings go with imaginings about ourselves. When we imagine Willy losing his job, we also imagine knowing about it. It is a mistake to think of appreciators as mere spectators of work worlds, observers from the outside of what is fictional in them. That leaves out our participation in games in which representations are props.

Now, on to Chapter 6, “Participation”:

… Participants in games of make-believe, being at once reflexive props and imaginers, imagine of the actual representing actions that they are instances of their doing things, and they imagine this from the inside.

… We should expect viewers of paintings and films, spectators of plays, readers of novels and stories to participate in the games in which these works are props much as children participate in games of cops and robbers, cowboys and Indians, dolls, and mudpies. They do. There are differences, to be sure — important ones. But they must not be allowed to obscure the underlying similarities. Appreciation of representational works of art is primarily a matter of participation.

Gulliver’s Travels makes it fictional of itself that it is the journal of a certain ship’s physician, Lemuel Gulliver. It is almost inevitable that in reading it, one should understand it to be fictional that one is reading such a journal.

… The museum goer who looks at Willem Van der Velde’s landscape Shore at Scheveningen in the normal manner makes it fictional of himself that he is looking at a group of sailing ships approaching a beach on which there is a horse-drawn cart. The painting is not a reflexive prop like Gulliver’s Travels, but it too draws the appreciator into a game. Here is a quick consideration in support of this claim: The viewer — let’s call him Stephen — might well remark, on examining the painting, “I see several sailing ships,” and in much the same spirit as that in which he might say, “There are several sailing ships offshore.” If, as seems likely, the latter is to be understood as prefaced implicitly by something like “It is fictional that,” probably the former is to be understood similarly, as the assertion that fictionally he sees several sailing ships. It would seem that in making either of these remarks Stephen is expressing a truth. So it seems to be fictional not only that there are several sailing ships offshore but also that Stephen sees them. His looking at the picture makes this fictional of himself.

… The world of an appreciator’s game includes fictional truths generated by all of its props, by the appreciator as well as by the work, and by relations among them. The work world includes only fictional truths generated by the work alone. It is Shore at Scheveningen — fictional that there are ships offshore, that there is a horse cart on the beach and a dog swimming in the surf. When Stephen contemplates the painting, it is fictional in his game that all this is so and in addition that he sees ships offshore and a dog in the surf. His game world is an expansion of the work world.

… Not only is Stephen likely to remark that he sees ships offfshore when he views Van der Velde’s beachscape, but he may also make comments such as: “I think I detect a trace of joy in the expression of the man on the cart, but he is too far away to see clearly”; “A seventh and an eighth ship are barely visible on the horizon”; and “Look, there’s a dog swimming in the surf.” It seems undeniable that Stephen thinks of himself, imagines himself, to be looking at a beach, ships in the ocean, and so on. And there is good reason to suppose that he understands this imagining to be called for, prescribed, by his experience of looking at the painting. His act of imagination is not a deliberate or reflective one, but is triggered more or less automatically by his perception of the painting. He is simply disposed to think of himself as seeing ships, without deciding to do so, when he sees the painting. This is just the sort of disposition which suggests implicit recognition of a principle of make-believe.

My previous post from Walton’s book is here. Tomorrow, The Nude.

[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.]



February 26, 2011

The Mob’s Too Many Mouths

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 8:02 am

… behind any definition of the “social” is the same worry: will we still be able to use objective reality to shut the mob’s too many mouths?

This is from the first essay “Do You Believe in Reality?” in the collection Pandora’s Hope: Essays on the Reality of Science Studies by Bruno Latour (1999):

“I have a question for you,” he said, taking out of his pocket a crumpled piece of paper on which he had scribbled a few key words. He took a breath: “Do you believe in reality?”

“But of course!” I laughed. “What a question! Is reality something we have to believe in?”

… in this guerrilla warfare being conducted in the no-man’s land between the “two cultures,” we were the ones being attacked by militants, activists, sociologists, philosophers, and technophobes of all hues, precisely because of our interest in the inner workings of scientific facts. Who loves sciences, I asked myself, more than this tiny scientific tribe that has learned to open up facts, machines, and theories with all their roots, blood vessels, networks, rhizomes, and tendrils? Who believes more in the objectivity of science than those who claim that it can be turned into an object of inquiry?

Then I realized that I was wrong. What I would call “adding realism to science” was actually seen, by the scientists at this gathering [he was at a conference of scientists and those in/doing ‘science studies’], as a threat to the calling of science, as a way of decreasing its stake in truth and their claims of certainty. How has this misunderstanding come about? How could I have lived long enough to be asked in all seriousness this incredible question: “Do you belive in reality?”

[ … ]

… science studies has become a hostage in a huge shift from Science to what we could call Research. … While Science had certainty, coldness, aloofness, objectivity, distance, and necessity, Research appears to have all the opposite characteristics: it is uncertain; open-ended; immersed in many lowly problems of money, instruments, and know-how; unable to differentiate as yet between hot and cold, subjective and objective, human and nonhuman.

… Research is this zone into which humans and nonhumans are thrown, in which has been practiced, over the ages, the most extraordinary collective experiment to distinguish, in real time, between “cosmos” and “unruly shambles” with no one, neither the scientists not the “science students,” [science student = science studies = Latour] knowing in advance what the provisional answer will be. Maybe science studies is anti-Science, after all, but in that case, it is wholeheartedly for Research, and, in the future, when the spirit of the times will have taken a firmer grip on public opinion, it will be in the same camp as all the active scientists, leaving on the other side only a few disgruntled cold-war physicists still wishing to help Socrates shut the mouth of the “ten thousand fools” with the unquestionable and indisputable absolute truth coming from nowhere. The opposite of relativism, we should never forget, is called absolutism.

I am being a bit disingenuous, I know — because there is a third reason that makes it hard to believe that science studies could have so many goodies to offer. By an unfortunate coincidence, or maybe through a strange case of Darwinian mimicry in the ecology of the social sciences, or — who knows? — through some case of mutual contamination, science studies bears a superficial resemblance to those prisoners locked in their cells whom we left, a few pages ago, in their slow descent from Kant to hell and smiling smugly all the way down, since they claim no longer to care about the ability of language to refer to reality. When we talk about hybrids and imbroglios, mediations, practice, networks, relativism, relations, provisional answers, partial connections, humans and nonhumans, “disorderly messes,” it may sound as if we, too, are marching along the same path, in a hurried flight from truth and reason, fragmenting into ever smaller pieces the categories that keep the human mind forever removed from the presence of reality. And yet — there is no need to paper it over — just as there is a fight inside the scientific disciplines between the model of Science and the model of Research, there is a fight in the social sciences and the humanities between two opposite models, one that can loosely be called postmodern and the other that I have called nonmodern. Everything the first takes to be a justification for more absence, more debunking, more negation, more deconstruction, the second takes as a proof of presence, deployment, affirmation, and construction.

… Science studies, as I see it, has been engaged in a very different nonmodern task [as opposed to postmodernism]. For us, modernity has never been the order of the day. Reality and morality have never been lacking. The fight for or against absolute truth, for or against multiple standpoints, for or against social construction, for or against presence, has never been the important one. The program of debunking, exposing, avoiding being taken in, steals energy from the task that has always seemed much more important to the collective of people, things, and gods, namely the task of sorting out the “cosmos” from an “unruly shambles.”

In the above, I’ve picked out the parts of Latour’s argument that I enjoy thinking about. However, there is a lot that I think he just dismisses or skips over without sufficient argument, or with a flippancy that should be offensive to his readers. For example, the sentences that follow where I stopped, above are these:

… We are aiming at a politics of things, not at the bygone dispute about whether or not words refer to the world. Of course they do! You might as well ask me if I believe in Mom and apple pie or, for that matter, if I believe in reality!

Latour knows these questions deserve more serious attention. See earlier in his essay :

… If my friend’s voice quivered as he asked me “Do you believe in reality?” it was not only because he feared that all connection with the outside world might be lost, but above all because he worried that I might answer, “Reality depends on whatever the mob thinks is right at any given time.” It is the resonance of these two fears, the loss of any certain access to reality and the invasion by the mob, that makes his question at once unfair and so serious.

… Behind the cold epistemological question — can our representations capture with some certainty stable features of the world out there? — the second, more burning anxiety is always lurking: can we find a way to fend off the people? Conversely, behind any definition of the “social” is the same worry: will we still be able to use objective reality to shut the mob’s too many mouths?

Yet he mocks the philosophical tradition of addressing these questions with:

… Why shout out of both sides of our mouths these two contradictory orders: “Be absolutely disconnected!” “Find absolute proof that you are connected!” Who could untangle such an impossible double bind? No wonder so many philosophers wound up in asylums.

Latour’s ideas seem to me to simply skip over these essential questions (Mom and apple pie won’t do). This doesn’t mean that his other ideas are wrong or not interesting and/or stimulating; it means that I find them contingent on what he has not addressed; on what he seems to think he doesn’t need to address.



February 25, 2011

A Fractal Meander

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:04 am

… Around the ball, the team fluctuates quick as a flame  … Every player carries on with the ball when the preceding one is shunted aside, laid out, trampled.

… we are continually tacking back and forth, the method being a fractal meander, to one side for safety, to the other for freedom …

Continuing through Genesis by Michel Serres (English translation 1995; originally published in French in 1982):

… Our relationships, social bonds, would be airy as clouds were there only contracts between subjects. In fact, the object, specific to Hominidae stabilizes our relationships, it slows down the time of revolutions. For an unstable band of baboons, social changes are flaring up every minute. One could characterize their history as unbound, insanely so. The object, for us, makes our history slow. What is frightening is the inflation of time: things, empires, great men, and goodness knows what else, all reduced to the law of diminishing returns, are passing as fast as the duck at the head of the arrow flying into the wind. The invention of objects, in olden days, froze the frantic flame of relational time to some extent. I have to some extent already said what I thought of the quasi-object, as a luminous tracer of the social bond in the black box. I spoke of the button [button, button, who’s got the button?], I spoke of the ball, ludic mimes in our own age of these relational objects. Around the ball, the team fluctuates quick as a flame, around it, through it, it keeps a nucleus of organization. The ball is the sun of the system and the force passing among its elements, it is a center that is off-centered, off-side, outstripped. Every player carries on with the ball when the preceding one is shunted aside, laid out, trampled.

… The immense tide of the multiple makes, unmakes, it passes, destroys or constructs, we do not know, blocks up channels, seals off ports, opens new paths, levels the contours or exaggerates them, cleans space out or peoples it with clouds of the upper air: to speak of these transports as positive, negative, is mere naive anthropomorphism. The multiple moves, that is all.

… The solid is the multiple reduced to the unitary. A concept is a multiple reduced to the unitary. A representation is a multiple reduced to the unitary. Any power is a multiple reduced to the unitary. The strength of the State is another multiple reduced to the unitary.

… we must think on the side of the thinkable, … we must tack toward science, toward the same, toward the one and stability, but … we must then be ready to think the unthinkable, … we must then change our tack, toward the pure multiple, we are continually tacking back and forth, the method being a fractal meander, to one side for safety, to the other for freedom, to one side for the regulation of our thoughts, to the other for boldness and discovery, to one side for rigor and exactitude, on the other side for mixture and fuzziness . . . This is philosophizing, this is how we were able to pass from one ocean to the other …

… Here then unity winks with multiplicity, in the elements as much as in the work itself and in the discourse that articulates this work, here, I mean in this very page and in the Timaeus, the same blinks on and off with the other, flashes and occulations, science with myth, presence and absence, matter and void, order and disorder, general turbulent intermittence, as dots, dashes, and blanks blink, the ones immersed in the others, in a message to be decoded as this message winks with the background noise that carries it and that intercepts it, that brings it to us, that hinders it and that prohibits it . .. . the world is this very immersion, thought, messages are these immersions, distributions in systems, systems immersed in distributions.



February 24, 2011

The Nature of the Translation

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:59 am

… The child spontaneously accepts the image as an enlightening equivalent of the model, created within the conditions of a particular medium. The child understands the nature of the translation and has no trouble practicing it.

This is from the essay “Beginning with the Child” by Rudolf Arnheim in the collection of essays When We Were Young: New Perspectives on the Art of the Child edited by Jonathan Fineberg (2006):

… To break with a tradition that has run its course and to reinvent the world of imagery, artists tend to look around for models. The guidance and inspiration they derive from remote sources demonstrate that productive help can be obtained from communication that is at best partial. Just as European artists received a needed impulse from African carvings, about whose meaning and function they knew next to nothing, so they received a strong influence from children’s drawings that relied on precepts, interpretations, and connotations that had little to do with the states of mind producing those unassuming pictures. All that was needed were some of the formal properties for which artists were searching to resolve problems of their own.

Arnheim then takes a closer look at children’s art, starting with three-year-olds and working his way up. In the first segment below, we’re up to age five or six:

… Far from merely indicating a lack of skill, an inability to represent models more faithfully, the casting of live bodies into fundamental shapes represents a truly creative achievement. Equally significant is the capability of the young mind to accept without question a meaningful equation between the shapes of nature and their thoroughly different representation on paper. The child, although fully capable of seeing the difference between model and picture, operates on the basis of a relation between representation and reality that we are tempted to find much more sophisticated than our own notion of the one simply imitating the other. The child spontaneously accepts the image as an enlightening equivalent of the model, created within the conditions of a particular medium. The child understands the nature of the translation and has no trouble practicing it.

The endless variety of aspects which the objects of the world present to our eyes is obediently rendered by painters of the naturalistic tradition. The child, in a search for clarity, ignores the confusion of accidental appearances and reduces them to the alternatives of frontality and profile. The turtle in figure 33 [not shown in this blog post] is shown from what we would call “on top,” while the lady appears in profile. This reduction provides the most informative sight available for each object. It guarantees a finality of presence even to more complex scenes.

[ … ]

… Yet another elaboration of the basic style comes from the seductiveness of shape and color. In the artistic process, the visual patterns emerging in the medium itself are directly given to the maker’s eyes and handled by him. They are therefore closer to his attention than the subject matter of the outer world. In figure 39, a five-year-old girl has taken the likeness of a fountain pen from this outer world, but the pen’s shape and colors, once on paper, acquire an abstract life of their own, amplified by further shapes and arousing new expressive connotations: the aggressive pointedness of the pen inspires a picture of what the girl calls “an evil animal.” Carried to its extreme, the eloquence of pure form displaces the subject matter almost entirely and leads to abstract ornaments, as in figure 40, done by an eight-year-old Japanese girl.

Fig. 39 [top], Artist unknown (female, age 5), Fountain Pen
Fig. 40 [bottom] Artist unknown (female, age 8, Japan), Abstract Ornament

… the difference between the intentions of an artist and those of the child is most evident where the similarity is greatest. Joan Miró’s woodcut of a female figure could hardly have been conceived by someone who had never seen a child’s drawing. Both reduce the human form to its simplest frontal symmetry, but the similarity ends there. The difference between naïveté and sophistication begins with the use of the empty ground, which in the young child’s drawing would simply be the emptiness of uncultivated space, not yet included in the conception, which is limited to the exploration of single objects. Miró uses this same emptiness to express solitude. His woodcut is one of those he created to illustrate Paul Eluard’s book of poems A toute épreuve (1958). Our figure appears next to a poem complaining about loneliness.

Accordingly, the empty ground is not disregarded by the figure but interacts with it in a counterpoint between nonbeing and being. The head, controlled in its position by the sensitive hand of the adult artist, stops just short of taking its place on the neck. The hollows between the arms reach into the body like breasts, and the torso is squeezed into slimness with the help of the fireball,the embodiment of fullest expanse. The frontality of the figure stands for the lack of change of which the poet speaks, but its rigidity is relieved by the placement of three colors: the pairing of eyes and feet is offset by color difference, and the color red unites the ball, the left eye, and the right foot in a paradoxical triangle.



February 23, 2011

Super Bloopers

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 3:29 pm

Okay, they’re not any superer than previous bloopers. I just like saying “super blooper.” For some reason it reminds me of Double Bubble bubblegum, with which I made the most massive bubbles so many years ago.



The Viewer’s Blood

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:29 am

… Documentary reality is a construction; and some of the viewer’s blood goes into it.

… The space opened up by the mismatch between record and signification is precisely the space in which the viewer’s choice operates.

This is the second of two posts today from For Documentary: Twelve Essays by Dai Vaughan* (1999). This is from his essay “What Do We Mean by ‘What’?”:

The television series Hollywood included in its episode on comedy a substantial extract from a Laurel and Hardy two-reeler. It was the one in which Stan and Ollie, as door-to-door salesmen, get into an argument with a householder which results, after a steady escalation of polite violence, in the near-demolition of the property. Unfortunately, as the programme informed us, an error had been made: and the house at which the filming took place was not the one whose owner had given permission. This simple statement was all that was needed for the film clip to be transmuted from comedy-fiction into documentary: a documentary about a film unit visiting unintended vandalism upon some unwitting person’s home.

[ … ]

… The boom in ethnographic filmmaking in the late ’60s and early ’70s, with its “scientific” concern for accuracy in the presentation of data, provoked a good deal of thought about the nature of documentary reality and its relation to the prior event. The pleasure of Camera at War — a British TV series in which news cameramen reminisce about their work — lies in seeing newsreel stories, often very familiar newsreel stories, transformed into cinéma vérité by a simple switch of context.

This bears a similarity to our opening Laurel and Hardy example which is, when one thinks about it, a little disturbing. The newsreels are in no sense fictions; and if a comparable shift of perspective can occur within the terms of a documentary reading, then we may reasonably conclude that no documentary reading can claim ultimate, absolute privilege. All true documentarists have known this from the start. Documentary reality is a construction; and some of the viewer’s blood goes into it.

[ … ]

… What do we mean by “what”? This question, which was brought into prominence by debates about observational and vérité filming, is the practical outcropping of that mismatch between “signification” and “recording” which we noted earlier.

… The moment you demand that a film should represent an event exactly as it occurred, you are confronted not just with the practical difficulty but with the theoretical absurdity of such a requirement.

This absurdity, however, is not documentary’s weakness but its strength. The space opened up by the mismatch between record and signification is precisely the space in which the viewer’s choice operates. Every hunter reads the spoor in his own way. The danger in documentary lies in anything which restricts the film within a set of institutionalised norms and erodes that power which the image takes from the viewer’s sense of contingency.

[*As I can’t find an online bio of Mr. Vaughan, here is what’s on the back of his book: “Dai Vaughan, who resides in London, has been an editor of documentary films for more than thirty-five years. His previous books include novels and a biography.”]



The Scream

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:26 am

This is the first of two posts today from For Documentary: Twelve Essays by Dai Vaughan* (1999). From the first pages of the Preface to the book:

Why write about documentary? It is simply film about the real world; or it is film using shots of the real world. Its articulations are the same as those used for fiction, and it therefore does not differ in any significant way from fiction; or its articulations are so rudimentary as not to deserve serious scrutiny at all. It presents no interesting problems purely by virtue of being documentary; or such problems as it presents are practical and procedural rather than ideological or aesthetic. Is that not so?

Let me offer in reply an anecdote from my own experience as an editor. A film on which I worked included a female circumcision; and we had covered this, as I recall, with a succession of long-held shots of people waiting outside the hut where the operation was taking place. During the discussion after a rough-cut viewing, three divergent views of this sequence were expressed. One person suggested that, if we were not to see the surgery, we might at least be allowed to hear a scream or two to signal to the viewer the unpleasantness of what was occurring. Someone else remarked that there had in fact been a scream recorded during this event, and that it would be perfectly legitimate for us to lay it over. But someone else again made the point that the scream had been such an exceptional feature of this ceremony that it would be a misrepresentation of the culture to include it. What is significant about these three views is that they reflect three distinct assumptions about the claim documentary stakes upon the world: in the first case, symbolic (a scream stands for pain); in the second, referential (this is what the equipment actually recorded); in the third, generalisatory (to include the atypical is misleading). This question, about the claim of documentaries stake upon the world, is one that confronts us afresh, and in different ways, with every project.

[*As I can’t find an online bio of Mr. Vaughan, here is what’s on the back of his book: “Dai Vaughan, who resides in London, has been an editor of documentary films for more than thirty-five years. His previous books include novels and a biography.”]



February 22, 2011

Out of the Welter

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:53 am

… picking it out of the welter of our ongoing perceptions. This core of glancing — its accusative focus as it were …

Proceeding from the introduction to the first part of the (long) second chapter of The World at a Glance by Edward S. Casey (2007), the following is in answer to the question, “What, then, is the proximal destination of the glance?”:

… Here we must attend to the at-structure of the glance. Not to be confused with what Heidegger calls the “as-structure” (which concerns the interpretation of what we understand), the at-structure refers to the way in which the glance is often a highly directed activity. When we glance, we most characteristically glance at that which is the object of our look, picking it out of the welter of our ongoing perceptions. This core of glancing — its accusative focus as it were — is often surrounded, and sometimes replaced, by associated kinds of glancing: glancing toward, glancing around, glancing over, and so forth. These latter bear on the vicinity of the glanced-at object, its immediate environs. They concern themselves with where this object is located in the overall layout of surfaces: its place-setting, as it were, a margin of nonfocal awareness.

When we glance directly at something, however, our look goes straight to it, whether the object of our glance is human or not. The at-structure of such glancing consists in four moments — moments that in actual experience are often melded together but that we may distinguish as follows:

(i) singling out: this is the moment of decisive delineation whereby we seize upon what we glance at: we literally de-fine it for ourselves, quickly encircling it with our look; what we thus single out provides the answer to the question, “what are you glancing at?”;

(ii) taking up: if singling out is the moment of bare noticing or apprehension, in this second moment we take up the object into our look; this is the phase of making sure that what we glance at does not vanish under our very eyes; but the facticity of grasping the glance is of a distinctly alleviated sort compared with the grasping that seeks to consolidate what is grasped in a decidedly possessive manner;

(iii) taking in: this is the receptive moment that is paired with that of taking up; I take in that at which I glance instead of keeping it at a distance — not so as to possess it but so as to let it exfoliate and resonate within me; the situation is often described by saying that we are “struck” by what we encounter in the glance, surprised by it and sometimes amazed;

(iv) holding: in this moment I hold-in-eye what I behold in the glance; this amounts to a momentary pause in my looking so that I can retain that which I have just seen; it exemplifies the retentional fringe that James and Husserl both ascribe to “primary memory”; it is a matter of maintaining the glanced-at thing in view, however briefly.

This fourfold form of intervention subtends and supports the forthrightness of my glancing. Thanks to it, my glance takes me to the surface of the glanced-at object — right to it without the intermediation of anything but air and light. Here the “to” of direct looking reinforces the “at” of glancing proper to form a redoubled accusative relation. Because of this relation,even the most passing glance moves me onto the surface of the object, allowing me to adhere to it, to be right there and to stay there long enough for the glance to play itself out in that place. In terms of chronometrically ordered time, this may be a very short time indeed, but it suffices for the glance in the realization of its lambent life.

This next bit, below, comes well before the above in this chapter of Casey’s book. I’ve put it last because it’s … gnarly. But I like it enough to want to include it:

… To get close to the glance is not just to get close to the body from which it stems; it is to track down something that is continually falling away from that same body — that escapes it even as it issues from it, streaming off its own body of origin, flying from its own progenitive face. It is comparable to a simulacrum flung off the surface of that from which it derives.

… I am taking “simulacrum” in the Epicurean sense of the word, especially as set forth in Lucretius’s De rerum natura, according to which a simulacrum is a thin film that peels off the surface of a physical thing, thereby linking up with simulacra of other things in causal relations. But more than causal connection is at stake here. If the sense of simulacrum is extended to include Plato’s notion of phantastiké (that is, an imaginative creation that, unlike an icon, does not depend on close formal resemblance), we can envision a quite different connotation whereby that which is cast off takes on a life of its own — heterogeneous, marginal, but also threatening. It is this sense which Deleuze emphasizes in his discussion of the simulacrum in The Logic of Sense, where he says expressly that “the simulacrum is not a degraded copy. It harbors a positive power.” Essential to this power is the speed of simulacra: Epicurus says that they are “as swift as thought,” a phrase that might also apply to glances. Visual simulacra in particular are more rapid-moving than the emanations that come from deep within objects.

… Just as simulacra are able to effect a “reversal of Platonism” thanks to their undoing of the model/copy relation — given that they are no longer representations in any iconic sense — so glances reverse the hegemony of the gaze (which reinstates in the world of vision the situation of a highly valorized paradigm that controls the icons that issue from it). Both simulacra and glance realize “the twilight of the idols.” [Deleuze citing Nietzsche]



February 21, 2011

A Woman Flayed

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 8:06 am

… Perhaps there has been some confusion between physical and metaphysical terminology, and the word superficial has extended its meaning from thought to perception …

This is the fourth installment from The Nude: A Study in Ideal Form by Kenneth Clark (1956). Today’s quotes are from the chapter “Venus II”. I’m quoting Clark’s descriptions of two artists, Correggio and Rubens, and skipping Leonardo, Giorgoine, Titian, Boucher, Ingres, Courbet, Manet, and numerous lesser known artists. All interesting, but time and space limit what I shall give here. So, going right to Correggio:

… The difference between them is like a difference of sex or the difference between night and day. Where Titian saw form like a full, frontal relief, Correggio saw it gliding into depth. Where Titian seems to place his figures before an open window with daylight falling directly on them, Correggio seems to place them in the penumbra of a curtained gallery where the light comes from several sources. We seize upon the mass of Titian’s Venus immediately and abruptly; Correggio’s Antiope we caress. This feeling of tenderness he achieves by a rhythmic relationship of line and shadow that ultimately derives from Leonardo da Vinci. It is Leonardo who had advised the painter to penetrate the secrets of expression by looking at the faces of women in the mysterious illumination of twilight; and it was he who had studied scientifically the passage of light round a sphere. The delicately perceived continuum of shadow and reflection in Leonardo’s diagrams had its own sensuous beauty even before it was transferred from geometric spheres to the soft irregular sphere of the breast. Moreover, light that passes gently along a form, be it an old wall, a landscape, or a human body, produces an effect of physical enrichment not solely because of the fullness of texture it reveals but because it seems to pass over the surface like a stroking hand. In Correggio’s Antiope this effect is used with the greatest delicacy. As our eye follows every undulation it passes refreshed from shadow to light. Her arm on which she rests her ecstatically sleeping head is clouded with shadows and reflections. Every form has the melting quality of a dream.

Jupiter and Antiope

This, of course, is achieved as much by linear movement as by chiaroscuro. Correggio was a natural lyricist who gave a flowing meter to everything he made, from the whole design down to the curve of a little finger. Here, too, he was influenced by Leonardo, and was perhaps the only artist who gained something from the Oriental flexibility of [Leonardo’s] Leda[which only survives in copies by other artists]. But those curves which in Leonardo have an alienating detachment — curves of marsh grass or of swirling water — become in Correggio warm and delicately human. They are, and have remained, the signature of feminine grace; and although in the last century they have been vulgarized and shamefully exploited, when we meet them first they have the freshness of morning. No other painter, as Mr. Berenson said long ago, was ever more penetrated by femininity, so that his most warlike saints are tender, his most venerable anchorites have the graceful gestures of a girl. Like Botticelli, he passed easily from Christian to pagan subjects, but whereas the earlier painter thought first of woman as the Virgin, with all her sorrows and apprehensions, and was persuaded by learned poets to transform her into Celestial Venus, Correggio thought of her as a tangible human body and was happiest when the subject allowed him to show it undraped and enjoying the amorous enterprises of Jupiter. We can be thankful that he did not live twenty years later, when such subjects were generally prohibited.

And on to Rubens. I don’t show any of Rubens’ paintings because his color does not reproduce in the small online files that I can find:

… Why do we burn with indignation when we hear people who believe themselves to have good taste dismissing Rubens as a painter of fat naked women and even applying the epithet “vulgar”? What is it, in addition to sheer pictorial skill, that makes his nudes noble and life-giving creations? The answer is partly in his character and partly in the discipline through which he mastered his profession.

… Few men can have been so free from pettiness or perversity, jealousy or frustration. His figures never pause to calculate material advantage or nurse an unacted desire. They have the sweetness of flowing water.

Not unconnected with his gratitude for God’s bounty is Rubens’ humble devotion to the art of design. No other great painter has ever made such a prolonged, laborious, and fruitful study of his predecessors’ work. From antique cameos to Flemish primitives, from the tiny panels of Elsheimer to the vast canvases of the Venetians, Rubens copied everything that could conceivably add to his already overflowing resources. For the nude his models were, of course, the antique, Michelangelo, and Marcantonio. Titian he copied for his color, but altered his form. From them he learned what a severe formal discipline the naked body must undergo if it is to survive as art. Rubens’ nudes seem at first sight to have been tumbled out of a cornucopia of abundance; the more we study them the more we discover them to be under control. His procedure was that which has become the dogma of academics: he drew from the antique and copied from his predecessors till certain ideals of formal completeness were absolutely fixed in his mind; then when he drew from nature he instinctively subordinated the observed facts to the patterns established in his imagination. The average student cannot make a success of this procedure because accident is more attractive than substance. He seizes upon tricks of style and overlooks essential structure. Rubens did the reverse. He could give his figures so much of his own peculiar style and his own responsiveness to nature that we are seldom conscious of his sources.

… The fact that Rubens was more concerned than his predecessors with the flesh and with the texture of the skin has sometimes been considered a symptom of superficiality. In European art there has always been a belief that the more a figure reveals its inner structure the more respectable it becomes. Perhaps there has been some confusion between physical and metaphysical terminology, and the word superficial has extended its meaning from thought to perception, reversing the mental process that leads up to Swift’s famous defense of Delusion: “Last week I saw a woman flayed, and you will hardly believe how much it altered her person for the worse.”

Clark’s next chapter is “Energy” and he’s not talking gas and oil.

[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. My latest Walton post was yesterday.]



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