Unreal Nature

September 30, 2011

The Work Only Matters

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:03 am

…  Desire is work, which is to say, “desire held in check.” … It is not enjoyment postponed until later, as if it were necessary to await a result, but enjoyment of the very movement that dissolves the fixity of a goal or a possession.

… The work only matters when appropriated by desire. Any other appropriation is desire’s simple and cold exclusion.

This is from the chapter “Desire” in Hegel: The Restlessness of the Negative by Jean-Luc Nancy, translated by Jason Smith and Steven Miller (2002; originally published in 1997):

… Desire is … less the tension of lack, and the projection of satisfaction that would annul it, than it is the tension of the coming of the other as the becoming of the self.

… it is precisely to be other, it is alterity as infinite alteration of the self that becomes. Desire is neither aspiration nor demand, nor is it lust or voracity. It demands nothing but the other, and is satisfied with nothing other: but the other as such, the veritable other of the self, is not an object one could demand, an object with which one could take satisfaction.

This is why desire cannot become what it is in an object, in a given determination. It is desire of the other self-consciousness. The subject is desire of the subject, and there is no object of desire. Desire is appropriative becoming in the other.

[ … ]

… That is what desire names: relinquishment as appropriation. But appropriation is the grasp (the “concept”) of this: that the proper happens as letting go. At this point, it becomes necessary to posit that this grasp — the grasp of letting go — cannot be the doing of consciousness as such. If the strictest formulations of the dialectic often inspire perplexity, annoyance, and refusal, it is because they are obstinately understood on the level of consciousness — and, by the same token, as formulas in language, they are received as verbal acrobatics. But these formulations wish to make themselves understood on an entirely other level — or, still more exactly, they wish to make understood that they cannot be, as they are, understood by understanding, but rather demand that understanding relinquish itself.

… The movement of consciousness does not have consciousness for its goal, and the experience of self-consciousness does not have self-consciousness as its outcome. Because its movement is the alteration of the desire of self, it is also the alteration of consciousness — of its unmoving point and its isolation — in desire that is recognized to be desire. Never will an ego recognize itself recognized by an alter ego, as if it were an exchange in the mirror of one and the same consciousness, or the sharing of the same representation. Such an abstract and cold operation can only take place in the abstraction of the “I = I” or the “I = not-I,” which means that it does not take place. I only recognize myself recognized by the other to the extent that this recognition of the other alters me: it is desire, it is what trembles in desire.

To this extent, desire is not simple delectation of self — even though it is itself the sole content both of the ordeal and of enjoyment. Desire is work, which is to say, “desire held in check.” This does not mean that it is inhibited, nor turned away from its movement. But it is desire that really gives itself its other, or that really gives itself to its other. It is not enjoyment postponed until later, as if it were necessary to await a result, but enjoyment of the very movement that dissolves the fixity of a goal or a possession. Work “forms” says Hegel — which is to say that it elaborates the form of desire. The work, in its exterior form (a fabricated object, a formulated thought, a created existence, “the action of the singular individual and of all individuals”), forms the manifestation of desire itself — and it is in infinite formation.

Which formation is not to be confused with indefinite exteriority and with the accumulation of works for themselves. If the work is work, it is precisely not to be deposited as a given, nor to subsist as a possession. Particular fixity and possession — as much as indetermination and pure community — run counter to the recognition of the other. The work only matters when appropriated by desire. Any other appropriation is desire’s simple and cold exclusion.




September 29, 2011

The Whole Stream

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:54 am

… creative intelligence, is always in principle available.

This is the second of two posts today from Science, Order, and Creativity by David Bohm and F. David Peat (1987):

… The stream can be studied by following an object that floats along it, in a time process. However, it is also possible to consider the entire stream all at once, to reveal the overall generative order that goes downstream from the source or origin.

But the stream is only an image. The essential flow is not from one place to another but a movement within the implicate and superimplicate (generative) orders. At every moment, the totality of these orders is present and enfolded throughout all space … they all interpenetrate. The flux or flow is therefore between different stages and developments of these orders. However, because of the possibility of loops, this flow may go in a pair of opposite “directions” at the same time.

The temporal process of evolution of the universe is constantly generated within this flow from a “source” or “origin” that is infinitely far into the implicate and generative orders. To see the universe in this way is to see “the whole stream at once” and this perception may be called timeless, in the sense that what is seen does not involve time in an essential way. However, the modes of generation and unfoldment in the stream imply that everything changes in successive moments of time. So in the flux described above, the timeless order and the time order enter into a fundamental relationship. However, because this relationship is now seen through the generative order, the time order appears very different from what it is in the traditional approach. It is not primarily a transformation within a given level of organization and explication. Rather it is, in the first place, a transformation of the entire “stream” of the implicate and generative orders that takes place from one moment to the next.

This discussion appears, at first sight, to reduce the time order so that it could, in principle, be derived completely from the timeless order. This would indeed be so, if the “flow” in the implicate generative stream were only in the “direction” from the source or origin down to ever more explicate orders of succession. However, because of the two-way nature of this flow, there is an inherent dynamism in the theory and such a reduction is not actually possible. The timeless order and the temporal order therefore both make essential contributions to the overall order.

… Current quantum field theory implies that what appears to be empty space contains an immense “zero point energy,” coming from all the quantum fields that are contained in this space. Matter is then a relatively small wave or disturbance on top of this “ocean” of energy. Using reasonable assumptions, the energy of one cubic centimeter of space is far greater than would be available from the nuclear disintegration of all the matter in the known universe! Matter is therefore a “small ripple” on this ocean of energy. But since we, too, are constituted of this matter, we no more see the “ocean” than probably does a fish swimming in the ocean see the water.

What appears from our point of view to be a big bang is thus, from the perspective of the ocean, just a rather small ripple. On an actual ocean, waves from all around sometimes fortuitously combine at a certain point to produce a sudden surge of such magnitude that it can overturn a small ship. For the sake of illustration it is possible to suppose that what we call the universe originated in a similar way.

… In the explicate and sequential orders, life appears to arise as a fortuitous chance combination of molecules which leads, in a more or less mechanically determined way, to further developments which produce ever  higher and more complex forms. While this approach can be admitted as significant for study, it is now seen as an abstraction and approximation in the light of the generative order. Its deeper meaning is to be understood by exploring how it reveals the inward generative order of the “whole stream” that is constantly present.

[ … ]

… In everyday consciousness … the mind is absorbed largely in the tacit infrastructure of ideas and dispositions to feel and act, which are mainly mechanical in their operation. In a metaphorical sense, at least, this activity of the mind could be said to be “programmed.” But it should be clear that these programs, while both useful and necessary, are limited, since something more and something different, creative intelligence, is always in principle available.

… We have become habituated to a limited sensitivity and an attention that are appropriate only for apprehending partial aspects of reality and for focusing on the orders of succession that are appropriate to our notion of time. This has come about through a long historical process, in which the order of time has assumed an ever-increasing importance to society in general.

… Nevertheless there are no inherent structural limitations on the free movement of attention. It is possible for attention to turn toward the implicate or generative orders, as [for example in] listening to music. Attention may operate in a similar way while contemplating nature, for example, in observing the flow of a stream. Sooner or later the overall flow of the “whole stream” is sensed  [ … ] … it is felt to be a kind of space of the mind, that is “everywhere and nowhere.”

… As attention moves toward the encompassing order, which is sensed as a kind of “present moment” that is constantly flowing, the aspect of change plays a smaller and smaller role in the “space” of such a perception. … As attention goes to the consideration of succession, however, it begins to be directed toward the temporal or secular order.

In terms of the superimplicate order, it is clear that if the flow were only from the subtler to the more manifest, then it would reduce to a purely timeless order as described above. Such an order could in a certain sense be intensely creative. But if what happens in one moment would not be related to the next moment, such creativity would resemble an arbitrary series of kaleidoscopic changes with little total meaning. Moreover, the more manifest levels would have no autonomy in relation to the subtler ones. A more meaningful kind of creativity can be obtained by relating the eternal order to the time order, and by allowing the more manifest orders to have some degree of relative autonomy.

In the superimplicate order a similar relative autonomy of the manifest, or explicate, forms has already been explained as arising in closed loops, similar to that found in the computer game [see previous post]. This also introduces a relatively self-determined order of development in time. The “tighter” this loop is, the more nearly self-determined will be the order and the more nearly “secular” it will become. As the connections in the loop are “loosened,” however, allowing for some degree of free play, it becomes possible for the creative action from the subtler levels to enter into the activity within such a loop.

Last week’s post from this book is here.




We Speculate

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:48 am

… Of course such an idea implies that the current quantum theory is of limited validity.

This is the first of two posts today from Science, Order, and Creativity by David Bohm and F. David Peat (1987):

… A good analogy to the first and second implicate orders is provided by considering a computer or video game. The first implicate order corresponds to the television screen, which is capable of showing an indefinite variety of explicate forms, which are essentially manifestations of an implicate order. In earlier television sets this could clearly be seen through the action of the synchronizing adjustment. When synchronism failed, the images would be seen to enfold into an apparently featureless background. But when the correct adjustment was made, the hidden images would suddenly unfold into explicate forms again.

The second implicate order corresponds to the computer, which supplies the information that arranges the various forms — spaceships, cars, and so forth — in the first implicate order. Finally the player of this game acts as a third implicate order, affecting the second implicate order. The result of all this is to produce a closed loop, from the screen to the player to the computer and back to the screen.

Such a loop is, in a certain sense, self-sustaining, for with only the computer and the screen in operation, all that would happen would be an unfoldment of a predetermined program. But when the player, as third implicate order, is introduced, a closed loop results and the possibility is opened up of a genuine dynamic development in time, in which creative novelty may enter.

We speculate that, in nature, there is something like a third implicate order that affects the second and is affected by the first, thus giving rise again to a closed loop. Or more generally there is an indefinite series, and perhaps hierarchies, of implicate orders, some of which form relatively closed loops and some of which do not. Of course such an idea implies that the current quantum theory is of limited validity. This theory is covered only by the first and second implicate orders. Where anything beyond the second implicate order is active, then quantum theory would no longer be valid.




September 28, 2011

Cuttable Things

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:40 am

… the knife’s capacity to affect is contingent on the existence of other things, cuttable things, that have the capacity to be affected by it.

… capacities to affect need not be finite because they depend on the capacities to be affected of innumerable other entities: a knife has the capacity to cut when it interacts with something that has the capacity to be cut; but it also has the capacity to kill if it interacts with large organisms with differentiated organs, that is, with entities that have the capacity to be killed.

This is from Philosophy and Simulation: The Emergence of Synthetic Reason by Manuel De Landa (2011). Jumping into his introduction where he’s discussing the differences between emergent properties, capacities, and tendencies:

… A kitchen knife may be either sharp or not, sharpness being an actual property of the knife. We can identify this property with the shape of the cross section of the knife’s blade: if this cross section has a triangular shape then the knife is sharp else it is blunt. This shape is emergent because the metallic atoms making up the knife must be arranged in a very particular way for it to be triangular. There is, on the other hand, the capacity of the knife to cut things. This is a very different thing because unlike the property of sharpness which is always actual the capacity to cut may never be actual if the knife is never used. In other words, a capacity may remain only potential if it is never actually exercised. This already points to a very different ontological status between properties and capacities. In addition, when the capacity does become actual it is not as a state, like the state of being sharp, but as an event, an event that is always double: to cutto be cut. The reason for this is that the knife’s capacity to affect is contingent on the existence of other things, cuttable things, that have the capacity to be affected by it. Thus, while properties can be specified without reference to anything else capacities to affect must always be thought in relation to capacities to be affected. Finally, the ontological relation between properties and capacities displays a complex symmetry. On one hand, capacities depend on properties: a knife must be sharp to be able to cut. On the other, the properties of a whole emerge from interactions between its component parts, interactions in which the parts must exercise their own capacities: without metallic atoms exercising their capacity to bond with one another the knife’s sharpness would not exist.

A similar distinction can be made between emergent properties and tendencies. To stick to the same example: a knife has the property of solidity, a property that is stable within a wide range of temperatures. Nevertheless, there are always environments that exceed that range, environments in which the temperature becomes so intense that the knife is forced to manifest the tendency to liquify. At even greater intensities the molten metal may gasify. These tendencies are as emergent as the shape of a  knife’s blade: a single metallic atom cannot be said to be solid, liquid, or gas; we need a large enough population of interacting atoms for the tendency to be in any of these states to emerge. Tendencies are similar to capacities in their ontological status, that is, they need not be actual to be real, and when they do become actual is as events: to melt or to solidify. The main difference between tendencies and capacities is that while the former are typically finite the latter need not be. We can enumerate, for example, the possible states in which a material entity will tend to be (solid, liquid, gas, plasma) or the possible ways in which it may tend to flow (uniformly, periodically, turbulently). But capacities to affect need not be finite because they depend on the capacities to be affected of innumerable other entities: a knife has the capacity to cut when it interacts with something that has the capacity to be cut; but it also has the capacity to kill if it interacts with large organisms with differentiated organs, that is, with entities that have the capacity to be killed.




September 27, 2011

A Sign-Vehicle

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 8:42 am

… The referential fallacy consists in assuming that the “meaning” of a sign-vehicle has something to do with its corresponding object.

This is from the second half of the introduction to Fictions of the Pose: Rembrandt Against the Italian Renaissance by Harry Berger, Jr. (2000). A brief summation of the first half (see my previous post) is thus:

… To insist on the theatricality of portraits and self-portraits is to stipulate that they represent acts of self-representation. … [T]he portrait presents — performs, displays, stages — not a person but a representation, and the representation not of a person but of an act of self-representation.

Berger spends the second half of the introduction on an investigation of the intertwinings of the meanings of the words presentation, representation, and, to a lesser degree, presence:

… “Ladies and gentlemen, we proudly present . . . !” This expression is used to introduce performances of various kinds, and it is also itself a performance, an act of self-presentation. In this context, “presentation” and “performance” are synonymous. But what about “Ladies and gentlemen, we proudly represent . . . !” That doesn’t have the same ring.

… To present is to make oneself present to the others who are directly or indirectly present to the presenter, others who include the presenter insofar as he or she imagines and rehearses and monitors the presentation “before” himself or herself. Presentation is always presentation-to, either presentation directly before or indirectly for others. Yet one never simply, unconditionally, presents oneself. Rather, one presents oneself as — as a man, a woman, an actor, a character, a professional, a victim, a noble, a monarch, a martyr, a merchant, a figure of authority, a figure of fun, an allegorical embodiment, a presenter, etc., — or, as oneself. In all these cases one performs a “role,” that is (speaking more properly), a language-game or discourse which, being a cultural ready-made, is a pre-existing interpretation of the role, a representation of it that may vary from culture to culture. To perform that interpretation is, in turn, to interpret it. Presenting-as is thus interpreting, and both are synonymous with “representing.” “Presentation-as” overlaps these terms while “presentation-to” picks out the demonstrative or performative aspect of representation/interpretation: the address to empirical spectators, the construction or mobilization of virtual spectator positions.

… How big a difference is there between actors, who present themselves representing themselves as others, and hypocrites, who represent themselves as others but try to conceal the signs of performance or presentation so as not to appear to be acting? Does “try to conceal” itself denote a presentational act? If hypocrites habituate themselves to conceal the signs of performance, they won’t have to try so hard. They will become able not to be aware of — not to watch themselves — performing their representations of themselves to others. Freed from their presentational burden, they will become like children, pure and simple agents of representation unmediated by presentation. But aren’t children, even babies, already like hypocrites? Infant majesties give themselves to be seen and represent themselves to others; in responding mimetically they represent themselves as others; and it is a psychoanalytic commonplace that they represent themselves to themselves. Can they also be said to present themselves representing themselves? Is presentation wrapped tightly inside representation like a chrysalis in its cocoon? Can speakers of any age be characterized by their speech as unwittingly, tacitly performing like actors and hypocrites, presenting their representations of themselves to others? Can speech be rhetorically marked as presentational regardless of what the speaker seems to intend? Don’t representations present themselves to their agents? Don’t media and sign systems emit signals on their own that transgress even as they transmit their users’ messages and intentions?

… In discussing the importance of Peirce during a short survey of semiotics, Kaja Silverman emphasizes his insistence

that our access to and knowledge of ourselves is subject to the same semiotic restrictions as our access to and knowledge of the external world. In other words, we are cognitively available to ourselves and others only in the guise of signifiers, such as proper names and first-person pronouns, or visual images, and consequently are for all intents and purposes synonymous with those signifiers.

… What I have variously called the context of understanding, the meta-level of categorical construction, and the fabric of cultural presuppositions corresponds roughly if reductively to the multi-faceted concept to which  Peirce gives the name interpretant, though my sense of it is in accord with Umberto Eco’s revised formulation: “The interpretant is that which guarantees the validity of the sign, even in the absence of the interpreter,” and the “that” can only be

another sign which in turn has another interpretant to be named by another sign and so on. At this point there begins a process of unlimited semiosis . . . [in which language] is clarified by successive systems of conventions that explain each other. . . . In fact . . . culture continuously translates signs into other signs, and definitions into other definitions, words into icons, icons into ostensive signs, ostensive signs into new definitions, new definitions into propositional functions, propositional functions into exemplifying sentences and so on; in this way it proposes to its members an uninterrupted chain of cultural units composing other cultural units, and thus translating and explaining them.

“Chain” is not the best image for what Eco describes here and elsewhere as unlimited semiosis: a better one would be rhizomatic network of interconnecting branches that changes continuously as some grow and others die off.

[ … ]

[S]emiotics is in principle the discipline studying everything which can be used in order to lie.

In a sentence mentioning something, that is, referrring to an actual state of the world, what happens at the source is the so-called “referent.”

The problem . . . of the referent . . . [is] the problem of the possible states of the world supposedly corresponding to the content of a sign-function . . . Every time there is possibility of lying, there is a sign-function, which is to signify (and then to communicate) something to which no real state of things corresponds.

The semiotic object of a semantics is the content, not the referent, and the content has to be defined as a cultural unit. . . . The referential fallacy consists in assuming that the “meaning” of a sign-vehicle has something to do with its corresponding object. [quoting Umberto Eco]

I define a portrait as a sign that denotes by resemblance, a sign whose content purports to refer to some possible state of the world that corresponds to it but is absent from it. Since the possible state the portrait sign denotes and resembles is the prior act of portrayal that produced it, its relation to what it denotes and resembles is indexical as well as iconic. But the basic premise behind the fiction of the pose is that we can’t assume the activity of posing and painting to have transpired exactly in the way it is represented. Rather … we must assume that much of the actual process of producing the portrait was different from and is thus unrepresented in the final product. We assume, in short, that the portrait is lying — is encouraging the referential fallacy — and that its claims to iconicity and indexicality are fictitious.

The portrait, however, may bear indexical significations that are not fictive in this manner because they denote the work self-representation does in the sociopolitical and economic context of the apparatus of patronage.

That last bit is what the rest of the book will be exploring. My previous post from Berger’s book is here.



That Time

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 8:32 am

…  it seems clear that the moment when the grain becomes a heap will recede infinitely.

This is from Samuel Beckett: Repetition, Theory and Text by Steven Connor (1988):

… Near the beginning of the play [Endgame], Hamm asks Clov, ‘What’s happening, what’s happening?’, only to receive the reply ‘Something is taking its course.’ These words suggest the non-identiy of the experience and meaning. If all that is happening is precisely what we see, consists simply in the two characters being there, then, for Hamm and Clov, this being there is agonizingly insufficient. For Hamm especially, meaning or significance cannot inhere in experience, but must be imposed from the outside, as the supervention of an imagined outsider, a ‘rational being’ who, as he surmises, might happen to visit them and ‘get ideas into his head.’ Because of this dependence on meanings ascribed from the outside, the endless process of Hamm’s and Clov’s lives never comes of itself to any point of significance or understanding; the best that can be managed is the asymptotic approach to meaning or identity which is imaged in the allusions to the millet-heap of the philosopher Sextus Empiricus. Clov looks forward to the coming of being as one looks for the moment when a succession of millet grains added one to another can suddenly be recognized as a heap: ‘Grain upon grain, one by one, and one day, suddenly there’s a heap, a little heap, the impossible heap.’ When the metaphor recurs in Hamm’s words, it seems clear that the moment when the grain becomes a heap will recede infinitely: ‘Moment upon moment, pattering down, like the millet grains of . . . (he hesitates) . . . that old Greek, and all life long you wait for that to mount up to a life.’ In this hell, as in Sartre’s Huis Clos, it proves impossible to imagine a life brought to completeness. When death comes it will not confer a meaning, but will simply, arbitrarily, bring the process of living to a halt.

… For the theatre to be theatre, it must be observed, must be staged in a particular place for a particular audience. … [T]hough it is certainly possible to imagine a performance without an audience, it is doubtful whether such a thing could count for anyone as a performance unless the element of spectacle were retained. … After [Hamm] has discarded all his petty theatrical paraphernalia, he is left merely with words and, when they cease, with darkness and silence.

[ … ]

Krapp’s Last Tape demonstrates how little is kept in … a ‘faithful’ recording. For Krapp to listen to the tape of himself as a man of thirty-nine is to reveal clearly his ironic non-coincidence with himself. Where the younger Krapp can talk brashly about his mother’s ‘viduity’, the older Krapp no longer remembers what the word means. … The effect of seeing Krapp as puzzled by the voice as by the written redaction of what the voice has to say, though able in both cases to stop and go over the material again, is to run together the two forms of language, making recorded speech like a kind of writing.

Beckett experiments in other plays with prerecorded voices which are not identified openly as such. The effect of this is to complicate even further our sense of the relationship between the phonic and the textual. Probably the most complex version of this is to be found in That Time, which shows us an old man, listening to three voices (identified by the text as his own), speaking of different times in his life. It is as though the situation in Krapp’s Last Tape had been logically extended; now the old man does not even begin to contribute to the voices, but loses himself in the repetitious evocations of past time. Where Krapp is still just about able to order and categorize the different periods of his life, his ledger separating out youth, middle age and age, distinguishing ‘this time’ from ‘that time,’ the listener in That Time is suspended between the voices, and the different times that they specify and represent.

… The difficulty and multiplicity of interpretation comes about because of the separation of the voice from the face, a separation which compels us to try to unify the two, without ever offering the prospect of complete success. Separated from immediate reference, the flood of speech which surrounds the face takes on the condition of a writing, in that we must all the time supply for it interpretive contexts. The meaning of these words does not reside in them, but, as with the words on the tape that winds off slowly at the end of Krapp’s Last Tape, is produced from the relationship of the words to a context that subsequently comes about, a context which is a supervention and a displacement of the words. What is important to note is that the face itself is not exempt from these displacements, despite the problematic separation of voice and text, for the face too begins to display itself as repetition and displacement. Perhaps the most powerful of its displacements is brought about in the last words, which seem to predict the final fade-out, and at the same time to offer an interpretation of the preceding play: ‘not a sound only the old breath and the leaves turning and then suddenly this dust whole place suddenly full of dust when you opened your eyes from floor to ceiling nothing only dust and not a sound only what was it it said come and gone was it something like that come and gone come and gone no one come and gone in no time gone in no time.’

… Reader and spectator are then offered a summary of the preceding performance: all that can be said for certain is that the voices and the listening face have ‘come and gone’, that formula which Beckett often returns to to express the shadowy interdependence of presence and absence. The banal phrase which follows, ‘in no time’, is given a new impetus by its position at the end of the play; its ordinary meaning of ‘abruptly’ is intensified, as we realize that the apparently interminable voices are actually coming to an end, just as every life must, and that the time which they have occupied seems both appallingly long and sickeningly brief. The words may also suggest that the audience has participates in a stretch of ‘no-time’, that is, the ‘non-time’ of dramatic representation, in which there is no real before or after, or even present tense, but only the representation of them. If we feel ourselves about to be restored to the real time of habitual experience, we may also feel for a moment the anxiety that this theatrical ‘no-time’ is more like our own lived time and our representations of it than we care to, or can afford to, believe.

My most recent previous post from Connor’s book is here.




September 26, 2011

Cogito of a Shadow

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 8:34 am

… In days of happiness, the world is edible.

This is from The Poetics of Reverie: Childhood, Language, and the Cosmos by Gaston Bachelard (1960):

… One would laugh at a father who, for love of his child, would go “unhook the moon.” But the poet does not shy away from this cosmic gesture. In his ardent memory, he knows that that is a childhood gesture. The child knows very well that the moon, that great blond bird, has its nest somewhere in the forest.

… To meditate on the child we were, beyond all family history, after going beyond the zone of regrets, after dispersing all the mirages of nostalgia, we reach an anonymous childhood, a pure threshold of life, original life, original human life. And this life is within us — let us underline that once again — remains within us. A dream (songe) brings us back to it. The memory does nothing more than open the door to the dream (songe). The archetype is there, immutable, immobile beneath memory, immobile beneath the dreams (songes). And when one has made the archetypal power of childhood come back to life through dreams, all the great archetypes of the paternal forces, maternal forces take on their action again. The father is there, also immobile. The mother is there, also immobile. Both escape time. Both live with us in another time. And everything changes; the fire of long ago is different from today’s fire. Everything which welcomes has the virtue of an origin.

… A philosopher who makes a place for dreams (songes) in “philosophical reflection” comes to know, with the meditated childhood, a cogito which emerges from the shadows, which retains a fringe of shadow which is perhaps the cogito of a “shadow.” This cogito is not immediately transformed into certainty like the professors’ cogito. Its light is a glimmer which does not know its origin. There, existence is never quite assured. Besides, why exist since you are dreaming? Where does life begin? In the life which does not dream or in the life which does dream?

… What a lot of proper nouns come to wound, rag and break the anonymous child of solitude! And in memory itself, too many faces come back to prevent us from finding the memories of times when we were alone, very much alone in the profound boredom of being alone, free too to think of the world, free to see the sun setting, the smoke rising from a roof, all those great phenomena which one sees badly when he is not looking at them alone.

Smoke rising from a roof! . . . a hyphen uniting the village with the sky . . . In memories it is always blue, slow, light. Why?

…”I [Henri Bosco] was raised in the odor of the earth, the wheat and the new wine. When I think about it, a vivid vapor of joy and youth still comes back to me.” Bosco proposes the decisive nuance: a vapor of joy rises from the memory. Memories are the incense in reserve in the past.

… When, in reading the poets, one discovers that a whole childhood is evoked by the memory of an isolated fragrance, he understands that odor, in a childhood, in a life, is, if we may put it this way, an immense detail. This nothing added to the whole works on the very being of the dreamer. This nothing makes him live the magnifying reverie; we read that poet with total sympathy who gives the germ of this enlargement of childhood in an image. When I read this line in Edmond Vandercammen: “My childhood goes back to that wheaten bread,” an odor of warm bread invaded a house of my youth. The custard (flan) and round loaf returned to my table.

… In days of happiness, the world is edible. And when the great odors which were preparing feasts return to me in memory, it seems to me, Baudelarian that I was, that “I eat memories.”

Green peas may have had something to do with this post.





Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 8:31 am

… Does an artist actively control his own enterprise?

… “I cannot distinguish between the feeling I have of life and the manner in which I translate it.”

This is the second of two posts today from Cézanne and the End of Impressionism: A Study of the Theory, Technique, and Critical Evaluation of Modern Art by Richard Shiff (1984):

… In response to the fauve artist’s [Matisse’s] “Notes d’un peintre,” Denis explained that those of Matisse’s “generation” were “not so much theoreticians; they believe more in the power of instinct.” In other words, they were — or wished to be — spontaneous finders, not premeditative makers. They located art in a sincerity that facilitated the finding of an origin rather than a self-conscious process of artifice or making. As absolutes that were neither part of, derived from, nor dependent on anything else, origins — nature, self, and perhaps an encompassing divinity — constituted the absolute ends of art. Origins were truths to be found, as if blindly, at the end of the individual’s artistic search (or life).

… Modern critics often wish to be “true” to the art they discuss; and Matisse’s professed spontaneity seems indeed to call for an appreciation of the master’s work limited to a revelation of immediate individualized experience: what the artist offers on the surface, the critic should simply receive and acknowledge. The self-defeating result of this type of “critical” response is that the work remains hermetic even when shared. Roger Fry, the ingenious champion of both Matisse and Cézanne, was among those who put such a critical attitude into operation; accordingly, he left a numinous center of artistic expression untouched by his otherwise probing analysis:

I seem unable at present to get beyond [a] vague adumbration of the nature of significant form. . . . One can only say that those who experience [the value of the aesthetic emotion] feel it to have a peculiar quality of ‘reality’ which makes it a matter of infinite importance in their lives. Any attempt I might make to explain this would probably land me in the depths of mysticism. On the edge of that gulf I stop.

Mysticism, however, may reduce to mere mystery; and mystery does not ensure that one is in the presence of mastery. A more skeptical critic, less inclined to let originality lie, might complain that any form impervious to explicit interpretation can only constitute an artistic flaw, a lapse in coherent communication.

… An artist such as Matisse, the self-assured master of several traditional artistic crafts, could not easily ignore the potential of technique even while he expounded a doctrine of individuality and originality. Matisse stressed discovery and instinct, yet seemed to recognize the artist’s power to make, not merely find, his own direction. In a remarkable passage from “Notes d’un peintre,” he associates artistic mastery with a feat of self-control, a willful deployment of the artist’s emotions and temperament:

I think one can judge the vitality and power of an artist when, having received impressions of nature directly, he is able to organize his sensations and even to return repeatedly and under different natural conditions [á des jours différents] in the same state of mind, to prolong these sensations: such an ability is indication of a man master enough of himself to subject himself to a discipline.

Elsewhere, however, Matisse more typically describes the artist as a finder. He writes that he cannot “copy” nature, for he is “forced to interpret it and submit it to the spirit of the picture [tableau].” Moreover, he is “entirely led along by [his] subconscious”; and, as a result, his “picture” directly reflects his temperament. As he proceeds to paint, “finding” the relationships of color, he witnesses the discovery of his own self as an origin of expression, even as he may “deviate” from nature.

Matisse seems unable to decide the central question: Does an artist actively control his own enterprise? Having suggested that technique must derive involuntarily from temperament, he adds that the artist must simply believe he has painted what he has seen, that he has, in a sense, merely “copied” nature. As his contemporary Henri Bergson might do, Matisse distinguishes between deliberating on or reflecting back on painting, and performing the act itself. His argument is complex; what follows is its essence: in reasoning about his own painting, the artist will recognize the fictional quality of his creation and his own departure from nature; yet this deviance must not have been preconceived; and while he paints, the artist must retain the conviction that he is doing no more than copying nature, finding nature as it is, not recreating it to serve his own will. With regard to this paradoxical adherence to and departure from nature, Matisse first quotes Chardin as saying, “I lay on color until there is a likeness”; then he quotes Cézanne: “I want to make a likeness [faire l’image]”; then Rodin: “copy nature”; and finally Leonardo: “He who is able to copy, is able to make [or create].” In sum, Matisse states that although the artist’s “techniques [moyens] should derive almost inevitably from his temperament” and he should nevertheless “believe he has painted only what he has seen,” he may still upon reflection consider himself a maker of fictions. Matisse, in other words, wants to establish three somewhat conflicting claims. (1) The artist’s temperament is the origin of his technical means; in expressing himself artistically he manifests his own temperament as if involuntarily; he finds his inner self. (2) All the while, however, the artist must regard himself as finding the color relationships that faithfully “copy” nature; nature is also found in his work. (3) Yet the artist is capable of controlling his own techniques and actively creates his images of self and nature.

I do not propose to extricate Matisse from the theoretical morass into which he was drawn, or perhaps drew himself. Rather, I wish to investigate the third of Matisse’s claims within a culture obsessed by the other two, and to look at naturalistic “impressionist” painting of the sort that eventually gave rise to Matisse’s distinction between nature and self, Sisley and Cézanne. How was this painting made? How does one create a type of painting that is intended to convey the message that art is not made, but found? And what techniques can be consciously adopted in order to facilitate unforeseen discovery?

There is more to be learned about the extent of this problem in a brief return to “Notes d’un peintre.” At the beginning of his theoretical statement, Matisse must hesitate; he fears giving the “appearance of contradicting myself, [for] I do not repudiate any of my paintings, yet there is not one I would not paint otherwise, if I had it to do over again.” Matisse here refers to his belief that paintings should express inner feelings and these, along with the living self, continually change and grow. The artist’s techniques evolve, too; but Matisse insists that his earlier means are not necessarily inferior to his later ones. Instead, they reflect the changes in his own life. Hence, variance in his manner of execution does not imply a “contradiction” or rejection of his past, but the response of technique to emotion: “I cannot distinguish between the feeling I have of life and the manner in which I translate it.” For Matisse, the demands of self-expression and originality seem to determine an unstable technique that must remain responsive to unpredictable developments. Such technique may never be “mastered” because it continues to evolve, and it can be imitated by others only at their risk of assuming an alien identity or of fixing in place what must always move onward. No wonder that Matisse and other modern artists have been so anxious about maintaining the individuality and exclusive possession of their technical means.

Matisse feels free to attribute so much of his achievement to (passive) instinct, discovery, or sincerity because of his fundamental concern for origins — self and nature — and originality. He must call the creative power of his technical mastery into question because his conception of the “self” requires it to be an object of discovery or found expression, not made representation. In other words, the innate rules over the acquired: the painter’s self-expression and originality must dominate his technique.

My most recent previous post from Shiff’s book is here.



Intentionally Unintentional

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 8:24 am

… To attain his goal, he would have depended on the skillful use of his technique to convey his intention, an intention to convey no intention …

This is the first of two posts today from Cézanne and the End of Impressionism: A Study of the Theory, Technique, and Critical Evaluation of Modern Art by Richard Shiff (1984):

… nineteenth-century critics (including both Zola and Aurier) recognized that technique can never be entirely uninformed or unintended; it cannot be found, but must be made. Given the evidence of an impressionist painting, a critic must judge the artist “innocent” of much of the inherited convention of his cultural tradition, but such an evaluation would result only if the critic were convinced that the artist had indeed taken a radically naïve approach to representing his impression of nature. The impressionist, however, would have to have worked actively to give the appearance of this kind of passivity. To attain his goal, he would have depended on the skillful use of his technique to convey his intention, an intention to convey no intention, to have no “ideas,” perhaps even to be “absorbed by nature.” Alternatively, one might state that the impressionist painter actively creates (or even “fabricates”) is own naïveté by entering a discourse of naïveté; he not only represents naïveté, but uses his own representation as the means of experiencing naïveté. In either case, the painter’s technically proficient expression of innocence, naïveté, or originality does not amount to a passive art found in nature; through its technique, this representation becomes instead a creation of man, genuinely personal and reflecting individual achievement. And such creation is, simply and tautologically, the use of technique.

… Hypothetically, any genuinely innocent or original artist works independently of others, perhaps as removed from the institutions of a modern society as is a “naïf” or a primitive. He is thus in a position to render truths that he alone can know; others, not sharing his experiences, may not be able either to discover these truths or to comprehend them. But if others do comprehend, if wholly effective communication is achieved, the artist who claims a naïve and original vision — the impressionist — through an independent struggle to express himself, to paint “what he sees,” comes (in effect) to express universal truths, truths recognized by all others. Such an artist is a symbolist. The impressionist, although not sharing the symbolist’s initial aim, might be seen as attaining the symbolist’s end. Conversely, the fact that Monet — or Van Gogh — may appear as a symbolist does not preclude his remaining an impressionist. By this reasoning, the distinctions between impressionism and symbolism do not become irrelevant; but in some, even many, cases, these general categories converge or simply collapse.




September 25, 2011

Pain and Pleasure

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:41 am

… the feelings of pain are incomparably more capable of expressing genuine diversity than the feelings of pleasure, which differ mainly in degree.

… pleasure … owes any nobility it possesses to the grace of its birth — that is to say, its source.

This is from “Outline of the Psychophysical Problem” by Walter Benjamin (written in 1922-23):

… Our body … is not integrated into the historical process, but only dwells in it from time to time; its modification from one form to the next is not the function of the historical process itself, but merely the particular, detached relation of a life to it.

… Everything that a human being can distinguish in himself as having his form as a totality, as well as such of his limbs and organs that appear to have a form — all that belongs to his body. All limitation that he sensuously perceives in himself belongs, as form, likewise to his body. It follows that the sensuously perceived individual existence of man is the perception of a relation in which he discovers himself; it is not, however, the perception of a substratum, of a substance of  himself, as is the case with his corporeal substance, which represents such a substance sensually. The latter manifests itself, in contrast, in a twofold polar form: as pain and pleasure. In these two, no form of any sort, and hence no limitation, is perceived. If, therefore, we know about our corporeal substance only — or chiefly — through pleasure or pain, we know of no limitation on it. It is now advisable for us to look around among the modes of consciousness for those to which limitation is just as alien as the states of pain or pleasure, which at their most intense culminate in intoxication [Rausch]. Such states include those of perception. Admittedly, we must distinguish here between different degrees. The sense least bound by limitation is perhaps that of sight, which we might call centrifugal, in contrast to the more centripetal senses of taste and especially touch. Sight shows our corporeal substance to be, if not without limits, then at least with fluctuating, formless delimitations.

Thus, we may say in general that what we know of perception we know of our corporeal substance, which in contrast to our body is extended but has no sharply delimited form. This corporeal substance is not, indeed, the ultimate substratum of our existence, but it is at least a substance in contrast to our body, which is only a function.

[ … ]

… Nature is not something that belongs especially to every individual body. Rather, it relates to the singularity of the body as the different currents that flow into the sea relate to each drop of water. Countless such drops are carried along by the same current. In like fashion, nature is the same, not indeed in all human beings, but in a great many of them. Moreover, this nature is not just alike; it is in the full sense identical, one and the same. It is not constant; its current changes with the centuries, and a greater or lesser number of such currents are to be found simultaneously.

[ … ]

… From the point of view of pleasure, it is its uniform lightning character that separates it from pain; from the point of view of pain, its chronic and diverse character is what distinguishes it from pleasure. Only pain, never pleasure, can become the chronic feeling accompanying constant organic processes. It alone, and never pleasure, is capable of extreme differentiation according to the nature of the organ from which it proceeds.

… the feelings of pain are incomparably more capable of expressing genuine diversity than the feelings of pleasure, which differ mainly in degree.

… Of all the corporeal feelings, pain alone is like a navigable river which never dries up and which leads man down to the sea. Pleasure, in contrast, turns out to be a dead-end, wherever man tries to follow its lead. In truth, it is a premonition from another world — unlike pain, which is a link between worlds. This is why organic pleasure is intermittent, whereas pain can be permanent.

This comparison of pleasure and pain explains why the cause of pain is irrelevant for the understanding of a man’s nature, whereas the source of his greatest pleasure is extremely important. For every pain, even the most trivial one, can lead upward to the highest religious suffering, whereas pleasure is not capable of any enhancement, and owes any nobility it possesses to the grace of its birth — that is to say, its source.



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