Unreal Nature

May 31, 2013

When You Fall Into My Work

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:06 am

… Two socks, a mug, one pullover, etcetera, and no more — but hopefully things will be okay.

This is from A Critical Cinema 4: Interviews with Independent Filmmakers by Scott MacDonald (2005). This is from his interview with Péter Forgács:

[ … ]

Forgács: … My work does represent particular moments, some of them new, for the audience, in modern history. But in a sense, the films I make are also dream works; they’re about cultural dreams and nightmares. And one can look at The Danube Exodus that way.

I don’t use film as a pastime. I don’t like pastimes. I like art and sex and raising children, and talking with other people — discourse. The ephemeral, everyday footage I’m collecting generally records idiotic pastimes, typical of middle-class life in Eastern Europe. But, on the other hand, if you think of these movies as found objects for Fluxus art, then you see that what might otherwise be boring can also be understood as a series of sacred moments, nonhistorical, private footage becomes historic evidence of a certain mood, of a background; a color or a gesture or a smile, or a shape of a face, reveals dimensions of a society that are never visible in public art.

My whole procedure becomes a way of my inviting you to look at what I found, to come sit beside me and think about it. Like good music, my work offers an opportunity for a contemplative experience. On the other hand, the pieces record primary facts about human history and have as many layers as dreams. You can peel them like an onion, layer by layer.

[ … ]

Forgács: My first intention in this project in 1983-84 was to show my friends what I’d found in the hidden suppressed past — the Atlantis — of middle Europe. My recontextualizing of home movies is not just a rereading in Derrida’s sense; it’s more: a moving image tells more than a text can, and in the deepest senses. There’s as much cultural, personal, historic, emotional, sensual experience in the films I work with as there is in anything but the great novels of Kafka or Márquez or Bulgakov. When you fall into my work (if you’re an ideal viewer!), at the same time you fall into your own imagination, dreams, feelings; you realize all this could have happened to us. It’s not an actor who dies; it’s him and her. It’s us.

In a dramatic narrative film, the actor never dies, only the role. But here it’s the opposite; the real people die, but their roles as people doing mundane things continue in our lives.

MacDonald: One of the most dramatic moments in The Maelstrom is when Annie is with her stepmother during that terrifying moment when they’re getting ready to be deported to Auschwitz. They don’t  know what we know about where they’re going, of course; but it’s a traumatic moment nevertheless, just because they’re leaving home and don’t know what comes next.

[ … ]

Forgács: … We think we can secure ourselves and that nothing bad will happen. I’ll drive to Ithaca today, and at the moment I’m sure there will be no car accident — but who knows? It’s the same with Annie in The Maelstrom, packing those little things they were permitted to bring. Two socks, a mug, one pullover, etcetera, and no more — but hopefully things will be okay.

Sometimes I work with much less tension because history also plays with us in a lower dynamic, one that can still surprise us out of our complacency. The painter Lichtenstein has this beautiful paradox: “When I went home, I was expecting surprise, and when there was no surprise for me, I was surprised.”

[ … ]

MacDonald: How did you get the Seyss-Inquart home movies? And how is it that the Peereboom home movies survived the war?

Forgács: I saw the Seyss-Inquart film (it was a confiscated war document) in the Dutch National Film Archive in 1998, when we were doing research for the Unknown War series.

As to the Peereboom home movies, they were saved by Chris, an assistant at the Boumans’ shop in Vlissingen (Annie Prins was the Bourmans’ stepdaughter) — you can see him washing Max’s car at the beginning of the video. I think Max gave the material to Chris before their deportation to Auschwitz in 1942.

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



May 30, 2013

When All the Data Has Been Dealt With

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:38 am

… The five senses, still on the verge of departure towards another adventure, a ghost of the real timidly described in a ghost of language — this is my essay.

This is my final post from The Five Senses: A Philosophy of Mingled Bodies by Michel Serres (2008, 1985):

… I know or understand through my skin, as fine as any iris or pupil, and they in turn as fine as intuition, in a bath of sounds or noises, anharmonic. I understand or know through sapience — taste finally has the name it deserves, that of art and wisdom — and through sagacity, intuition at last regaining its cognitive dignity; but I apprehend and conceive also through my muscles and joints, my bones becoming transparent, my stance off-balance in the hurly-burly of the world, an attentive and flexible posture — the rhythm of my heart and the tunic of my arteries beating against its rocky obstacles. Through assimilation and inspiration, through running and jumping, walking and dancing, love, the knowing subject at last occupies its house, its true house, its entire house, the whole of its old, dark, black box.

[ … ]

… Since the beginning of our history, the global and local world — from the glory of the heavens down to its smallest details and folds, furrows, marshy places and small pebbles — has slumbered beneath the waters of language, inaccessible and swallowed up like the great cathedral. No-one could go to the object without passing through it, just as no-one gathers seaweed, without, in some unimaginable space, getting his arm wet.

Likewise everything today is swallowed up by the scholarly avalanche, nothing escapes the control of science. Nothing. Neither grass nor the word grass, not stars nor the word star, nor our connections: our emotional relationships, our collective obligations, the withholding of information or confessions, the humble terms we exchange without too much concern about their meaning. Love, abuse, gift, speaking, war, tax, devotion, here again are objects of science subject to transferences of language, where we move from rhetoric to a sort of algebra. When they work on our relationships, the human sciences uproot language by going behind it — as do the exact sciences with objects — replacing it with a true algorithm.

… Once the primary object of traditional philosophy which claimed to construct knowledge from it, the given is now a primary object for us, because a remnant of the competence of what remains of language when it has lost everything — an exterior abandoned by our memories when all the data has been dealt with.

… The subject, forgetful, detached, immerses itself in the unforgettable world.

The five senses, still on the verge of departure towards another adventure, a ghost of the real timidly described in a ghost of language — this is my essay.

I should have liked to call it resurrection — or rebirth.

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




Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:36 am

… It was in these gaps, or from out of them, that the force of any public protest might materialize, but into which, as well, it constantly risked dissolving. I think of the way our space was created and de-created, by … camera people, insolent with implicit dare and promise, to take them for walks along the line of our faces and bodies, and pretty girl and boy reporters to make a foreground to which our angry bodies could serve as background, generating the depth of field, the assurance of perspective and ten-foot-pole distance …

This is from Touching Feeling by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick (2003). A poem prefaces her first chapter:

She resembles a recurrent
Scene from my childhood.
A scene called Mother Has Fainted.
Mother’s body
Was larger, now it no longer moved;
Breathed, somehow, as if it no longer breathed.
Her face no longer smiled at us
Or frowned at us. Did anything to us.
Her face was queerly flushed
Or else queerly pale; I am no longer certain.
That it was queer I am certain.
Randall Jarrell, “Hope”

The most dramatic thing that happened to me in the summer of 1991 was when I passed out for television. The TV cameras from the local news shows were there because we were having a demonstration, organized by an Ad Hoc Coalition of Black Lesbians and Gays, with participation from ACT UP-Triangle, against the University of North Carolina’s local PBS station, which was refusing to air Marlon Riggs’s Tongues Untied, the first film on the almost genocidally underrepresented topic of black gay men in the United States. It was a muggy southern summer afternoon by the side of a highway in Research Triangle Park. I had thought I was feeling strong enough for what looked to be a sedate demonstration (no civil disobedience), in spite of several months of chemotherapy that had pretty much decimated my blood cells.

But I guess I’d forgotten or repressed how arduous a thing it is any time a group of people try to project voices and bodies into a space of public protest that has continually to be reinvented from scratch, even though (or because) the protest function is so routinized and banalized by the state and media institutions that enable it. You know what local news shows look like, how natural it seems that there should be, now and then, those shots of grim, dispirited people waving signs and moving their mouths, I mean moving our mouths, I mean yelling.

… this was a fight about blackness, queerness, and (implicitly) AIDS: properties of bodies, some of them our bodies, of bodies that it seemed important to say most people are very willing, and some people murderously eager, to see not exist. I got there late, hugged and kissed the friends and students I hadn’t seen in a few weeks, and Brian gave me his sign to carry. I can’t remember — I hardly noticed — what was on it, even though when I was a kid I remember that most of the symbolic power of the picket lines I saw used to seem to inhere to the voluntary self-violation, the then almost inconceivable willed assumption of stigma, that seemed to me to be involved in anyone’s consenting to go public as a written-upon body, an ambulatory placard — a figure I, as a child, could associate only with the disciplining of children. I wonder now how I related that voluntary stigma to the nondiscretionary stigma of skin color — that is, of skin color other than white — considering how fully, when I was growing up in the 1950s and early 1960s, “protest” itself implied black civil rights protest. It was at some distance from that childhood terror of the written-upon body, though not at an infinite distance, that, already wearing the black “Silence = Death” T-shirt chosen because I thought it would read more graphically from a distance than my white ACT UP-Triangle T-shirt, I gratefully took Brian’s placard and commenced wagging it around with energy and satisfaction, as if to animate it with the animation of my own body and make it speak: to the TV cameras, to people in the cars that were passing, to the little line of demonstrators across the road. The heat, the highway, the outdoors seemed to blot up voices and gestures and the chants that we hurled out of our lungs, trying exhaustingly to create a seamless curtain of rage and demand …

… The space of the demonstration was riddled, not only with acoustical sinkholes, but with vast unbridgeable gaps of meaning. It was in these gaps, or from out of them, that the force of any public protest might materialize, but into which, as well, it constantly risked dissolving. I think of the way our space was created and de-created, continually, by the raking attentions and sullen withdrawals of, on the one hand, the state troopers — the pathetically young and overdressed white state troopers, who at the same time looked totally out of it in their sweltering uniforms and yet effortlessly, through the same uniforms and because they had guns and radios, commanded all the physical presence and symbolic density that we were struggling to accrue, who made a space of their own ostentatiously apart from the demonstrators, ostentatiously “neutral,” untouchable by the force of anything we could shout; but who had also the function of radiating jags of menace in our direction, shards of volatile possibility that boomeranged around in the ether of our expression — and on the other hand, from another direction, the TV cameras, actually a complex of trucks, tripods, portable and stationary machines, and white people to occupy both ends of them: camera people, insolent with implicit dare and promise, to take them for walks along the line of our faces and bodies, and pretty girl and boy reporters to make a foreground to which our angry bodies could serve as background, generating the depth of field, the assurance of perspective and ten-foot-pole distance, for which television news serves as guardian and guarantee.

The uses we had for this news apparatus, as opposed to the uses it had for us, I condensed in my mind under the double formulation “shaming and smuggling.” With the force of our words — referentially, that is — our object was to discredit the pretense at representing the public maintained by our local “public” broadcasting station, to shame them into compliance or negotiation on the issue of airing this film. With the force of our bodies, however, and in that sense performatively, our object was not merely to demand representation, representation elsewhere, but ourselves to give, to be representation: somehow to smuggle onto the prohibitive airwaves some version of the apparently unrepresentably dangerous and endangered conjunction, queer and black.

… The assertion that black queer absence gave the lie to the claims of representative use of the airwaves could take its point only from the patent availability, indeed the assertive presence of such bodies. The protest function also, however, offered pretext and legitimacy to the presence of such bodies: it seems likely that our protest was the first occasion on which local TV in central North Carolina was constrained to offer images of people explicitly self-classified under the rubrics of black, queer identity.

… And yet I can’t claim for the twinned ambitions behind this demonstration the supposedly clean distinctions between constative and performative, or between reference and embodiment. … [O]ur “smuggling” activity of embodiment, however self-referential, could boast of no autonomy from the oblique circuits of representation. At least because a majority of our smuggling-intent bodies were not themselves black, many of us who had so much need to make a new space for black queer representation were haplessly embroiled in the processes of reference: reference to other bodies standing beside our own, to the words on our placards, to what we could only hope would be the sufficiently substantial sense — if, indeed, even we understood it rightly — of our own intent.

After a while I could tell I was feeling tired and dizzy; sensibly, I sat down. There was something so absorbing and so radically heterogeneous about this space of protest that when, next thing I knew, the urgent sound of my name and a slowly dawning sense of disorientation suggested that I seemed very oddly to be stretched out in the dirt — coming to — surfacing violently from the deep pit of another world — with a state trooper taking my pulse and an ambulance already on the way — the gaping, unbridgeable hole left in my own consciousness felt like a mise-en-abîme image of the whole afternoon; not least because the image, a compelling one on which both TV cameras were converging, hindered by protestors who struggled to block their sightlines (“Now that’s censorship,” the TV people rumbled, with some justice) — that image, of a mountainous figure, supine, black-clad, paper-white, weirdly bald (my nice African hat had pitched to a distance), Silence = Death emblazoned, motionless, apparently female, uncannily gravid with meaning (but with what possible meaning? what usable meaning?) was available to everybody there except herself.

… if that sprawling body offered testimony, it was less to a triumphal purposefulness than to a certain magnetic queerness (by magnetic I mean productive of deviance) in the process called demonstration. What felt to me like an almost telescopic condensation of the protest event embodied, as the most radical condensations will, less the power of condensation than the displacements of meaning that interline it. (Displacements: the white skin of someone to whom black queer invisibility had come to feel — partly through representational work like Tongues Untied, partly in the brutalities of every day’s paper, partly through transferentially charged interactions with students — like an aching gap in the real; the legible bodily stigmata not of AIDS but of a “female” cancer whose lessons for living powerfully with I found myself, at that time, learning largely from men with AIDS; the defamiliarization and indeed the gaps of de-recognition toward my “own” “female” “white” body, experienced under the pressure of amputation and prosthesis, of drugs, of the gender-imploding experience of female baldness; the way in which, whatever one’s privilege, a person living with a grave disease in this particular culture is inducted ever more consciously, ever more needily, yet with ever more profound and transformative revulsion into the manglingly differential world of health care under American capitalism.)



May 29, 2013

Philosophy Is Not

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:17 am

This is from The Experience of Freedom by Jean-Luc Nancy (1993; 1988):

… philosophy does not produce or construct any “freedom,” it does not guarantee any freedom, and it would not as such be able to defend any freedom (regardless of the mediating role it can play, like every other discipline, in actual struggles). But it keeps open the access to the essence of the logos through its history and all its avatars.

… Philosophy is not the free sphere of thinking in general, nor is it the theoretical relay between moral, political, or aesthetic practices of freedom, and it does not supplement the material deprivations of freedom by way of an independence of spirit. In philosophy the logic of freedom merely rejoins incessantly the practical axiom that inaugurates it: thinking receives itself from the freedom of existence.

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



Good Moves / Bad Moves

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:16 am

… A game is successful just to the extent that it continues to produce responses, not to the extent that it is sincere or insincere.

Continuing through The Grasshopper: Games, Life and Utopia by Bernard Suits (2005; 1978). This is getting pretty complicated. In this installment Suits introduces yet another character; this one, Bartholomew Drag, is a case study that the doctor, Heuschrecke, from the previous episode has given to his patient, Porphyryo Sneak, to read:

… An episode in Drag’s early life [Sneak read] set the pattern for everything that was to follow. As a Boy Scout young Bartholomew was interested almost exclusively in those scouting practices which fall into the good deeds department, and in that department he was especially keen on the good deed which consists in helping old ladies across the street. After a bit Bartholomew came to value the role of Old Lady Helper (Streetwise) at least as much as he did the benefits which performance of that role is presumed to provide for old ladies. He thus took to lurking about the busy intersections of the city where he lived which, luckily for him, was St. Petersburg, Florida, so that Bartholomew enjoyed a veritable glut of opportunities for performing his service and, more important, his role. But one traumatic day his family moved from St. Petersburg to Doze, a hamlet in the hinterland of the state where the entire female population was under the age of forty-five.

Bartholomew’s response is to finagle his own grandmother into crossing numerous streets at all hours. She soon loses interest in street-crossing after which there is an arms race (temper tantrums, bribes, etc.):

… By the time Drag was thirty-five he had accumulated as all of us do, a quite extensive repertory of proprietary roles; all the roles, that is, associated with the various social positions he occupied: father, husband, boss (he was owner-director of a computer manufacturing corporation), chairman of he Opera Board and of the Heart Fund, and city councilor, to name just a few of his more obvious positions. … He treated them just as he had long ago treated the role of helping old ladies across the street. That is to say, he valued performing them at least as much as he valued their social benefits. Among his favorites were: Understanding Father, Understanding Husband, Pig-headed Father, Pig-headed Husband, Graciously Condescending Banterer (Typing Pool), Ditto (Assembly Line), Jocular Chairman of the Board, Gruff Chairman of the Board, Sympathetic Confidant, Shocked Confidant, and many others.

His friends, family and employees get a little sick of all this, and eventually, they contrive a sort of relay team approach to him in which they plan who will deal with him at what times. Apparently Drag senses that some such is afoot because we next find him in Dr. Heuschrecke’s office showing signs of severe paranoia. After describing their session, we are returned to Sneak (who has been reading all of this in case-study form). I pick up where the Doctor is explaining to Sneak what he should have learned by reading about Drag:

Heuschrecke: … We are interested not in the different ways in which you and Drag accomplished your purposes, but in the similarity, indeed the identity, of those purposes. For you played assumed roles and Drag played proprietary roles only because each of you thought that role-performance had to exploit real-life situations, and thus the real-life temperaments of each of you dictated the kinds of role that you would play. But since make-believe can be a game, the distinction between assumed and proprietary roles is irrelevant. Drag is no more constrained by temperament to be ‘sincere’ in his roles than you are constrained to be ‘insincere,’ because in a game of pure make-believe the terms have no force.

That distinction is replaced by the distinction between a good and a bad move; that is, between a performance which evokes a response and one which does not. And depending upon the game being played, or upon the state of the game at any given moment, a role might or might not be true to the character of the person who performs it. But what of it? A game is successful just to the extent that it continues to produce responses, not to the extent that it is sincere or insincere. Both of you are therefore in a position to live down your names. You can play games of this kind without being a sneak, and Bartholomew can play them without being a drag.

Sneak: I am convinced by what you say, Dr. Heuschrecke, but is Drag, I wonder? His personality strikes me as being altogether more rigid than mine.

H: I really don’t think that has much to do with the basic facts of the case, Sneak, although you are quite right, of course, in what you say. For it is characteristic of games that quite divergent personality types can engage in the same game. The fact that so-and-so is a belligerent bastard no doubt differentially colors the game of hockey in which he plays, but this is much less important than the fact that he is a belligerent hockey player. But as far as Drag is concerned you can judge for yourself. He is waiting in the ante-room now, I believe. (Heuschrecke goes to the door and opens it) Come in, Drag, come in. Mr. Drag, I’d like you to meet Mr. Sneak.

Drag: Glad to meet you, Sneak. Heuschrecke has told me something about your case.

H: I trust you don’t mind, Sneak?

S: Hardly, doctor, since your bringing us together, I surmise, is an aid to our rehabilitation.

H: Quite right. And the prognosis, gentlemen, is good.

S: It is, is it? (He produces a revolver) Don’t make a move, Heuschrecke, sit right where you are with your hands on the desk. Drag, I’m not afraid to use this! I want you to get up — not you, Heuschrecke, you stay there — and walk ahead of me out to the parking lot. There you will get into the driver’s seat of the grey Mercedes parked near the hedge. After that I’ll tell you what to do.

D: Very well, but first tell me who you really are.

S: I am Porphyryo Sneak, retired spy.

D: I just wanted to be sure. And I, so we’ll know where we are, am really Sanders of the FBI.

S: Of course you are. Now, move Sanders! (Sneak and Drag exit)

H: The prognosis is not good, it’s excellent! (He flips a switch on the intercom) Please send Mr. Skepticus in. (Skepticus enters)

If you’ve been following this story from the beginning, you’ll know that Skepticus is the character to whom Grasshopper has been telling the story of Sneak, Drag and Heuschrecke:

Skepticus: Good God, Grasshopper, what are you doing masquerading as a psychiatrist!

Grasshopper: I am not a psychiatrist, I am a —

S: Yes, I know — a physician of philosophy. But why the disguise?

G: Not a disguise, Skepticus, a nom de guerre. Heuschrecke is German for grasshopper.

S: Oh. Even so, what the devil am I doing talking to you? Grasshopper or Grasshopper-as-Heuschrecke, you are still nothing more than a figment of the real Grasshopper’s imagination. How can I be part of the tale that you are at t his very moment telling me?

G: Ah, well, Skepticus, who can tell what tale any of us may or may not be a part of? Metaphysics is not really my line, and in any case what difference does it make? In the inquiry we are pursuing it does not matter who says what, or under what curious circumstances, but only whether what is said is cogent and relevant to the issue. So let us now return to the issue.

To be continued.

The most recent previous installment from Suits’s book is  here.



May 28, 2013


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:21 am

… The miracle would not produce faith.

This is from Painting Borges: Philosophy Interpreting Art Interpreting Literature by Jorge J.E. Gracia (2012):

… The ostensible themes of [Borges’s story] “The Rose of Paracelsus” is faith. Does faith involve a leap as Søren Kierkegaard suggested? Is it a choice for the absurd, as Tertullian famously prescribed? Or does faith need to accord with facts and rationality, as Peter Abelard argued? At one level, the story seems to favor the first two alternatives, but at another it appears to contradict them, for it is also possible to read the story ironically.

… [In Borges’s story] In his laboratory, Paracelsus prays to his indeterminate God, any god, to send him a disciple. He forgets his prayer, but a stranger comes to see him who aspires to be his disciple, and offers him all his worldly goods in the form of a bag full of gold, if Paracelsus allows  him to become his disciple. The famous alchemist and physician (1493-1541) was reputed to be able to produce the stone that turns all elements into gold, so Paracelsus has no use for gold and tells the student that if gold is what he is interested in, he can never become his disciple. The student replies that the gold is only a token of his good will. He wants Paracelsus to teach him the Art, the path that leads to the Stone. Paracelsus answers that the path is the Stone and so is the point of departure. “Every step you take is the goal you seek.” Making sense of these words is the beginning of understanding, although Paracelsus’s enemies say there is no Path.

Still, the student wants a proof before he begins the journey — which indicates that he has not understood what the teacher has said, thus confirming Paracelsus’s first impression of him. When the student arrived, he held a rose in his left hand, a fact that troubled Paracelsus. The sage was famous for burning a rose and making it reappear again through his Art, so the student asks him for this proof. But Paracelsus accuses him of credulity, whereas he requires faith. The disciple disputes this conclusion: he demands proof precisely because he is not credulous. Nonetheless, Paracelsus points out that the student’s credulity lies in his belief that Paracelsus can destroy the rose, for nothing can ever be annihilated. The rose can be burned only in appearance; in itself it is eternal, that is why it would take only a word from Paracelsus to make it appear again. The word in question is found in the science of the Kabbalah.

The student insists, but Paracelsus replies that if he were to do what the student wants, the student would not believe it. The miracle would not produce faith. After Paracelsus shows signs of impatience, the student forces the situation by throwing the rose into the flames, where it turns into ashes. An unmoved Paracelsus notes that many think he is a fraud; now the rose is destroyed and will be no more. The student feels ashamed for having revealed Paracelsus as a fake. He apologizes and promises to come back after he is ready. They part courteously, knowing that they will  not see each other again. Once the student leaves, Paracelsus pours some ashes from one hand into the other, whispers a single word, and the rose appears.

… In Doubting of St. Thomas, Alberto Rey goes back to a famous painting by Caravaggio, The Incredulity of St. Thomas, in which the master depicts the moment of doubt concerning Christ’s resurrection in one of his apostles.

Caravaggio, The Incredulity of St. Thomas [image from Wikipedia]

… [Rey’s] painting seems to emphasize the need for confirmation in faith. Faith is not a matter of blind belief or uncritical acceptance. No leap of faith is proposed; doubt and testing are part of faith. The question is, would putting his finger into Christ’s wound be enough for St. Thomas? Would he not be like Paracelsus’s presumptive disciple, who according to the master would not believe even if Paracelsus had restored the destroyed rose? Perhaps it is, but even if so, is Borges’s story an endorsement of an unquestioned faith? Or is it rather a criticism of it?

Alberto Rey, Doubting of St. Thomas

[ … ]

… On the left [of Carlos Estévez’s La rosa de Paracelso] we see a nearly empty glass vase with seven double stems that end in human heads. The stems, as should be expected of most vegetable matter, are painted green and the heads, which presumably stand for flowers, are painted bright yellow. The heads have different expression and are addressing a figure on their left. Concentric circles, common in images of heads used by the artist, occupy the areas of the brains of the figures, and stand out in a red color. The figure is, like the heads in the vase, a kind of plant, with a flower, the rose of Paracelsus, at the top, painted in a geometrical style.

Carlos Estévez, La rosa de Paracelso

… Below a thin stem that supports the rose, the plant transforms itself into a human body resembling a complex machine with tubes, levers, wheels, and other mechanical paraphernalia depicted in great detail and forming an attractive ensemble. Screw heads, looking like small squares, indicate the places where the inner parts of the figure convene and are tied together.

… The stylized rose head, lacking eyes and other human features, appears to face the audience, rather than the [other] heads, but as a sphere, it would not have a front, back, or sides. It is serene, absorbed in its brilliance and the workings within it, while shedding light around its surroundings, like a lighthouse in the night at sea.

… Two incompatible dimensions, two levels of understanding, are depicted in the work, and the gap between them is never bridged.

My previous post from Gracia’s book is here.



May 27, 2013

The Mouth of Your Light

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:58 am


This is the fourth verse (of five) from:

The Old Customs
by Lois Moyles

[ … ]

We are warning you now:
Put on your clothes with the seams sewn inward;
…….. their touch does not hurt so much
…………….as the sight of them fraying.
Keep yourself covered —
Even the tongue (which is, after all,
…….. an entrail beginning, a private part),
even your eyes
…….. (located as they are at the mouth of your light),
must sometimes be hidden.
And misinformed nerves will search
the zippered compartments
…….. filled with freedoms.

[ … ]



This is the first verse (of three) and the last four lines from:

by Lois Moyles

So many daylights have been dropped,
…….. like pure propaganda, on our lines
that even the hawks grow pale,
…….. their profiles empty as coat hangers.
If the wind can whistle through them,
…….. unwrinkled, undestined,
then the meat of the matter must not be here —
…….. and not here the hunger to hunt it.
As a soldier, it is understood
…….. that I wear my nation like a hood
and execute my acts, anonymous.
But do you understand
…….. that my thoughts do not clot here
…….. but run on day and night?
And that my coat grows sticky?

[ … ]

Perhaps the switch that was used to train my son
has not failed in its courage.
But the tree
The tree it would have become is lost.



This is part of the fourth verse (of five) from:

Alleluia Chorus
by Lois Moyles

[ … ]

But this river is too fast to be held
……………. or to be made to wait.
The sheep grow fuzzy with motion.
To understand them, copies must be made
of waters cast in bronze,
and stone lambs grazing on stone lawns,
……………………to be looked at slowly.

[ … ]




Lived by Its Constructors

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:57 am

… That which changes our way of seeing the streets is more important than what changes our way of seeing painting.

This is from an essay ‘Towards a New Convergence of Art’ by Georges Mathieu (1960):

[ … ]

5. The fifth stage is that of deformation to the point where the signs have been wholly destroyed. (The work of Picasso is an excellent illustration of this stage.)

6. We now arrive at the last stage. To be precise, this is the stage which goes beyond Form, that is, the utilization of means of expression which have no possible intent (except of a purely dialectical character). It is the moment which precedes and anticipates new turning-points, when one has reached unbounded horizons, in full anarchy, beyond bondage and quite free. It is an intermediary stage, no less useful than the sacrifice of ants drowning themselves so that others can continue their march over the dead bodies.

[ … ]

… outward evolution [of painting] reveals itself in three major phases:

1. Painting is an object and remains an object.

2. Painting aspires to become act, and becomes an event.

Here I must add that the painting of today [1960] stands in between these two poles. It is no longer merely an object. In contemplating it, we become aware of its dynamic influence, and it bears, moreover, materially evident traces of action.

3. At the third stage painting is nothing more than an attitude, that is to say, the result of a decision, or even of an absence of decision.

This next is Guy Debord writing about the Situationist International in 1957):

… the most pertinent revolutionary experiments in culture have sought to break the spectator’s psychological identification with the hero so as to draw him into activity by provoking his capacities to revolutionize his own life. The situation is thus made to be lived by its constructors. The role played by a passive or merely bit-part playing “public” must constantly diminish, while that played by those who cannot be called actors but rather, in a new sense of the term, “livers,” must steadily increase.

… That which changes our way of seeing the streets is more important than what changes our way of seeing painting.



May 26, 2013

It Won’t Stop

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:03 am

… And there he is at last.

This if from an essay ‘Randall Jarrell (A Myth about Poetry’ by Howard Nemerov first published in 1972:

Language is a great magic. The young poet turns it on and it begins to tell him wonderful things, so many wonderful things he can scarcely believe, at times, that this instrument that the mouth of man has been playing the tunes of for hundreds of years and for thousands of years should have yet reserved to himself so many fresh inventions, marvelous cadences, new sayings of oldest thoughts, and all done by sending out on the indefinitely accommodating carrier wave of the sentence the huge, the fathomless words of power: night, cold, sky, life, love, water, bread, grief, fire, death. … It is the world over again, the world made new.

… The poet works, of course he works; he scribbles and revises and thinks. There! that’s a bit better. But it is not so much like work as it is like watching; he has to be there to watch — that is the condition of its doing itself under his hand, under his eye; but he had no doubt that it does itself. He is only the sorcerer’s apprentice, who has turned on the broomstick; a fateful comparison, which we should prefer not to have made, did it not force itself upon us. For great magic is always dangerous to the magicker.

The language that tells the poet wonderful things is in this way an embarrassment and then a danger, that it won’t stop telling him wonderful things. More than that, as the wonderful things accumulate, they also tend to integrate and form coherencies willy-nilly; they bind up into a story that the poet is not only telling but also being told; they may even insist, finally, on telling him the truth, which is no less true and no less perilous for being true not of some merely objective world but of that peculiar universal, the world with himself in it, or, as literary people like to say, his world.

That is something he need not consider at first, for at first what he hears is not a story, it is many stories, each one different from the others, and they well up in all their rich particularity and self-ness as from a source that ever supplies itself again. Only after many years, maybe, does the outline of the poet’s own and unique story begin to emerge among the multitude of stories he has told; a very mysterious course of development in which his preoccupations, or even his obsessions, go out into the world and shape it slowly in their own image, until by an unreckonable reversal that world returns upon him to flood his consciousness with his own obsessions. It is perhaps this that makes poets, as they grow old, fall silent or else repeat themselves: having made their reality, they have to lie in it.

Something else happens, too. The world goes on, and the poet’s life outside the poems goes on, in the inextricable double and mutually concealing motion of its history and his biography, so that change in the one and change in the other, recognition and reversal, increase of anguish in the world and increased consciousness of anguish in the self, can never be quite distinguished one from the other, much less kept separate. And the marvelous sayings that language has said? Language goes on saying them, with an undiminished energy in which there is something impersonal, overpowering, indifferent. Moreover, without the poet’s being able to do anything to stop them, the sayings begin to appear as true in application to the world outside the poems that earlier had encompassed them and kept them in their fictive world, the only world in which such sayings may be safely said. The poet had always wanted to reach reality, hadn’t he? His elders had always said reality was the object. And there he is at last. His story phases with the world and becomes the world; with its great power of patterning and formulating and recasting every material in its own image, it cannot do otherwise.

In some such ways do poets come into the desolation of reality, or wither into truth.

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




May 25, 2013

Never Look Back

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:14 am

… Possessed of such knowledge, we need never look back, never reevaluate our reasons, never reconsider …

… Since the senses detect only what actually occurs, they are powerless to discern whether things could have happened differently.

This is from Considered Judgment by Catherine Z. Elgin (1996):

… Foundationalism is a perfect procedural stance. It sets its sights on an independent objective — truth — and adopts standards whose satisfaction assures that its goal has been reached. Any judgment that satisfies its standards is immune to error.

… The argument for such a view of knowledge contends that to transmit epistemic entitlement, chains of justification are required; to exclude luck, these chains must be accessible; to preclude circularity, they must have a unique, determinate direction; to undermine subjectivism, the order of justification must be objective; and to prevent an infinite regress, the chains must be grounded. Since the beliefs the chains are grounded in must be justified, and since they can acquire their epistemic authority from no other source, they must justify themselves. The justification they provide for themselves must, moreover, be sufficient to preclude error without relying on luck. Knowledge, on this picture, is a multistoried building. Unless the foundation is solid and the structural supports sound, the building will collapse.

… The aspirations of traditional foundationalist epistemology are worthy; its standards, exacting. It seeks to determine the scope and limits of knowledge, taking knowledge to be incompatible with error and independent of luck. It recognizes that this requires justification that is objective yet accessible, and neither infinite nor circular. The task is sets is hard; the rewards, great. In meeting its demands, we become masters of our epistemic fate. For once we ascertain what we are epistemically entitled to believe, we can achieve knowledge and avoid error. Knowledge is then incontrovertible. By satisfying foundationalist standards, a belief becomes permanently credible. No longer can it legitimately be called into question. Possessed of such knowledge, we need never look back, never reevaluate our reasons, never reconsider the epistemic standing of our justified beliefs.

How are the demands of foundationalism to be satisfied? To perform their epistemic function, the beliefs that constitute the foundation of knowledge must be presuppositionless. Being basic, they presuppose no knowledge or justified beliefs. Nor can they presuppose sentences that are not believed or sentences that are believed without justification.

Perfect procedural epistemology requires that it be determinate precisely what and how much evidence would immunize against error. It excludes metaphors then because their meanings cannot be articulated. The inexhaustibility and suggestiveness, which might seem to constitute a metaphor’s epistemic strength, are instead its fatal weakness. For they make it impossible fully to delineate the range of relevant evidence.

Ethics and other evaluations are exiled as well. The foundation of knowledge is restricted to descriptions of experience; the superstructure to inductive and hypothetico-deductive consequences of those descriptions. But normative conclusions follow neither inductively nor deductively from descriptive premises; nor descriptive conclusions from normative premises. The hierarchy has no room for evaluative knowledge. Since ethical judgments are evaluative, it follows that they yield no knowledge. We are never epistemically entitled to confidence in our ethical conclusions.

Mathematics also raises difficulties. For the truths of mathematics are held to be necessary; its entities, abstract; its justification, a matter of proof. But inductive inferences are critical to foundationalist justification. They supply evidence, not proof. That evidence, moreover, indicates that a sentence is true, not that it is necessarily true. One might argue that mathematical truths are analytic. Then their necessity is conceptual, and proof is a matter of exhibiting relations among meanings. If so, mathematical knowledge consists in nothing more than knowing the meanings of mathematical terms.

[ … ]

… Ordinarily, of course, we settle a few central matters and draw a conclusion. But if our goal is to preclude error without relying on luck, we cannot afford to be so cavalier. The remotest possibility of undermining evidence discredits our claim to epistemic entitlement. So long as relevant evidence is unexamined, that possibility is real. Inevitably, when we want a verdict, the jury is still out.

Skepticism results. We know no basic truths, for the basis is ineffable. We know no lofty truths, for sentences in the superstructure are never conclusively established. We cannot preclude error without relying on luck.

… Science is descriptive; epistemology, normative. Science might tell us how we come to harbor certain beliefs; epistemology seeks to determine what — if anything — justifies our doing so. Even if science could give a causal account of cognition, it would not displace epistemology.

… A purely descriptive account of the source of our beliefs neither supplies nor supplants an evaluation of their adequacy. Science is no substitute for philosophy.

… Our sense organs are unaffected by what does not impinge on them; so they do not register events that could or would occur were circumstances different. Such events do not in fact occur, and nonoccurrences leave no perceptible trace. The senses then are insensitive to differences between causal and accidental sequences of events. Such sequences, differing only over counterfactuals, are perceptually indiscriminable.

One might think otherwise. We are not, after all, entirely passive in the reception of our sensations. We can affect the epistemic standing of an observed regularity by subjecting it to systematic testing — by bringing our senses to bear where exceptions might be found. If exceptions are found, belief in the regularity is unwarranted; if not, support for the belief increases. Testing, however, reveals not counterfactuals but additional facts. It can generate evidence of regularity. But regularity does not suffice for causality, for accidentally related events can be constantly conjoined. To vindicate the claim that ps cause qs requires evidence that the connection between ps and qs is necessary: not only do qs regularly follow ps, they could not do otherwise. Since the senses detect only what actually occurs, they are powerless to discern whether things could have happened differently. Being equally supportive of causal and coincidental regularities, the evidence of the senses affords no basis for distinguishing between them. And we have no other source of evidence to make up the deficit.

… Causality avails us nothing. Either some level of inductive support suffices for knowledge or it does not. If it does, causal considerations are superfluous; if not, they are unwarranted. For we have no knowledge of causal connections except what induction supplies.

[ … ]

… Emotion, ethics, metaphor, and mathematics were excluded from knowledge because they failed to satisfy foundationalism’s rigorous standards. Their expulsion is rescinded when the standards are overturned. Whether and how they contribute to knowledge is again a matter for investigation. We have, at this point, no reason to think them more, or less, problematic than perception, science, and literal description.

When adequate epistemic criteria cannot be satisfied, we are forced to skepticism. But foundationalist criteria are congenitally defective. The result of our investigation is thus not skepticism, just ignorance. Lacking acceptable standards, we are in no position to say what — if anything — we know. Nor does idealism result. For like realism, idealism presupposes a distinction between scheme and content — conceptual schemes being free constructions of the human mind, content being supplied by the external world. Finding no pure, unconceptualized content, the idealist concludes that all is scheme. The basis is banished. But the superstructure stands, for its elements are mutually supportive. A moral of our story, however, is that, being infused with notions like necessity and meaning, the dualism of scheme and content is untenable. So ‘scheme’ is as unintelligible as ‘content.’ Neither realism nor idealism is an option, for their shared presupposition is irreparably flawed.

… By making the avoidance of error our sole or primary epistemic objective, [foundationalism] overlooked the importance we attach to sensitivity, relevance, informativeness, and cognitive efficacy. We regularly risk error to achieve such ends. An acceptable epistemology should explain how, when, and why it is reasonable to do so.

My previous post from Elgin’s book is here.



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