Unreal Nature

September 30, 2013

Can You Imagine What That Is Like?

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:39 am

…  it’s natural, after all, to love each of these things as one makes it, but if one shows this, one makes it less well; one judges it instead of saying it.

These are from three of the group of letters about Cézanne written by the poet Rainer Maria Rilke to his wife, who was a painter. This one is dated June 24, 1907:

… Surely all art is the result of one’s having been in danger, of having gone through an experience all the way to the end, to where no one can go any further. The further one goes, the more private, the more personal, the more singular an experience becomes, and the thing one is making is, finally, the necessary, irrepressible, and, as nearly as possible, definitive utterance of this singularity … Therein lies the enormous aid the work of art brings to the life of the one who must make it. — : that it is his epitome; the knot in the rosary at which his life recites a prayer, the ever-returning proof to himself of his unity and genuineness, which presents itself only to him while appearing anonymous to the outside, nameless, existing merely as necessity, as reality, as being — .

The second one is dated October 13, 1907:

… Early this morning I read about your autumn, and all the colors you brought into your letter were retransformed in my feelings and filled my mind to the brim with strength and radiance. Yesterday, while I was admiring the dissolving brightness of autumn here, you were walking through that other autumn back home, which is painted on red wood, as this one’s painted on silk. And the one reaches us as much as the other; that’s how deeply we are placed on the ground of all transformation, we most changeable ones who walk about with the urge to comprehend everything and (because we’re unable to grasp it) reduce immensity to the action of our heart, for fear that it might destroy us. If I were to come and visit you, I would surely also see the splendor of moor and heath, the hovering bright greens of meadows, the birches, with new and different eyes; and though this transformation is something I’ve completely experienced and shared before, … nature was then still a general occasion for me, an evocation, an instrument in whose strings my hands found themselves  again; I was not yet sitting before her; I allowed myself to be swept away by the soul that was emanating from her; she came over me with her vastness, her huge exaggerated presence, the way the gift of prophecy came over Saul; exactly like that. I walked about and saw,  not nature but the visions she gave me. How little I would have been able to learn from Cézanne, from Van Gogh, then. I can tell how I’ve changed by the way Cézanne is challenging me now.

… Today I went to see his pictures again; it’s remarkable what an environment they create. Without looking at a particular one, standing in the middle, between the two rooms, one feels their presence drawing together into a colossal reality. As if these colors could heal one of indecision once and for all. The good conscience of these reds, these blues, their simple truthfulness, it educates you; and if you stand beneath them as acceptingly as possible, it’s as if they were doing something for you. You also notice, a little more clearly each time, how necessary it was to go beyond love, too; it’s natural, after all, to love each of these things as one makes it, but if one shows this, one makes it less well; one judges it instead of saying it. … [S]ome would even insist that love has nothing to do with it. It’s that thoroughly exhausted in the action of making, there is no residue. It may be that this emptying out of love in anonymous work, which produces such pure things, was never achieved as completely as in the work of this old man; his inner nature, having grown mistrustful and cross, helped him to do it. He certainly would not have shown another human being his love, had he been forced to conceive such a love; but with this disposition, which was completely developed now, thanks to his strangeness and insularity, he turned to nature and knew how to swallow back his love for every apple and put it to rest in the painted apple forever. Can you imagine what that is like, and what it’s like to experience this through him?

Last, having left Paris and writing from Prague on November 1, 1907:

… will one be here someday and also be able to see this, see it and say it, from presence to presence? Will one no longer have to carry its heaviness, the immense importance it assumed because one was little and it was already big and growing beyond one; at this time, it used one in order to feel itself.



September 29, 2013


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:53 am

… it will have as task to remember to hope, to search by itself, to make manifest what is hidden beneath the impoverished forms of everyday thinking …

This is from the essay ‘Readiness, Ripeness: Hamlet, Lear’ (1978) found in The Act and the Place of Poetry: Selected Essays by Yves Bonnefoy (1989):

… As one studies the history of Western society, one discovers at one moment or another, and on every level of life, especially on the level of self-awareness, a deep fissure whose line marks the point of separation between a previous and now seemingly archaic era and what one might already call the modern world. The time “before” — that was when a conception of oneness, of unity, experienced as life, as presence, governed every relationship one could have with specific realities.

… But a day came when technology and science began to mark out — in what as a result became simply objects — features that could not be integrated into the structures of traditional meaning. The established order fell into fragmentation, the earth of signs and promises became nature once again, and life matter; the relation of the person to himself was all at once an enigma, and destiny a solitude.

Hamlet is clearly, deeply, specifically the problematics of a consciousness awakening to a condition that was undreamt of and unimaginable only the day before: a world without structure, truths which henceforth are only partial, contradictory, in competition with one another — as many signs as one would wish, and quickly far too many, but nothing that will resemble a sacred order or meaning.

… The “readiness” he proposes is not reliance on the will of God as the guarantor of our efforts, the protector of our meaning, it is rather cessation of what the God of former times expected of us: the fearless and unflagging exercise of our judgment in the world He created, the discrimination between good and evil. In place of the discernment that tries to organize and provide, and does so through awareness of values, he substitutes the welcoming acceptance of things as they come along, however disorderly and contradictory they might be, and the acceptance of chance: from the perspective of this philosophy of pessimism, our acts seem as thoroughly devoid of a reason for being as the necessity that comes into play with them. Our condition is in non-meaning, nothingness, and it is just as well to realize it at moments that seem moments of action, when normally our naiveté is summoned. In a word, a single act still has some logic and is worthy of being carried out: and that is to take great pains to detach oneself from every illusion and to be ready to accept everything — everything, but first of all, and especially, death, the essence of all life — with irony and indifference.

… Is the “readiness” of Hamlet an Elizabethan equivalent of the Buddhist discipline, of the way in which the samurai, for instance, prepares himself — another swordsman at the end of another Middle Age — to accept the moment of death without a shadow of resistance? A way of recovering positivity and plenitude in the very heart of an empty world?

… Hamlet’s “readiness” is not the Oriental’s effort to go beyond the very idea of meaning, to attain to the plenitude of immediacy — the person who recognizes that he has no more importance than the fleeting blossoms of the cherry tree; no, it is rather the degree zero of a meaning, an order, still vividly recalled — the fundamental structures of which, though lost, are still considered desirable, and the need for which is still secretly acknowledged by that very complexity of consciousness in which all the language existing only for the purpose of hoping and organizing still remains in reserve for the possibility of some future miracle. The new relation to the self of this king without a kingdom is therefore not a peaceful one; it is not the great bright burst of laughter that tears apart ancient woe. What should be seen, on the contrary, is a sharpening of unvanquished suffering, its reduction to a single shrill note — almost inaudible and yet ever present — a form of irony not unlike that of which Kierkegaard will write, in which the moments of spiritedness or laughter are always chilled by nostalgia. Not the liberation, but the celibacy of the soul — taken on as a last sign, a challenge full of desire, offered to the God who has withdrawn from his Word.

… But let us not forget that it is in Lear, not more than five or six years later, that one sees clearly designated that “ripeness” which Shakespeare seems to have wanted to place against the “readiness” of the earlier work.

… Lear begins not with something rotten in the state, as was the case for Hamlet, but rather with a mysterious sickness in the soul, and in this case, with pride. Lear admires himself, prefers himself; he is interested in others only to the extent that they are interested in him, and thus he is blind to their own true being; he therefore does not truly love others, in spite of what he might think: and so the ground is laid for the catastrophic act that will refuse to recognize true value, that will deprive the righteous of their due, and that will spread disorder and sorrow everywhere and give the devil the chance he has been waiting for in the son born of adultery. Lear — even more than Gloucester whose only sins are sins of the flesh — has relived, has reactivated the original sin of men, and thus he represents, more than any other character in the play, our condition in its most radical form, which is imperfection, but also struggle, the will to self-mastery.

… It is in the modern era, the era of Hamlet, that the individual — separated from everything and from everybody, incapable of checking his solitude, and trying to remedy what is missing through the proliferation of the desires, his dreams, and his thoughts — will slowly assume that extraordinary prominence, the end point of which is Romanticism. In King Lear — as on the gothic fresco which is always more or less the danse macabre — no one has greater worth merely because of what sets him apart from others, however singular or extreme this difference might be.

… behind this character [Lear] who is remarkable, but whose uncommon sides are above all signs of the extent of the dangers that menace us — and the extent of the resources at our disposition as well — the true object of Shakespeare’s attention, the true presence that emerges and runs the risk of being overwhelmed, but triumphs in the end, is that life of the spirit to which Lear, and Edgar as well, and also to a certain extent Gloucester and even Albany all bear witness — what is designated by the word ripeness.

Ripeness, maturation, the acceptance of death as in Hamlet, but no longer in this case because death would be the sign, par excellence, of the indifference of the world, of the lack of meaning — no, rather because acceptance of death could be the occasion for rising to a truly inner understanding of the real laws governing being, for freeing oneself from illusion, from vain pursuits, for opening oneself to a conception of Presence which, mirrored in our fundamental acts, will guarantee a living place to the individual in the evidence of All. One can understand King Lear if one has learned to place this consideration in the foreground, if one has come to see that this is the thread that binds everything together, not only the young man with the old one whose soul is ravaged but intact, but with them the Fool, for instance, who represents in medieval thought the outermost edge of our uncertain condition, and this consideration must be seen to dominate even in a context in which the forces of night seem so powerful, in which the Christian promise has not as yet resounded — although its structures are already there, since it is Shakespeare who is writing; one can therefore sense in them an indication of change, a reason for hope. Ripeness emerges in Lear as a potentiality for everyone, as the existential starting point from which the protagonists of the tragedy of false appearances begin to be something more than mere shadows; and from the Fool to Lear, from Edgar to his father, from Cordelia, from Kent, from Gloucester to their sovereign, even from an obscure servant to his lord when the latter has his eyes plucked out, it is what gives the only real substance to human exchange which is otherwise reduced to concerns and desires that are only hypocrisy or illusion.

Ripeness, readiness. … Consequently, the two irreducible attitudes. One, the quintessence of the world’s order, the unity of which one seems to breathe; the other, the reverse side of that order, when one no longer sees anything in the grayness of the passing days but the incomprehensible weave.

… Shakespeare has understood that, with this recognition, the function of poetry has changed as well: it will no longer be the simple formulation of an already obvious truth, already tested to the depths by others than the poet; rather it will have as task to remember to hope, to search by itself, to make manifest what is hidden beneath the impoverished forms of everyday thinking, beneath the dissociations and alienations imposed by science and culture — and thus it will be an intervention, the assumption of a neglected responsibility, that “reinvention” of which Rimbaud in turn will speak. Great thoughts that make for the endless richness of The Winter’s Tale, that play which is, in fact, solar, and which may be superimposed on Hamlet point by point — someday I would like to come back to this idea — like the developed photograph — zones of shadow becoming clear, the bright reality as opposed to its negative. The great vistas, also joyfully dreamt of in The Tempest — luminous double of King Lear. And grand opportunities, of course, for a resolute spirit, which explains, retrospectively, what has from the outset constituted the exceptional quality of the poetry of Shakespeare — first in the West to measure the extent of a disaster, and first also, and especially, to seek to remedy it.



September 28, 2013

Somewhere Round the Corner

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:52 am

… Nobody ever saw this countryside, but it was always somewhere round the corner …

This is from ‘The Toy Farm’ by J.B. Priestley:

Angela, at the house where I am staying, has just celebrated a birthday, her seventh, and is now the breathless mistress of a toy farm. You never saw such a farm. It has barns, haystacks, sties, hurdles, gates, trees (which must be looked at only from the front), and a yellow tumbril with scarlet wheels. There are fat brown horses, cows that stand up and cows that sit down, black pigs and pink pigs, sheep with their lambs, a goat, two dogs (one staring fiercely out of a kennel), and a colored host of turkeys, ducks, hens and chicks. There are even people on this farm, five of them, and very fine people they are too. A man in his shirtsleeves perpetually pushes a crimson wheelbarrow; and two carters, wearing white smocks, brown gaiters, red scarves, and little round hats, forever stride forward, whips in hand, whistling tunes that you shall never catch. Then there is the farmer himself, bluff, whiskered, in all his bravery of scarlet waistcoat, white cravat, green breeches, who grasps his stout stick and stares at things from under his hard brown hat. His wife, neat and buxom in a blue bonnet, a pink gown, and snowy apron, with a basket in one hand and a large green umbrella in the other, is setting out upon some never-to-be-accomplished errand. All these people, laborers, master, mistress, though not more than two inches high and only made of painted tin, stand there forever confident, ruddy, smiling in perpetual sunshine: they seem to stare at us out of a lost Arcadia.

Perhaps that is why poor Angela has not so far had that farm to herself, being compelled to share it with a number of shameless adults. It is, of course, an engaging toy, and there is not one of us here, I am thankful to say, so old and wicked, so desiccated, as to have lost all delight in toys, particularly those that present something huge and elaborate, such as a fort crammed with soldiers, a battleship, a railway station, a farm, on a tiny scale and in brighter hues than Nature ever knew.

[ … ]

… None of us here, I venture to say, has any passion for agriculture as a pursuit, for real farms, with their actual lumbering beasts, their mud and manure, their clumsy and endless obstetrics, their mortgages and loans and market prices, their long days of wet fields and dirty straw. We may regard the farmer as an excellent solid fellow or as a grasping ruffian, but certainly he never seems to us a poetical figure whose existence is passed in a golden atmosphere. Yet there is such a farmer somewhere at the back of our minds, a farmer in a picture-book, and this piece of painted, moulded tin is his portrait.

… How long this dream has lasted no man can say. It shines through all literature, from the poets and novelists of yesterday to Virgil and Theocritus. It is the burden of more than one half of our old songs, with all their ‘Hawthorne buds, and sweet Eglantine, and girlonds of roses, and Sopps in wine,’ their Corydons and neat-handed Phyllises, their haymakers, rakers, reapers, and mowers waiting on their Summer Queen, their hey-down-derry or shepherd lovers in the shade. And always this lovely time

When Tom came home from labour,
……Or Cis to milking rose,
Then merrily went their tabor,
……And nimbly went their toes

had just passed away. Nobody ever saw this countryside, but it was always somewhere round the corner; a turn at the end of a long road, a descent from some strange hill, and there it might be, shining in the sun.



September 27, 2013

In Return

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:51 am

… All right. Let’s start with love, where we all started.

This is from ‘Letter to Donald Richie’ (1973); found in On the Camera Arts and Consecutive Matters: The Writings of Hollis Frampton edited by Bruce Jenkins (2009).

Eaton, New York
January, 1973

Mr. Donald Richie
Curator of Film
The Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53 Street
New York, New York 10019

Dear Donald,

I have your letter of December 13, 1972, in which you offer me the honor of a complete retrospective during this coming March.

… anyone, institution or individual, is free at any time to arrange a complete retrospective of my [rentable film] work, and that is not something that requires my consent or even my prior knowledge.

… So that something other than a wish to show my work must be at issue in your writing to me. And you open your second paragraph with a concise guide to what that “something” is when you say: “It is all for love and honor and no money is included at all … ”

All right. Let’s start with love, where we all started. I have devoted, at the nominal least, a decade of the only life I may reasonably expect to have, to making films. I have given to this work the best energy of my consciousness. In order to continue in it, I have accepted … as most artists accept (and with the same gladness) … a standard of living that most other American working people hold in automatic contempt: that is, I have committed my entire worldly resources, whatever they may amount to, to my art.

Of course, those resources are not unlimited. But the irreducible point is that I have made the work, have commissioned it of myself, under no obligation of any sort to please anyone, adhering to my own best understanding of the classic canons of my art. Does that not demonstrate love? And if it does not, then how much more am I obliged to do? And who (among the living) is to exact that of me?

Now, about honor: I have said that I am mindful, and appreciative, of the honor to myself. But what about the honor of my art?

… it cannot continue on love and honor alone. And this brings me to your “… no money is included at all. … ”

I’ll put it to you as a problem of fairness. I have made, let us say, so and so many films. That means that so and so many thousands of feet of raw stock have been expended, for which I paid the manufacturer. The processing lab was paid, by me, to develop the stuff, after it was exposed in a camera for which I paid. The lens grinders got paid. Then I edited the footage, on rewinds and a splicer for which I paid, incorporating leader and glue for which I also paid. The printing lab and the track lab were paid for their materials and services. You yourself, however meagerly, are being paid for trying to persuade me to show my work, to a paying public, for “love and  honor.” If it comes off, the projectionist will get paid. The guard at the door well be paid. Somebody or other paid for the paper on which your letter to me was written, and for the postage to forward it.

… But it seems that, while all these others are to be paid for their part in a show that could not have taken place without me, nonetheless, I, the artist, am not to be paid.

… I do not live in New York City. Nor is it, strictly speaking, “convenient” for me to be there during the period you name. I’ll be teaching in Buffalo every Thursday and Friday this coming spring semester, so that I could hope to be at the Museum for a Saturday program. Are you suggesting that I drive down? The distance is well over four hundred miles, and March weather upstate is uncertain. Shall I fly, at my own expense, to face an audience that I know, from personal experience, to be, at best, largely unengaging and, at worst, grossly provincial and rude?

… it is my understanding that filmmakers invited to appear in your “Cineprobe” programs currently receive an honorarium. How is it, then, that I am not accorded the same courtesy?

After outlining what he would expect to be paid (honorarium, air fare, rental expenses), Frampton concludes:

… Please note carefully, Donald, that what I have written above is a list of requests. I do not speak of demands, which may only be made of those who are forced to negotiate. But you must understand also that these requests are not open to bargaining: to bargain is to be humiliated. To bargain in this, of all matters, is to accept humiliation on behalf of others whose needs and uncertainties are greater even than mine.

You, of course, are not forced to negotiate. You are free. And since I am too, this question of payment is open to discussion in matters of procedure, if not substance.

I hope we can come to some agreement, and soon. I hope so out of love for my embattled art, and because I honor all those who pursue it. But if we cannot, then I must say, regretfully, however much I want it to take place, that there can be no retrospective showing of my work at the Museum of Modern Art.


Hollis Frampton

[The retrospective of Frampton’s films took place as proposed on March 8-12, 1973, with program notes written by Donald Richie.]



September 26, 2013


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:50 am

… Documentary portrayal is often drawn to a literalism of representation, its compositions, framings, angles, lighting, colourings and movements designed to engage a kind of unselfconscious realist assent, although its referentiality is always performed through style, however quietly.

This is from the essay ‘Television, Documentary and the Category of the Aesthetic’ (2003) by John Corner in the collection New Challenges for Documentary: Second Edition edited by Alan Rosenthal and John Corner (2005):

… I want to explore some arguments concerning the relation of aesthetic issues to television’s documentary programming … . Quite what counts as ‘documentary’ nowadays, given the hectic generic mutations that have occurred in television’s factual output, has been an issue of recent dispute, raising interesting questions of program claim and program value as well as of production practice and form.

To talk of the aesthetic in relation to television documentary opens the much broader question of how ideas of the aesthetic might bear on the medium itself. There has been a tendency to regard television as an aesthetically rather impoverished medium, too extensively dispersed into industrial routine on the one side and into everyday life and casual ‘distraction’ from it on the other to offer a great deal by way of richness and depth to its own ‘works.’ The suggestion is that the medium has compensated for this symbolic deficit by exploiting its realist/relay functions and its potential for real or simulated liveness, although exceptions to this easy mutuality with the mundane are acknowledged.

… The default assumption is that [documentary] values inhere largely in the character of the knowledge that a documentary generates (most bluntly its ‘truth’ rating), whether this is primarily propositional or observational in mode. The only way that a documentary can acquire value with some independence from its content is, of course, by marking its own aesthetic status and preferably by doing this in a way that is registered in routine viewing, not just in the vocabularies of specialist critical appraisal. However, such marking may be in tension with a certain strand of ‘honest-to-goodness’ documentary protocol, as Bill Nichols indicates when he cites as being many a director’s motto the statement ‘A good documentary stimulates discussion about its subject, not itself.’

… Documentary portrayal is often drawn to a literalism of representation, its compositions, framings, angles, lighting, colorings and movements designed to engage a kind of unselfconscious realist assent, although its referentiality is always performed through style, however quietly. An apparent absence of style (a kind of ‘degree zero’ television, in Barthes’ terms) constitutes at least part of the conventional grounds of trust and credibility.

… a considerable body of scholarship has explored how kinetics can derive from the movement of things within the shot, the movement of the camera during the shot or, more broadly, the temporal organization of continuity and change introduced by editing. … [And] the shifting perception brought about by camera movement (its glides, tis drifts, its swoops, its trackings, its movements across documented space, its shiftings of the relationships of distance and proximity) is one of the most familiar of aesthetic tropes in documentary practice. Its fusing of the reality of world with the motivation of imaginative design is often stimulating in its bringing together of recognition with kinds of ‘making strange’ or less radically, what we might just call ‘re-seeing.’

… Whatever core this has in the naturalistic co-ordinates of documentarism, it can also be extensively theatricalized too (a ‘charged real,’ so to speak). It can work through a pictorial authorship comparable with that which carries the denser, latent and more volatile significances of fiction. (An imagined example: an aerial shot shows a car following a deserted coast road as dawn begins to break: it turns off to enter a silent village. The musical soundtrack is bleak and broody. Is this the start of a thriller? No, it’s the opening to a programme on GM agriculture just before the commentary starts.)

… Perhaps the richest and most intriguing aural aesthetic [aside from the editing of the texture and flow of voices as well as ambient sound] in many documentaries, however, is that provided by music. Its regulation of our sense of place, time and mood as well as its use as punctuation within the documentary narrative system (bridgings; little closures and openings across scenes and episodes) is a regular cue to viewing subjectivity. Its effect is often to provide a (light and unobtrusive) aestheticised framing for scenes working strongly within the ‘transparent’ mode, although it is also used to accompany sequences of ‘thicker’ pictorialism too.

… Alongside the function of voiced-over or presenter commentary (literally story telling), it is clearly in the practices of editing that narrative design is realized. Stephen Heath and Gillian Skirrow usefully pointed to the ‘little stories’ out of which an ostensibly expositional documentary on truancy was made. The excursions into story values and story pleasures were sometimes awkwardly related to the development of the official argument, suggesting a degree of production tension between the chosen theme for reportage and the imaginative possibilities to emerge from the case studies selected to illustrate it.

… A vigorous documentary criticism would help to keep aesthetic issues contentiously in view when other perspectives and priorities show their tendency to hide, displace or reduce them. By taking the bearings from ‘inside’ the documentary experience, with its distinctive mix of objective and subjective dynamics, criticism’s value for understanding lies not in contesting the more externalist approaches to explanation but in keeping up a reflexive commentary on some of the most important things to be explained.



September 25, 2013


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:47 am

… The original vision is tied to the original matrix, and decays with it.

This is from Performance Theory by Richard Schechner (1988, 2003). In the original text, the first paragraph given below follows all the rest that I’ve quoted:

… the drama is what the writer writes; the script is the interior map of a particular production; the theater is the specific set of gestures performed by the performer in any given performance; the performance is the whole event, including audience and performers (technicians, too, anyone who is there).

[ … ]

… In the great tradition of the west the active sense of script was forgotten, almost entirely, displaced by drama; and the doings of a particular production became the way to present a drama in a new way. … [T]he script no longer functioned as a code for transmitting action through time; instead the doings of each dramatic “production” became a way of re-presenting and interpreting the words-of-the-drama. Maintaining the words intact grew in importance; how they were said, and what gestures accompanied them, was a matter of individual choice, and of lesser importance.

Thus, we in the west are accustomed to concentrating our attention on a specialized kind of script called drama. But the avant-garde in the west, and traditional theater elsewhere, refocused attention on the doing aspects of script, and beyond script altogether to “theater” and “performance.”

… Illusionistic, mimetic theater is based on hiding the seams joining drama to script to theater to performance. Stanislavsky went so far as to deny the existence of the performance altogether; that is the import of his famous assertion that going to see Chekhov’s The Three Sisters ought to be like visiting the Prozorof household, with the fourth wall removed. Many years and much theatrical activity, has intervened between Stanislavsky’s assertion and now; at least  since Meyerhold and Vakhtangov, performance has been readmitted to western theaters. Brecht, influenced both by documentary films and Chinese acting, exposed the seam between the theater and the script: his V-effekt is a device revealing the script as of a different conceptual order than the theater event containing it. Artists like Richard Foreman and Robert Wilson explore the disjunctions between script and drama.

Why are the seams, which traditionally held the four elements together now being explored in ways that break them apart? The attention of the spectators is redirected to those structural welds where the presumed unified event is broken open. Instead of being absorbed into the event the spectator is invited (or forced) to experience where the event is “weak” and disjunctive. This breaking apart is analogous to the process of defiguration and abstraction that happened earlier in painting, and which has left a permanent mark on all the arts.

Schechner uses a very detailed description of his production of Sam Shepard’s The Tooth of Crime as illustration. This next is taken from a letter that he received from Shepard after the production:

I’ve laid myself open to every kind of production for my plays in the hope of finding a situation where they’ll come to life in the way I vision them. Out of all these hundreds of productions, I’ve seen maybe five that worked. … For me, the reason a play is written is because a writer receives a vision which can’t be translated in any other way but a play. It’s not a novel or a poem or a short story or a movie but a play. It seems to me that the reason someone wants to put that play together in a production is because they are pulled to its vision. If that’s true then it seems they should respect the form that vision takes place in and not merely extrapolate its language and invent another form which isn’t the play. It may be interesting theater but it’s not the play and it can never be the play. … I’m sure that if you attempt other plays by living writers you’re going to run into the same situation. It’s a question you should really look into rather than sweep it aside as being old-fashioned or even unimportant.

… I, for one, want to work with writers, and must therefore find a way of dealing with their “system”

I assume that plays “present” themselves to their authors as scenes, that this scening is coexistent with playwriting (Beckett with his ear for music and sense of wordness, may be an exception; he may not “see” his plays but “hear” them.) The act of playwriting is a translation of this internal scening into dialog + stage directions. The stage directions are vestiges and/or amplifications of the internal scening. The whole scening process is, in my view, a scaffold that is best dismantled once the play takes shape as dialog. In this way was the Classical and Elizabethan drama passed on: as sheer dialog unencumbered by didiscalia. I think the survival of many of these plays is due to the fact that later generations have been spared stage directions and character descriptions.

The work of those doing the production is to re-scene the play not as the writer might have envisioned it but as immediate circumstances reveal it. Generally, it is not possible to do the play in the author’s vision anyway. That vision may be unknown, as with most premodern writers; or the play is produced in a culture outside that of origin; or the conventions and architecture of the theater make it impossible. Re-scening is inevitable because the sociocultural matrix of the play-as-visioned soon changes. The drama is, by definition, that which can be passed on through successive sociocultural transformations. The original vision is tied to the original matrix, and decays with it. I don’t think that even the first production of a drama is privileged in this regard — unless the author stages the play himself, and that privilege dies with the author.

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



Like a Worry That Knows It Will Never Find Rest

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:47 am

This is from the essay ‘On Painting (and) Presence’ in The Birth to Presence by Jean-Luc Nancy (1993):

… The stroke, the line, the randomness of a jar, of a pencil, the dreamy imperative of a subject: today, this black chest, this blue moon … The coming of this day today, but as a rigid and sober discipline, and like a worry that knows it will never find rest, since the comings and goings of presence know none.

The event of painting, the surprising and surprised coming — stark, slight, held back — held and let go — thus slips fairly far from the “work of art” in general and from discourse. Because of its discourse. Art is withheld: it is this withholding that makes art. Withheld as abandon. Which abandons itself to the limits of the Western world: these images precede us to places we may never get to, beyond the West, but where others … who won’t even know the meaning of “Western” nor what “art” represents …

… Art is withheld: it is this withholding that makes art. Withheld as abandon. As a joy — violent and tender, drunken, sober, debauched, secret. … A withholding of ourselves in ourselves, outside ourselves, and of an event so past, so future that the heart capsizes in it; the emotion is too simple, the gaze gets lost to it, in a trail of color, the color of a trace, the color of an erasure — which is almost white.



September 24, 2013


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:45 am

… It’s all there at once, like a sudden revelation.

This is from the essay ‘The Case for Abstract Art’ (1959) found in Clement Greenberg: The Collected Essays and Criticism, Vol. 4, edited by John O’Brian (1993):

Many people say that the kind of art our age produces is one of the major symptoms of what’s wrong with the age. The disintegration and, finally, the disappearance of recognizable images in painting and sculpture, like the obscurity in advanced literature, are supposed to reflect a disintegration of values in society itself. Some people go further and say that abstract, nonrepresentational art is pathological art, crazy art, and that those who practice it and those who admire it and buy it are either sick or silly. The kindest critics are those who say it’s all a joke, a hoax, and a fad, and that modernist art in general, or abstract art in particular, will soon pass.

… Some of the same people … happen also to complain that our age has lost those habits of disinterested contemplation and that capacity for enjoying things as ends in themselves and for their own sake, which former ages are supposed to have cultivated. This idea has been advanced often enough to convert it into a cliché. I hate to give assent to a cliché, for it is almost always an oversimplification, but I have to make an exception in this case. While I strongly doubt that disinterested contemplation was as unalloyed or as popular in ages past as is supposed, I do tend to agree that we could do with more of it in this time, and especially in this country.

I think a poor life is lived by any one who doesn’t regularly take time out to stand and gaze, or sit and listen, or touch, or smell, or brood, without any further end in mind, simply for the satisfaction gotten from that which is gazed at, listened to, touched, smelled, or brooded upon. We all know, however, that the climate of Western life, and particularly of American life, is not conducive to this kind of thing; we are all busy making a living. This is another cliché, of course.

… this seemingly new kind of art has emerged as an epitome of almost everything that disinterested contemplation requires, and as both a challenge and a reproof to a society that exaggerates, not the necessity, but the intrinsic value of purposeful and interested activity. Abstract art comes, on this level, as a relief, an arch-example of something that does not have to mean, or be useful for, anything other than itself.

… It’s all there at once, like a sudden revelation. This “at-onceness” an abstract picture usually drives home to us with greater singleness and clarity than a representational painting does. And to apprehend this “at-onceness” demands a freedom of mind and untrammeled-ness of eye that constitute “at-onceness” in their own right. Those who have grown capable of experiencing this know what I mean. You are summoned and gathered into one point in the continuum of duration. The picture does this to you, willy-nilly, regardless of whatever else is on your mind; a mere glance at it creates the attitude required for its appreciation, like a stimulus that elicits an automatic response. You become all attention, which means that you become, for the moment, selfless and in a sense entirely identified with the object of your attention.

The “at-onceness” which a picture or a piece of sculpture enforces on you is not, however, single or isolated. It can be repeated in a succession of instants, in each one remaining an “at-onceness,” an instant all by itself. For the cultivated eye, the picture repeats its instantaneous unity like a mouth repeating a single word.

This pinpointing of the attention, this complete liberation and concentration of it, offers what is largely a new experience to most people in our sort of society. And it is, I think, a hunger for this particular kind of experience that helps account for the growing popularity of abstract art in this country: for the way it is taking over in the art schools, the galleries, and the museums.

… On the plane of culture in general, the special, unique value of abstract art, I repeat, lies in the high degree of detached contemplativeness that its appreciation requires. Contemplativeness is demanded in greater or lesser degree for the appreciation of every kind of art, but abstract art tends to present this requirement in quintessential form, at its purest, least diluted, most immediate. If abstract art — as does happen nowadays — should chance to be the first kind of pictorial art we learn to appreciate, the chances are that when we go to other kinds of pictorial art — to the old masters, say, and I hope we all do go to the old masters eventually — we shall find ourselves all the better able to enjoy them. That is, we shall be able to experience them with less intrusion of irrelevancies, therefore more fully and more intensely.

The old masters stand or fall, their pictures succeed or fail, on the same ultimate basis as do those of Mondrian or any other abstract artist. The abstract formal unity of a picture by Titian is more important to its quality than what that picture images. To return to what I said about Rembrandt’s portraits, the whatness of what is imaged is not unimportant — far from it — and cannot be separated, really, from the formal qualities that result from the way it is imaged. But it is a fact, in my experience, that representational paintings are essentially and most fully appreciated when the identities of what they represent are only secondarily present to our consciousness. Baudelaire said he could grasp the quality of a painting by Delacroix when he was still too far away from it to make out the images it contained, when it was still only a blur of colors. I think it was really on this kind of evidence that critics and connoisseurs, though they were almost always unaware of it, discriminated between the good and bad in the past.

… How many people I know who have hung abstract pictures on their walls and found themselves gazing at them endlessly, and then exclaiming, “I don’t know what there is in that painting, but I can’t take my eyes off it.” This kind of bewilderment is salutary. It does us good not to be able to explain, either to ourselves or to others, what we enjoy or love; it expands our capacity for experience.



September 23, 2013

Your Mother Tongue

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:50 am


This is a small part of:


Search for My Tongue
by Sujata Bhatt

[ … ]

I ask you, what would you do
if you had two tongues in your mouth,
and lost the first one, the mother tongue,
and could not really know the other,
the foreign tongue.
You could not use them both together
even if you thought that way.
And if you lived in a place you had to
speak a foreign tongue,
your mother tongue would rot,
rot and die in your mouth
until you had to spit it out.

[ … ]



This is an English translation* (from French) of some of:


by Édouard Glissant

[ … ]

… the Old World’s shadow has fallen over us. Our certainties, reflecting this huge score, get upset. Our clarities become clouded. Our knowledges, just then so easy, fructify into the complex, the difficult.

… But we, dragged through this history (I see the trace left by our feet), do we inherit that injunction? Can we profit from it, without our assuming its weight? In truth, no “construction” forces us. No cathedral. Not one shared Great Book. Our history is yet to come. (Our poem interweaves in your reticences, complicates itself by your conquests; but our scream is clear beneath the entanglements.) In what you call History, between the pits where our heroes went to earth nameless, I see only this trace of our feet.


[*translation was not by me. Glissant was a Martinican poet.]



The Dangers

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:50 am

… Thus, I circumnavigated and left behind me the three greatest dangers on the path I had foreseen.

This is from ‘Imagination in Painting’ by Max Liebermann (1904):

… A bunch of asparagus, a bouquet of roses, can yield a masterpiece; a beautiful girl or an unattractive one, an Apollo or a misshapen [person], anything can be made into a masterpiece as long as there is a sufficient amount of imagination at work. Imagination alone transforms a work of craft into a work of art.

… Strictly speaking … the art manifested in a picture can only be perceived by the inner eye, just as the art manifested in a piece of music can only be perceived by the inner ear. For what is it, if not the imagination of the artist, which distinguishes a work by Phidias from one that is cast from nature?

… It follows that the exercise of such imagination is most required in naturalistic painting in particular. For the latter strives for its appropriate effect solely by means of its own intrinsic virtues, although I realize this is a view that flatly contradicts the common opinion of the general public. Even now educated people continue to regard naturalist painting as an insipid duplication of nature, as an art that will be rendered obsolete once photography has learned  how to reproduce color as well as form. Not so! Even from color photography we fear no rivalry. For even the most perfect mechanical reproduction of nature will bring us nothing but a perfect collection of waxworks, and will never lead us to art. What the educated viewer misses in naturalist art is simply literary imagination, and that is because he is looking at art with his thinking mind rather than with his eyes.

… painting consists not in the invention of ideas, but in the invention of visible form for an idea. Why else are there so few works of art to be found amongst the countless Madonnas with which we are familiar? And what is it that interests us in a portrait … other than that art with which the master here has translated what he saw — and the emphasis lies indeed upon what he saw — into the medium of painterly form? And by ‘form’ here I do not mean some pre-existing form that has now become a formula — like Raphael’s form once it had degenerated into an academic exercise, or Rembrandt’s chiaroscuro which, amongst his imitators, became an empty artistic gesture; I mean the kind of living form which each artist creates anew for himself. … Form perfects itself with every artist, and is born anew with every succeeding artist. … One who sees a cow merely through the eyes of a Potter or a Troyon is no creative artist, but simply a copyist at best.

This next is from ‘The Cologne Lecture’ by Wassily Kandinsky (1914), talking about his own work:

… In these latter years, forms that have arisen of their own accord right from the beginning have gained an ever-increasing foothold, and I immersed myself more and more in the manifold value of abstract elements. In this way, abstract forms gained the upper hand and softly but surely crowded out those forms that are of representational origin.

Thus, I circumnavigated and left behind me the three greatest dangers on the path I had foreseen. These were:

1. The danger of stylized form, which either comes into the world stillborn, or else, too weak to live, quickly dies.
2. The danger of ornamental form, the form belonging mainly to external beauty, which can be, and as a rule is outwardly expressive and inwardly expressionless.
3. The danger or experimental form, which comes into being by means of experimentation, i.e. completely without intuition, possessing, like every form, a certain inner sound, but one that deceitfully simulates internal necessity.

Inner maturity, upon which in general I have firmly relied, but which has afforded me nonetheless many a bitter hour of hopelessness, has of itself created the [necessary] formal element.

As has been said often enough, it is impossible to make clear the aim of a work of art by means of words. Despite a certain superficiality with which this assertion is leveled and in particular exploited, it is by and large correct, and remains so even at a time of the greatest education and knowledge of language and its material. And this assertion — I now abandon the realm of objective reasoning — is also correct because the artist himself can never either grasp or recognize fully his own goal.

And finally: the best of words are no use to him whose sensibilities have remained at an embryonic stage.

In conclusion, therefore, I shall embark upon the negative path and explain as clearly as possible what I do not want. Many assertions of present-day art criticism are refuted in the process, for such criticism has, alas, until now been often rebarbative and has shouted falsehoods into the ears of many who were inclined to hear.

I do not want to paint music.
I do not want to paint states of mind [Seelenzustände].
I do not want to paint coloristically or uncoloristically.
I do not want to alter, contest, or overthrow any single point in the harmony of the masterpieces of the past.
I do not want to show the future its true path.

Apart from my theoretical works, which until now from an objective, scientific point of view leave much to be desired, I only want to paint good, necessary, living pictures, which are experienced properly by at least a few viewers.



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